Orpah and Ruth: The Stories of Two Gentiles

Posted by on Aug 7, 2022

We will explore in the following vein the story of Orpah and Ruth, the daughters-in-law of Naomi, a story that poses a challenge for the careful reader. The matter will become clear once we understand why Orpah is included in the story in which Ruth is the main character.

This will give us a better understanding of the Book of Ruth, the stories of two gentiles: Orpah and Ruth. This work has also a second object, which we will leave for the reader’s consideration at the end of our study.

The origin of the Book of Ruth

Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab, William Blake, 1795.

Naomi Entreating Ruth and Orpah to Return to the Land of Moab, William Blake, 1795.

The origin of the Book of Ruth is involved in obscurity. It is a history of events in the days of the Judges and written after the birth of David, Rth 4:17-22. And since this book derives the genealogy of David from Boaz and Ruth, it was written in honor of David, after he was anointed king by Samuel, who might have very well been the author of the books of Judges and Ruth.

The events described in the book fall within the times of the Judges of Israel (Rth 1:1), and most probably in the time of Gideon. The book itself bridges the Book of Judges and the books of Samuel (unlike Ruth, 1&2 Samuel give no account of the ancestors of David), and thus it takes its place where it naturally belongs. But in the Hebrew Scripture (Tanak), it is place in the section of Ketuvim (Writings).

Besides its historical aspect of, the Book of Ruth is also a love story, narrated in a simple and attractive form, from which the ancestors of king David sprang: the story of the main character in the book, Ruth the Moabitess, a daughter-in-law of the Bethlehemite Elimelech, of the tribe of Yehudah.

It is the present author’s opinion that the Book of Ruth is the most beautiful book of the Scripture; there are no sins, curses, judgments—just one beautiful love story with a deep meaning.

The choice Orpah and Ruth made

Elimelech emigrated with his wife Naomi and his two sons, Machlon and Kilyon, into the land of Moav because of the famine in the land of Israel. Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. Machlon and Kilyon took wives from the women of Moav: Orpah and Ruth (Ruth was the wife of the elder son Machlon (Rth 4:10).

Note: The origin of the names Orpah and Ruth cannot be satisfactorily explained from the Hebrew, as the meaning in the dictionaries given to Orpah from עֹרֶף oreph, “turning the back” and the derivation of Ruth from רְעוּת reut, a friend, are quite uncertain.

The family dwelled in the land of Moav about ten years, when Machlon and Kilyon also died, so that Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left by themselves.

About that time Naomi heard that the famine in the land of Israel had ceased. After the loss of her husband and her two sons, and because there was nothing that could have held Naomi in the foreign land any longer, the tree women set out to return to the land of Yehudah.

On their way, urged by the love shown to her over the years Naomi entreated her daughters-in-law to turn back and stay in the land where they were born so that they might find husbands, “Go, return each to her mother’s house”. Then she kissed them, and they all wept. But Orpah and Ruth said to her, “No, we shall go back with you to your people”. 

Naomi striving to deter them from this resolution saying that even if they were to go with her, there would be no hope for them in a foreign land that they could marry again and enjoy family life once more and have children. In order to persuade them, Naomi said to them that she was too old to have a husband and children whom they could marry and why they should shut themselves up and have no husbands, that would have been too bitter for her and for themselves, because that was her destiny from YHVH not to have family.

That was the strongest persuasion to her daughters-in-law to give up their intent of going with her into a foreign land but to return to their mothers’ houses, where, as young widows without children, they would not be without hope of marrying again. Naomi wished they would go home for she could not possibly provide marriage and domestic happiness for them in the land of Israel.

And they wept again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, and Ruth hugged Naomi forsaking her father and mother to go with Naomi and resisted the separation from her.

Once more Naomi made the attempt to persuade Ruth to follow her sister-in-law, saying, “Behold, your sister-in-law is gone back to her people and to her gods. Go back, follow your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,

Do not urge me to leave you, or to return from following after you. For wherever you go, I will go. And wherever you stop over, I will stop over. Your people is my people, and your Elohim is my Elohim. Where you die, I will die, and there I shall be buried. Yehovah do so to me, and more also except death itself parts you and me. (Rth 1:16-17)

Ruth did not merely have strong affection by which she felt herself so drawn to Naomi that she wished to live and die with her, but she had in her heart love for the Elohim of Israel that it was her earnest wish never to be separated from this people whom she did not even know before and its Elohim.

Thus, Naomi returned to Israel and Ruth with her, and they came to Beyth Lechem at the beginning of barley harvest. 

Note: The story of Ruth took place during the barley and wheat harvest season, which is another reason why the Rabbis chose to read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot.

