In the old days, when Israel was ruled by judges, there was a man of Bethlehem-Juda that took his wife and his two sons to live in the Moabite country, to escape from a famine.
There, in Moab, these Ephrathites from Bethlehem-Juda continued to dwell, Elimelech, and his wife Noemi, and his two sons Mahalon and Chelion;
there Elimelech died, and Noemi was left a widow. But still she would be with her sons,
who had now married wives of Moabite race, one called Orpha and the other Ruth. So ten years passed,
and then Mahalon and Chelion both died. And now, both widowed and childless,
she bade farewell to Moab and set out, with her two daughters-in-law, on the journey home; the Lord had been merciful to his people, she was told, and there was food to be had once more.
Thus Noemi left her dwelling-place; and when she set foot on the road that led to the domain of Juda, she turned to her companions,
and bade either go back to her own mother’s house; May the Lord shew kindness to you, she said, as you have shewn kindness to the memory of the dead, and to me;
may you live at ease with new husbands. And with that she gave them a parting kiss. But no, they wept aloud,
and declared they would go on in her company, to the home of her own people.
Come with me, my daughters? she answered. Nay, you must go back. I have no more sons in my womb to wed you;
go back, daughters, and leave me; I am an old woman, past the age for marrying. Though I should conceive this very night, and bear sons,
it would be weary waiting for you till they should be grown to manhood; you would be old women too, long before your wedding day. Enough of this, daughters; it is your hard lot that makes it weigh heavy on me, this burden the Lord has given me to bear.
At this, they wept louder than ever; but Orpha kissed her mother-in-law and went back; Ruth would not leave her side.
Here is thy sister-in-law gone back, Noemi said, back to her own people and the gods they worship; do thou, too, go with her.
Nay, said Ruth, do not press me to go back and leave thee. I mean to go where thou goest, and dwell where thou dwellest; thy people shall be my people, thy God my God;
whatever earth closes over thee when thou diest shall be my place of death and burial. Due meed of punishment the Lord give me, and more than due, if aught but death part thee and me.
When she found Ruth so resolved to bear her company, Noemi would cross her no longer, nor bid her return home;
together they went on, and at last reached Bethlehem. They had scarce entered the city gate before the tale went round, and all the gossips were saying, Why, it is Noemi.
Call me no longer, she said, by that name of delight; call me Mara, the unhappy one. Has not an almighty hand filled my cup with bitterness?
Rich in blessings I left my home, and the Lord has brought me back destitute. So humbled by the Lord’s hand, visited by the Almighty with such calamity, and will you call me Noemi still?
Thus it was that Noemi returned from the land of her adoption, with her daughter-in-law Ruth, that was Moabite born. They were just beginning to cut the barley in the fields, when she came back to her home at Bethlehem.