When reading the book of Ruth recently, it dawned on me that the opening scene is a pertinent metaphor for our situation today as believers. Especially when you take into account the Hebrew names of the key characters.
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
That image of Ruth clinging to Naomi has a lot to say to the church in the West in a time when many are tempted and pulled back by the “spirit of the age”. Here are my thoughts.
Sands are shifting, and the world is screaming that good is bad and bad is good… as followers of Jesus, we can foolishly think we are above all that. It’s so very human of us to think that we know what’s really going on, and be convinced by our own opinions. But the Bible warns over and over again about a great deception, a strong delusion, a mass falling away. This could only come about because people are deceived, and people are deceived because they are tricked. They are led to believe something is good when it is not. We think we know the difference, but unless we have a healthy appreciation of our limitations, we are in danger too. Pride comes before a fall. We need to humbly admit that it is possible for our human minds and hearts to fall prey to deception.
Who then can stand? Since we all have fallible hearts and minds? In the context of this end times lawlessness and delusion, Paul gives us a sturdy mast to cling onto – the factor by which we will perish or be saved: Love of the truth.
“They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10)
That means, those who do not love the truth perish, and conversely, those who do love the truth will be saved.
What does loving the truth look like?
Here’s where the picture of Ruth and Naomi comes in.
Naomi in some manner represents the people and the God of Israel – the truth about God and His Word – out in the nations. If Naomi is a representative of the people and God of Israel, Ruth and Orpah can be seen as representatives of the nations that have been invited into that Jewish family. Both loved Naomi, but when hardship hit and Naomi decided it was time to go back to Israel, the two women respond differently. Both loved her, embraced her, valued her and kissed her, but Ruth clung to her and would not let her go.
Interestingly, the Hebrew names (as so often happens in the Bible) are highly significant.
The root letters of Orpah (ערף) refer to the back of one’s neck, or back. It is the word that God often uses when describing the Israelites as being stiff-necked, and has connotations of turning back or apostasy. Orpah’s name has an additional letter at the end, ה (ah), which in Hebrew often indicates direction when attached to a word. The word “smol” means “left”, and “smolah” means “to the left”, home is “beit”, and if you say you’re going home, you’re going “habeitah”. Orpah, although it means gazelle, can also look like, I’m “turning back”.
Ruth, (רוּת) on the other hand, means friendship, from the word for companionship. In the story, and the parable that it is for us today, Ruth represents trust, loyalty – and most importantly of all – relationship.
Naomi (נׇעֳמִי) means “my delight”.
How do you feel about the Bible?
Because there are many Christians today who claim to love Jesus, but when the word of God takes a different path than the wisdom of the world, they end up separated.
Others cling to God’s word for dear life.
Ironically, the Jewish return to Israel prophesied of so frequently in the Bible is one of the matters that divides many Christians today. What about the Palestinians? That can’t be right? Surely the State of Israel is not the work of God, but the actions of men? And so many reinterpret those prophecies to mean something else, other than the promised literal regathering of God’s people to the Land. In doing so, they miss out on a lot of amazing promises and information in the Bible which we should pay attention to as we watch and wait for Yeshua’s return. (By the way, God has certainly not forgotten the Palestinians, Ezekiel 47:22-23, even as he continues to fulfil his promises to Israel. If you know him, you’ll know he can be trusted to do all things well and that he’s completely just.)
Similarly, the Biblical take on issues of gender and sexuality, the horrific reality of hell and Jesus being the only way to salvation… these all seem so… harsh. Especially if any of these issues affect you personally, or someone you love. The world demands that the Bible must be updated and sanitised for our times, and sadly, there are Christians that agree. Like Orpah, they are too fond of the life and culture they know to go the way of the wild with God and his people. They will not follow the God of Israel along a path that defies commonly held beliefs, because they do not know God well enough to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and that he is right in what he says. Things often get pretty alarming and bewildering with God, it’s just how he rolls. Instead they choose to lean on their own understanding. They adapt the Bible to say what they wish it said, instead of seeing God’s word as their delight.
Hang on tight!
But Ruth was welded to her beloved Jewish family through deep relationship. She decided she was willing to risk everything to be with Naomi and the life she’d found with her. The risks were great and there were many unknowns, but like Yeshua’s friend Mary, Ruth had chosen the most important thing. Her mind was made up, because she knew the person she was following.
The deceptions are strong and confusing, but we can come to God and ask him for wisdom and insight whenever we need it. Sometimes it’s quite the journey to understanding his heart on a matter, but he does promise that those who seek diligently will find. In the meantime, hang in there, and trust that he does know where he’s going!
Here are some other illustrations the Bible gives us of clinging to God for dear life: Moses didn’t dare take a step without God (Exodus 33:15) and Jacob refused to let the Angel of the Lord go until he was blessed (Gen 32:26). In Song of Solomon, the bride (representing us, God’s beloved) clings to her bridegroom. Like Ruth, the Shunamite refuses to budge:
“I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go.” (Song of Solomon 3:4)
Don’t be an Orpah – be a Ruth!
Hold on tight, friends, and don’t let go. The road is getting rocky, but there’s a great future to look forward to.
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