Ruth’s new life

Elimelech had possessed a land at Bethlehem, which Naomi had sold because of poverty (Rth 4:3). And Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, was the closest kin of whom Naomi hoped that he would fulfil the duty of a redeemer, who was to buy the field from her but also to marry Ruth according to the law of Levirate marriage in the Torah.

Boaz undertook the redemption before the assembled people, together with the obligation to marry Ruth (Rth 4:6-12). Thus Ruth, the widow of the rightful heir of the land Naomi sold, established the name of her deceased husband Machlon. And owing to this Levirate marriage Ruth bore a son, named Oved. This Oved became the grandfather of David (Rth 4:1-17), with whose genealogy the Book of Ruth closes (Rth 4:18-22).

The genealogical descent of David from Perets through Boaz and Ruth forms not only the end of the Book of Ruth, but also the starting point of another book: the Book of Samuel.

These narratives recount the rise of David and the ascendancy of his son Yeshua. As Yehudah fathered Perets from Tamar a Kana’anitish woman (Gen 38:25-29), and as Salmon fathered Boaz from Rachav, who was grafted into Israel (Jos 6:25), according to the Torah, so was the Moabitess Ruth married to Boaz, from whom the Messiah was to spring through David (see Mat 1:3-5, where these three righteous women are distinctly mentioned by name in the genealogy of Yeshua).

Ruth, the former gentile, who left father and mother, and her native land, because she longed for the Elohim and people of Israel, became the great-grandmother of David.

And all came to be fulfilled in order to thus set the stage for the future fulfillment of the promise to Avraham (Gen 17:6), and to Ya’akov (Gen 35:11) that kings should come from them. In this YHVH gave the fathers a pledge of the fulfilment of His Covenant.

I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and increase, a nation and a company of nations shall be from you, and kings come from your loins. (Gen 35:11)

Ruth in the righteous line of non-native women

The meaning and tendency of the whole narrative of the Book of Ruth is brought clearly to light that Ruth would become a graft from which the kings of Israel would arise.

There is thus a Messianic shadow picture in the fact that Ruth, a gentile of a nation so hostile to Israel, was found worthy to be made the mother of David, on account of her faithful love to Naomi’s people and to YHVH, the Elohim of Israel.

Ruth continued the righteous line of women that started with Tamar, the wife of Yehudah. It is through the righteous Tamar that Yehudah and his seed will be remembered, for Tamar shows herself to be much like the matriarchs of Israel: Sarah, Rivkah, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah.

Like Rivkah, Tamar brought forth identical twins, and the second son became the firstborn. And it is through Perets, the son of Tamar, and his descendants, Yehudah will find redemption, for through his line David came forth to rule over Israel, and ultimately Yeshua the Messiah.

As Perets will be known as the ancestor of king David (Rth 4:18, 1Ch 2:5) and through him, Tamar became not only the mother of the tribe of Yehudah but also the mother of all the kings of Israel and thus she deserved the place of one of the matriarchs in the genealogy of Yeshua Mashiach; the other one being Ruth.

Thus, Yeshua’s genealogy can be traced through two non-native women who became mothers of the tribe of Yehudah: Tamar and Ruth. They like other non-native joined Israel to become one nation: like Kalev and the Egyptian princess; like Uriah, Luke, and many other gentiles who were grafted in the Olive Tree of Israel (See Romans 11).

Orpah in the shadow of Ruth

But what remains obscure in the Book of Ruth though is the story of the other character that is left aside in all commentaries. Not much is given to know in the book about this character: Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Orpah, who falls in the shadow of her sister-in-law, Ruth. Orpah appears briefly only in a few verses in the beginning of the story, not to be mentioned again.

But the obscurity of the character of Orpah does not hinder the careful reader from noticing a shadow picture to come. With this we are coming to the second object of our study: the story of Orpah.

Let us summarize the whole matter. Orpah and Ruth through the legal means of marriage became parts of the chosen people. When troubles came, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth headed for the Land of Israel where they hoped to find deliverance from the hardship in the foreign land. On the way, Naomi (for untold reasons) entreated her daughters-in-law to return to their kindred and culture they had grown up in. Orpah returned but Ruth desired to stay with Naomi and be with her until death part them. Ruth thus became a member of the commonwealth of Israel and the great-grand mother of King David. Do we see a picture here? Not yet?

The gentiles are given the opportunity to join the chosen people, and they indeed become members of the nation of Israel, according to the laws of the Torah. But when the circumstances put them in the position to make a choice and confirm their election, some of them decide to return to their former condition, while the faithful decide to stay resolute and single-minded in their determination to continue in the election and fulfil their duty of trust and confidence in Elohim and His people. All gentiles left their former lives, but only some of them arrived at the final destination. Do we see the picture now?

