By Cindy Willingham
A few years back I tried to encourage a friend through text, “Don’t be Orpah. Don’t turn back now!” And of course she thought the auto correct had failed to change my speedy texting skills to Oprah. Later she confessed that she had no idea why I had used Oprah as an encouragement to stick to her commitment.
As I began writing this post, I googled Oprah Winfrey and Wikipedia stated that she was born Orpah Gail Winfrey
in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Being a Mississippi girl myself, I knew that she was from Kosciusko (not too far from where my parents lived at one time). I had also heard that she changed her name to Oprah (with the excuse that her mother didn’t know how to spell). I suppose I might would have done the same had my mother named me after the woman in the bible who turned back.
Our Orpah was one of the daughters-in-law to the beloved Naomi in the Old Testament book of Ruth. Orpah’s husband died and she joined her sister-in-law and mother-in-law in the widows club. Clearly, something in Moab was killing the Hebrew men. Orpah was a native of Moab, born and raised, but she had fallen in love with this Hebrew boy and married him with plans of a happily-ever-after. But by the time we meet her in chapter one all her romantic hopes for the future had vanished.
Orpah had witnessed the death of her husband’s father and brother. She had seen first hand how her mother-in-law had dealt with such a great loss and was able to draw strength from her god, Yahweh. Orpah had grown up worshiping Chemosh, the god of fire who never seemed to acknowledge her loss. But When her husband’s brother had died she watched Ruth give herself to Naomi’s god. She had grown to love Naomi and Ruth even if she didn’t find the same comfort in their God.
Within weeks of the loss of the last man in their family, Naomi announced that she was leaving Moab to return to Judah, the land of Yahweh. Orpah goes part of the way before Naomi encourages her to go back. Naomi must have known all along that Orpah was not all-in and that she would go back.
I find myself wondering what ever happened to our Orpah? This is the last we hear from her in scripture…she chose to back to her mother and her god. Ruth 1:15
Plenty writers have speculated about what became of Orpah the Moabite. You may even have your own hypothesize. BUT don’t we all know someone who didn’t go all-in…who didn’t finish the race…who turned back? We can all imagine how Naomi must have felt. She loved Orpah! She had invested in her beautiful daughter-in-law. It had to have hurt deeply to know that her daughter-in-law had not truly become a believer after all. Orpah chose her god of fire over Yahweh. She chose the easy road back. She chose not to go with Naomi, not to go all-in and not to become a believer in the one true God.
I have often asked myself, what responsibility did Naomi have…what responsibility do I have? God was calling Naomi back to Bethlehem. One daughter-in-law chose to go and one chose not to go with her. What else could Naomi have done? What else can we do when one of our friends chooses to go back? Where does our responsibility lie?
To learn from Naomi’s story…she went on without Orpah. She took Ruth, who wanted to go and she journeyed back to her God and Bethlehem. In my thinking (and probably because this is what I have done)…Naomi spent a good bit of time praying for Orpah…that the Holy Spirit would continue to woo her…that she would listen for His voice….that God would show Grace to Orpah…that God would plant true believers in her path…that she would remember the love of God that Naomi had shared with her…and on and on.
These are the prayers I pray for my sweet friend who chose not to go all-in. I love her and I have to believe that one day she will choose to go all-in with Jesus.
John 14:6 says Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It really is that simple.
I believe that God included Orpah in this story for a reason. So, let’s be faithful to pray for the Orpahs in our lives.
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Cindy Willingham is a landscape designer, small group leader, avid encourager, and sinner saved by grace who lives in Birmingham, Alabama. Her sweet husband of 37 years, two married children and four grand-kiddos fill life with unbelievable fun and sweet snuggles She thinks God is awesome and that the best adventure starts with saying yes to that still, small voice. To read Cindy’s BoP Bio click here.