Page images
PDF
EPUB

of wealth" and his labourers, is very impressive, and strikes us the more from the partial disuse of our own old analogous greeting of "God bless you." The verbal salutations of the East continue to be generally more impressive and more devout than our own. We shall notice this subject further under Ps. cxxix. 8, from which passage we learn, that such as the present were common forms of salutation, and not, as some conjecture, forms of devout acknowledgment at the commencement of harvest. We may be sure, however, that the devout Israelites were not wanting in their acknowledgments of the Divine favour, and prayer for its continuance, of which even the ancient heathens were not unmindful. Thus, Virgil instructs the former :

"In summer's heat,
Before the sickles touch the rip'ning wheat,
On Ceres call; and let the lab'ring hind
With oaken wreaths his hollow temples bind:
On Ceres let him call, and Ceres praise,

With uncouth dances and with country lays."-DRyden.

The last line furnishes a further illustration of Judges xxi. 21.

5. "His servant that was set over the reapers.”—A confidential servant, or slave, appointed to see things done in an orderly manner, that the work was properly executed, that the labourers were supplied with provisions, and to pay them their wages in the evening exercising a general superintendence and control. This officer was well known in the ancient harvest. Some think that the master who, in the description of Homer, stood

66

Enjoying mute the order of the field,"

was this officer; but we rather think that it was the proprietor himself, like Boaz; for the poet calls him by the highest title of distinction-a king (Basiλus), whereas the Greek title of the man who had charge of the harvest field was ayponouos, by which Josephus, in his repetition of this narrative, distinguishes this presiding servant of Boaz. The Chaldee calls him rab, the lord or ruler of the reapers.

7. "In the house."-This means the tent which was pitched, or the shed which was erected, temporarily, on the ground, for the occasional accommodation and refreshment of the persons engaged in getting in the harvest, or attending upon their wants. Here they enjoyed an interval of rest, under shade, in the heat of the day, partaking of such refreshments as were provided. After this they resumed their labour, and continued it until towards evening, as we see in the sequel.

14. "Eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar.”—This would be but poor entertainment if it were all according to our notions; but in the East, where the labouring poor fare much more humbly than with us, it would form a grateful and reviving refection. The refreshing qualities of vinegar are well known; which is probably the reason why it was provided on this occasion for the reapers heated with their sultry labour; for we do not learn that vinegar was thus ordinarily used, any more than it is now in the East. Probably the vinegar was mingled with a little olive oil, if we may take an illustration from the fare which was supplied to Joseph Pitts and his companions when slaves of the Algerines. "The food we had to sustain nature was answerable to the rest of their kindness: and this indeed, generally, was only a little vinegar (about five or six spoonfuls), half a spoonful of oil, and a few olives, with a small quantity of black biscuit, and a pint of water, a day." (True and Faithful Account,' p. 4.) Here we have bread and vinegar, with a little oil, supplied for daily provision. The provision which Boaz made for his reapers was doubtless of better quality, and included other articles not mentioned, "bread" being often a general term answering to our "food," and including even flesh-meat. The unfrequent use of animal food in the East by the labouring classes renders it however, doubtful whether we are to understand it as included under the "bread" of the present text. It is remarkable that vinegar made from wine is forbidden equally with wine itself to Nazarites (Num. vi. 3); and, in like manner, the Iohammedans generally consider wine-vinegar as included in the prohibition of wine to themselves; and perhaps the inferior character of that which they obtain from other sources may be a reason why vinegar is not now much used in Western Asia.

"Parched corn."-See the note on Josh. v. 11.

CHAPTER III.

1 By Naomi's instruction, 5 Ruth lieth at Boaz's feet. 8 Boaz acknowledgeth the right of a kinsman. 14 He sendeth her away with six measures of barley.

THEN Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?

2 And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor.

3 Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.

4 And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and 'uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.

5 And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do.

6 ¶ And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother in law bade her.

7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.

8 ¶ And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned

*Or, took hold on.

1 Or, lift up the clothes that are on his feet.

[blocks in formation]

Verse 2. "Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor;"In the evening, probably, and early part of the night. This was to obtain the advantage of the breezes which arise in the evening, and continue more or less through the night. Besides this, which is peculiarly applicable to winnowing, in those parts of the East where the heat of the sun is by day very powerful and oppressive, much agricultural labour of various kinds is performed on bright nights, for many hours after the sun has set or before it rises in the morning.

