Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 13
Naomi walked somberly towards her old house, not knowing what to expect. Ruth followed her from a distance. Naomi slowed down as she approached the house. The roof had crumbled, leaving a skeleton of broken rafters. There was no door. Entering the house, she was assaulted by the smell of stale urine. Her footsteps kicked up a thick layer of dust that floated in an eerie mixture of sunlight and cobwebs. Rotting leaves and dead branches coated the floor.
Naomi leaned on the bare wall and then slid to the floor, weeping. She had survived Elimelech’s death. She had survived the brutal murder of her sons. She had survived expulsion from Kir Moav. She did not know if she could survive seeing her home in ruins. Her last refuge was nothing but a mudhole, not fit for human occupation. She coughed on the pervasive dust and crawled out of the house to catch her breath. She rested against the outside of her house and looked blankly at the sky – dead to the world around her.
Ruth walked into the house. Her mouth gaped at the remains of the home of Prince Elimelech. In her entire royal experience she had never seen such decay. Even the hovel of the poorest citizen of Kir Moav was more luxurious than what remained of Naomi’s house. Ruth grabbed a dead branch and swept the dust and dead leaves out of the house. She spent hours sweeping ten years worth of natural detritus out of the home of her dead husband. By the afternoon she was covered in dust from head to toe. Naomi remained in a catatonic state, oblivious to Ruth’s efforts.
Ruth found the city well, drew water and washed her face, arms and legs and then drank.
“Who are you?” a young girl asked Ruth.
“Me?” Ruth was startled by the unexpected attention. “I’m nobody.”
“You must have a name,” the girl insisted. “My name is Noni. I’m from here. Where are you from? You don’t look like anyone I know. And you’re so beautiful.”
“Hello, Noni.” Ruth warmed up to the happy girl. “My name is Ruth. I am from Moab. I’ve come to Bethlehem with Naomi.”
“Naomi?” Noni jumped excitedly. “I heard so many stories about her. She was a good friend of Vered’s. Oh, I miss Vered so. She was so kind. But why is Naomi back here? What happened to her?”
“Well, it’s a long story, Noni. I guess my part of it starts with my being a princess…”
Ruth told a wide-eyed Noni her foreign and violence-filled history. Noni told Ruth about the dire famine and how Bethlehem had just recently seen some prosperity. Noni and her mother were still dependent on the generosity of others. Her father had been killed by marauders years ago. Her mother spent her days gathering fallen sheaves in the fields of others.
As the sun traversed the sky, Noni excused herself.
“I hope I will see you again,” the young girl said.
“That would be nice, Noni. Yes.” Ruth held Noni’s hand before the little girl skipped away from the well.
With Noni gone, Ruth looked around the well area and found a discarded cracked bucket and then some pieces of string. She tightened the string around the bucket and poured well-water into it. Rivulets of water leaked from her bucket, but she had enough for her purposes.
She brought the bucket back to the house. Cupping her palms, she gave water to Naomi. Naomi drank absently, still unaware of her surroundings. Ruth used the remaining water to wash the floor of the house. Ruth then pulled Naomi up and walked her into the house. Naomi’s eyes widened as they entered the bare but clean house. They were exposed to the darkening evening sky, but at least the walls gave a sense of protection and privacy.
“How will we sleep?” Naomi asked wearily, coming back to life. “We have nothing.”
“We have each other,” Ruth answered. She found a corner of the house and sat Naomi down. Ruth sat next to her mother-in-law and gently pulled the tired woman against her. “Rest on me, mother. I am here. Rest and tomorrow we will find new hope.”
Naomi laid her head on Ruth’s shoulder and closed her eyes.
“Thank you, my daughter,” Naomi said softly as the evening star twinkled above them. “You are a blessing.”
“Naomi has returned from Moab,” Ploni told Boaz on his mourner’s cot.
“Just Naomi?” Boaz asked. “What about Elimelech, Mahlon, Kilyon?”
“They are dead. Murdered by the Moabites.”
“When did she arrive? By whom is she staying?”
“They came yesterday, as we were burying Vered. No one has taken them in. They have gone to Naomi’s old house.”
“They? Old house? I don’t understand. Who is “they”? How can they stay in that house? It is a ruin!”
“Naomi has brought Mahlon’s widow with her, a heathen Moabite and an enemy. I for one will have nothing to do with that traitor Naomi. She left Bethlehem at its time of need and now returns with the spawn of Eglon himself.”
“How do you know all of this?”
“Young Noni spoke to the Moabite at the well. Her mother has since instructed the girl to avoid the intruder. Some saw the Moabite leave the city early in the morning. It is too much to hope she left. I presume she went to the fields.”
“When did the city of Bethlehem become of city of cowards?” Boaz stood up from his cot. “Are you all so frightened from a single woman? Instead of extending welcome we isolate her? When did we forget the manners of our forefathers?”
“It would be inappropriate for me, as a widower, to host them,” Ploni said defensively, “and you are now in the same situation. Who else would bring them in? Most families are still struggling. They cannot feed more mouths. Besides, you know Naomi. She will be too proud to accept charity. She fed the entire city. The irony is too cruel – her having to beg in the town, in the tribe her husband ruled. No, I think she would rather die of starvation than of shame.”
“That is unkind, uncle,” Boaz sat back down. “It is your own brother’s wife. But you are correct that we must not embarrass Naomi by direct charity. It is enough she has suffered the death of her husband and children and the humiliation to date. Will you help me, uncle?”
“I will have nothing to do with them, Boaz. God has brought his wrath upon the family of Elimelech. I will not risk my own soul by associating with those who have been cursed, even if it is my brother’s family.”
“Your piety is conveniently narrow. No matter. I will do what needs to be done.” Boaz got up and walked out of his house.
“But Boaz, you have not completed the week of mourning. How can you leave your house?”
“I have no desire to participate in another funeral,” Boaz said without looking back, as he walked to the gates of Bethlehem.
Ehud sat on the ramparts above the gate of Bethlehem. He had a good view of the comings and going in the city. He had been shocked at Naomi’s appearance. He had remembered the beautiful wife of Elimelech and was saddened to see her aged so heavily. But he was more concerned by Ruth. Ruth had left the city and gone to the fields early in the morning. He remembered the princess. He remembered Eglon’s daughter who sat so often at the fat monarch’s side. The last he had heard she was to marry the next Pharaoh, with a bridal dowry of the massacre of all the firstborns of Israel. After Ehud had assassinated her father, that arrangement had fallen apart. How strange for her to be in Bethlehem of all places – and at Naomi’s side. He would have to watch her carefully. He would consider her a dangerous viper until proven otherwise. Eglon had been a conniving and perilous enemy and he would consider Eglon’s daughter no different.
Ehud was further surprised to see Boaz leave his house. Boaz had mourned for his wife less than a day and already he was striding purposely to his fields outside the city. With his focus on Boaz, Ehud did not notice the two merchants on a wagon riding into town. He did not hear the boyish-looking driver repeat after his master, “Moabite.”
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