Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 12
Naomi was lost in thought as she trudged slowly over the Judean Mountains. Ruth walked a few steps behind, respecting her mother-in-law’s silence. Naomi had remembered the old wells and had been pleased to discover them full. Though their thirst had been quenched, they were still hungry. They had picked some wild berries and chewed on some raw kernels of oats, but otherwise they had not eaten a proper meal since their hasty departure from Kir Moav.
Naomi wondered what her hometown would look like. It had been ten long painful years. She had been embarrassed to leave Bethlehem in its time of need and she was even more embarrassed to return a destitute widow who outlived her children. She had briefly considered returning to a different city where she was not known, but that would be even worse. In Bethlehem she still had their house, their land and their relatives. There was dour Ploni, and gracious Boaz, and most beloved of all, warm Vered. Vered was her closest, truest friend in Bethlehem and she longed to see her again.
Her heart skipped a beat as she saw the walls of Bethlehem. Its mighty stone ramparts touched the blue sky. A new gate welcomed weary travelers. Fields of barley surrounded her. As she picked up her pace, a certain urgency told her she was too late, though she knew not for what.
Two armored guards with spears watched impassively as residents and travelers traversed the gates. As Naomi hurried to the gate, they lowered their spears, blocking her way.
“Where to, grandmother?” One of the guards asked.
“I am no longer a mother, let alone a grandmother,” Naomi responded bitterly. “I go to my home.”
“What home?” The guard did not raise his spear. “You are not from here. If you’ve come to collect, you may go to the fields like everyone else.”
Naomi looked carefully at the guard. Passersby stopped to see who the newcomer was.
“You have grown to the likeness of your father,” Naomi commented. “You may not remember me, but I recognize you, Banfus son of Lurie. I am Naomi, wife of Elimelech, who left ten years ago to the fields of Moab. You used to play with my son, Kilyon. But now I return empty. Will you not allow a broken widow to rest her weary bones in her old house?”
“Naomi?” Banfus looked at her in surprise. “You are not at all as I remember you, though now I see some resemblance. God must have been unkind to you. I am sorry for your loss.” Banfus and the other guard raised their spears.
“Is this Naomi?” one of the older women asked.
“Call me not Naomi, the pleasant one,” she responded. “Call me Marah, bitter, for God has dealt bitterly with me. I left here full and God has brought me back empty. Why should you call me Naomi? God has gone against me and afflicted me.”
By now, a sizable crowd had gathered in front of the gate, gawking at Naomi. Like a summer fire through parched grass, the word of Naomi’s return spread through Bethlehem. Naomi recognized her old neighbors, the people she had fed before her sudden departure. A gaggle of voices spoke at once. Everyone ignored Ruth, and Ruth was just as happy to be ignored.
“Can it be?” one woman asked.
“It doesn’t look like Naomi. Remember how beautiful, how wealthy she was?”
“She’s aged terribly.”
“She deserves it. She left us at the darkest hour.”
“If it weren’t for Boaz and Vered, we would have starved to death.”
A woman ran toward the crowd and announced: “Vered has died!”
“What!?” the mob responded.
“Yes. She passed away just now. Boaz informed the elders.”
“He will need our help.”
And as a crowd flees from a leper, the people of Bethlehem departed from Naomi, leaving her suddenly alone and friendless in the square of her hometown.
“Ehud? How did you get here so quickly? Did you fly here upon the news of Vered’s death?” Boaz stood up from his mourner’s cot to greet his old friend. Boaz’s neighbors left his house to give the two men privacy.
“I had some advance notice,” Ehud answered.
“You knew beforehand?” Boaz asked, perplexed.
“I knew you would need me at hand,” he answered simply.
“Well, it is a great comfort to see you,” Boaz sat back on the cot. “Vered had been growing weaker of late. I’m glad you are here.”
“There may be some other danger,” Ehud said as he sat facing Boaz.
“I’m not sure.”
“So how do you know?”
Ehud pointed his finger heavenward. Boaz nodded his understanding.
“There is something else I’m troubled about,” Ehud said uncomfortably. “I’d like to ask you a sensitive question. Please don’t be offended.”
“What is your question?” Boaz sat up straighter and narrowed his eyes.
