The weight of her circumstances was more than she could bear. She tried to walk through the village with her head high, although the continual threat of tears caused her to keep her eyes low. Yet even the lowered angle of her eyes could not protect her from the intruding glances of other wives and mothers, or the errantly angled pointing finger of a disrespectful child. The rumors regarding her circumstances were certainly much too tawdry to ignore. She and her sister-in-law had married foreigners, almost god-less men who did not believe as her people did. To her people her marriage most certainly was a risk that failed miserably. Surely her circumstance was a resulting punishment of the sin of her beloved and his family’s faithlessness? The devastation had left three women widowed, one old and without an heir, and the other two in need of husbands… again. As she walked, she realized she was not as young and desirable as she had once been. Her stomach turned uneasily as she moved quickly and quietly through the dusty road toward her parents’ home. She had tried to do right by her mother-in-law. An old woman returning to her people, beyond the age of having more children, and with no heirs, would certainly face untold difficulties alone. But Naomi had insisted that Orpah go back to her own people. Perhaps the old gods would send a new husband. Perhaps she would finally bear a son. And besides, Naomi still had Ruth. Poor, poor Ruth. All alone with the old widow, she would be a foreigner among the Israelites. There had been animosity between their people for generations. Poor, poor Ruth. “I did what I had to” she thought. Her pace quickened as she neared her destination. “No one would blame me. I have already endured so much.” She winced in pain at the remembrance of her lost and once again her eyes began to water. “I had no choice. Surely I deserve to be happy too?” But, somehow, she was not comforted with this thought.
The Book of Ruth is one of my favorite accounts in the Bible. It is a remarkable story of faith, redemption, favor and grace. During the time of the judges, when “there was no king in Israel” and “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”, it is an awesome reminder that there will always be some that are faithful to the heart, will and word of God. Many marriages (including my own) have used the Ruth 1:16, where Ruth pledges her loyalty to Naomi, in their wedding. (Oh if only more would cling to and teach their children the verse that follows immediately behind!)
But within the account of Ruth is another story that is often left unaddressed. It is Orpah’s story, and it is easy to understand why.
Orpah walked away.
She turned back choosing what seemed the easier way out. And thus, sadly, her story goes untold. Having been a widow, I can only imagine the pain that Orpah must have felt. The pressure to make a good decision must have weighed on her tremendously. The worry of having made the wrong decision probably haunted her before, during and after.
When we see Ruth, we look on in awe at the great leap of faith she took when she left all that she knew – family, faith, culture, language and friends, to move toward an uncertain future as Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law, in a strange and potentially hostile place. Surely she must have considered that it would have been easier for her to remarry among her own people – in her own land. At the very least, her father’s home in Moab was as an option. We smile when think on Ruth. She is a great example of a godly woman clinging to hope and faith, choosing love and loyalty over fear and doubt, in spite of the extremely difficult circumstances she faced.
But Orpah faced those same difficult circumstances. And when we see Orpah we must acknowledge these circumstances, and not be too hard on her.
How often are we led by the weight of our circumstances, particularly when we feel that we have endured far more than our fair share? It is very tempting to turn back toward the known when the unknown seems ominous and the pain behind us has left us gasping for air. But it is precisely during these times that we must remember Orpah’s story. Her unknown story – which we will never know, is only untold because she turned back too soon, instead of moving forward in faith, and in the will of God.
I pray that our stories will be known, and through our lives and our children, our stories will be told – and celebrated. I pray that we will walk in faith that propels us into new seasons where we can experience the grace of our Savior, and be showered, like Ruth, with the abundant favor of God.