Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Naomi, Orpah and Ruth


After Naomi finished speaking, Orpah caught her breath and took a glance at her sister-in-law, Ruth. Usually, Orpah took a little longer than Ruth to understand Naomi, but this time they simultaneously got her meaning. After spending so much time together, Orpah and Ruth could read each other's thoughts without speaking.

That Naomi was too old to bear sons for them to marry was obvious-- yet, it was comforting to know that she would keep them in her family if she could. However, Naomi was not going to arrange marriages for them once they got to her hometown of Bethlehem. They were Moabite women, and there had been enmity between their peoples for some time.

In addition, no matter how carefully and completely Naomi taught them about her people and their ways and their God, Orpah had difficulty understanding and embracing it. The Moabites didn't worship one God, but many gods. When Orpah and Ruth joined the household of Elimelech, it was understood that they were not to bring their idols with them. Orpah missed her old traditions, and relunctantly adapted to the new ones.

Chilion, her husband and Naomi's son, was like his mother--very generous and loving, though. And most of their time together was pleasant. He teased her about her name, meaning "long necked one" and she teased him back about his odd name. Little did they both know, that the manner of his death eventually bore out the meaning of his name. He wasted away, and she gently and tenderly cared for him all those years. When he finally passed, Orpah decided that there would be no other husband who could ever replace Chilion. Furthermore, there was no other home for her but Naomi's home. But even then, Orpah did not believe in Chilion's God.

And now, here on this road, Orpah became acutely aware of the main difference between Naomi's people and Orpah's people. It was more than culture, dress and customs. After Naomi's final motherly kiss, Orpah turned her long, elegant neck away and headed back to her home in Moab.


Tears streamed down Naomi's face as she watched Orpah walk away. She knew it was wrong that she and Elimelech left the Promised Land, and that it was wrong for them to find Moabite wives for their sons. Yet, she didn't fully comprehend that the price for their lack of faith would be blood. She should have. Their hunger and weakness drove them to desperation, despite their knowledge of the Law and History that Moses left. The people weren't delivered from Egypt to go to Moab. But she had hoped that they would eventually return with food to share with the community in Bethlehem, like Joseph's brothers of old.

Moab. When Ruth asked her about the original ancestors of her country, Naomi told her quietly and plainly. Both Ruth and Orpah wept at the story, each of their heads on each of Naomi's shoulders. Naomi consoled them that now they knew that they were very distant relatives. And even Moses had a Gentile wife. Yet while Ruth softened after this discussion, Orpah seemed more distant than before.

When Orpah left, it didn't surprise her all that much. When Ruth fell at her feet with the beautiful and heart-felt vow, she wasn't surprised either. We will see, she said to herself, if Ruth has real faith or not. But do I?

For the rest of the journey, there were no more stories, words or explanations. Naomi's silence grew even deeper. Ruth had many questions about how to behave in her newly adopted home, but kept them all to herself. She prayed that God would show her the way.

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