There was a famine in Israel. It had not rained for weeks, and all the crops had withered in the heat. Many people decided to leave and go in search of food.
‘Everyone is packing up and moving somewhere else,’Elimelech told his wife, Naomi,and their two sons.‘We must go,too. It's just until the famine is over. Then we'll come back.’
Elimelech and his family gathered their few possessions and walked to the land of Moab. They soon settled down. At first they were sorry to be away from Israel,but soon they began to like their new home.
Not long after they arrived in Moab, Elimelech died. Naomi was very sad, but she worked hard and brought up her two sons by herself.
When they were old enough,Naomi's sons married Moabite girls called Orpah and Ruth.The two girls were fond of Naomi and, although they were very poor,they all lived happily together for about ten years. Then tragedy struck again, and Naomi's two sons died. But Orpah and Ruth loved Naomi almost as much as if she were their own mother. They stayed with her to comfort her.
Some years later Naomi had good news from Bethlehem, her old home.
‘I have heard that the famine is over,’she announced.‘I would like to go back to Israel before I get too old to make the journey.’
Ruth and Orpah were very sad to hear that Naomi wanted to go back to Israel, but they did not try to stop her.
‘It's too far to go by yourself,’Orpah said kindly.‘Ruth and I have been talking. We've decided to come with you.’
Naomi was delighted. The three women packed up their belongings and set off.
After a few days, they came near to the border between Moab and Israel. Naomi stopped.
‘You have both been good to me,’she said to Orpah and Ruth.‘And I love you both very much.But Moab is your country, not Israel. You ought to stay here.’
Orpah and Ruth argued and argued, but Naomi was determined. In the end she persuaded Orpah to go back home. But nothing she said could
change Ruth's mind.
‘Nothing will make me leave you,’Ruth told Naomi.‘I want to come to Israel. I want to belong to your people and serve your God.’
Naomi stopped arguing. The two women said a tearful goodbye to Orpah and waved until she was out of sight. Then they set off on the last stage of their journey to Bethlehem.
The people of Bethlehem were delighted to see Naomi again, but they were sad to hear that her husband and sons had died.
Naomi and Ruth found somewhere to live and settled in.But they did not have enough money to buy food.
‘How will we manage?’asked Ruth.
‘God's law says that at harvest time all farmers in Israel have to leave some barley in the fields and some fruit on the trees,’Naomi explained.‘Poor people can go into the fields to collect what is left over.’
‘I am younger than you,’said Ruth.‘I will go and gather enough for both of us.’
Next day, Ruth set out early.She stopped at a nearby farm,where the workers were already busy in the fields. Ruth chose one field and worked hard all morning,picking up every stray stalk of barley she could find.
At midday, while Ruth was busy in a corner of the field, the farmer, who was called Boaz,came to see how the harvest was going.
‘Who is that young woman?’he asked, pointing to Ruth.
One of the workers explained that Ruth had come from Moab and that she lived with Naomi.
‘She looks after Naomi as if Naomi were her own mother,’the worker told Boaz.
Boaz had already heard of Ruth, and of her kindness to Naomi. He went over to her.
‘You may stay in my fields for the rest of the harvest,’he told her.
‘You may gather as much barley as you need. And if you get thirsty,drink from one of our water jars.’
Ruth thanked Boaz, although she was a little surprised by his kindness.
Without letting Ruth know,Boaz told his workers to make sure they dropped some stalks of barley on purpose, so that Ruth would have plenty of food to take home to Naomi.
By the end of the day, Ruth was scarcely able to carry all the barley she had gathered.
‘How did you manage to collect so much?’asked Naomi, amazed at the sight of Ruth's overflowing basket.‘Where were you working?’
‘I was in the fields of a farmer called Boaz,’replied Ruth.‘He was very kind to me.’
‘Why, Boaz is a relative of mine!’exclaimed Naomi.‘He is a good man. God must have guided you to his fields.’
Ruth continued to work in Boaz's fields. But Naomi worried about what would happen when the harvest was over and there was no more barley to be gathered.
‘I have a plan,’she told Ruth one evening.‘You must go to Boaz, explain that we are all alone and ask him to protect us.’
Although Ruth felt shy about asking Boaz to look after herself and Naomi, she agreed.
Boaz was pleased that Ruth had come to him for help, and sent her home with a gift of barley for Naomi.
‘We will be safe now,’said Naomi.‘I know that Boaz will find a way of helping us.’
Boaz had grown to like Ruth very much,and wanted to marry her. But there was another member of Elimelech's family living in Bethlehem, and Boaz knew that he must first give this man the opportunity of marrying Ruth.
Happily for Boaz, the man did not want to marry Ruth. So Boaz then went to the wise leaders of the town and told them of his wish to marry Ruth and look after Naomi. The leaders were delighted, and gave their permission.
So Ruth and Boaz were married,and Boaz took Ruth and Naomi to live with him on his farm. They were all very happy.
Before long, Ruth had a baby boy. All the women of Bethlehem came to see Naomi's grandson.
‘Now you have plenty to eat,and a fine grandson as well,’they told her.
‘It's all thanks to God,’replied Naomi, smiling with joy.