Cleaving to Christ
Picture an old woman and two younger women standing on a road between Moab and Judah – three tearful widows in animated conversation. Let’s get closer so that we can eavesdrop on their conversation.
We listen first to the older widow, whose name is Naomi.
What is Naomi saying to the younger widows, Orpah and Ruth?
‘Return home, my daughters’ (Ruth 1:11).
Though Naomi would like their friendship and fellowship, she urges them to return to their own families living in Moab.
Orpah and Ruth face a decision – will they go back to their people and their gods, or will they go on with Naomi, and worship the true and living God, who has chosen Israel as his people?
Ruth and Orpah willingly left Moab and its gods to travel with Naomi to Judah. Why, then, did Naomi seem to discourage and urge them to go back home?
Firstly, Naomi’s words are a challengeto Ruth and Orpah to count the cost of their commitment to the true God. ‘Do you understand the step you are taking?’ is Naomi’s challenge to these converts to faith in Israel’s God. About a thousand years after Naomi, Jesus said to the crowds who followed him, ‘Stop first and count the cost of becoming one of my disciples’ (cf. Luke 9:23-26).
Secondly, Naomi will not deceive Ruth and Orpah with false promises. To paraphrase Ruth 1:12-13: ‘Go home and you will have a better opportunity of finding new husbands; come with me and you may face loneliness and singleness. You have a choice between plenty in Moab and poverty in Judah’. Followers of the Lord must expect trials and temptations (John 15:18-21).
Thirdly, Naomi’s words call for wholehearted devotion to the Lord. Ruth and Orpah must go beyond their intense love for Naomi to an even deeper love for Naomi’s God.
They admired Naomi’s faith which had stood the test of a decade of suffering, including the loss of a husband and two sons. Would they now share that faith and trust God for themselves, whatever the future held for them?
‘Ruth clung to her’
How did Orpah and Ruth respond to Naomi’s challenge?
‘Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her’ (Ruth 1:14). Both women were good-living and loving women, who showed kindness to their husbands and to their mother-in-law; both showed an interest in God. But Orpah went back to her Moabite gods, whereas Ruth declared her allegiance to Israel’s God.
Are you like Orpah or like Ruth? You may sit alongside Christians, sing the same hymns and hear the same sermons, may even call yourself a Christian, but does total commitment to Christ seem just too much?
We may well call Orpah ‘the almost Christian’. But the solemn point is, ‘to be almost a Christian is to be almost saved; and to be almost saved is to be altogether damned’ (Walter Baxendale).
For Ruth and Orpah there was a parting of the ways on that road to Moab, a separation between believer and unbeliever. One chose Chemosh, the Moabite god; the other chose Jehovah, the Creator-King of the whole universe.
Jesus speaks of a parting of the ways, an eternal separation of believers and unbelievers on judgement day. ‘Then [the unsaved] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life’ (Matthew 25:25). Come to Christ now for pardon, to escape punishment later!
‘Look’, said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her’. Instead of leaving her mother-in-law, ‘Ruth clung to her’ (Ruth 1:14-15).
The word ‘clung’ means ‘glued’. Ruth glued herself to Naomi. Ruth clinging to Naomi is an illustration of how we should cling to Christ. Love glues believers to their Saviour.
‘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 anything but death separates you and me’, declares Ruth.
Hearing this confession of her daughter-in-law, Naomi ‘stopped urging her’ to follow Orpah (1:16-18). Naomi’s God has become Ruth’s God, and Naomi’s people have become Ruth’s people.
Those who love God will love his people. To quote the apostle John: ‘Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen’ (1 John 4:20).
Ruth has no plans to go back to Moab after Naomi’s death, therefore she says, ‘where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried’. She vows to love God and his people for ever. So should we! Is this demanding too much? Think what the Lord Jesus Christ suffered for you when he died on the cross!
Ruth’s faith was ‘richly rewarded by the Lord’ (Ruth 2:12). He gave her Boaz, a rich landowner, as her husband; and Boaz gave her Obed, a son, who became the grandfather of David. From David’s family came the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world (Ruth 4:13-22).
Naomi’s journey to Moab, because of her husband Elimelech’s decision, and her bereavement of that husband and her two sons Mahlon and Kilion fulfilled God’s plan to convert Ruth and give her a place in the family tree of the Lord Jesus Christ (Ruth 1:1-4).
God used Naomi’s faithfulness during a decade of suffering to bring Ruth to himself. So God will bless each of us who cast ourselves upon his mercy and grace, identifying with him as Saviour and Lord.