Beckett: Ruth – Chapter 1: To Be Bitter

A couple years ago, someone asked me to write the book of Ruth into a short story, so I did. Keep in mind as I post each chapter that there are some areas where I fill in some fictional details, such as how Naomi learnt of the prosperity in Bethlehem. The text in Ruth does not say how she knew, so I used my creative mind to write a speculative way of how she might have heard about it. Other creative fictions include thoughts each character is going through, which are implied by the text. With that, here’s my product, beginning with chapter one.

During the days when the judges ruled, there was a merciless famine. A man from Bethlehem, Elimelech, traveled with his family to Moab where he planned to temporarily sojourn with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah, like the future legendary and dearly loved King David, for Ephratah was the archaic name of Bethlehem. Sadly, however, Elimelech became ill and died, leaving Naomi widowed with her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who eventually married wives named Orpah and Ruth respectively.

For ten years they each lived happy marriages, until the time of Mahlon and Chilion ended, and they died. Now, Naomi felt completely alone. Her husband had died, and now her two sons have perished.

As she was walking in the streets, seeking food, she heard common rumours from merchants.

“Have you heard of Bethlehem?” one merchant spoke to another.

“What of it?” the other asked impatiently.

“News hails that a merciful god has blessed them abundantly with food.”

“Rubbish! Who is this god?”

“The Jews dare not speak his name or even write it, but they call him,” he whispered, “Yahweh.”

Hearing this, Naomi was inspired with a renewed determination to continue living. She spoke with her remaining family—her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, about this news.  Rejuvenated, the three lonely women embarked to the land of Judah.

However, on their way, Naomi became disheartened, feeling selfish for keeping Orpah and Ruth to herself and not allowing them to return to their own mothers. After all, they no longer had any allegiance to her with their husbands now dead.

So, she said to them, “You two no longer have any obligation to remain with me.  You should both return to your mothers. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.”

She kissed each of them on the cheek, and they began to weep.

Orpah wept, “No, we will return with you to your people.” Ruth nodded in agreement.

Naomi refused, “Turn back, my daughters. Why would you go with me? Do I somehow have sons in my womb who will be born fit to be your husbands?” she asked sarcastically and rhetorically. “Return to your mothers, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should give birth to sons, would you really wait till they’ve grown of age? Or would you refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”

They each continued to weep in their despair, and Orpah kissed Naomi on the cheek, and began her journey home.

“See,” Naomi said to Ruth, “your sister-in-law is properly returning to her people and her gods. You must go with her.” Naomi never liked the fact that Orpah and her husband renounced the LORD and worshipped their false gods, but she loved her nonetheless.

However, Ruth clung to her dear mother-in-law, and said, “Do not try and force me to leave you. For wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you live, I will live. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, there I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

Naomi, touched by Ruth’s loyalty and seeing she was determined to keep her oath, said no more.

To get around the Dead Sea, Naomi and Ruth continued north on their travels through Heshbon, west to Jericho, south through Jerusalem, and finally arriving at Bethlehem. Upon their arrival, it seemed the entire town was stirred by their presence. It had been more than ten years since Naomi had left, after all.

As they passed by the people, women would conjecture, “Is this Naomi?”

Naomi became annoyed with their gossip and responded to some of them, “Do not call me Naomi, but call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away with abundance, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

Mara is the female Hebrew name meaning, “to be bitter,” and Naomi felt she ought to be called such. She left with her husband and sons, and returned without them, totally empty. Losing her husband, then her dear sons, and scavenging for food in the middle of an unforgiving famine, Naomi had developed a bitterness of attitude, and a bitterness toward the LORD, for she felt that He has only dealt with her bitterly by afflicting her with the deaths of her loved ones and doing nothing to rid her of her troubles.

Ruth grew concerned for her mother-in-law because of this growing bitterness, and so she was even more convinced to remain with her. There is no greater betrayal than leaving your loved ones in a time of trouble, Ruth thought to herself. Ruth had faith that their God would, in His perfect timing, shower His mercy and care upon her dear mother-in-law.

And so, they returned to Naomi’s old home, having returned at the beginning of the barley harvest. The spring air was warm and comforting, the barley ripe after the autumn season.  The spring air blowing through her hair, it was the perfect consolation for her bitterness. Naomi watched as the farmers harvested the barley and suddenly realised how much she had missed her home and seeing, too, how prosperous the LORD has blessed the land.

Categories Ruth, Short StoriesTags , , , , , , ,

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