Warrior Prophets 3 Chapter 24
Ruth composed herself and walked calmly to her mother-in-laws house. She needed to think clearly. Getting emotional would lead to poor decisions. Boaz had assured her that matters would work out and pleaded with her to stay. She was pained by his frail condition. Where was the valiant hero that had stormed Perath’s palace and rescued her from enslavement?
Strong, vibrant Garto approached Ruth as he spotted her exiting Boaz’s home.
“Ruth, may I speak with you?” Garto panted lightly.
“Yes, Garto. Of course. Ruth stopped, letting Garto catch his breath.
“I know that you care deeply for my master. And I likewise know that he is most fond and protective of you. He is a great man. There are none in Bethlehem and perhaps few in all of Israel like Boaz.”
“Yes. But why are you telling me this?”
“Because I care for you too.”
“I know, Garto. You have been very kind to me these past weeks. You’ve been a friend and a companion and I have very much appreciated your company and protection.”
“I know that I’m not as great, nor as distinguished as Boaz. But I do have one advantage over him.”
“And what is that?” Ruth raised her eyebrow.
“I am young. I am in the prime of my life, with many years of life and work ahead of me. Boaz is at the twilight of his life. He has had a full and glorious life and he is likely to follow the love of his life to the grave shortly. As great a man as he is, I think it better to marry a live dog than a dead lion. Do not cause yourself further heartache, Ruth. I am here. I am ready. I will treat you well. You will live in comfort and security with your mother-in-law. I will be happy to bring her as well into our home. Please, Ruth,” Garto got on his knees, “please consider me worthy of you. I do not care how the Elders will decide. I will marry you with their say-so or not. I will treasure you and protect you and make you happy and treat you like the person I have come to know. Please, Ruth. Will you marry me?”
Ruth looked at Garto with her mouth open wide.
“Garto, please stand up,” Ruth finally said. Garto stood up, awaiting Ruth’s words as if they would be a judgment on his life.
“Garto,” Ruth continued. “I like you. You are a good man. If Boaz were not part of my life, I would consider your offer most seriously. But now that you’ve made me think about it, I realize that as long as Boaz is alive I’m not ready to marry anyone else. Even if my time with Boaz would be short, I would be honored to be his wife, if he will have me. Thank you, Garto. Thank you for making me see that. I am in your debt. But I must go now. I must go home.”
Ruth walked briskly to Naomi’s house.
Naomi sat at the table, sewing intently, as Ruth entered the house.
“How is Boaz?” Naomi asked Ruth, without looking up.
“I think he will recover,” Ruth answered and sat down by the table.
“Most likely. The children of Nachshon are a hardy breed. Long-lived too – if they are not murdered before their time.” Naomi chuckled dryly.
“What is the matter?” Ruth asked, sensing Naomi’s unhappiness.
“Oh, nothing. I just never expected to have such a popular daughter-in-law.”
“What do you mean?”
“Ruth, what is so bad about that Danite, Alron? Perhaps it would be simplest for you to marry him. Great wealth, no hassles, no in-fighting between the Elders. We can leave Bethlehem and start anew, but not as beggars. If you were to marry Alron we could both live as royalty again.”
“What are you talking about? The man is detestable!” Ruth got up from the chair, agitated by the suggestion.
“Perhaps you should give him a chance,” Naomi pressed. “I think going with Alron may be the safest, the smartest way.”
“Give him a chance?” Ruth raised her voice. “Is a husband merely something one tries out like a dress and discards if it’s not to your taste? No, mother. I find him abhorrent and am surprised you would suggest him to me. I would prefer simple, honest Garto over that man. But not Alron, never Alron.”
“Garto? He is a peasant. You are of noble birth. You were married to the son of a Prince of Judah. You deserve much better.”
“Will I never escape the curse of my pedigree? You too will bind me to the station of my birth? I am Ruth, just Ruth, and a stranger in this land. I have no expectations of wealth or comfort, but I will not marry some arrogant lout to continue the farce of nobility.”
