Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 3
“Excuse me. Pardon me,” Vered requested mildly, as she pushed her way through the crowd around Naomi’s house. She couldn’t believe how large the crowd was, barely two hours into the day. She recognized most of the people as her fellow residents of Bethlehem. However, there were several from other Judean towns and there were some that she didn’t even think were Judean at all.
Vered had long ago lost her height and her bright red hair. But she had not lost her verve and strength of purpose and made her way through the hungry beggars outside Naomi’s door. Wearing her short white hair bundled under her tan scarf and a simple tan dress, she passed an anxious old man at the door and entered Naomi’s house.
“Oh, Vered,” a frazzled Naomi greeted her, handing her a tray with freshly baked bread. “Thank God you’re here. If you could give out this batch, I’ll take the next one out of the oven.”
Vered looked in astonishment at the trays of fresh bread throughout the house.
“Where did this come from? When did you make all of this?” Vered asked incredulously.
“What? I don’t know,” Naomi answered absently, as she removed another loaf from the brick oven with the bread paddle. She burned her hand lightly as she touched the metal edge of the paddle, trying to keep the fresh bread from falling off. Her hands and arms were filled with small blisters. “I haven’t slept. I’ve been baking the entire night. Just when I think I’ve run out of dough, there’s more. And there are more and more people to feed.”
Vered gave a loaf to the old man she had passed, and then to a young girl behind him, to a widowed young woman after her and to every person that appeared at Naomi’s door. She looked out the door to view the sea of people around the house.
“Elimelech is going to find out,” Vered said to Naomi. Naomi was busy kneading more dough as Vered gave out another tray’s-worth of bread.
“I know,” Naomi said. “I don’t know what to do! He was right and he’s going to be furious. But I can’t stop. I can’t waste this blessing.”
“Elimelech is a great man. Perhaps he’ll understand,” Vered suggested.
“No. Elimelech is blind to the blessing. He has given up and only looks inward. We must feed these people and get them out before sunset, before he returns from the fields with the boys.”
“Maybe Boaz can talk to him. Boaz could convince him that you’re doing the right thing,” Vered said hesitantly.
“That is sweet of you to offer, dear. But if your husband were to approach Elimelech, it would only make matters worse. Elimelech is very proud and much wounded. It would make him even madder. No. Let’s feed these poor souls and hope for the best. If I don’t collapse from all this work, I’ll fall apart from worry. But I have no choice. What would my grandfather have done? What would Nachshon the Brave do?”
“I swear there’s more grain in the field today than there was yesterday,” Elimelech said as he wiped the sweat off his brow. He stood with his sons in the middle of his vast fields, reaping the summer harvest.
“How is that possible?” Mahlon asked.
“Who cares?” Kilyon replied. “It gives me more to cut. You think you’re so good with the oxen, watch me with the scythe. Here’s a new move I came up with.”
Kilyon jumped into the thick stalks of wheat and twirled around with the scythe held out. A ring of sheaves fell around him.
“How’s that?” Kilyon grinned. “You saw how quickly I cut them? I figured it would take me half the time it takes you.”
“Maybe,” Mahlon answered. “But look how much you left behind. You’ll have to do the inner circle again.”
“We have so much wheat, what do we need the inner circle for? I just want to do it quickly and get out of here.”
“The rest of the world is starving and you want to leave wheat behind?” Elimelech asked sharply. “What’s wrong with you Kilyon?”
“Watch me again, father. Watch how quickly I can cut. I tell you this is going to be a new way to harvest.”
Kilyon jumped into another thicket of wheat and twirled himself and his scythe rapidly. Suddenly, the sharp metallic head of the scythe dislodged from the wooden handle and went flying towards Elimelech. Elimelech tried to jump out of the way, but his old body no longer had the reflexes of youth. The sharp edge of the scythe cut a long gash across Elimelech’s thigh and then fell to the ground. Elimelech yelped in pain.
“Kilyon! What have you done!?” Elimelech screamed as he pressed on his thigh, trying to stem the flow of blood.
Kilyon looked with mouth ajar at his pole, with the absent head of the scythe, and then at his father and the scythe-head on the ground. He ran towards his father. Mahlon was already at his side, having ripped a piece of his tunic off to made a crude bandage for their father’s leg.
“Take me home,” Elimelech commanded, grimacing in pain. “Your recklessness could have killed someone. What good is all this blessing now if we can’t harvest? To waste a blessing is worse than being cursed.”
“I’m sorry, father,” Kilyon said as he got under Elimelech’s arm. Mahlon was already supporting him from the other side.
“You’re not nearly sorry enough. There will be repercussions, my son.” Elimelech winced as his sons carried him, never realizing how right he was.
Naomi and Vered worked tirelessly. They took turns kneading, baking and handing out fresh loaves to hungry Israelites. Vered recognized people from the nearby tribes of Simeon and Benjamin and even from Ephraim, a full day’s journey away. The crowd only seemed to grow as the sun reached its midday height.
