by iampiper It was early when Naomi awoke, searching for energy to get up. She has been feverishly packing and is exhausted. Naomi manages to pull herself out of bed and light the lamp; it was not yet dawn. She looks around her house, reminiscing about the memories made here. She remembers Elimelech bringing her home when they were married; her sons Mahlon and Chilion were born and raised here, she cannot find the strength to leave. She has to say goodbye to her house, friends and her way of life; she had always lived in Bethlehem, her life was here. Now she is faced with having to move to a foreign land with people she did not know – idol worshippers.
How is she going to make a life with people who did not know the God of Israel? Elimelech promised it would not be forever and that they would come back one day. There was that hope that she would not be away forever and it strengthened her enough to pull herself away from all that she knew. She must trust her husband, though she does not understand why they have to leave. Yes, there is famine and circumstances are rough, but God has always been faithful to His people, she did not believe He would fail them now. Tears well up in her eyes as all that she knows and all that she has is stripped away from her.
These thoughts no doubt had to flood Naomi’s thoughts as she is packing to return home. This journey is bittersweet; anxious to go home, but she is a different woman than she was when Elimelech led her to Moab.
Perhaps this contributed to her decision to deter her daughters-in-law from going with her to Bethlehem. I have indulged in creative license here, but through the eyes of a woman, they seem reasonable.
Orpah heeds the pleadings of her mother-in-law and returns to Moab. After some thought, the idea of going somewhere new scares her; she is content in the land she grew up in. This is where a lot of us tend to miss God’s blessing. We are afraid to leave our comfort zone; to leave our family and all that is familiar. God may be calling you, just as He did with Abraham, into a land you know not of, a new place.
God at times may call you out away from those who would not speak what you need to hear to get to the place of promise; dream quenchers. Now you can hear Him; you will find rest in your land of promise. You must leave your “comfort zone” and take a step of faith. For some of you this may be a new level in God; others God is calling to a new geographic location. You truly are leaving all that you know, and going to where God has called you to be.
Orpah’s family name is from the Hebrew word for “neck” and so to mean “stiff-necked” because of her turning-back from following her mother-in-law; others take it to mean “gazelle.”1
There are several meanings for her name, but this one in particular struck me, “stiff-necked”. The Lord referred to the Israelites many times as stiff-necked people. Why? Because they were double minded and fell into disobedience and grumbling. They complained during the journey to the promised land, they would rather go back to Egypt and the bondage they cried out to God to be delivered from. They grumbled and complained the minute things got hard.
Ruth and Orpah both set out with Naomi to Bethlehem. I think Orpah started to get a little nervous about her decision, and began to complain about the long journey ahead. Another reason God called the Israelites “stiffed-necked” is they were into substance. They cried out for God’s miracles and His manna, but they would not enter into relationship with Him. They sought His hand, not His face. I believe Orpah began to think that maybe going off to a foreign country with a woman who has lost everything, might not be such a great idea after all. Therefore, when Naomi gave her an out, she took it.
Do not get upset over the one who leaves. If God cuts off relationships know that it is for your good and for your protection. Not everyone is going to make the trip with you; not everyone has the endurance to go the distance with you, they may become a hindrance. What would have happened if Orpah had gone? She may have been a point of contention for Ruth in regards to Boaz. Do not get too upset if a relationship ends, God knows what he is doing.
Ruth however is ready for change. I believe she must have sensed that though Naomi was not in the best circumstances, something about her endeared her to Ruth. She must have sensed that though Bethlehem is on the tail end of a famine, there was something waiting there for her; she felt destiny calling her. Ruth was so convinced that only death would separate her from Naomi. That is relationship. Do not allow anything to come between you and God.
Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,”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.” When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” Ruth 1:15 – 19 (NASB)
They have not even reached Bethlehem yet and Ruth is calling on the name of Jehovah. She left Moab a heathen; I believe Ruth must have really sensed God calling her now to her place of promise. Moab is now behind her, and she is ready for everything Bethlehem has for her. God will make you uncomfortable and He does this so you want to move to the new place.
Ruth knew her mother-in-law had nothing; Ruth had nothing. She was not after “things”, she was after relationship. Ruth reminds me of Joshua; he wanted the presence of God. Joshua would linger at the Tent of Meeting when Moses was there, and would stay after Moses left. He was not allowed in the Tent of Meeting, but he would get as close as he could to the presence of God.
Ruth loved her mother-in-law, because of who Naomi was, not for what she could give her. Ruth displays her love towards Naomi when the two settle in Bethlehem; Ruth goes to work to take care of Naomi, just as Joshua loved God for who He is, not for what He can give him.
It is not a coincidence that Ruth is led to Bethlehem; many years later her destiny is birthed in Bethlehem; she is the great-grandmother of David. She can sense destiny calling her and she has fully submitted to it and her obedience came with great reward, even as Boaz declared it to her as we will read later.
She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Ruth 1:20 – 22 (NASB)
The barley harvest was the season for gathering grain or fruit. On the 16th day of Abib (or April) a handful of ripe ears of corn was offered as a first fruit before the Lord, then the harvest commenced. It began with the feast of Passover and ended with Pentecost, thus lasting for seven weeks. (See Ex 23:16.) The harvest was a season of joy.
When the LORD brought back the captive ones of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter And our tongue with joyful shouting; then they said among the nations, The LORD has done great things for them. The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. Restore our captivity, O LORD, as the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. Psalms 126:1 – 6 (NASB)
Ruth and Naomi arrived at the beginning of the barley harvest; the harvest began with Passover. In the command the Lord gave Israel concerning Passover, anyone who came under the blood to find shelter was passed over. We see later that Boaz encourages Ruth that she will be rewarded for seeking refuge under God’s wings. Ruth came to Bethlehem at Passover; the first step-redemption. Ruth and Naomi both celebrate; they reap at Pentecost; powerful. They sowed in tears, the tears of having lost everything, but they shall reap in joy.
This is such a wonderful promise from God; we may sow tears now. Through our trials and sufferings, we will shed many tears. But we can rest in the assurance that God will make true on His promise, that we will reap joy.
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning. Psalm 30:5 NASB
1 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
© Copyright 2011
Piper is a writer and earned her B.A. in Government from Regent University; she writes passionately on politics and religion. Piper has two blogs, Piper’s Pen which earned a peer award-The Sunshine Award, where she expounds on Biblical topics and The Christian Observer where she examines the importance of the influence of faith in politics. Piper is a wife and mother, raising three children in Centennial, CO.