“Nonetheless, Garto would be a mistake. He is not worthy of you. Alron would be a better choice.”
“Enough!” Ruth banged her fist on the table, jolting Naomi upright in her chair. Naomi looked upon her daughter-in-law, and saw anger in her eyes. Naomi looked down, her face reddening. Ruth stormed out of the house, fresh tears streaming down her face.
Naomi pretended to be asleep as Ruth woke before dawn to glean in Boaz’s field. Naomi could not face Ruth. After Ruth departed Naomi arose and left the house, bucket in hand, and walked towards the well. She saw Alron standing casually by the well, a wolfish smile on his face. Naomi stopped in her tracks and turned back to the house. She closed the door to her house, leaned back against it and shivered, though the day was already proving to be warm.
“I am a granddaughter of Nachshon the Brave,” Naomi whispered to herself. “I will not be cowed by some fancy-threaded nitwit. This is not good for Ruth. I cannot help her like this. My dear Ruth. I cannot let you fall into Alron’s clutches. But I can’t do this alone. You need guidance, you need direction and we need clarity. I must go to Boaz. I can no longer postpone our meeting.”
Naomi placed her bucket gently on the floor, straightened out her dress and pinched her cheeks. She exited her house, standing tall and marching purposely through the streets of Bethlehem, ignoring the courteous nods and hellos of passersby. She rapped loudly on the door to Boaz’s house, remembering with a pang of pain the last time she had visited this house, to visit her lifelong friend, Vered, more than ten years before – a lifetime ago.
“Enter,” Boaz’s strong voice called.
Naomi opened the door and entered the house.
“Naomi.” Boaz stood up from sitting at his table. She noticed some crumbs of pita on his plate and a bowl of olive oil by its side. “I am honored by your visit.”
“I see you are on your feet again, Boaz. I am glad.”
“As am I. And I am glad you are here. Please, sit down.”
Naomi sat at the table and Boaz reseated himself, moving stiffly.
“Naomi, we have not had opportunity to talk since your return to Bethlehem. You have my most heartfelt condolences on your loss of Elimelech, and Mahlon and Kilyon. A part of me died when I heard the news of your tragedy. They were great men, each of them. It is a sorrow for all of Israel to have lost a Prince and his sons. I am sorry.”
“And I am sorry for the death of Vered. I missed her so much. The memory of her friendship is what brought me back to Bethlehem. It has become a colder, harsher place without her.”
“Yes, I still grieve for my Vered. We are – both of us – bereft and diminished.”
Boaz and Naomi sat speechless for a few moments, lost in their thoughts of mourning. Naomi cleared her throat.
“I did not come here to speak of the dead, Boaz. I am much more concerned for the living.”
“As am I.”
“Good. Then please tell me plainly what are your intentions regarding my daughter-in-law, Ruth.”
“Ruth. Ruth. She is an extraordinary woman. Any man would be fortunate to have her attention.”
“Boaz, now is not the time for waxing eloquent. Tell me plainly. What are your plans and intentions towards her? I must know now. And choose your words carefully, for the fate of many rests on your answer.”
“Plainly? I don’t know. I would marry her if she would have me, though I am not convinced that she would. Also, I would only do so with the consensus and approval of the Elders. I cannot turn my back on our traditions, no matter how much I may love Ruth.”
“Men! Are all men foolish, or is it just the ones in our family? You would pass up on Ruth just because cranky old Ploni disapproves of her?”
“Now see here, Naomi. I will not be spoken to this way. Not by you and not in my own home. I will uphold our traditions and will abide by the decisions of the Elders. If I do not, what hope is there for anyone else to continue our traditions?”
“Even if they are wrong? How many times was Elimelech wrong? How many times did the Elders stand aside and watched as our men gleefully killed each other? Where were the Elders when the people of Israel worshipped false gods? No, Boaz. Do not speak to me of the righteousness of the Elders or our leadership. I have seen first-hand that disaster. Tell me that you will do the right thing and that you will marry Ruth no matter what the Elders say.”