“I mean no offense by this and I am not judging you in any way, but did you have any children that we do not know about?”
“What sort of question is that?” Boaz stood up angrily. “On the day of my beloved’s death, the very hour that we have laid her to rest, you ask me such a thing? Her body is not yet cold, you know we have no children and now you ask me such a question?”
“I’m sorry, Boaz. I know it is painful, but it is important. Please answer me truthfully.” Ehud held his fists out. “Do you have any children that you have not told anyone about?”
“I cannot believe it! I don’t understand. Of course I have no other children. Do you think me some promiscuous heathen that lay with any woman he came across? Vered was the one and only woman I ever knew. Why was this such an important question?” Boaz sat back on his cot, staring angrily at his old friend.
“Do you remember the prophecy Joshua gave us at the convocation?” Ehud asked.
“Yes. Though I haven’t given it much thought of late.”
“Joshua said you would have a seed that would lead to the future salvation of Israel and he also said that I would kill your future father-in-law. I have killed many men, Boaz, and Vered’s father was not one of them. You understand what this means?”
Boaz sat silently, brooding. “Joshua was wrong,” he finally said.
“You don’t believe that.”
“What do you want me to say, Ehud? You want me to say that I need to marry again?” Hot tears streamed down Boaz’s eyes only to disappear into his white beard. Any trace of red was long gone from Boaz’s hair and beard. “Vered made me promise before she died that I would marry again. But I can’t talk about it now. I can’t even think about it. We spoke just a few hours ago. I held her hand…”
“I did not wish to cause you further pain, but it was important I know. It was even more important that you realize what must be done. Vered was right to push you to marry again.”
“Leave me, Ehud. I can’t deal with this now.”
“I’m leaving your house, but I will stay in Bethlehem until matters are settled.”
“Until I’m married again? Should I get up now and marry the first woman that crosses my path? Are you that eager to see a child of mine?”
“No, Boaz. Mourn Vered as she deserves. But when you rise from your mourning, do not forget the prophecy, or your promise.”
Ehud rose from his chair and walked to the door.
“I am with you, my friend. I will remain nearby. Beware of strangers. I still do not know what the danger is, but I suspect it is more than your being childless. Farewell, Boaz. May God comfort you amongst the mourners of Israel.”
Ehud departed, leaving Boaz alone, with fresh tears soaking his beard.
“Ferocious girl, that Orpa,” Sumahtrid commented, as Beor drove their wagon east, back up the mountain road from Ashkelon. “The blood of Eglon runs strong in her veins. She is sure to produce mighty warriors from the Philistines. I think their King was rather pleased.”
“Pleased,” Beor repeated.
“We do need to do something about your conversational skills. They are rather meager.”
“Meager,” Beor agreed.
“Then again, I am fairly happy with our discussions. How much do you really need to talk? You understand everything I say and follow instructions well, which brings us to our next task. We need to find and retrieve Eglon’s eldest, Princess Ruth. If she has found refuge in Bethlehem, it will not be so simple. It is a bastion of the Judean tribe. Our purpose must not be discovered. There may still be descendents of Nachshon the Brave in Bethlehem. They will be most dangerous. We must make sure she does not join with any of them, at all costs. There may need to be some discreet killing.”
“Killing,” Beor said with glee.
* * * * * *
Book of Ruth, Chapter 1
19 So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was astir concerning them, and the women said: ‘Is this Naomi?’ 20 And she said unto them: ‘Call me not Naomi, call me Marah; for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me back home empty; why call me Naomi, seeing the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?’ 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, with her, who returned out of the field of Moab–and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.
Ruth Rabba 3:6: And they said, “Is this Naomi?!” This [is the] one whose deeds were agreeable and pleasant?! In the past, she used to travel in her litter with a canopy, and now she walks barefoot… She used to be covered in clothes of fine wool, and now she is covered in rags. She used to have a ruddy face because of the vigor [she derived from] food and drink, and now her face is sallow because of hunger.
Jerusalem Talmud, Tractacte Ketuvot 1:1: And is it possible that the entire city came out to greet this wretched woman? But on the same day, Boaz’s wife died and they all went to [bury her].