Ruth, 1 Samuel 1
Background: It is near the end of the reign of the judges. Samuel will be the last of the Judges, and perhaps the most powerful on Israel ever had. Israel has failed to conquer most of the land, and has spent centuries in a cycle of righteousness and freedom, and wickedness and captivity.
In this time of weakness, where no one better than slouching Samson can be found as a Judge against the Philistines, and where Gideon must test the Lord to increase his faith time and again; we find a few good women of faith that stand head and shoulders above the rest. The prophetess Deborah is the first of the virtuous women we learn about, who stands in as the righteous and inspired leader of the people in a time when the men failed God.
The Land of Moab
The land of Moab was east of Israel just over the River Jordan. During this period, the Moabite lands were partially in the hands of the Tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. It is possible that the land in which Naomi dwelt was actually among the Israelites! She personally was from Bethlehem, and dwelt with her husband, who could have been from the one of the tribes east of the Jordan.
During the reign of the Judges, the control of the lands switched often, and could have gone from being controlled by Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh to the Moabites for a time. The Moabites worshiped the god Chemosh, who was similar to Baal in certain ways. Some scholars consider Chemosh and the Ammonite god Molech to be the same being. According to ancient tradition, the Moabites did not worship Chemosh faithfully, and so he turned them over to the Israelites for several centuries, until King Solomon built a sanctuary to Chemosh in Jerusalem. Included in the worship of Chemosh was human sacrifice, which appeased the god. If Chemosh was also Molech, then the worship would also include passing children through the fire and child sacrifice. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemosh)
With the death of her husband and sons, Naomi had a particularly difficult problem. She did not have any men or family to take care of her. In ancient times, women without male support could easily find themselves on the road to complete destitution and starvation. She had no choice but to return to her homeland and her tribe of Judah, near the town of Bethlehem.
Being without a man, she could no longer afford to manage her daughters-in-law, either. The kindest thing she could do is to send them back to their own families, where they would have a chance to remarry and to be cared for by their own people.
While Orpah returned to her own family, Ruth insisted on staying with Naomi. She would abandon the Moabite family of her childhood, the culture and their god.
Ruth Gleans the Fields
Settled in Bethlehem, there is only one way for two single women to survive: gleaning grain from the fields. In the Law of Moses, we find that one requirement is that farmers do not pick all the fruit/grain from their fields, but leave behind the grain in the corners of the field. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 23:22). This ensured the poor and needy had a way to feed themselves. It was the ancient welfare plan to provide for the poor.
Ruth found herself in the fields of Boaz. Boaz was a relative of Naomi, and when he found out who Ruth was, insisted she glean solely from his fields. In this manner he was able to ensure she could gather in sufficient grains to feed herself and the aging Naomi. When Naomi found out, she was pleased, and mentioned that Boaz was a “near kinsman” or a close relative. This fact will be very important to the story line.
Ruth Proposes Marriage
Over time, Naomi determined to use the law of Levirate marriage to provide Ruth a husband and grandchildren for herself. She directs the girl to stealthily enter into Boaz’ bed chamber after dark, uncover his feet, and lay at his feet as a marriage proposal. Ruth does as she is told, and laid at Boaz’ feet until he discovered her at midnight. There is another possible thing that occurred here. In ancient Hebrew, to “cover one’s feet” or to uncover them also meant to cover/uncover one’s loins. So, when we read of seraphim with wings that cover their feet, it likely means they had a covering for their loins (Isaiah 6:2). It is possible that Ruth laid herself down on his lap, as a marriage proposal. At midnight, he awoke.
“9 And he (Boaz) said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.
10 And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.
11 And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.”
To spread one’s skirt or cloak over another is to offer them protection. Nephi prayed, “O Lord, wilt thou encircle me around in the robe of thy righteousness!” (2 Ne 4:33), a perfect request of one who knew he needed a protector. Ruth sought a great protector in Boaz, who could care for her as a husband and provider. Boaz was surprised that she sought the proper Levirate marriage of marrying the next of kin, and not chasing after a young man. However, there was another closer relative that would get the first opportunity to marry the young woman.
That Ruth was able to slip into his room late at night, sleep at his “feet” and be considered a virtuous woman shows that her intentions in all she did was good. She followed proper protocol, even if it is different than what we would do today. She was virtuous, meaning chaste, hard working, honest, and dependable.
Boaz Gets a Bride
The city gate was where all the men went to discuss the news of the city. At the gate, one could talk to travelers and find out the news in other places near and far. And it was where much business was concluded. It would not be long after Boaz sat down at the gate until he would encounter the next of kin.
The discussion was made as a business proposition. Naomi had a piece of land for sale. However, to reclaim the property, one would also have to marry Ruth according to Levirate law, and provide descendants for the family. The next of kin turned down the offer, and allowed Boaz to buy the land and marry Ruth. Interestingly, while Boaz’ main goal was to marry Ruth, he brought her up as part of a business arrangement for property. Perhaps his method was to make the deal seem less appealing to the kinsman. Regardless, it worked for Boaz.
Boaz and Ruth would bear a son, Obed, who would be the grandfather of King David.
Hannah Prays for a Son
1 Samuel 1
Elkanah the Ephraimite was married, but had a problem. He and his wife, Hannah, were old and without a child. Having children to carry on the family line was very important. Even more important was the ability to have a son, to pass on the inheritance and blessings of the forefathers.
For Hannah, it was difficult to see the other women with sons, bragging on their children, and seeing them play in the streets. She mourned, even though Elkanah tried to cheer her up: “why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons? (1 Sam 1:8).
To try and help her, the couple prepared for the trip to Shiloh, where the Tabernacle of the Lord was. The Tabernacle is actually called the “temple of the Lord” in this story, even though a building was yet to be built. She prayed silently, expressing each word from her lips. The temple high priest, Eli, thought the woman was drunk, and sought to chastise her.
But Hannah explained her purpose. She was willing to give the child to God’s service, if she could just have her womb opened. Eli blessed her that her prayer would be answered, and the couple returned home. She did bear a son, Samuel.
Lent to the Lord
On bearing Samuel, Hannah cared for him for just a couple years. Once weaned, it was time to fulfill her promise: “For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord (1 Sam 1:27-28).
Have we pleaded with God for something, and when received, not thought to return it to God? What have we received that we were then willing to “lend to the Lord” and God’s service? When our children are born, do we dedicate them to God” Or do we keep them for ourself? When God blesses us in business, material possession, a talent, or anything else, what do we do with it? Do we use them solely for our own personal gain, or do we give back to God?
For LDS, this concept of lending back to the Lord includes tithing. God provides us with so much, that we covenant to return 10 percent tithe to God and his Church. We are also asked to share our time, talents, and resources to building up God’s church and work on the earth. This may include assisting in the Church, serving in our communities, caring for the poor and needy, or sharing a talent to make the world a better place.
Hannah’s devotion would bring to Israel their greatest Judge and the beginning of the united kingdom of Israel. He would be a Seer, a Prophet, and a Priest. In lending her son to God, she opened the door for the entire nation to be blessed. Imagine the continued struggles Israel would have suffered had she kept Samuel to herself. Imagine the suffering that happens in the world around us, because we do not share our blessings, gifts and talents with others.
The god Chemosh: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemosh
Levirate Marriage: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Levirate_marriage