“I cannot. I cannot go against them. It will unravel all I have done these years to establish ourselves as the law that should be followed. If the lawmaker does not follow the law, then anarchy will be our reward.”
“If you wish to debate matters of law, there is another law you haven’t considered.”
“What law?” Boaz asked.
“Levirate marriage. Ruth is the childless widow of your cousin. You have a legal obligation to marry Mahlon’s widow in order to continue the name of the deceased. Take that to your Elders!”
“There is one who precedes me in that obligation,” Boaz answered. “Ploni.”
“And will Ploni marry my Moabite daughter-in-law?”
“Remember this, Boaz. Whoever marries Ruth inherits all the lands of Elimelech. That may be of interest to Ploni.”
“The land will interest Ploni, but not Ruth. Let me think about these matters, Naomi. I must leave soon to my own fields. There is much work to do today, for tonight is the harvest feast. You are welcome to join us at the feast. Tomorrow I will be able to give this more serious thought and consider the best way to approach the Elders on the matter. I will do the right thing, Naomi. Have you known me to do otherwise?”
“No, Boaz. I know. Which is why I came to you. There is one last thing, however.”
“We have been threatened.”
“Alron the Danite. He intimated to me that if Ruth would not accept his marriage proposal and come with him, he would hurt both me and her. I am fearful that he is a man that carries through on his threats.”
“That is disturbing news. I will take care of the Danite. No one threatens my family in my own city. Rest assured Naomi. That is a problem that will be easier to solve. We will talk more about Ruth tomorrow. Now if you’ll please excuse me, I really should get to my field before the sun is much higher. I’m glad you visited, Naomi. And I’m even happier you came back, with the treasure you brought us from Moab. I will see you at the feast?”
“Yes, Boaz. I will see you later. Thank you for everything.” Naomi smiled at Boaz and departed.
Boaz exhaled the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding and murmured: “Family. Always so complicated.”
A rap on the door interrupted Boaz’s thoughts.
“Enter,” Boaz called.
Ehud opened the door and stepped into the house.
“Ah, Ehud. Just the man I needed to talk to. There is a problem I would appreciate if you could deal with.”
“I am at your service.”
“Good. Accompany me out. I suddenly feel that time is of the essence. There is a certain Danite that has been troubling Noami…”
Boaz and Ehud mounted their horses. Boaz told Ehud of Alron’s threats. As they reached the city well, they saw Alron lounging nearby, sitting at the front of his canopied wagon.
“I’ll take care of it,” Ehud said. “You go on to the field. I’ll meet you there when I’m done.”
Boaz trotted past Alron with a polite nod. Ehud rode his horse right up to the Danite.
“Master Alron, a word, if I may.”
“But of course, master blacksmith. It is always a treat to converse with old heroes.”
“What is your interest in Ruth?”
“I don’t see how that is any of your concern, Ehud.”
“I am making it my concern.”
“Are you her father? No, wait. You’re the one who murdered her father. I was never strong in my knowledge of the laws, but I don’t recall hearing that assassinating a woman’s father gives one parental rights. Or perhaps I was sleeping during that class.”
“I do not like your tone, young man.”
“And I do not like you, old geezer. If your interrogation is done, I will go on my way.” Alron grabbed the reins of his horses.
“Not so fast.” Ehud grabbed Alron’s arm.
“You’re hurting me!” Alron squealed. “Unhand me!”
“Not until you answer my questions.”
“Alright. Alright. I have a romantic interest in Ruth. Are there laws against that? She is an available woman. Have I committed some crime by declaring my affection for her?”
“Only when those affections are coupled with threats.”
“Threats? There must be some misunderstanding. I have not threatened anyone. I am an honest, though successful merchant from the north. It happens frequently that I’m misunderstood, or that people are jealous of me because of my success. Please, master blacksmith, unhand me and let us discuss this as civilized gentlemen.”