“What is this!?” Elimelech’s voice roared over the din of the patient mob. The sea of people parted, letting Elimelech through. Elimelech hopped on one leg, the other bandaged, with fresh blood seeping through the bandage. He was supported on either side by Mahlon and Kilyon.
“Why are you all here? What do you want from me?” Elimelech asked the crowd.
“Bread. The house of Elimelech has bread,” one boy volunteered.
“Naomi,” Elimelech hissed through gritted teeth and hopped to the house. No one stood in the way of the angry husband.
“Naomi! What have you done!?” Elimelech bellowed, as Mahlon and Kilyon helped him into the house. Kilyon closed the door behind them.
“I’m sorry!” Naomi fell to her knees, tears streaming down her face. “You were right, I know. But we had all this flour and all this bread and they were so hungry. How could we not feed them?”
“Have you seen the mob outside? That is exactly what I feared. Exactly! Will you single-handedly feed the entire nation? It’s hopeless.”
“Elimelech, please listen,” Naomi cried. “A miracle has been placed on our doorstep. I’ve been feeding dozens, hundreds of people and the bread doesn’t run out. How can we stop?”
“Are you mad? Are you imagining things?”
“Elimelech, it’s true,” Vered interceded. “I’ve seen it myself. It’s a miracle. The flour doesn’t end. Your wife has been able to give a loaf of fresh bread to every single person who has come to your door.”
“Vered,” Elimelech addressed his nephew’s wife. “I will thank you not to get involved in our personal matters. Please leave my house.”
“Bread!” was chanted from outside the door. “Elimelech! Bread! Elimelech! Bread!”
“You see, Naomi?” Elimelech looked around wildly. “They will attack us like locust and still they will not be satisfied and we will be destitute. This is what you’ve brought upon us!”
“Bread! Elimelech! Bread! Elimelech!” The crowd banged on the door and pushed against the stone walls of the house. Dirt from the thatch roof fell as stones from the wall moved. Naomi got off her knees and grabbed a towel to cover the dough to make sure it did not get dirty.
“Stop!” Boaz’s voice called out from outside the house. “Are we in Sodom that we assault the house of our neighbors? Is this Givaah, where residents are attacked for their hospitality? Go home! The house of Elimelech will reopen its doors when it is ready to assist again. Go home!”
The crowd dispersed, shame-faced, looking downwards and hungry. Dirt from the roof stopped falling and people moved away from the house.
There was a polite rap on the door.
“It is I, Boaz,” a firm voice announced.
Mahlon opened the door for him.
“Thank you, Boaz,” Elimelech greeted him. “Your intercession is appreciated, though we could have handled matters well enough ourselves.”
“It looked like a riot from my side, uncle,” Boaz responded. “I feared that in a few more moments they would have broken the house down altogether. There were a lot of hungry people.” Boaz looked at the fresh loaves of bread throughout the house accusingly.
“We cannot feed everyone,” Elimelech answered the unasked question. “There will be more riots if we do. God will have to provide to each their allotted portion, as he did with the manna in the desert. I cannot bear this burden.”
“You know quite well the days of the manna are long gone. If you have been blessed with a surplus, uncle, I think you have a responsibility to share as much as you can. Will you gorge yourself on all this bread as our brothers starve to death?”
“Do not lecture me, nephew,” Elimelech said, standing taller. “I will not be held responsible to feed all the less fortunate, nor will I be made to feel guilty over my own good fortune. But I see that is no longer possible here. You and all our neighbors will look to me for support. All the tribes have probably heard of Naomi’s largesse and will come flocking to my door. We must depart. We cannot stay here.”
“Depart? Where will we go?” Naomi asked in confusion.
“I don’t know; certainly not within Judah. They will look to me as their prince and demand food when there is none to provide. The other tribes are not good either. They all know me and will make demands as well. We must go into exile. We must go someplace where we are foreigners and where there will be no expectations, no responsibilities. I am tired. I am tired of carrying the burden of my brethren, my people, on my shoulders. Woefully unqualified shoulders. I am not my father. I was never as wise or as brave as Nachshon.”
“Leave?” Boaz asked. “How can you leave?”
“You see, Boaz. Even you expect me to stay. You, who has seen all my failures from up close. You, a better leader than I ever was. You would still keep me as your head when I lost the right to such a title so long ago. No, Boaz. I must leave. I must leave now. Naomi, pack only what we can carry. Take our jewels, our valuables and our gold. Pack up the bread for our journey. Mahlon, ready the animals. We take them all. I will ride in the wagon. Kilyon will take me to the healer to deal with my leg and then we will leave.”
“I don’t believe this. Where are we going!?” Naomi sobbed.
“To the only other place and people that our family knows.” Elimelech looked at Mahlon. “We’re going to Moab.”
* * * * * *
Book of Ruth, Chapter 1
1 And it came to pass in the days when the judges judged, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the field of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Kilyon, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. And they came into the field of Moab, and continued there.