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In Ruth 1:11-13 Naomi gave her daughters-in-law the opportunity to return instead of crossing the Jordan into a foreign land. We cannot say for sure what Noami’s motives were, but from a higher perspective, we can see that this opportunity tested their hearts to see if they really wanted to enter the Promised Land. Perhaps the girls had shed some tears along the road, and Naomi did not want them to be unhappy for the rest of their lives.
It would take genuine faith to understand that the Promised Land would demand a change of culture, laws, and worship—even putting a distance between themselves and their families. Neither did they know if they would find anyone in Israel who would marry them and give them children, as they so desired.
No doubt many Israelites were suspicious of Moabite women, who were accustomed to ungodly religious practices and were also allies (in times past) of the Midianites, who had seduced the Israelites under the counsel of Balaam (Numbers 25:1, 2). Scripture tells us that the Moabites had invited the Israelites to their idolatrous love festival, but the account puts the major blame on the Midianites (Numbers 31:2, 7).
An unknown number of Moabite women in that war had been taken as slave-wives for the Israelites (Numbers 31:18, 19), and by the time of Ruth, these had been fully integrated into Israelite society. So the problem was not their ethnicity but their religious background. Hence, it was a big step for Ruth and Orpah to immigrate to the land of Judah with Naomi, for they had no guarantee of finding husbands there who would treat them as free women, rather than as conquered slaves.
Orpah Turns Back
Ruth 1:14 says,
14 And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
In other words, Orpah kissed her mother-in-law to say goodbye, and she returned to the house of her parents, but Ruth would not leave. Both of them loved Naomi, but only one of them actually had the faith to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. In this we see the two girls playing their roles as Israelites in the wilderness under Moses. Orpah represented the majority of the Israelites who “were not able to enter because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:19; Numbers 14:4).
I understand (by personal revelation) that Orpah was very much torn by this separation and that she hoped that Ruth would return with her. She felt abandoned, even though from a biblical perspective, she was the one abandoning Ruth and Naomi. But such things are a matter of perspective, for when people leave God, they blind themselves and lose sight of His presence. Hence, they think that God has abandoned them.
This warped and blind viewpoint is seen also among the Israelites who had refused to enter the Promised Land. Numbers 14:1 says,
1 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night.
Orpah, too, shed many tears, but hers were tears of sadness, for she had purposed in her heart that she could not enter the Promised Land. Verse 4 says, that they decided to “return to Egypt.”
The Israelites soon resented God’s judgment upon them, and many followed Korah, Dathan, and Abiram (Numbers 16:1, 2) in rebelling against Moses, whom God had raised up to lead Israel. Even though they had recognized their sin earlier (Numbers 14:40), their hearts remained in a state of rebellion, lawlessness, and lack of faith.
So there is no doubt that Orpah, too, reflected that same spirit, returning to her people while thinking that Ruth had left her. We read no more of Orpah, and no doubt she died in the wilderness (Moab), even as the Israelites themselves had died without receiving the promises. Fortunately for all of them, God took an oath to restore them as well (Deuteronomy 29:14, 15).
Ruth and Naomi
Ruth represented those who actually entered the Promised Land. It is not fully clear how we should view Naomi’s prophetic role in this story, for she stands above both Ruth and Orpah. Her main role seems to be that of Moses and Joshua in leading Israel into the Promised Land. In that she gave both girls the opportunity to enter the Promised Land, with one obeying and the other returning, she was playing the role of Moses in Numbers 13 and 14. But her dominant role was that of Joshua who actually led Israel into the land. This is consistent with the meaning of her name, Naomi, or “grace,” when we view her in light of John 1:17,
17 For the Law was given through Moses, grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ Hebrew name was Yeshua, or Joshua, and “grace” (Naomi) was “realized” through Joshua.
Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, means “My God” (Eli) “is king” (melech). Her marriage pictured the union of Grace and Sovereignty, both characteristics of Jesus Christ. Ultimately, therefore, she is a type of Christ, as were both Moses and Joshua.
Ruth herself is a type of believer who embraces Jesus Christ through the New Covenant. By clinging to Naomi, she also clings to Elimelech, recognizing the sovereignty of God. This is seen more clearly in Ruth 1:16, 17,
16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
This well-known confession of faith has been used by some to promote the idea that Christians ought to become Jews. It does indeed show that a Moabite could become an Israelite—in this case, a Judahite—because these are national and religious terms, not racial or genealogical. In the New Covenant, it is the same.
To turn to Christ is to become a “Jew” (Ioudeos), as Paul tells us in Romans 2:28, 29. Paul also tells us specifically that most of those who call themselves “Jews” are not really Jews at all by God’s definition. Only those whose hearts have been circumcised by a New Covenant relationship with Jesus Christ are actually recognized by God as “Jews.”
But because the world did not understand this and had their own fleshly criteria as to who is and who is not a Jew, the true identity of a “Jew” has been in dispute since the time of Christ.
But Ruth essentially became a Jew, not because she married Boaz of Bethlehem, but because of her faith in the God of Israel. In fact, in the eyes of God only a portion of the people of Judah were actually Jews. So also in later years God recognized only 7,000 men in the entire nation of Israel who were of the remnant of grace (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4, 6, 7).
See my book, Who is an Israelite?
In the New Testament, we see a similar situation with Jesus’ disciples. In John 6:56, 57, Jesus said,
56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.
This teaching caused many to reject Jesus (John 6:60, 64), for their carnal perspective of the law caused them to think He was promoting cannibalism. So we read in John 6:66-69,
66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 Jesus said therefore to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 And we have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.”
It appears that Jesus deliberately spoke difficult truths that would test the hearts of the people and separate the true believers from those who only appeared to believe. This was their Ruth and Orpah moment. Eleven of Jesus’ disciples truly had faith in Him, while one did not. John 6:70, 71 says,
70 Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” 71 Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him.
It is interesting that Judas was “the son of Simon Iscariot,” because Simon means “hearing,” but Judas did not have ears to hear. Iscariot is the Grecianized form of the Hebrew Ish Kerioth, a “man from Kerioth-arba,” or Hebron, the inheritance of Caleb in the territory of Judah. There was nothing wrong with the heritage of Judas, and yet he betrayed Jesus, who was his friend.
In essence, Judas turned back at the last minute, just as Orpah turned back. Hence, neither were qualified to receive the promised inheritance. I believe that we all come to our own crisis point at the brink of Jordan, where we either follow the example of Ruth or turn back with Orpah.