And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
I have read and heard and told the story of Ruth so many times, that it is difficult to come to this book as if for the first time. In the first part of the story, I want to zoom in on the two Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth.
Their names are kind of foreshadowing. Orpah means “gazelle” and Ruth means “friend.” One is going to bolt when trouble arrives while the other will remain. So our introduction to these women serves to tell us what is coming. And their husbands’ names fulfill much the same purpose. Mahlon and Chilion mean “sick” and “pining” respectively. When someone is sick or pining, it is only a matter of time before something has to give. Either they will recover or the illness persist or will worsen. Either they will get the thing for which they pine, or desire will make them sick.
And being widowed is the trouble that the names foreshadowed. Both husbands die, leaving behind both wives with their widowed mother-in-law. Three widows in three verses (vv. 3-5). At the beginning, both women do what is socially expected of them at the time. Naomi decides to go back to Judah and her daughters start packing to go with her (v. 7). This was the social norm of the time. Once a woman married into a family, she was considered a part of that family. Where the family went, she went. And Naomi is all that remains of the family.
Naomi tells the young women that they should go back to their families (vv. 8-9). She tells them that she, being a widow herself, has no hope of producing any more children (or really of being remarried) and that there is no way for her to provide new husbands for these women. Again, the social norm of the time was that a woman was provided for by her husband. It was a fairly common practice that a surviving brother would marry his deceased brother’s widow in order to provide for her and continue the family name. If a woman did not marry, then she was supported by her father.
Both of the young women do what would have been expected at the time. They protest and say that they will stay with Naomi. Again, family was a big deal back then and staying with family was considered right and proper.
That brings us up to this morning’s verse. Orpah makes a ruckus then kisses Naomi goodbye and goes back to her old life. She might have remarried and had a troupe of children. The Bible is silent on the matter. Ruth, on the other hand, refuses to leave Naomi. When Ruth promised herself to her husband, she was all in. She had decided that she was going to stay with this family come what may. And she does. Her husband has died and her mother-in-law tried to send her back to her parents. But Ruth refused to be sent back. She utters what may be one of the more famous quotes in the book that bears her name, Do not urge me to leave you [or] turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people [shall be] my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if [anything but] death parts you and me (Ruth 1:16-17). Ruth lives up to her name and is a friend to Naomi.
The story turns out very well indeed for Ruth, though it is not all sunshine and roses along the way. But I want to come back to the two Moabite women.
Orpah married a man. She did not marry his family or his faith or anything else that came along with the package. She just married the man. So, when the mane was gone, so was she. I am not going to advocate for women taking on their husband’s faith or abandoning their family or anything like that. I am, rather, going to take Orpah as a metaphor.
Ruth, contrarily, married not just the man but his family and people and faith. She committed herself to the whole package. Again, I am not going to take Ruth as a case in point and try to make any assertions about marriage, but will take Ruth as a metaphor.
Orpah and Ruth both married Israelites; committed themselves to the family of faith. When trial came, they had very different responses. Orpah could be, as Jesus put it in the parable of the sower, the rocky soil. The seed sprouted quickly, but had no root and so it withered when trouble came. Ruth could be, per the same parable, the good soil. The seed sprouted and had good roots, so it weathered the difficulty. Orpah might be seen as a type of fair weather believer: glad to be in the family of faith when things are good and prospects are promising, but ready to leave when things get tough. Ruth might be seen as believer dedicated to following come what may: nothing shakes her resolve to remain with the family of faith.
With which woman do I empathize? Do I find it difficult to stay with the family of faith; to remain dedicated to God and His people when things get rough and the way forward is difficult to discern? Or am I committed to God and His people no matter what?
Father, I know that things get difficult sometimes and that I struggle to hold on. Please give me a devotion like Ruth’s, that holds on no matter what and commits me to You and Your people unreservedly.