No relationship is more irksome than that between in-laws. Conflicts often plague the marital relationship because mother-in-law and daughter-in-law cannot get along. Although Naomi’s spiritual health at this time is at its lowest (see Ruth 1:13, 20–21), her relationship with her daughters-in-law is at its height. Remarkably, Naomi is a good mother-in-law who enjoys a close and endearing relationship with her two daughters-in-law. Perhaps their painful shared experience as widows has drawn them even closer. When Naomi sets out to return to Bethlehem, Ruth and Orpah follow her (1:6–7). Maybe they feel duty-bound, but more likely they have become so devoted to their mother-in-law that they are willing to leave Moab to care for the elderly Naomi.
On the way back to Bethlehem, Naomi has a change of heart. Concerned for their safety and welfare, she urges Ruth and Orpah not to leave the familiarity and security of their Moabite home for Bethlehem—where they will almost certainly be rejected and ostracised.
The Moabites, who were descended from Lot through an incestuous union with his older daughter (Genesis 19:30–38), were long-time enemies of the Israelites (Numbers 22–25). When the Israelites were making their way into the Promised Land, Moabite women seduced the Israelite men and led them into idolatry, causing them to sin against the Lord. Eventually, 24,000 Israelites died by God’s disciplining hand (Numbers 25:1–9).
Because they had mistreated and harmed the Israelites, the Moabites were not allowed to enter the temple to worship God (Deuteronomy 23:3; Nehemiah 13:1–3). God also ordered the Jews not to seek “a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live” (Deuteronomy 23:6). During the period of the judges, the Israelites were subject to the Moabite king Eglon for 18 years (Judges 3:14). Given their long history of hostility and enmity, no Israelite would welcome a Moabite into their midst.
And so Naomi encourages her daughters-in-law to remain in Moab and start new families for themselves (Ruth 1:9), bidding them goodbye. She believes they have a better future in Moab, for Jews are not allowed to “promote the welfare and prosperity of the . . . Moabites” (Deuteronomy 23:6 NLT).
But Orpah and Ruth are undeterred. Despite knowing that they face an uncertain future in Bethlehem, they stick to their decision: “We will go back with you” (Ruth 1:10). Their willingness to give up family and friends, their future and their happiness, shows their devotion to their mother-in-law.
Would you agree or disagree with Naomi that both Ruth and Orpah have a better future in Moab? Why or why not?
If you have to live in a community that is unwelcoming of Christianity, what are some challenges or dangers this may pose to your Christian faith?