#141 "At The Edge of Moab"
April 1, 2008
"With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back, each of you, to your mother's home." Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her." (Ruth 1: 7-8, 14)
I am having an out and out blast studying the Book of Ruth! God's Word truly is "living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). You can read it over and over again over the course of your Christian life, and then, POW!, new revelation jumps off the page. The first chapter alone, has so much to say to us right where we are living today. I've had a hard time deciding what to focus our "Tuesdays" attention to. I want to share everything with you. But being conscious of your valuable time, we'll just take a walk to the edge of Moab, as Naomi, Orpah and Ruth prepare to go to Bethlehem.
Naomi ended up in Moab because there was a famine in Bethlehem-Judah. In the ancient Near East, women were totally dependent on their husbands and if she were to survive, she would have to abide by his decision to go. Much could be said about Elimelech's choice to leave his homeland, but suffice it to say that Naomi and her two sons had to follow. It isn't clear what happened, but Elimelech died. Though filled with grief, practically speaking, she could still survive because her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, were with her, along with their two Moabite wives, Ruth and Orpah. But after about ten years, her sons died too. The Bible says, "Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband." (v. 5)
Naomi never cancelled her subscription to the "Bethlehem Times" and one day she read that God "had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them". (v. 6) The famine at home was over. Her husband was dead. Her sons ... dead as well. It was decision time and it was up to Naomi. Stay in Moab, a place filled with idolatry and a place that was originally only going to be a temporary stay, or return home to Bethlehem. Home. The place where she was known by name. The place where she had friends. The place where her God was and the place that He was blessing. Like the Prodigal Son, she was in the far country. In Psalm 108: 9, God called Moab his "washbasin". Literally He was saying that Moab was His garbage can. Things never turn out well in the far country. Not for the prodigal and not for the Elimelech's. They had gone out full, but now Naomi was alone and empty. The choice was up to her. She decided it was time to go home.
Sometimes we make the decision to run away to the far country. When times get tough and we are experiencing famines of our own, we run away from God. We're overwhelmed by what is happening to us and we just can't seem to trust that God will take care of us. Other times, we run off because we are full. Life is good. Our needs are being met and we forget Who the Source of all good and perfect blessings is. Little by little we stray and before we know it we're eating from the pig trough, far, far away from home. Or like Naomi, there are times that we end up far away from home because of someone else's decision. We were abused and too young to fight. We were mistreated and too beaten down to stand up for ourselves. We were led away by someone we had to depend on to survive. Or someone too strong for us. The reasons vary but the destination is the same. And only we can make the decision to return home. That's what Naomi did.
Somewhere out on the long road back to Bethlehem, Naomi came to a halt. Something in this account makes me believe that she was a good mother-in-law and that she dearly loved Orpah and Ruth. At this point of the journey, her love for them allowed her to let them go, if they would so choose. In Bethlehem, they would be strangers and outcasts. Moabites were the Samaritans of that day. They would not be able to marry any Hebrew man. These young women would have no chance for any kind of future aside from living with Naomi for the rest of their days. Naomi set out the facts for them both and I guess Orpah decided that the cost was too high. Oh, she wept right along with Ruth. Tears flowed from her eyes as she told Naomi that she couldn't ever leave her. But I'll bet her mind was racing with all that she would be giving up. They both wept. Someone wrote "leavers and cleavers look the same". There are folks who can cry and show much emotion but when the rubber meets the road, their commitment falls away. Orpah had one eye on Naomi and one eye looking back at Moab. She's lucky God didn't turn her into a pillar of salt like Lot's wife. Remember Jesus' story of the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19? When Jesus told him to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor, the Bible says that "he went away sad because he had great wealth". Orpah counted the cost and Bethlehem's uncertainty wasn't worth the risk. Still wiping the tears from her eyes, she kissed Naomi good-bye and went back to Moab. Back to her "gods" and back to the garbage can.
We never hear about Orpah again. She fades into obscurity and as one commentator put it, "she falls off the pages of the Bible". In our own decision to follow Christ, there is a cost. There is a price to be paid. Will we choose to stay in whatever "Moab" is our life and fade into obscurity, or will we choose to pay the price, trust in God and leave an everlasting legacy? Sometimes it's easier to stay. But how exciting is the decision to take the journey with your hand in the hand of your Savior? You may not know where you're going, but He does. Orpah chose to go back...what about you?
Ruth heard the same words. She wept as well. But we read that "Ruth clung to" Naomi. She decided to go on with her mother-in-law into the unknown. There must've been something about Naomi that caused Ruth to follow her. We can only surmise at what their life was like in Moab and what things of God Naomi imparted to Ruth while they lived there. Perhaps without words, Naomi's life was a testimony to her God. And Ruth caught the fire. Oh, that I could live a life that is a walking testimony to Jesus Christ! Oh, that someone would see Him in me and want to cling.
Ruth makes a decision to leave her family, her national identity and her religious idolatry to follow Naomi. This one decision changes her entire destiny. She makes a complete break with her past. Old ways, old habits and old family dysfunctions are left behind. It reminds me of Abraham when he set out for Canaan, leaving his kinfolk and everything that he knew behind in Ur. But Abraham had a promise. Ruth did not. And she speaks some of the most beautiful words that the Bible records: "And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me." (Ruth 1: 16-17 KJV)
One decision can change your entire life. One decision can literally change your course, show you your purpose in life and lead you into your destiny. You can fall into obscurity or you can find abundant life in Christ and affect the destiny of generations to come. I urge you to read the rest of Ruth's story. You will see that because of one choice, Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and her name appears in Matthew 1 in the genealogy of our Lord, Jesus Christ. We can truly go out weeping but come in singing songs of joy. (Psalm 126: 6)
Are you standing at the fork in the road today? Are you on the outskirts of Moab needing to decide which way to go? Major decisions are often made on the outskirts of life. Who do you relate to the most today? Are you like Naomi, out in Moab, needing to return home? Have you been in the far country for way too long? Decide today to make that journey home and return to the things that really matter. One of my favorite authors, Tommy Tenney, puts it this way: "Leave your Moab behind-it should mark only where you have been, but have no influence on where you are going. This is the place where you existed but never really lived." Or are you Orpah, willing to fade into obscurity, make no mark on the future, not willing to pay the price? It's your decision, but friend, you don't know what you're missing! Or are you akin to Ruth? Counting the cost, considering it worth it and following your Savior wherever He may lead.
As Act One of Ruth closes we see two women arriving in Bethlehem. Two women of different ages. Two women of different ethnicity. Two women whose story began with a famine in the land. A ripe barley harvest is at hand. There was hope ahead for their future. There is hope ahead for your future today. One decision can change your whole destiny.
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