Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 22
“How… how do you know me?” Ruth asked the smiling Danite standing in Naomi’s house.
“Why, you are famous, my dear,” Alron stated, his voice at a high pitch. “Word is spreading of your daring escape from Ashkelon. It would not surprise me if King Perath doesn’t offer a handsome reward to the man that returns you. Your escape is a big embarrassment to him. I’m sure he will also want your rescuers killed.”
“How do you know so much about what the Philistines think?” Ruth asked, noting Alron’s delicate hands. They had never known a day of labor.
“I have frequent business with the Philistines. I am in and out of all of their cities. Why, I’m the largest buyer of their beautiful ceramic, my dear. Have you not seen their innovative two-tone designs? It is the latest trend in my tribe, and now I am selling to other tribes as well. I have actually brought one as a gift to your mother-in-law.” Alron gestured to the elegant wine pitcher on the table. It had an intricate black and red design on the ceramic that she had never seen before. Even from a few feet away she could appreciate the beauty of the pitcher.
“You would marry me merely on a rumor?” Ruth asked, uncomfortable in Alron’s presence. His teeth were unnaturally bright.
“Men of my stature marry based on much less.” Alron’s smile grew wider. “And now that I’ve seen your beauty, I am pleased by the decision. Say yes, my dear Princess, and you and your mother-in-law will live in great comfort for the rest of your lives. I have a mansion overlooking the Great Sea, not far from the wondrous city of Ashdod. I have servants that will wait upon your every whim. You will not even have to lift a finger. Say yes, my Princess, and be happy and comfortable for the rest of your life.”
Ruth looked at Naomi, seeking guidance. Naomi shrugged her shoulders, not deciding herself how Ruth should proceed, though pleased by the young man’s attention.
“Alron,” Ruth stated formally, “I’m honored by your offer, but this is all too sudden for me. I for one prefer to know my suitors better. Your offer is attractive. I have lived as a princess before, and I prefer the freedom of labor over the prison of indolence. Will you give me time to consider and to get to know you?”
“Of course, my dear. Of course.” Alron paced within Naomi’s house. “Let us agree to the following. I will give you until the end of the harvest. My business will not pick up until then and I can afford to lounge in this quaint city for a few weeks. But by the night of the harvest celebration, I will require an answer. My business will not wait further and I will need to know whether I return home with a bride or not.”
“Agreed,” Ruth said quickly.
“Wonderful!” Alron clapped his hands. “Then with your permission, I shall take my leave and make arrangements for local accommodations. Farewell, Naomi. It was a great honor to meet you. Goodbye, Princess. I look forward to our future encounters and for you to get to know me better. A very pleasant night to you both.” Alron bowed to each woman with a flourish and exited the house.
“Whoah,” Ruth exhaled as Alron departed. “I’ve never met a man so forward.”
“He is certainly direct,” Naomi agreed.
“There was something odd about him,” Ruth commented.
“He is an Israelite merchant that has adopted the ways of the Philistines and never worked a day in his life. He probably couldn’t tell you the difference between wheat and barley.”
“That is not it. I have met many merchants in father’s palace. It is something else. He was too eager. There is something duplicitous about him. I just don’t know what it is. We should be wary around him.”
“Well, we got a beautiful pitcher from the visit. Come take a look.”
Ruth sat at the table and looked at the pitcher in the candlelight. It was an intricately drawn work of art. It showed an army of Philistines with their feathered helmets riding their narrow boats, carrying long swords and round shields. They were killing their Egyptian enemies, their bodies hanging over the sides of the Philistine boats and drowning in the water. Ruth shuddered, picturing the horde of Philistines in the Ellah Valley she had seen in her vision. Suddenly, Alron’s marriage proposal seemed much more sinister to her.
Ruth spent the next several weeks in utter confusion. She arose every day at dawn, to be greeted by a smiling Garto. Their walks to the field were always pleasant. No men thought of harassing her anymore. Even the errant wild dogs scampered away from Garto’s large bulk. The women of the town approached Ruth and engaged her in friendly conversation. Ruth enjoyed the procession of all the farmhands, of the farmers with their horses and oxen, of the shepherds and goat-herders with their teams of freshly shorn animals going to graze beyond the bronze fields of barley. As the barley was harvested, the wheat sprouted in green rows reflected by bright summer sun.
At the field, with Garto’s helpful tips, she improved her gleaning skills. But throughout the day, Ruth sought Boaz, rarely seeing him. The few times he came, he stayed for a short time, typically just for the meal. He would sit on the other side of Ruth, eating little and saying less, consciously avoiding eye contact with her. Ruth didn’t understand Boaz at all. He looked pale and frail, as if some internal struggle were consuming him. What happened to the man that had risked his life to save her? What happened to her savior and protector who ensured she was well-fed?
In the late afternoon, Garto walked her back home where she was met by elegant Alron. As the shadows lengthened, Alron would walk with her on the streets of Bethlehem, regaling her with tales of his business acumen and success, promising her riches and delights if she would join him. Alron told her how his father was the first Israelite to engage the Philistines in business and the thirst the tribes of Israel had for Philistine handiwork.