4. "Go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down.”-We may depend upon it, that however strange the instructions of Naomi to Ruth may appear according to our own usages and ideas-which are still so different from those of the Eastthere is nothing in them which, in the peculiar circumstances, was considered improper, under that simplicity of rural manners, of which this book affords so interesting a picture. We say, "in the peculiar circumstances," because it is evident, from the anxiety of Boaz that it should not be known that a woman had come to the floor (verse 14), that it would not have been correct in ordinary circumstances; but in the case of Ruth, this act was merely a process, doubtless conformable to general usage, by which she reminded Boaz of the relative position in which they stood to each other, and claimed from him the performance of that duty which devolved upon him as the kinsman of her deceased husband.

The act described in the text is more precisely defined in the marginal note. Boaz probably slept upon a rug, sheep-skin, or thick quilt, and was covered with another, or by his cloak. Ruth went and lay cross-wise at his feet, lifting up and drawing over her the extremity of the covering. Servants in the East often sleep in this manner, as to position. They frequently sleep in the same apartment or tent with their master, and when they do so, invariably lie at his feet, in the position described; and if, on a journey or otherwise, when the weather is cold, the servant has not sufficient covering of his own, usage allows him to avail himself of the covering at the foot of his master's bed. The writer has himself known servants take this liberty during a journey, as a matter of course. By this act Ruth declared herself subject to the direction and control of Boaz; and, partly assumed a right to that protection the confirmation of which she claimed afterwards as a favour.

9. "Spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.”—She had already placed herself under his covering, and we may understand that this request refers merely to his making this his own act, rather than as describing two actions, particularly as it is probable that she lay with no other covering than his mantle. The idea which this act conveys is before alluded to in the former chapter, where Boaz himself, after praising the devotedness and truth of Ruth's conduct, says: “ A full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust."

More definitely, Ruth, by desiring Boaz to spread his skirt over her, declares herself entitled to that protection which a wife receives from her husband, or, in other words, desires him to make her his wife. It was in fact a very prominent part of the marriage ceremony among the Jews and other Oriental people. The prophet Ezekiel indicates this:-"I spread my skirt over thee....and thou becamest mine" (Ezek. xvi. 8). The custom is still kept up by the modern Jews, though not perhaps in all the countries through which they are dispersed. When the bride and bridegroom stand before the priest, the latter takes up the end of the bridegroom's robe, and places it upon the bride's head, with a distinct allusion to this ancient ceremony. A similar usage prevails among some tribes of Arabs, with whom the ceremony constituting marriage is for one of the relations of the bridegroom, in the tent of the bride's father, to throw over her head a man's abba or cloak, saying as he does so, "No one shall cover thee but such a one," mentioning the bridegroom's name. She is then conducted to the tent of her husband. Mr. Roberts mentions an analogous custom as existing among the marriage ceremonies of the Hindoos. This part of the ceremony often produces powerful emotions on all present; and the parents on both sides then give their benedictions. Hence a common mode of expressing that

a man has married a particular woman is to say, "He has given her the koori," that is, has spread over her the skirt so called. (Oriental Illustrations,' p. 156.)

15. "Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee."-This veil was probably such as are still used in general by the women of Western Asia when they go abroad. It has little resemblance to what the word "veil" would suggest to the English reader. It is in fact a large sheet, which being thrown over the head descends to the heels, and being gathered in front by the hand, completely envelopes the whole person. These veils differ little except in colour, texture, and the manner in which the face is concealed. Ladies of distinction sometimes have them of silk, and these are mostly red, with narrow white stripes; but the poor women, and often others who are not poor, have them blue, striped with white; but those wholly of white are in most general use. These veils are always of linen or cotton, except those of red silk; and those used by poor women are coarse and very strong-such as we may suppose poor Ruth's veil to have been. In Syria the women so hold them as to conceal all the face except one eye, to which custom Solomon probably alludes in-Thou hast ravished mine heart with one of thine eyes" (Sol. Song, v. 7). In Persia the women also conceal the face, having only a bit of lace over the eyes, through which they can see; but the Turkish women cover the whole face with a large veil of horse-hair, which is very transparent from within, but seems perfectly opaque from without: the rest of their persons they cover with the sheet. We mention these particulars as illustrative of the veil as a large general envelope; but it does not appear that the Hebrew women of ordinary rank concealed their faces so generally as is now done in the same country.

