Reply To: Who was Orpah in the bible

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Orpah did not live during a happy time in Israel’s history. But Israel’s troubles were not her problem—after all, Orpah was a Moabite.

Orpah was daughter-in-law to Naomi, whose family migrated from Bethlehem to Moab during a time of famine in Israel. Naomi’s story, told in the first chapter of Ruth, reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. First, her husband died—tragic in any context, but potentially disastrous for a woman living in the patriarchal culture of the ancient Near East. Having a husband meant having protection—no husband meant vulnerability and perhaps abject poverty. But all was not lost, since Naomi had two sons.

While living abroad, they had married Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. However, soon Naomi’s sons had died, too. Now three women were left vulnerable and destitute.
Hearing that the famine had abated in Israel, Naomi decided to return home, but she urged Orpah and Ruth to return to their families. Naomi might find sustenance back in Bethlehem, but she could not guarantee the same for two foreigners.

At first, both daughters-in-law protested, voicing their intent to stay with Naomi. However, this could easily have been a mere polite gesture, so Naomi persisted, telling Orpah and Ruth that they had no future with her. Orpah was convinced. She kissed her mother-in-law and returned to her home—back to her own family and, presumably, to her own gods.

Ruth, however, had decided that Naomi was her family now; and Naomi’s God was her God. The contrasting results of their decisions were striking. Orpah disappeared from the story, destined to become nothing more than a minor character in the biblical narrative, while Ruth rose to prominence —and ultimately became an ancestor of King David, as well as Jesus the Messiah.

Even though Orpah turned back, Naomi did not begrudge her. In fact, Orpah left with Naomi’s blessing—a prayer that God would show kindness to her and provide another husband for her.