Ruth, the Moabitess, is one of four women cited in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. Orpah, Ruth’s country-woman and sister-in-law, does not appear.
Ruth’s story is told in four limpidly clear chapters in the Old Testament. The family of Elimelech, including his wife Naomi and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, journeyed to the land of Moab to seek relief from the famine ravaging Israel. While there the sons took Moabite brides, Orpah and Ruth. In time Naomi lost her husband and both sons and, stricken with great sorrow, resolved to return to the land of her fathers. She urged her daughters-in-law to stay in their native land. Orpah consented, but Ruth refused to leave her mother-in-law, saying: “Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you.”
After Ruth and Naomi departed, Orpah returned to her land, and she does not appear again in the record. When Ruth and Naomi returned to Israel, Ruth urged herself upon Naomi’s wealthy relative, Boaz. In a daring ploy Ruth went at night during the harvest season to warm Boaz’s feet with her own body, thereby proposing that Boaz raise up children through her for the house of Elimelech. When an unnamed Israelite, next-of-kin to the widowed Ruth, refused to exercise his legal right to marry Ruth, Boaz deigned to love her and take her in marriage. Naomi and Ruth, who had returned from Moab in poverty, were now securely settled. Naomi’s joy was completed when the union of Ruth and Boaz produced a son. Naomi, who had changed her name to Mara (bitterness), was again called Naomi (pleasantness). The grandson of this son became King David, who was beloved of God. And it is in the line of David that the Saviour of all men was born.
NARRATOR: If, beyond the grave,
exist reflection, memory,
subjection to the craving
to recall a vanished history;
and if the lives beyond
all dying still may sense somehow the earth—
detached, pristine, not causing it—
ancestors of the Christ may
have been there, might have seen
the sight that night
when God enslaved himself by birth.
Winding out in whispers, spirits lurking
in the dank and dripping corners of the cave
breathe their wonder
at the Father’s finally worded nave,
His gentle gauntlet laid down to the world.
In the chorus move the strains
of joy, of high fulfillment, or of mortified chagrin—
all awed; and seeping somewhere in
the dry and faint remains
of weeping, weeping high and fine
from a strained and lonely face—
Orpah weeping for her almost own
that were not; tears for him, for them,
and most for Boaz whom she’d never known.
ORPAH: My sister went with old Naomi when
she left here, found herself once more a bride
and took (in love) for her God their God. Then
just as Naomi had, in peace, she died.
Her curse upon herself, like roses do
when spread with dung, bloomed into life. (Their God
has always done this for the ones who knew
how near he was to hear.) Her twilight held
the joy of seeing their son’s grandson, who
became both son and father of her God.
They left me stripped of love, of hope, of all
the promise I had spent in choices
squandered then and now beyond recall—
abandoned, hearing only echoed voices …
NAOMI: Come, men! Away from dust,
away from parching ground, we
must seek a new land, find
some new blood, cast our lot
where rivers flow and plants bloom green.
ELIMELECH: We go, dear land, but I will sing
(while leaving here and going where
His light is dim) what He did there
in Egypt’s dark. And He will someday
bring this stricken place a light
for those who wait in deepest night
but sharp-eyed for the promised King.
MAHLON: Why, when there is now enough to eat,
do the harpies beat thus, bite thus
deep within my throat?
Why then do the red flecks sparkle
in the sputum spat into the sunlight?
Where then is that Yahweh? Why, when in the sky
at last are clouds (that I’ll admit are
pagan), do I have to die?
CHILION: There my brother (phaw! his rancid
innards succored death for me) can
see no further than his expectoration
or his nightly enema;
while we, expatriates from the Promised land,
grovel with the dogs. Like Esau,
he was hungry, we were hungry, selling out our
rights of promise for a hunger we could not withstand!
TOGETHER: Come, wives, hold our heads of Promise
in your barren pagan wombs;
you may tell your sometime nieces, nephews
in your haggard days—you have held Jehovah’s rods,
given them a decent tomb.
ELIMELECH: With this my last and cloying breath
I praise thee, Lord, and welcome death.
NAOMI: So soon you’re gone now, husband-lover,
strangely foreign sons of mine:
Pray God? yes, but where in rag-tag
foreign blood can there be
another hope or any other man for me?
ORPAH: And now the voices shriek out of the darkness:
mine, Naomi’s (who would say her name
was Mara, bitterness) and Ruth’s, who in
a whisper loud as icy thunder says
she’ll go as well. My last farewell mocks on.
The voices rise from far away now. They
are clearer, though; like knives they pierce my ears.
NAOMI: I’ve come back home now,
brought a proven love away from there,
one final solace for a death-dealt, God-forsaken crone.
BOAZ: That Moab woman strikes my heart and fancy.
She is kin—Naomi’s, mine—it’s said.
Perhaps the time to fill my empty bed
is now. I’ll search and see;
the time for sons is almost by.
NARRATOR: There is within the spirits’ chorus
(at the cite of Him, the real new Jerusalem)
one voice antiphonal to Orpah
keening for a lost and shriveled self—
a voice that had she too gone back
she would have known as next-of-kin.
NEXT-OF-KIN: I sold my damned rights by birth for …
what? A fear of strangers,
scent of danger?
Scorn of neighbors, fear of favor
lost because some pagan shares my bed?
The reasons why are so absurd
(they must have been) I can’t remember when
I had lost my awe of God and thought
I’d sound my soul by men.
RUTH: It was a daring gambit; she,
Naomi, forced me to it; but though we faced despair,
she knew that Israel’s God delights
in risks. And through it all Naomi clung
to Him. Now the child I bear
will be hers too; the days and nights
he dreams of Cod her legacy; and if perhaps among
his children’s children (my fond dream) our Father’s
promised one appears, then He will too belong to her.
[History and the Christmas Story]
Only she who bore the Child
and nursed him at her breast
received by sight what eyes of faith
had shown to all the rest.
Those who toiled the years before
the hour of holy birth
had borne through hardship, pain, and grief
God’s lineage on earth.
Root of Jesse! Royal heir
of David! Orpah’s fear
is out of place; Naomi’s hope,
the son of Ruth is here!
Praise our Lord who sent the Son
to solve time’s mystery:
in Christ he saved mankind and blessed
his faithful ancestry.
Praise the Father! Praise the Son
who sums up all, the last
of Adam’s race: the hope of all
men, present, future, past.
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