The Nazarenes and the Christians, Ruth and Orpah

In ancient Hebrew culture, the adopted children have all the rights of inheritance as the first-born. That means a double portion, as seen in Gen 48:14-16, when Ya’akov adopted the sons of Yoseph as his own.

Two thousand years ago, the promised seed of the woman came as prophesied: Mashiach, the Anointed of YHVH.

Thousand upon thousand joined the new movement called “The Way” after the One who said, “I am the way”, and its members were called “Nazarenes” after their leader who was from Nazareth. Thus, over the following years the Way grew as a prominent movement to become a sect within the first century Judaism: the sect of the Nazarenes (See Act 24:5, 14).

Many non-natives joined the Way through repentance, conversion, and circumcision (Act 16:3) leaving their pagan culture and lifestyle they grew up in; Apostle Luke, the disciple of Shaul, is a good example of them. The first non-native Nazarenes were Torah observant believers of the Anointed (Mashiach), as they were attending the synagogues every Sabbath to learn the way of YHVH.

This influx of these gentiles into Judaism is well recorded in the Rabbinic sources. Rabbi Elazar said: “The Holy One, Blessed be He, exiled Israel among the nations only so that converts would join them, as it is stated: ‘And I will sow her to Me in the land’ (Hosea 2:23). Does a person sow grain for any reason other than to bring in more grain during the harvest? So too, the exile is to enable converts from the nations to join the Jewish people.”
And Rabbi Yochanan said that this may be derived from: “And I will have compassion upon her that had not received compassion; and I will say to them that were not My people: You are My people” (Hosea 2:23). Even those who were initially “not My people”, i.e., gentiles, will convert and become part of the Jewish nation.

While the non-natives were embracing the faith, over the years they began boasting in their new faith that they were better believers than the natives, even though the natives were the root of their faith. The division began. The apostle noticed this and warned the non-native believers in Rome against this dangerous trend,

But if the first fruit is set-apart, the lump is also. And if the root is set-apart, so are the branches. And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, have been grafted in among them, and came to share the root and fatness of the olive tree, do not boast against the branches. But if you boast, you do not bear the root, but the root bears you! (Rom 11:16-18)

The point the apostle brought in his letter to the Romans was to describe the grafting of wild branches (the non-natives) in order to bear fruits in the olive tree of Israel. But contrary to their election to become natural branches, the wild branches of Rome began boasting. But troubles came from Rome, and they started drifting from their election and distancing themselves from the natives to avoid persecution.

When Rome established its new religion in the time of Constantine, the persecution of those people indeed ended but not of the Jews; the Jews were still oppressed for their faith or for just being Jews. Soon after the former gentiles returned to being gentiles again. Thus, it should not come as a surprise that faith did not change Rome, but Rome changed the faith. Perhaps, this is what the apostle meant in Romans 11. We make this statement in accordance with what we have written about the new religion in Why was Christianity accepted so easily in Rome? – Time of Reckoning Ministry.

Torah and faith of the Messiah

According to the concept we laid out in our study of the Book of Ruth, when a gentile embraces the chosen people, he or she becomes a member of the commonwealth, a citizen of Israel, and it behooves the former wild branch to also believe in the message Israel received at Mount Sinai, namely, the revelation of the Covenant of YHVH and His Torah.

And ultimately, the former gentile would also embrace the message about the Prophet Mosheh told Israel to await, that is the Messiah.

That was the message the apostle delivered to the former gentiles, who left their wild tree to join the natural olive tree of Israel, saying (notice the past tense), “You know that you were nations, led away to the dumb idols, …” (1Co 12:2), and also, “remember that you, once nations in the flesh, … you were without Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Elohim in the world” (Eph 2:11-12). (See also Eph 4:17)

These messages go hand in hand with the observance of the Torah and faith of the Messiah, which was also the message in the Book of Revelation: those who guard the commands of Elohim and the faith of Yeshua will be called the remnant (see Rev 12:17) and saints (Rev 14:12). The message of Revelation is very clear: both the observance of the Torah and the faith of the Messiah are necessary, not either or, as we explained it in Two things one needs to have to get saved? – Time of Reckoning Ministry. From here it most naturally follows the message that the remnant is those who have the observance of the Torah of YHVH and the faith of Yeshua: the faith the Messiah had.

When we reflect on what we have written above, we will find that a solid foundation is thus established for the conclusion of our study. With that we are fairly convinced that Ruth and Orpah were such former gentiles; they both loved Naomi and they both headed for the Land, but only one reached it and the other returned to her former condition of a gentile. Likewise, the Nazarenes.

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May we merit seeing the coming of our Mashiach speedily in our days!