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HISTORY OF RUTH.
So they went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was moved about them; and they said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, which returned out of the country of Moab. And they came to Beth-lehem in the beginning of barley-harvest....RUTH i. 19...22.
F the calamities to which human life is exposed, a few only are to be accounted real evils: the rest are imaginary and fantastical. Want of health is real. woe; but what proportion do the hours of pain and sickness bear to the years of ease and comfort and joy? Want of bread is real distress, but it is very seldom the work of nature, and therefore ought not, in justice, to be introduced into the list of the unavoidable ills which flesh is heir to. The loss of friends is a sore evil, but even wounds from this sharp-pointed weapon are closed at length, by the gentle hand of time, and the tender consolations of religion.
Whence then the unceasing, the universal murmurings of discontent, of desire, of impatience? Men
fix their standard of felicity too high; and all they have attained goes for nothing, because one darling object is still out of reach; or they groan and sigh under the weight of some petty disaster, which scarce deserves the name; while ten thousand substantial blessings are daily falling on their heads unnoticed, unacknowledged, unenjoyed. Compare, O man, thy possesions with thy privations, compage thy comforts with thy deserts, compare thy condition with thy neighbor's, consider how far, how very far thy state is on this side worst, and learn to give God thanks. Repine not that some wants are unsupplied, that some griefs are endured, that some designs have been frustrated, while so many unmerited good things are left, while hope remains, while there is recourse to Heaven. Behold these two forlorn wanderers, widowed, friendless, destitute, and cease from thy complaints, and stretch out thy hand to succor the miserable.
In the glorious strife of affection, Ruth has nobly prevailed. Impelled by the fond recollection of endearments past, and now no more...prompted by filial duty and tenderness to the mother of her choice, attracted, animated, upheld by the powers and pros pects of religion, she composedly yields up her worldly all, takes up her cross, and bears it patiently along from Moab to Bethlehem-Judah. The history is silent on the subject of their journey. It is easy to conceive the anxieties, the terrors, the fatigues, the sufferings of female travellers, on a route of at least a hundred and twenty miles across the Arnon, across the Jordan, over mountains, through solitudes, without a protector, without a guide, without money. But that God who is the friend of the destitute, and the refuge of the miserable, that God who was preparing for them infinitely more than they could ask, wish, or think, guides and guards them by the way, and brings them at length to their desired resting place.
These are not the only female pilgrims whom the
sacred page has presented to our view, advancing by slow and painful stages to Bethlehem of Judas. Upwards of thirteen hundred years after this period we behold a still more illustrious traveller, and in circumstances still more delicate, on the road from Nazareth of Galilee, to her native city; but not to take possession of the inheritance of her fathers, not to repose in the lap of ease and indulgence, not to deposit the anxieties of approaching child-birth in the bosom of a fond and sympathizing parent; but to know the heart of a stranger, to feel the bitterness of unkindness and neglect; so friendless that not a door would open to receive her, so poor that she cannot purchase the accommodations of an inn, overtaken by nature's inevitable hour," she brings forth her first-born son in a stable, and lays him in the manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." But through such bumiliating circumstances of meanness and poverty, what a display of glory and magnificence was the arm of Jehovah preparing! What an important station do the simple annals of these poor women hold in the history of mankind! What celebrity, in the eyes of all nations, have they conferred on Bethlehem, on their country! How a thousand years shrink into a point, before that God who "sees the end from the beginning!" How the purposes of Heaven are accomplished to one icta, to one tittle! How places and times are determined of Him who saith, as one having authority, " My counsel shall stand, and I will fulfil all my pleasure.'
One of the advantages, and not the least, of travelling abroad, is the joy which the thought of returning home inspires; but this is a consolation which Naomi's return is not permitted to enjoy. She brings back no treasures to purchase attention, to command respect, to excite envy. She is accompanied with no husband, no son, to maintain her cause, or cheer her solitude. She brings back nothing but emptiness, dereliction and tears. A great part of her ancient acquaintance and
friends are gone, as well as her own family. Those who remain hardly know her again, so much are her looks impaired and disfigured with grief. A new generation has arisen, to whom she is an utter stranger, and who are utter strangers to her. But in a little city, a trifling event makes a great noise. The curiosity of the whole town is excited by the appearance of these two insignificant fugitives; and various we may suppose were the inquiries set on foot, the conjectures formed, the remarks made, the censures passed, on their account. This is the never-failing inconveniency of inconsiderable places. Where there is abundance of idleness, abundance of ill-nature, every man is a spy upon his neighbor, every one is at leisure to attend to the affairs of another, because he is but half occupied by his own. We have here enough of inquiry, enough of wonder, but not a single word of compassion, of kindness, of hospitality; and Naomi might have gone without a roof to shelter her head, or a morsel of bread to sustain sinking nature, but for the industry and attachment of her amiable daughter-in-law !
Base, unfeeling world, that can feast itself on the orph an's tears and the widow's sorrow! See, there they are, every one from his own business, or rather his own idleness, to stare and talk a wretched woman out of countenance; the whisper goes round, the finger points, the scandal of ten years standing is revived, and a new coloring is given to it. Affected pity and real indifference wound the heart which God himself has just bruised: whose husband and children he has taken to himself. The wretched mourner seems to feel it, she bursts into an agony of grief, and thus vents the bitterness of her soul," Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me ?" Verse 20, 21. What simple, but what
forcible language the heart speaks! She dwells on the minute circumstances of her case, takes up her own name as a theme of woe, changes the fond appellation of parental affection, of parental hope, Naomi, on which Providence had poured out the wormwood and gall of disappointment, into one better adapted to her tragical history The past presents nothing but happiness passed away as a shadow; rank, and opulence, and importance, gone, gone, never to return. The future spreads a gloom unirradiated by a single gleam of hope. She apprehends no change of things, but the oppressive change from evil to worse.
But yet her misery admits of alleviation. It comes from God. She sees the hand of a Father in her affliction, she kisses the rod, and commands the soul to peace. To endure distress the fruit of our own folly, to suffer from the pride, cruelty and carelesssness of a man like ourselves, is grievous, is unsupportable, it drinks up our spirits. But the evil that comes immediately from God has its own antidote blended into its substance; we drink the poison and the medicine from the same chalice, and at the same instant; the one destroys the effect of the other; their joint operation is salutary, is life-giving, not deadly. Was that the voice of God which I heard? Spake it not in thunder? Said it not, take now thy son, thine only son, Isaac, whom thou lovest, and offer him for a burnt-offering.' It is well; it was the voice of God, and that is enough. I will offer up the sacrifice, I will surrender my dearest delight, I cannot tell how the promise is to be accomplished, consistently with my obedience and submission, but the command and the promise proceed from the same lips; I leave all to him.
From all that we see, Naomi had slender motives, and poor encouragement, to return to her own country; we cannot tell what determined her resolution; it might be a little fit of female impatience, occasioned by some piece of Moabitess insolence or unkindness;