“Alron, you are a liar.” Ehud tightened his grip on Alron’s arm. Alron winced in pain. “And you are dangerous. You are to leave Bethlehem immediately and are not to return.”
“Or I will kill you.” Ehud grabbed Alron in a chokehold with his other hand. “I have killed men for much less in my day. Make no mistake, Alron. I do not jest. You have threatened a resident of Bethlehem, a member of Boaz’s family. We do not take such threats lightly. I am of a mind to break your wiry neck right now.” Ehud tightened his grip. “But Boaz is a kindly man. This is your last and only warning. Leave now, or die.”
Ehud released Alron. Alron caught his breath and rubbed his neck.
“I will leave, Ehud. But you will regret the day you crossed paths with Alron of Dan.” Alron took the reins of his horses and rode out of Bethlehem.
The harvest was complete. Boaz inspected the granary and was pleased by the record crop. The pile of grain reached above his head. There hadn’t been a harvest this good in Bethlehem even before the years of draught. Boaz felt a special fulfillment by the blessing of success. Only the gleaners remained in the field, picking up the last leavings of grain for themselves. Boaz’s workers were busy preparing for the feast.
Half a dozen tender sheep were slaughtered and were roasting on spits over an open fire. Workers brought jugs of wine and oil to the threshing floor, where they would conduct the feast. Maidservants kneaded dough and placed thin layers on metal domes on the fire, turning them into fresh pita. The sweet odor of the fresh bread wafted through the air. Children carried baskets filled with fresh figs and dates. There was a festive atmosphere as Boaz’s workers and their family members prepared for the event.
Boaz sought Ruth in the field. He found her gleaning morosely the few fallen grains of wheat that she could find.
“Ruth, how are you?” Boaz called from behind. Ruth turned to him.
“Boaz? You are here? It is wonderful to see you out and about. How are you feeling?”
“Much better. Will you come to the feast this evening?”
“Am I invited?”
“Yes, please do come.”
“Thank you. But what of us? What will be our future?”
“I cannot say yet. We will discuss further tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Another tomorrow? I don’t know how many tomorrows I can stand. I need answers today. I am confused. It is not a pleasant place to be. Please, Boaz. Give me answers today.”
“I must convene the Elders. Tomorrow.”
“The Elders. They will decide my fate?”
“Our fate. Yes. We are a people of laws and traditions. I cannot merely do what my heart dictates.”
“What does your heart dictate, Boaz?”
“Tomorrow. I see. I guess we must live for the day. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Thank you for your invitation, Boaz. I will consider it.” Ruth turned around and reached for a fallen grain she hadn’t noticed before. Boaz stood awkwardly behind her and then returned to the bustle of the feast preparations.
Ruth waited until after Boaz left the field, gathered her sheaves and left the field directly to the road. She walked tearfully back to Bethlehem. Garto spotted Ruth leaving and ran after her.
“Is everything okay?” Garto asked Ruth who walked with her head down.
“You seem distraught.”
“It pains me to see you like this. They say that a burden that is shared is a burden that is lightened. Won’t you share with me, Ruth?”
“Oh, Garto,” Ruth looked at him. “You are so sweet. You have changed. You are no longer that overbearing overseer that greeted me so inappropriately on my first day. You make me happy.”
“As do you. It is a blessing to be in your presence. May I walk you home?”
“Yes. It would please me.”
“Mother!” Ruth opened the door to their house. “I must talk to you!”
“As do I, child,” Naomi responded as she sat sewing a dress. “I’m sorry I mentioned Alron to you yesterday. It was a mistake and I shall not make it again.”
“That is okay. It doesn’t matter anymore. I’ve decided.”
“What have you decided?” Naomi stopped her sewing.
“I’ve decided to marry Garto. We shall marry tomorrow.”
Naomi dropped the dress and stared open-mouthed at the bride-to-be.
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