Ruth, Naomi and Orpah….Dramatic Exits

I must begin this post with an apology.  I meant to type this on Wednesday.  Then thought maybe I’d get to it Friday night, Saturday morning or evening or even this afternoon.  And yet, here it is at 8:40 on Sunday and I’m just getting it done.  Life has been lived this week and prevented this post from happening sooner.  Maybe it wasn’t to be posted until now for some reason.  Maybe, just maybe, this will reach someone at the perfectly God appointed time.  Who knows?  I just pray that it may bless those who read it.

This week at our small group Bible study we got to Ruth 1:6-14.  We started off this section of scripture asking “Now what?”  Can you imagine how lost these three  women were at this point?  All had lost their husbands and Naomi had also lost her sons.  I think we all definitely agreed we’d want to go home….home to safety, home to comfort, home to the familiar.  The only problem that arises is that home for Naomi is different from home for Ruth and Orpah.

Naomi hear from the Lord that the famine was over in Bethlehem.  What’s significant here?  Naomi heard from the Lord.  After all this time in Moab and all the tragedies that befell her family in that time, Naomi was still listening for God’s voice.  She knew the one true God to whom she belonged and she was still awaiting direction from Him.  Naomi is more than ready to reclaim both her national identity and her personal one.  Naomi was more than ready to leave Moab and all it represents – malnutrition, lifelessness and death.  In the same way, for the same reasons, we are called to leave the Moabs of our own making…..a place we don’t belong, a relationship going in the wrong direction, an activity that we’re ashamed of or a habit that’s strangling us.

So now we get to the part where our three women are packing their bags and heading out.  But they don’t get too far before Naomi suddenly stops and says, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home.”  WHAT?  You just told us to pack our stuff and head out and now, NOW you say to go back?  Seriously?  What is up with Naomi at this point?  Has she decided she doesn’t have it in her to help these young women begin their lives over again?  Had she heard all the sniffling and “woe is me” that she could handle?  Had she envisioned a less than welcome home party  when she turns up back in Bethlehem with two Moabite daughters-in-law?  Or, has she really started thinking about what’s best for the girls?  Wouldn’t it be better for them to go back home and find new husbands from their own country, their own culture, their own religion?  Naomi speaks a blessing over the girls.  At this point in our book, Liz Curtis Higgs tells the story of her now daughter-in-law’s bridal shower.  I have to tell you that this story SPOKE to me.  She talked about making sure her house was spic and span clean, the food was perfect and the day was PERFECT.  BUT, the part of the shower that everyone remembers is the blessing she spoke over her future daughter-in-law.  My younger son got engaged between Christmas and New Year’s this year.  This story of making sure to pray over and bless this union was a great reminder of what I am to be doing for Jesse and Brittany.  I believe God has placed them together and has amazing plans for their future.  I need to remember to voice that to them more often so that when times get tough, and they will, they can recall blessings spoken over their union.  A literal translation of Naomi’s blessing is “May Yahweh do with you hesed.”  Hesed is a powerful word that means faithful goodness, loyalty, reliability, kindness, compassion and lovingkindness.  When God faithfully blesses those who’ve done nothing to deserve it, that’s hesed.  When his Son hung on the cross for our sins, that was hesed at its fullest and deepest expression.  Naomi blesses the girls, sets them free and kisses them goodbye.  And they cry.

Both girls said “We will go back with you to your people.”  Why?  Why are they remaining loyal to Naomi and the God she worships instead of their own families and their gods?  Is this just a matter of saying what they believe Naomi wants them to say?  Is it a matter of realizing they will likely be a burden or a slave within their own families?  How bleak is their future if going forward with a mother-in-law who insists she doesn’t want them to tag along appears to be the best choice?  So Naomi ramps up the plea for them to go home and in doing so, turns it into a pity party.  “I have it worse than you ever could.”  How often do we, as women, play that song?  Likely at every baby shower, it’s played at least once or twice.  Naomi then says, “No, my daughters.  It is more bitter for me than for you because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”  God did not lift His hand against Naomi to wound her.  He lifts his hand to stop her.  She has lived the last decade with her back to the Lord, making her home among pagans and marrying her sons to Moabite wives.  So, God held out his hand.  ENOUGH.  It’s at this point we need to stop and realize that God doesn’t guarantee our comfort.  We love and pray for comfort but God offers no such promises.  Naomi is in a hard place – unable to escape her pain and yet aware of God’s presence.  She understands who God is – maybe for the first time ever.  She’s lost everything except for her relationship with God and is now faced with clinging to that and that alone.

And now the girls are crying again.  Orpah and Ruth have seen the cost of trusting Naomi’s God.  Afterall, they each lost a husband.  We’re to the point where the rubber will meet the road.  A path must be chosen.  While Ruth is still weeping, Orpah dries her eyes, kisses Naomi and leaves.  Orpah is doing what Naomi asked of her.  And yet, she’s not the daughter-in-law we hear more about.  You see, Orpah was faithful – faithful to herself and her Moabite gods.  Ruth has not spoken or moved.  And she won’t, until we study the next chapter.

Until next time,

Melinda

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