[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]
[blocks in formation]

lech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi.

10 Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.

8 Therefore the kinsman said unto Boaz, Buy Buy it for thee. So he drew off his shoe. 9¶ And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elime

11 And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The LORD make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and 'do thou worthily in Ephratah, and ‘be famous in Beth-lehem:

12 And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom3 Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the LORD shall give thee of this young woman.

13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the LORD gave her conception, and she bare a son.

14 And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the LORD, which hath not "left thee this day without a 'kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel.

15 And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of 'thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.

16 And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it.

17 And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

18 Now these are the generations of Pharez: "Pharez begat Hezron,

19 And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab,

20 And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat "Salmon,

21 And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed,

22 And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.

1 Heb. I said I will reveal in thine ear. 2 Deut. 25. 7, 9. 3 Or, get thee riches, or, power. 4 Heb. proclaim thy name. Gen. 38. 29. 1 Chron. 2. 4. Matth. 1.3. 6 Heb. caused to cease unto thee. 7 Or, redeemer. 8 Heb. to nourish. 10 1 Chron. 2. 4. Matth. 1. 3. 11 Or, Salmah.

Heb. thy gray hairs.

Verse 4. "There is none to redeem it beside thee; and I am after thee.”—The law on which the usages described in the early part of this chapter are based will be found in Deut. xxv. There is indeed considerable difference in the details there stated, and the practice here followed; but there is a general identity, which will render the same statement applicable to the illustration of both passages. This law, commonly called the Levirate law, was, in substance, to the effect, that, if a brother died without children, his next surviving brother, or, if he had no brother, his nearest kinsman, was bound to marry the widow to raise up children to the deceased; that is to say, his firstborn son by this widow was to be considered as the son of the deceased, his name, as such, was to be inserted in the genealogical registers, and he

was to receive the estate which in that character devolved upon him. This law did not originate with Moses. It existed long before his time; for we find it fully and rigidly in force in the time of Jacob (Gen. xxxviii). It is therefore to be regarded as one of those prevalent usages which the law of Moses subjected to certain limitations and directions which did not previously exist. For instance, we see by the earlier instance that the surviving brother had no choice but to marry the widow; whereas the law of Moses did not absolutely compel him to do so. If his dislike to the woman, or to the duty which devolved upon him; or if his being already married indisposed him to take another wife were stronger considerations than his duty to his brother; the law provided an alternative, easy in itself, although attended with some degree of ignominy. The woman was in public court to take off his shoe, spit in his face (or on the ground before his face, we are not certain which), and say, "So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house;" and, probably, the fact of this refusal was stated in the genealogical registers in connection with his name; which is probably what is meant by, “His name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed" (see Deut. xxv). Under other circumstances, (that is, if the deceased had left children of his own) marriage with a brother's widow was strictly forbidden (Lev. xviii. 16; xx. 21). Analogous usages have prevailed among different nations, ancient and modern, particularly in Western Asia. The law is almost literally the same, in principle, among the Arabians, the Druses of Lebanon, and the Circassians-not to mention others. It existed in Scotland so late as the eleventh century, according to Lord Hales. Among the Arabians, indeed, the obligation is not indispensable upon the surviving brother. He generally offers his hand to his deceased brother's widow; but custom does not oblige either party to make this match, nor can the brother prevent the widow from marrying another man. "It seldom happens, however," says Burckhardt, "that he refuses; for by such an union the family property is kept together." The custom of marrying the brother's widow has long been discontinued by the Jews themselves, like several others no longer suited to the condition in which they are now placed as a dispersed people without inheritance. Nothing therefore now remains among them of the original institution, except the ceremony of releasing both parties from a connection which is no longer permitted to be formed. (Buxtorf, 'Synag.' c. 30; Allen's Modern Judaism,' p. 432.)

