Woman of Valor
A Virtuous Woman in an Immoral Land
Ruth Woman of Valor
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“I happen to know that Boaz will be with his men tonight winnowing barley at the threshing floor.” She smiled, her eyes filled with female mischief. “Listen carefully and I will tell you what to do.”
“It is plain. You have a plan. Well, Boaz must ask me to be his wife, and he has not.”
“Ruth, listen to me. I shall tell you Israelite customs.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I am listening.”
“You must bathe, anoint yourself with perfume, and dress in your best garments. Then tonight, go down to the threshing floor, but do not—.”
Ruth sucked air. “The threshing floor! At night? During threshing days? Mother, it is not done. Surely you know the prostitutes frequent the threshing floors at this time of year offering their unholy services. They know the men will be there guarding the grain.”
“Do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking,” said Naomi ignoring Ruth’s concern. “Then, when he lies down, you shall take notice of the place. When the time is right, go in, uncover his feet, and lie down.
“This is our way of proposing marriage when asking help of a kinsman redeemer. It is perfectly acceptable, and Boaz will understand. He will tell you what to do concerning redeeming our land and a marriage for you two.”
Ruth’s eyes narrowed, and she lifted a skeptical eyebrow. So, I am to go secretly to a place known for sexual activity, hike up my master’s garment exposing his bare feet, and then lie down and await his words. Can he not help but believe I am there to engage in fornication?
“What if he does not speak of marriage? Maybe he will be appalled at my forwardness and ask me what I am doing.”
“It is Hebrew custom. He will know.”
“Should I not say something?”
Naomi’s eyebrows bunched. “He has never known a woman, so, he may become tongue-tied. If he only looks at you and does not say anything, then by all means you will need to speak. Tell him to take you under his wing and spread the corner of his garment over you. Remind him that he is our kinsman redeemer. Tell him to make you his wife.”
“Tell him? Do I demand?”
“My dear Ruth.” She gently shook her head. “I know you are a strong woman, a bold woman, in fact. However, it is in the voice,” she touched her throat, “and look.” She fluttered her eyelids. “No, never demand, but do not beg, either.”
Ruth gave a nervous shift to her feet and wiped her sweaty palms down the front of her robe. Her face had drawn tight. “I will do all that you have said to me.”
The deep meadow glen, wild, lonely, surrounded by ancient trees, and darkened from the lack of the sun’s rays, made a peaceful place for meditation. The clear water chuckling over a rock-strewn brook permitted Ruth blissful relief from her family. No one had discovered her secret place.
Silently and on nimble feet, she moved through the woods like a ghost. Arriving at the unique dell, Ruth took up a long stick and beat the grass. She had no desire to share her spot with a snake. Then, lying on her back in the lush grass, gazing at the passing clouds through openings in the trees, she reflected on events of the day, and her contemplations were many and varied. Ruth had questions that seemed unanswerable.
Her gods had been faithful to Moab. The land flourished with crops, and the people laughed and danced with glee. Israel’s God had withdrawn his blessings from their land. Another possible explanation put forward by many Moabites was the Canaanites had asked their grain and fish god, Dagon, to curse Israel.
It was well-known that the Israelites went to war against the Canaanites and the Israelites drove many out of the land of Canaan and killed many others. So, the Canaanite god had cursed Israel, and Yahweh could not overcome the curse.
Regardless of the explanation, Moabites believed Chemosh as the superior god, and they pointed to the prosperity of Moab and the destitution of Israel. However, Ruth had doubts. Why?
She chewed on a blade of grass as she sorted through recent events. One kept returning to her mind, the recently arrived Israelite family living on her father’s land. That family was not the first. Since Moab and Israel were at peace, the intermingling of the two countries was commonplace. She had met none of the Israelites, but almost anyone in Moab could provide second-hand information about their religion. It intrigued her, and she desired to learn more.
After much reflection, she dozed. The sleep, though only a few minutes, refreshed her mind and body. Awakened by the sound of an animal rustling the leaves under a nearby bush, Ruth got to her feet.
Then, leaving that spot, she strolled along the swift downhill rush of the brook until it slowed and climbed a gentle slope. Suddenly, Ruth stopped and cocked an ear to listen. Somewhere ahead a woodpecker tapped a tree searching for insects. She smiled, loving the sights and sounds of nature. Dropping to her knees, she cupped the cold water in her hands and drank.
Walking on, she came to a familiar pool carved out by the rushing water. A tree branch hung out over a small section of the pool, supplying shade for the fish. Here, the quiet water afforded her a reflection, one much clearer than the bronze looking glass her mother owned.
Ruth removed her head covering and stared at the young woman in the water. Unmarried women and widows did not wear a veil at that time. Only a married woman would veil herself when in public.
I am not an ugly girl, at least I do not believe I am. I give diligence to being pleasant. Why do I remain a virgin?
Confused, she studied the face in the water. Long eyelashes floated over large, coal-black eyes that flashed from a perfectly formed, cinnamon-shaded face. She had spent many hours toiling under the hot Moab sun, which over time had darkened by several shades her deep tan. The men of the village, both single and married, mesmerized by her breathtaking beauty, frequently speculated aloud which man would claim the virgin as his bride. Ruth, a chaste and proper young woman, would have been mortified if she had overheard the chatter.
The custom in many cultures was for a man to place a veil over a woman and declare that she was his wife. This practice indicated she belonged to a husband.
Ruth, being fifteen, should have been claimed. Without any offers, from the men of the village, she lived with the embarrassment of being passed over. Why? How long would this rejection continue?
Men married much later, the average age about thirty. Ar and the surrounding villages had plenty of men in that age group, yet none of them had shown any interest in her. They had talked about her, praised her beauty and graciousness, yet not one man had stepped forward asking for her in marriage.
The situation baffled Ruth, but she was too ashamed to ask her parents about it.
Eyeing her image, she stood straight, shoulders back and head level. A lovely smile crossed her face. She recalled her lessons from childhood. Figat taught Ruth to walk with her shoulders back and chin level while carrying an empty basket on her head. When Ruth became proficient with the empty basket, her mother gradually added over a period of weeks small amounts of grain. Soon she could carry heavy burdens and not break stride.
Now, her mane of silky-smooth, raven-black hair fell past those shoulders and sparkled in the blistering sunlight. In face and form, she had been described as perfect. Ruth was like the men of Ar had discussed with one another—gorgeous though her modest and unassuming disposition did not realize it.
She replaced her head covering, bowed her head and talked to the vision of womanhood in the water.
“Yahweh requires sacrifice, yet only grains and animals, not humans. If only the God of Israel had the power of Chemosh, he would be worthy of worship.”
Suddenly, she caught herself talking, and no one around to hear. She chuckled.
All of the other gods of whom she was familiar required human sacrifice. It seemed odd that this Israelite God did not. Did that make a difference in being strong or weak?
She must learn more, and that meant speaking to one of those foreigners. All it would take would be to ask a question or two of her brother about the family. He worked with the men and had become friendly with them.
If her brother refused help, she could pursue it herself. Ruth had not been forbidden to approach an Israelite.