“Have you decided yet, my dear?” Alron would ask. Ruth didn’t know why she didn’t say ‘no’ each time. She didn’t like Alron. He was an arrogant, self-centered aristocrat and his promises of wealth did not entice Ruth. But something told her that if she refused him too quickly, the repercussions would be disastrous. She felt she was buying time.
“It’s been a long day, Alron,” Ruth invariably said. “Let us talk more tomorrow perhaps?”
“Don’t think I haven’t seen you with that boor, Garto,” Alron said one evening. “He is little more than a glorified farm-hand. He can’t even afford a horse!”
“Garto is a good man,” Ruth said defensively. “He is a dedicated and hard worker. I am grateful for his assistance and attention.”
“A princess with a common farmer?” Alron laughed. “Come now, my dear. You can do much better than that. Perhaps not here in Bethlehem. Come with me to a real city, a cosmopolitan city. A city with more than just farmers and shepherds. Ruth, you are a woman of the world, why do you shackle yourself to this lowly existence. Why do you sully your hands with menial labor when you can command an entire retinue of slaves to do your bidding?”
“Tomorrow, Alron,” Ruth said quietly. “Let us converse more tomorrow.”
“As you wish, my dear. But know that the harvest festival is fast approaching and my patience is running thin. Good night.” Alron excused himself in front of Naomi’s house, leaving a flustered Ruth behind.
Ruth’s only respite was the Sabbath. Ruth loved the Sabbath. She loved how the people of Bethlehem gathered in the town square, opposite the gate, to listen to the reading of the Torah. Boaz walked to the assembly gingerly, embracing a scroll against his chest. It was one of the original scrolls written in the desert by the hand of Moses himself. Moses had written thirteen identical scrolls. He gave one to each tribe of Israel. The original copy remained with the Ark of the Tabernacle at Shilo. Caleb, Boaz’s uncle, mentor and the second Prince of the Tribe of Judah had received one of the scrolls. Before his death, Caleb had charged the scroll to Boaz. Over the years, many other scrolls had been copied from the one Boaz carried reverentially in his arms.
Boaz also seemed more like himself when he read from the scroll. His confident stance, his easy comfort, his natural joy all showed themselves when he read with his melodic tune. That is my protector, my savior, Ruth thought to herself as Boaz stood in front of the residents of Bethlehem.
A lot of what Boaz read was familiar to Ruth. Over the years of her marriage to Mahlon, he had shared many of the stories and concepts with her. Naomi, with her sharp memory and analytical mind had further added to her education. Ruth enjoyed the review of the stories and of God’s commandments and she also enjoyed discovering new ones she hadn’t heard before.
Ruth sat next to Naomi, amidst a group of elderly women, most of whom had reestablished their friendship with Naomi. Ruth recognized a number of women from Boaz’s field and from her walks from Bethlehem and back. She smiled at them shyly, happy for the smile back or the warm greeting of ‘Sabbath peace’ they bestowed upon her. However, there were a number of men who refused to look at Naomi and certainly not at Ruth. Foremost amongst them was Ploni son of Nachshon, Naomi’s brother-in-law. He had not said a word to Naomi since her arrival. Other neighbors had followed Ploni’s lead in ostracizing Naomi for having brought the Moabite daughter of Eglon the Tyrant into their midst. Noami paid no attention to Ploni’s silent anger and chatted amicably with her friends as people found seats to hear the reading.
Boaz read from the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the Five Books of Moses, the only one written in the voice of Moses as opposed to dictated by God. He read about returning the ox of one’s enemy. He read about the sentence of a licentious woman. Then he read about those that Israelites cannot marry.
“A man shall not take his father’s wife, and shall not uncover his father’s robe,” Boaz chanted in his firm voice. “He that is crushed or maimed in his privy parts shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord. A bastard shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation shall none of his enter into the assembly of the Lord.”
Boaz paused suddenly, hesitating to utter the next words. A confused murmur arose from the crowd. Ploni smiled thinly.
“Go on, Boaz,” Ploni called out. “Read the next part.”
Boaz looked uncomfortably at the scroll, swallowed and read in a hushed tone, as if he were reading a curse:
“An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of them shall enter into the assembly of the Lord, ever; because they met you not with bread and with water on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against you Bilaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse you. Nevertheless, God would not listen to Bilaam; but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days, forever.”
Ruth sat dumbfounded. She was prohibited from marrying an Israelite? Not Mahlon, nor Naomi, nor even wise Boaz had ever mentioned this to her. Ploni stood up and pointed his walking stick at Boaz.
“You see?” Ploni bellowed. “It is right there. Ink upon parchment. By the hand of Moses himself. You sully yourself by reading these words from God yet bringing this heathen viper under your wings.” Ploni shifted his shaking stick towards Ruth. A murmur spread through the assembly. “Moabite” they said unkindly.
