Naomi faced a decision. Should she stay in Moab or return to Bethlehem? It wasn’t clear. It was uncertain either way. And what she did would affect her daughters-in-law, too. With Elimelech and her sons gone, Ruth and Orpah were her family. She loved them and they loved her. If she stayed in Moab, could they find some way of looking after one another?
To remain in Moab would be difficult because they were all widows with no means of support. To be a widow without support in the ancient Middle East was a hardship, even in one’s own country. Her only sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who would have supported her, were dead. It was even more desperate to be a widow outside one’s country. She was an Israelite widow in Moab without family support. It was ominous.
Logically it would be better for Ruth and Orpah to stay in Moab. When each woman returned to her father’s house she would have the help of her family. Ruth and Orpah were young. Their kinfolk would help them find husbands. They would have a better chance for happiness and security in their own country than in Israel.
But how could they separate from one another? Would she be a hindrance to them in Moab? Would a Moabite man want a wife encumbered with an Israelite mother-in-law?
Going home was fearful. She had been gone ten years. She would go back destitute with no prospects for the future.
Naomi and Elimelech had left home for a while because of a famine (Ruth 1:1). They didn’t intend to stay away, but when the famine was over, they didn’t go back. They stayed in Moab—in a “land of idolaters.”
Although Bethlehem was only a short distance to Moab—thirty miles—Naomi came to see it as a long way from God. She came to believe that the deaths of her husband and sons were punishment. She had deserted her homeland and the God of her fathers. She resented how things had gone in her life. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21).
When she made the decision to go home, Naomi asked Orpah and Ruth to return to Moab and not continue on to Israel. She appealed to their common sense. A law in Israel allowed a childless widow to marry another son in the family of the deceased husband (Deut.25:5-10). Under that law, Ruth and Orpah would be entitled to marry any other sons in Naomi’s family. “I have no more sons for you,” she said. And even if she could remarry and have sons right away, should Ruth and Orpah wait around for them when there were eligible men in Moab now? Customarily when a young widow returned home, “preparations for another marriage [were] initiated,” so it would be easier for them to find husbands in their own land.
After advising Ruth and Orpah, Naomi asked God to bless them. “May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband” (Ruth 1:8-9).
Nothing more is said about Orpah and how the blessing was fulfilled in her life. Scripture follows Ruth into Israel and recounts the favor shown her by an honorable man for “what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11). Ruth was additionally blessed with an advantageous marriage. She and Boaz were blessed with the birth a son named Obed.
Not all courageous decisions end well, but Naomi’s did. Her difficult homecoming began a chain of events that brought blessings to generations of people through the lineage of her grandson (Ruth 4:18-22).
For Naomi personally, the village women rejoiced, “He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:15).
Then she took Obed into her arms.—Mary Hendren