Miles to go...

I have miles to go... please pray each day for the next leg of my Biblical journey!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day 19: A Tale of 2 Women

Ruth 1:6-9

New Living Translation (NLT)
© V.Gilbert & Arlisle FBeers

Naomi and Ruth Return

Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland. With her two daughters-in-law she set out from the place where she had been living, and they took the road that would lead them back to Judah.
But on the way, Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and to me. May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Then she kissed them good-bye, and they all broke down and wept.

I've read the book of Ruth countless times. I thought I knew the story, and I really couldn't think of anything "new" to add. So I decided to do a little research, thinking maybe I could learn more about the custom of lying at the feet of a man to get a marriage proposal. I did, but I also learned a whole lot more... I discovered that there is a lot of historical information available about the three women in the book of Ruth that isn't included in scripture. So while at first glance, you might be thinking this is the story of Ruth and Naomi, it's not.

It's the story of Ruth and Orpah. And It's much richer and more interesting knowing the things I learned today.

My sources for this account include the Bible, but also include information from Jewish Women's Archive: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia and

First off, let me lay out the entire cast of characters for you... if you're like me, you never connected the dots before. 

Boaz: the son of Rahab, the harlot who helped the Israelite spies. I wrote about her a few days ago. I linked her name to the entry.

Naomi: a woman doubly related to Boaz; he was both her cousin, and her late husband's brother (or uncle, depending on the source.) Both Naomi and Boaz were of the tribe of Judah.

Ruth and Orpah: These were sisters, and prior to their marriages to Naomi's sons, they were Moabite princesses, daughters of Elgon, granddaughters of Balak. You might remember Balak as the king who tried to get Balaam to curse the Israelites. I wrote about them in 2010.

So now that we have the characters introduced, I'll go on with the retelling of the story. Ten years or so back, Naomi and Elimelech, and their two sons, had moved to the country of Moab because there was a famine in Israel. Elimelech died, and their sons married the two princesses. I'm not sure if they married before or after his death, and since my interest was in the two women, I didn't dig further on that aspect. Nor did I try to dig up why the two sons both died at more or less the same time a decade later. I'm going to go with the guess that all were killed in a battle of some sort.

So the three widowed women were packing up to leave. They were going to return to Israel. Naomi was very fond of her daughters-in-law, but there was no way she was able to provide them with husbands, to provide heirs, as was the custom. So she kissed the two women and asked them to return to their own people, to their royal lives, to the gods that the Moabites served. 

One might think that the kiss was an expression of emotion, but it went beyond that. In accordance with custom, the kiss that Naomi gave symbolized that something of herself (likely her faith in God) would accompany the girls back with them as they lived in the land of the Moabite gods. Now here is where the story of the two girls goes in different directions. 

Orpah realized the traditional wisdom in staying with her own people. After all, she was the daughter of a king, she would be taken care of. If she returned to Israel with her mother-in-law, she would be penniless, and might never find a husband or family again. So she kissed Naomi back. Again, the kiss, according to Jewish history, was significant, because she was not only saying goodbye, she was rejecting Naomi's God, symbolically giving that gesture of faith back so she could go embrace the gods of her people.

Ruth realized a more spiritual wisdom. She believed that the God of the Israelites would protect her and provide for her, and she wasn't about to let her mother-in-law journey unaccompanied from one country to another. She was going with her, and gave the famous speech about "where you go, I go, your people will be my people, your God will be my God"... and she stayed by Naomi's side as they set out on their journey. Her choice is all the more remarkable when you consider the way Moabites were viewed by the Israelites. They were pretty much the scourge of the earth, all descended from Moab, who was the son of Lot and his oldest daughter.

When they arrived in Bethlehem of Judah, where Naomi came from, Ruth took to gleaning the fields to support them both. She caught the attention of Boaz on that very first day, and even though he was old enough to be her father, scripture sure makes it sound like he had quite an eye for the young woman, finding her not only physically beautiful, but a woman of integrity for having stayed with Naomi. To abbreviate this just a little, Naomi instructed her daughter-in-law in the custom that would let Boaz know she was interested in marriage, and Boaz was all too happy to redeem her and take her as his wife. Together they raised a son, Obed, who was the grandfather of King David. It's a beautiful, and classic, story of redemption, mirroring Christ (the redeemer) and His bride (you know, us)!

But what happened to Orpah (also known as Harafah) after she left and returned to her own people? She didn't just fade into the background never to be heard from again. The Bible doesn't tell it in the book of Ruth, although she is mentioned (as Harafah) in II Samuel, and Jewish history fills in the rest of the blanks. She returned to her people and was quite promiscuous. According to history, she slept with 100 men that night. Ultimately she was rejected by her own people, and went to live in the land of the Philistines. She bore several sons out of wedlock, one of which appears to have been Goliath, (although the text is kind of confusing, and Goliath may have been her grandson) all of whom were slain by the hand of David.

I hope those of you who stayed with me enjoyed the history lesson as much as I did. My blog entries seem to keep getting longer and longer. My carpal tunnel is going to be screaming my name for the rest of the night!

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