Ruth looked at the crowd. Boaz’s head was bowed, in sadness or resignation. Garto looked around as well, discomfort on his face. Alron, standing in the back of the congregation, took a step away from the unhappy crowd. Ehud sat pensively beside Boaz. Naomi looked at Ploni with fury.
“Listen to me. Listen to me!” Naomi called out amongst the growing anger of the people.
“Why should we listen to you, woman?” Ploni called back. “You are the one who brought this Moabite into our midst and allowed your son to marry her. You are the prime cause of this debacle!”
“I will be heard, last son of Nachshon!” Naomi yelled at the top of her lungs. The crowd quieted down. “Take your blinders of hate off for a moment. You are so bitter, Ploni, that the air you breathe must be bile. Be silent and let some light penetrate that dark and somber mind of yours. I have lived amongst the Moabites and I will tell you about them. It is true that their men are vile. Ruth’s half-brother, King Zipor, befriended my boys and then had them murdered. They are not to be trusted and if I had been blessed with daughters, I would never let them marry a Moabite. But the women of Moab are different and my daughter-in-law most of all. I have known only kindness and sacrifice from Ruth. She could have stayed with her people. She is of royal blood, but she chose to join us… us! The children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Will we turn away the righteous? Will the people of loving-kindness demonstrate cruelty to those that seek us out with nothing but love and goodwill? Have we deteriorated so low from the ethics of Moses our teacher?”
“Pretty speech, Naomi,” Ploni responded. “But it doesn’t change the fact that she is a Moabite and Moses commanded that no Moabite will join the nation of Israel, ever!”
“Wait!” Naomi pleaded to the renewed murmurs of the crowd. “We have a prophet of the Lord right here amongst us: Ehud son of Gera who saved us from the clutches of Eglon. He was the very assassin of Ruth’s father. Ehud, what does the Lord say on this matter? Speak! Do not be silent.”
The congregation as one turned to the squat grey-haired blacksmith. Ehud stood up and cleared his throat.
“Ruth is beloved to God. Naomi speaks truth. The Word of Moses stands but is not independent of the Oral Tradition. This matter requires further elaboration, but now is not the time or place. Boaz, continue your reading from the sacred scroll. This discussion is ended.”
Boaz cleared his throat and continued reading. He read how Edomites and Egyptians could marry Israelites, but only after the third generation. Ruth stood up and excused herself from Naomi, leaving the assembly and heading to her house. Naomi stood up as well, cast an angry glance at Ploni and followed Ruth.
“Ruth, my daughter. Wait,” Naomi called.
“They hate me,” Ruth responded as she slowed down and allowed Naomi to catch up.
“They are ignorant,” Naomi answered.
“They are hateful, and your own Law substantiates it. You are commanded to hate Moabites. Why did you never tell me of this command? How could you have lived amongst us? How can I live amongst you? I thought myself one of you, but now I see I was naïve. Boaz was so silent. Is that why he has not spoken to me all these weeks? Did he recall the Law after he had shown such graciousness to me? I must leave.”
“Leave? How can you leave? Where will you go?”
“I don’t know. Perhaps Alron is right. Perhaps I need a bigger place, where people won’t hate me or desire me because of my nation or my parentage. Perhaps Damascus. That is a big city. I could lose myself in such a city. Become anonymous. I would just be Ruth. Not Princess Ruth, not Ruth the Moabite, not Ruth daughter of Eglon the Tyrant, just Ruth.”
“If you leave, I will follow you,” Naomi stated.
“Follow me?” Ruth looked at Naomi in shock. “You have finally returned home. You are amongst your people, your relatives, your friends. Your house is finally in order. How could you leave it all again.”
“I will not lose you, Ruth. You are more precious to me than all the people of Bethlehem. If they cannot appreciate what I see in you, it is their loss.”
“My dear ladies,”Alron interrupted from behind. “I couldn’t help but overhear your moving conversation and I would like to offer my humble services. Ruth, your suggestion of traveling to Damascus is inspired. I have long sought to extend my business network to that great city. It will be my most glorious privilege to transport such important women as yourselves to that bustling metropolis. What say you? Shall we leave this backward town and explore the greater, more accepting world? I can have my wagon and horses ready momentarily.”
Ruth looked at Alron and considered his generous offer. She looked at her mother-in-law, who was willing to leave the animosity of Bethlehem.
“It is the Sabbath,” Ruth responded. “And the little I know of Hebrew law is that it is forbidden to travel today. Thank you for your most generous offer, but I think it would be better if we contemplated it tomorrow.”
“Ruth! Naomi!” Garto ran towards them, yelling and waving his arms.
“What is the matter?” Ruth asked as he approached.
“Boaz,” Garto said panting. “Boaz has fallen!”
“What happened? Is he hurt?” Ruth asked, her heart beating madly.
“I don’t know. He just collapsed on the floor and is unmoving.”
Ruth ran back to the town square, thinking only of Boaz, the thought of leaving Bethlehem already forgotten.
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Boaz’s Torah reading is directly from Deuteronomy Chapter 23.