7. "Plucked off his shoe."-In the law (Deut. xxv.), this act is directed to be performed by the woman; but here it seems to be done by the man himself, who gives his shoe to Boaz. In the former instance, the man refusing to perform his duty without coming to any arrangement with the next of kin to act for him, his shoe was taken from him with some ignominy; but here, as he does not absolutely refuse without caring for the result, but makes over his right to Boaz, the ignominy is spared, and the matter is treated as an amicable transfer of right. The use of the shoe in this transaction is sufficiently intelligible; the taking off the shoe denoting the relinquishment of the right and the dissolution of the obligation, in the one instance, and its transfer in the other. The shoe is regarded as constituting possession; nor is this idea unknown to ourselves, it being expressed in the homely proverbial expression by which one man is said "to stand in the shoes" of another. There are therefore two ways of considering this act: one as dissolving a right, the other as giving that right to another. In the former respect, the practice of the modern Jews in dissolving the claim, may be taken as a fair illustration of the ancient practice. When the form of dissolving the mutual claim in question is to be gone through, three rabbies, with two witnesses, proceed, after morning prayers at the synagogue, to a place fixed the previous evening, attended by others of the congregation as auditors and spectators. The parties are then called forward, and declare that they come to be released from each other. The chief rabbi then interrogates the man, and finding him determined not to marry the widow, orders him to put on a shoe of black list, which is exclusively used for this purpose. The woman then says: My husband's brother refuseth to raise up his brother's name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother." Then the brother says: "I like not to take her." The woman then unties the shoe, takes it off, and throws it on the ground. This she does with the right hand: but," says old Purchas, "if she want a right hand, it putteth the rabbines out of their wits to skan whether with her teeth or how else it may be done." Having thrown down the shoe, she spits on the ground before him, saying, "So shall it be done unto the man that will not build up his brother's house: and his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed." The persons present then exclaim three times: "His shoe is loosed." The chief rabbi then declares the woman at liberty to marry any other, and gives her a certificate to that effect. See Allen's Modern Judaism;' Hyam Isaacs' 'Ceremonies; and Purchas his Pilgrimage,' p. 233. Isaacs' account differs somewhat from that of Allen, chiefly as to the treatment of the shoe, which, according to the former, is knitted in a peculiar manner, and must be unravelled by the man.

66

66

Even at the present time, the use of the shoe as a token of right or occupancy, may be traced very extensively in the East; and however various and dissimilar the instances may seem at first view, the leading idea may still be detected in all. Thus, among the Bedouins, when a man permits his cousin to marry another (see the note on Gen. xxix. 19), or when a husband divorces his runaway wife, he usually says, "She was my slipper; I have cast her off." (Burckhardt's 'Bedouins,' p. 65.) Sir F. Henniker, in speaking of the difficulty he had in persuading the natives to descend into the crocodile mummy pits, in consequence of some men having lost their lives there, says, "Our guides, as if preparing for certain death, took leave of their children; the father took the turban from his own head and put it upon that of his son; or put him in his place by giving him his shoes-a dead man's shoes.' This was an act of transfer: the father delegating to his son that charge of the family, which he feared he was about to leave destitute. Messrs. Tyerman and Bennet, speaking of the termagants of Benares, say: "If domestic or other business calls off one of the combatants, before the affair is duly settled, she coolly thrusts her shoe under her basket, and leaves both on the spot to signify that she is not satisfied." What the woman meant, doubtless, was to denote, by leaving her shoe, that she kept possession of the ground and the argument during her unavoidable absence. The shoe was the symbol of possession. In Western Asia, slippers left at the door of an apartment denote that the master or mistress is engagedthat other persons are in possession of their attention-and later comers do not then think fit to intrude, unless specially invited.__ Éven a husband does not venture to enter his wife's apartments while he sees the slippers of visiters at her door. These may serve as specimens of numerous instances which might be cited, in which the shoe is the symbol of possession, or of delegation or transfer, which are the ideas which we believe to be conveyed by the Hebrew use of the shoe, in the present and other instances. In fact, this employment of the shoe may, in some respects, be considered analogous to that which prevailed in the middle ages, of giving a glove as a token of investiture in bestowing lands and dignities; whence, also, the taking away of gloves was, at least in some cases, a ceremony of degradation or deprivation.

8. "Shoe.”—The same Hebrew word by, naal) denotes both a sandal and a shoe; more generally, doubtless, the former than the latter, although always rendered "shoe" in our version of the Old Testament, in which the word "sandal" does not once occur. It must, indeed, generally be left to the context to determine which is intended; and this the context does not often enable us to say. It is very likely, however, that shoes, properly so called, were in use before this time, for it is probable that we are to understand, from the mention of "rams' skins dyed red," in the

« PreviousContinue »