What If Ruth Had Left With Orpah?

The story of Naomi and Ruth in the Bible has to be one of the most moving stories you’ll ever read. It will drive you to tears. But don’t let’s assume everyone knows Orpah. Ruth of course is popular. Parents name their children Ruth, but who was Orpah? Orpah was actually the first daughter-in-law of Mrs. Elimelech aka Naomi. Her second daughter-in-law was Ruth. The two girls were gems, just like their mother-in-law. Naomi is the type mother-in-law everyone prays for. Very wise and goodhearted, her name means pleasantness, and boy, was she pleasant! Everyone spoke well of her. But we seem to be jumping ahead of ourselves. This is how the story unfolds.

There was a recession in Israel, and Naomi and her husband decided to emigrate to Moab. Moab was 20-30 miles away, 7-10day’s journey on foot. This was circa 1050BC mind you, so no cars. The best was Donkey Express. Moab is in present day Jordan. It occupied a vital place along the trade route connecting Egypt with Mesopotamia and Syria so its economy was stable. By the way, Moab was one of the sons born out of that incestuous copulation initiated by Lot’s daughters. (Genesis 19:37-38) The name understandably means “From father.” Moses died in Moab. (Deuteronomy 34:5)

It was while in Moab that Naomi’s two sons – Mahlon and Kilion met those two wonderful babes and married them. Kilion married Orpah, Mahlon married Ruth. But before those marriages took place tragedy had struck. Naomi lost her husband. It was a devastating blow but she somehow pulled herself together and got her sons married. Unfortunately death kept stalking the family and she soon lost those two boys, before they could bear children. So here she was husbandless and childless, alone in a foreign country. She was poor and defenseless.

She soon got word the recession had abated in Israel so she decided to go back. She tried to persuade her daughters-in-law not to go back with her but they were adamant. Naomi was being fair. The girls were young. What could she offer them? And she had a crisis of faith at this period. She told her daughters-in-law to go back to their country and their gods. Her God it seemed had not been kind to her. She did eventually persuade Orpah, and that was even on the way back to Israel. It was a very emotional scene. But Ruth would not yield. It’s from that scene we got that famous statement used on wedding invites: “For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) Note however that she also added, “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” Understandably this not quoted on wedding invites. Which then brings us to our question – What if Ruth had left with Orpah? We can’t answer that question until we know what happened after. Quite a fascinating story as you’ll see.

Naomi returned to Israel with Ruth but things were tough, very, very tough! Here were two widows trying to survive economically. To be a widow in those days was not funny. It’s why God calls himself protector of widows. (Psalm 68:5) With no feasible income Naomi decided to sell the family land. (Ruth 3:3) Basic sustenance was tough. To cushion things a bit Ruth decided to apply for social security. Now, the welfare system in those days was quite different from what we have today. One of the means was a unique system of tri-annual tithing. (Deuteronomy 26:12) Within that structure entrepreneurs had a mandate to take care of the poor. Another means was something called “gleaning.” It’s agro-based. You’ll find the instruction on gleaning in Leviticus 23:22, 19:9 as well as Deuteronomy 24:19. “When you reap the harvest of your land, don’t reap the corners of your field or gather the gleanings. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners.” (Leviticus 23:22) Same provision is contained in Leviticus 19:9 except it specifies vineyard: “Don’t strip your vineyard bare or go back and pick up fallen grapes. Leave them to the poor and foreigner.” And Deuteronomy 24:19 says, “When you harvest your grain and forget a sheaf back in the field, don’t go back and get it; leave it for the foreigner, the orphan, and the widow so that God, your God, will bless you in all your work.” Essentially what the gleaner does is she picks up after the commercial workers as they harvested. It was a hazardous undertaking especially for women. They could be raped or harassed. (Ruth 2:22, 9) And it was hard work.

