Sermon series: Building Lasting Relationships - Ruth
We live in a throw-away world. Unfortunately, relationships are no exception. In 1996 our country celebrated that fact with the launch of a new monthly called Divorce Magazine. The publisher, Dan Couvrette, suggested the magazine was guaranteed to succeed because more than one million divorces occur a year in America.
To be sure, commitment to relationships has waned over time. But this is not a new phenomenon. Our text tells the story of the three women that illustrate the ways we tend to respond to domestic problems or crises. The next three messages in this series will examine their decisions and commitments. We begin with a look at Orpah. She illustrates those who decide to walk away from established relationships to pursue happiness elsewhere.
As we examine her life we must remember that she had just lost her husband and was now encouraged by her mother-in-law to leave the family unit. Given such an easy out, she simple departed. We are not concerned with her actions here as much as her spirit. Unlike her sister in-law, Ruth, her attitude said, "If things don't work out, then I'll just walk out." Her desire to remarry was not a valid argument for returning to Moab, for she could have remarried in Israel as easily as in Moab. The problem with seeking happiness in Moab was that she had to sacrifice existing relationships and responsibilities to go there.
Why do so many have this attitude toward marriage, children, and other relationships?
I. Walking away seems like an attractive option – 1: 5 (11-14)
Compared to the life she had been living, walking away was very attractive. On the surface, cutting her losses was appealing because she believed her needs could be met better elsewhere. Specifically, she, like so many today, had two reasons.
B. The potential fulfillment of unmet expectations
Everyone enters relationships with ulterior expectations. When those emotional or physical needs go unmet, frustration develops and tension stresses the marriage.
It is like the woman who marries the strong silent type for security. After the marriage he remains the "strong", "silent" type and she wonders why he won't open up to her.
Orpah had the same expectations from marriage as couples today.
1. Marital bliss – 1:4-5
She probably spent her entire married life nursing a sick husband. That probably did not fit her definition of a satisfying marriage. For that matter, no one enters a relationship expecting to give without receiving.
2. Maternal joy
Most ancient cultures viewed children as the highest blessing of marriage. But Orpah had not experienced the joy of motherhood. Like many frustrated couples who cannot have children, she had little hope in her present condition of ever experience the joy of motherhood.
3. Material security – 1:19
The fact that Naomi was so well known suggests that she and Elimelech were financially comfortable. Orpah certainly knew that fact going into her marriage to Chilion. But when all the men died (v.5) the widows would have been forced to sell their possessions just to survive. A life of poverty was not her expectation in marriage.
In the end, her relationships produced none of the anticipated benefits. Instead, she experience one disappointment after another.
B. The promise of excitement – 1:9 "husband"
Naomi meant that her daughters in-law might find new husbands. Orpah saw this as a new beginning.
Walking away from covenant relationships is attractive because it offers promises without problems. But that is the polar opposite of the reality. Those who abandon their God-ordained responsibilities experience many problems without any legitimate promises. The momentary excitement of freedom from responsibility quickly dissipates into either full-fledged irresponsibility or monotonous predictability. The same old problems are still there, but with compound complexities.
II. Walking away seems like an acceptable option – 1:10-13
Amazingly, Naomi encourages Orpah to leave, even at the risk of Orpah losing her soul (v.15 "her gods"). Naomi said it was OK to walk away from responsibility. Don't be too hard on Naomi, for she was speaking through her own pain. It seems that love and/or compassion motivated Naomi. However, the central issue remains: Orpah's exit was acceptable and encouraged.
Today, we hear men and women justify leaving relationships because, "I have a right to be happy." Some have even suggested that "God wants them to be happy" so they must leave. Add to that perspective the "everyone is doing it" rationale and one could justify any release from obligation.
At this point we must remember that legality and morality are not always synonymous. Except in cases of abuse and adultery, God sanctioned marriage "till death do us part."
III. Walking away seems like an easy option – 1:14-15
Orpah walked away because she left open the possibility of leaving. But her tears testify against her. She embraced the "I love you but..." attitude. Sentiment without commitment is a shallow profession from which many could part with little discomfort.
In the end, Orpah pictures those who decide to walk away to pursue happiness elsewhere. While the record is silent about the rest of her life, she probably didn't find happiness unless she learned the value of commitment.
In Perspectives, Hugh Downs made a wise observation. "A good marriage is supposed to be a 'happy' marriage, but I've always thought that happy is a slightly misleading word. Some people think that happiness implies only good things without any bad. That's true, of course, but happiness can imply more than just good things. There is a second happiness that includes both good things and bad. This deeper happiness, or what I like to call 'great happiness,' implies that a thread of pain weaves its way through the pleasure to create a more mature fabric - a fabric fit to cloak the wise. Since some bad things are inevitable, this acceptance is a kind of wisdom."