(This summer, I will take a close-up look at some of the women in the Bible. So many lessons are available for us from their stories that I never tire of reading them. Today, we will examine the well-known woman, Ruth, and her lesser-known sister, Orpah. Their stories are recorded in the Old Testament Book of Ruth.)
I have high cholesterol. While arguably one bagel won’t hurt me, my collective choices of what I eat have negative consequences. When I choose to forgo exercise for a period of time, my bone density is adversely affected. (The aging process is not always fun!) But my choices not only affect my health, but all areas of my life. Every time I take on one activity, I don’t have time for another. And over the years, some decisions have had very significant consequences. For example, in choosing to relocate to Virginia, my husband and I lost relationships with some individuals whom we cared for, but gained others. The truth is, we must always weigh our options, consider the consequences, and balance the costs involved with any decision. But perhaps no greater decision faces us than the one illustrated by two women in Scripture—Orpah and Ruth. Theirs is a picture of the free choice that God gives every individual.
Perhaps you are familiar with the story. In a nutshell, during a famine, Naomi and her husband move from Bethlehem (a town in Judah which had been established for God’s people) to a pagan and enemy nation, Moab. While there, Naomi’s husband dies. Her sons marry Moabite women—Ruth and Orpah. Then her sons die. After these tragedies, Naomi decides the time has come to move back to her homeland, and return to where her family and other fellow Jews reside—the Promised Land. Naomi instructs Ruth and Orpah to remain in Moab and start anew among their own people. But instead of staying in Moab with their fellow Gentiles, Ruth and Orpah begin to follow Naomi toward Judah. Before they have traveled far, Naomi entreats them yet again, reminding them that they will face difficult times if they follow her. Naomi has laid out all the facts and her daughters-in-law now have to weigh the costs. Should they return to what is familiar— their own families, and their own pagan gods? If they remain in Moab, their chances of remarrying are better, securing their futures when women had few options. Choosing to go to Bethlehem will mean facing an uncertain future. They will be foreigners in a land that worships one God, and their likelihood to remarry seems slim. They are two sisters-in-law, two widows, in two similar circumstances, with the exact same decision before them. Ruth chooses to go with Naomi, in one of the boldest statements of faith recorded in Scripture: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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 will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth 1:16-17.
What does Ruth choose? She chooses a God—the One True God of Israel, and she chooses a community—the community of God’s chosen people. How does she fare? In a bizarre, yet clearly God-ordained series of events, she marries a man named Boaz, and her life turns from that of a destitute widow to a redeemed bride. Ruth becomes the great grandmother of King David, and ultimately is in the lineage of Christ Himself. Her legacy continues, and she is remembered for all time as a faithful follower of God. In essence, she has chosen her destiny--eternal fellowship with The God of mercy.
What does Orpah choose? In short, she returns to Moab, a land that worships the false and pagan god, Chemosh. Scripture and history books record that the worship of Chemosh included abominations such as offering human sacrifices (one illustration is in 2 Kings 3:27).
Sadly, we learn nothing more about Orpah after she leaves Naomi. She also has selected her destiny--separation from The God of mercy.
While the Book of Ruth is a beautiful picture of God’s grace and redemption, it is also a picture of the profound spiritual consequences we face by our decision of what God (god) to follow. God does not force His will or the worship of Himself on us. He reveals Himself through creation (Romans 1:20), history, testimonies, and the many pages of Scripture. We are all given the same facts, and we all have the same decision to make. Choosing God by accepting Christ gives us redemption, and the forgiveness of sins. No decision is more important. It is still a choice of eternal destiny.