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After Elimelech and his two sons died in Moab, Naomi was left alone with her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Ruth 1:6, 7 says,
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food [lehem, “bread”]. 7 So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.
Their move to Moab was just the setup for the real point of the story, which was to portray the journey to the Promised Land, running parallel to Israel’s journey under Moses. In both cases they had come from a foreign and idolatrous country, and in both cases they sought the promises of God in the Kingdom.
The Bread of Life
The specific nature of that promise is seen in the statement that “the Lord had visited His people in giving them lehem.” They were on their way to Beth-lehem, the House of Bread, where the Messiah was to be born. So when John the Baptist was born many years later, called to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, his father Zacharias said in Luke 1:68,
68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited us and accomplished redemption for His people.
Again, when Jesus came on the scene, those who saw Him raise the widow’s son recognized that God had visited His people. Luke 7:14-16 says,
14 And He came up and touched the coffin; and the bearers came to a halt. And He said, “Young man, I say to you, arise!” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak. And Jesus gave him back to his mother. 16 And fear gripped them all, and they began glorifying God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!”
Jesus was born in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1), as was David before him and Ruth’s son, Obed, the grandfather of David. Not only was it important that Jesus should be born in the city of David but also that He would be placed in a manger. In Luke 2:11, 12 the angel said to the shepherds,
11 “for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you; you will find the baby wrapped in cloths, and lying in a manger.”
The sign of the manger was important, because Jesus was and is still the true bread of life (John 6:48). Those who believe and inherit the promises of God are given spiritual bread to eat, which is His body. Again, we read in John 6:53-55,
53 Jesus therefore said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.”
For this reason, Jesus was born in the House of Bread (Beth-lehem) and placing Him in a manger was the sign that He was the true bread of life. Until we eat His flesh, we are all in a time of spiritual famine, and the promises of God remain unfulfilled. This is why God used famines to bring Israel into Egypt and Naomi to Moab. It was to show to us the contrast and to set up the need for the bread of life that was to come to the House of Bread.
The Prophetic Parallel
Naomi’s daughters-in-law came with her, which is somewhat remarkable, because no doubt they were leaving family, friends, and familiar places. To leave Moab was, emotionally speaking, just as difficult for them as it had been for Noami to be away from Bethlehem of Judah.
When Israel left Egypt under Moses, many Egyptians (and perhaps other ethnicities) came with them. Exodus 12:38 says,
38 And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.
In the story of Ruth we are reminded of this when the two Moabite women left their homeland, joining themselves to Naomi (“grace”) to go to the Promised Land. They represented the “mixed multitude” on a smaller scale. Just as a “multitude” of Egyptians became Israelites by joining with the nation of Israel, so also Ruth and Orpah decided to become Israelites.
How to Praise God
More specifically, they were traveling to the land of Judah (Ruth 1:7). Judah means “praise,” and from a spiritual standpoint it is the tribe of all who praise God in spirit and in truth. Praise is not merely expressed in music, although that can certainly be a part of it. No expression of praise has merit apart from the condition and motive of the heart. Paul tells us that an uncircumcised heart cannot praise God in a way that is acceptable to God. Romans 2:28, 29 says,
28 For he is not a Jew [“praising”] who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
The question raised here has to do with one’s identity as a Jew—that is, one who is a member of the tribe of Judah. The Jews of his day (and today as well) identify themselves by outward circumcision, thereby claiming to “praise” God and to be worthy of His praise. Paul contradicts that claim. Only praise from a circumcised heart has validity with God, and only those who come under New Covenant heart circumcision receive praise from God. In other words, only New Covenant believers are “Jews” in the sight of God.
Thus, two groups in Paul’s day claimed identity from the tribe of Judah. The majority based their claim either on genealogical descent or on fleshly circumcision. The true Jews, on the other hand, claimed identity as the true representatives of Judah on the basis of heart circumcision. These true Judahites received “praise” (recognition) of God, even though they had been cast out of the temple and excommunicated from the fleshly nation recognized by the governments of the world.
Coming Short of the Promises of God
In the story of Ruth, the two Moabite daughters-in-law left their home country, as did the Egyptians before them, intending to join the tribe of Judah. They were on a journey with grace (Naomi) to partake of the body of Christ in the House of Bread.
Ruth and Orpah began their journey together, but as it turned out, only Ruth entered the Promised Land, while Orpah did not. Ruth means “beauty, or friend, companion,” and Orpah means “gazelle.” Orpah’s name is from the root word oref, “neck, back of the neck, stiffnecked.”
We have already seen how Ruth and Orpah represented the mixed multitude who left Egypt and who became Israelites by nationality. As Israelites, they also represented the Israelites as a whole. Ruth represented those who endured to the end and received the promises of God; Orpah represented those who failed to go the distance.
So we read in Hebrews 3:19 and 4:1,
19 And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief. 1 Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it.
Of the Israelites, Exodus 32:9 KJV says,
9 And the Lord said unto Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiffnecked people.”
The term “stiffnecked” is actually from two Hebrew words: qasheh, “hard, obstinate,” and oref, “neck.” As we have seen, oref is the root of Orpah.
This description paints a Hebrew word picture of an uncircumcised heart, for we read in Deuteronomy 10:16 KJV,
16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.
Again, Stephen told the unbelieving Jews in Acts 7:51,
51 Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.
He was telling them that they were following the path of their ancestors who lacked the faith necessary to enter the Promised Land. They were in need of heart circumcision, something that even Moses himself talked about in Deuteronomy 30:5, 6,
5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. 6 Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.
To receive the promises of God would require heart circumcision. Apart from that, the people were a stiffnecked people who did not meet the requirements to enter the Promised Land. So Orpah was chosen to play the role of the Israelites who died in the wilderness without receiving the promises. She failed to see the birth of Obed, the Christ figure, who was born in the House of Bread. In returning to her Moabite roots, she failed to become a Judahite and to receive the praise of God.
The lesson here is explained clearly in the story of Israel and Hebrews 3 and 4. We are to be as Ruth, not as Orpah. So let us press on and endure to the end. Hebrews 10:35-39 concludes,
35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised…. 39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.