Ruth gleaned from successive fields but eventually ended up in the field of a relative of her father-in-law, a millionaire named Mr. Boaz. She didn’t know he was a relative though, but it would prove providential. When Mr. Boaz came on business inspection tour he noticed this pretty young woman gleaning. “Who is this young woman?” he asked his farm workers. They told him her history. She was “that Moabite girl, the one who came with Naomi from the country of Moab.” She had asked permission to glean, and she had been at it from early morning without a break. The story touched Boaz and he decided to be gracious towards her. He was familiar with her story – how she treated her mother-in-law after the death of her husband and followed her all the way to Israel. So he granted her concessions. And in the concessions we come to understand the concept of grace. Ruth had said, “Oh sir, such grace, such kindness – I don’t deserve it. You’ve touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don’t even belong here.” In the same manner we don’t deserve the grace of God. Yet God treats us like his very own, converted us from strangers to sons and daughters. Oh, the magnanimity of Omnipotence! We can never earn salvation. “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

When Ruth narrated to Naomi all that transpired and when she saw the successive kindnesses of Boaz through the harvest season Naomi got inspired. Her dedicated and loving daughter-in-law deserved a kind and considerate husband. So she came up with a plan. She initiated Project Uncover The Feet. It was the culture in those days that when a widow is desirous of a particular man she will position herself to sleep at his feet. This was kind of direct messaging (DM). It was intimation of openness for marriage. Naomi instructed Ruth to take a lovely bath, put on a nice dress and use some perfume. When Boaz came to winnow his barley harvest she was to launch the move. The winnowing of barley was usually celebrated with lots of booze and food so she advised Ruth not to make a move during that period. The man would be all boozed up. When all had calmed down and he had gone to bed on the threshing floor, “then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:4) Well, Ruth executed. At midnight Boaz woke up, turned over and did a double take. There was a woman lying at his feet. “Who are you?” he asked. It was all dark. “I am Ruth, your maiden,” Ruth replied. Then she gave the code phrase – “covenant redeemer”: “Take me under your protecting wing. You’re my close relative, you know, in the circle of covenant redeemers – you do have the right to marry me.” (Ruth 3:9) A covenant redeemer (or kinsman redeemer) functions as guardian of lineage interests. He has responsibility for caring for the widow of his deceased kinsman.

What particularly touched Boaz was that Ruth could have gone for a younger man. (Boaz was much older) Ruth was every man’s dream and Boaz said so. He described her as a “real prize.” (Ruth 3:11 MSG) That’s another way of saying “trophy wife.” But even though Boaz wanted her another relative had a right of first refusal. Boaz was a noble man so he approached the relative and gave him the option of marrying Ruth. Well, the man turned down the offer and Ruth ended up as Mrs. Boaz. It’s good to show kindness to people. You may be showing kindness to your future spouse unaware.

They celebrated their nuptial but it seemed God took special interest in the case. We’ll soon see why. The Bible says God enabled Ruth to become pregnant. (Ruth 4:13) Which suggests she would have had difficulty conceiving. She gave birth to a baby boy, her only child but it was Naomi who became the star of the whole drama. “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” everyone said. And trust Naomi. The Bible says “Naomi took the baby and held him in her arms, cuddling him, cooing over him, waiting on him hand and foot.” (Ruth 4:16) What a joy! It’s a movie ending.

Now, what makes this story even more spiritually significant is that Israeli law specifically forbade Moabite nationalization: “No Ammonite or Moabite is to enter the congregation of God, even to the tenth generation, nor any of his children, ever. Those nations didn’t treat you with hospitality on your travels out of Egypt, and on top of that they also hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Mesopotamia to curse you… Don’t even try to get along with them or do anything for them, ever.” (Deuteronomy 23:3-6 MSG) Yet grace created an exception for Ruth. This is the story of grace. Ruth represents all gentiles who were grafted into Israel through the instrumentality of grace. (Romans 11:17)

But here comes the icing on the cake. The boy born by Ruth was named Obed. Obed would give birth to Jesse, and Jesse King David. In other words, Obed was the grandfather of King David the ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. If Ruth had gone back with Orpah therefore she would have missed that implausible opportunity to give birth to the ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ. What an honour! Loyalty has rewards.

If you’ll like to give your life to Jesus, please pray this prayer: Father I acknowledge that I am a sinner, that Jesus died for me, that you raised him from the dead. Father please forgive me. I accept Jesus today as my Lord and my Saviour. Amen.

© #Illuminare Leke Alder | talk2me@lekealder.com

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