"Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; follow her back home."
These three women were bound together by the memory of common happiness, by the memory of common sorrows. The proposal that they should part, however reasonable and just, could not but reopen the flood-gates of their grief. Orpah found her consolation in her home in Moab, and Ruth found hers in Naomi's life-long society and affection. But as the three stand before us on the borders of the land, as Naomi begs her daughters-in-law to return, the sorrow and the sanctity of human separations are suggested to our minds.
I. SEPARATIONS BETWEEN LOVING FRIENDS ARE OFTEN EXPEDIENT AND NECESSARY.
II. SEPARATIONS ARE SOMETIMES THE OCCASION OF ALMOST THE BITTEREST SORROWS OF HUMAN LIFE.
III. SEPARATIONS MAY, BY GOD'S GRACE, BE MADE A DISCIPLINE OF THE SOUL'S HEALTH AND WELFARE.
IV. SEPARATIONS MAY BE OVERRULED, BY GOD'S PROVIDENCE, FOR THE REAL GOOD, PROSPERITY, AND HAPPINESS OF THOSE WHO ARE PUT APART.
V. SEPARATIONS REMIND US OF HIM WHO HAS SAID, "I WILL NEVER LEAVE THEE; I WILL NEVER FORSAKE THEE" - T.
Thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods. 1.
The backslidings of such as set out fair, and do begin well, is a sore temptation to young converts and proselytes. It was no less to the very disciples themselves (John 6:66, 67
). Thus it was also an occasion of stumbling unto the primitive Christians to behold the backslidings of two such forward professors as Hymenaeus and Philetus had been; insomuch that the apostle saith to them, "Nevertheless the foundation" (of God's election) "standeth sure; the Lord knoweth them that are His," etc. As the multitude of sinners cannot give any patronage to the evil ways of sin, so neither can the paucity of saints put any disgrace or disparagement upon the good ways of God.
2. Some forward followers of the only true and living God may apostatise from thence to embrace the vanities of the Gentiles.
3. That love to the ways and worship of God is a sincere love which doth undergo trials and temptations, yet bears up against all: godly Ruth rides out the storm against wind and tide of both the sister's pattern and the mother's precept.
Nothing can be more encouraging to the Christian heart than to see the young setting out to seek the Lord. It is a beautiful exercise and exhibition of youth. Never do the morning hours appear so bright or so promising. We cannot suspect the sincerity of any, and therefore we encourage them to press forward. We have seen these youthful travellers going with Naomi out of the place where they dwelt, on the way to return unto the land of Judah. For a time they travel together happily and affectionately. There is a line which divides Moab from Judah. This is a painful but an inevitable crisis. The two sisters must separate. There is just such a line in our soul's history where similar entire separation must take place. The awakened mind sees its own sinfulness and need, acknowledges the darkness and emptiness of the Moab in which it has dwelt, and truly feels the importance of those blessed offers which the gospel proclaims. The Holy Spirit has taught the sinner the guiltiness and wretchedness of his past life. He knows, he sees, he feels the truth. But he does not love the truth. He does not embrace and choose it for his own, his portion for ever. If he would really do this, all would be well. His heart he cannot, will not, give to Christ. Anything else he will do. But nothing else will avail him anything. Poor Orpah! How often have I seen young travellers to eternity stopping just where you stop; hesitating just where you hesitate. Nothing more can be done for you where you are. There is Moab. You have tried that, and found it empty and unhappy. There is Judah. All its provisions and offers are before you, and brought for your acceptance. Never will you be sorry if you take your portion there. Here are Naomi and Ruth. They are journeying to the land which the Lord hath promised them. Soon they will be far from you, out of your sight. Then you will mourn over the separation which you foolishly made. You may go back to Moab, and bury yourself in its sins and follies. But you will find no peace or happiness there. Your conscience will never again allow you to rest. Orpah goes "back to her people and her gods." This is a most important fact in her history. She does not, cannot remain where they part. That is a place most unnatural and unattractive. No; she goes back, while Ruth and Naomi go forward. The separation grows wider every hour. This is a most affecting illustration. The awakened and convinced mind can never abide at the line where a Saviour is refused. There is no permanency in such a state of mind. There is no home for the soul there. You go back. It may be to self-indulgence, dissipation, and sensual delights. It may be to giddiness, frivolity, and empty, cheerless mirth. It may be to business, covetousness, and unceasing occupation. It may be to infidelity and assumed unbelief and argument. It may be to open hostility and persecution of the gospel, and those who love it. It may be to absolute and dreadful hardness of heart. But to whatever it shall be, you still go back. The worst opposers of the gospel we ever meet are those who once were almost Christians. But you say you will hereafter return to Christ. You cannot do this but by His own Spirit. And that Spirit you have driven far from you. There is a spring that returneth in creation when the winter has gone. But you have buried the sacred seed of your soul's welfare beneath a winter which knows no coming spring. You will mourn at the last, when your flesh and your body are consumed. But it will be with a worldly sorrow which worketh death, and not with a godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto salvation. This is the fearful prospect in your return with Orpah.
ORPAH WAS A MOABITISH WOMAN — had been married to one of the sons of Elimelech — and was now a widow. She had been brought up amid the absurdities and impurities and superstitions of idolatry. But her connection with an Israelitish family was a great advantage to her, and ought to have been improved by her, to the benefit of her soul, and deemed a peculiar privilege and blessing. Oh, then, let us associate with those who live for another world ( whose spirit and words and conduct diffuse the savour of heaven, and are calculated to keep God and eternity in our minds.
II. ORPAH POSSESSED MANY NATURAL EXCELLENCES, which made her lovely and amiable, though still lacking that new heart and that devotedness to God without which no man can be saved.
1. Orpah acted well in the character of a wife.
2. Orpah conducted herself with kindness and tenderness and affection towards her mother-in-law, Naomi, also.
3. Another valuable feature, which we cannot view but with great interest, in the character of Orpah, was her intention to accompany Naomi to the land of Judah. It is well to see hopeful beginnings — to see the careless aroused, the indifferent in some degree alarmed about their sins, and paying more attention than before to the welfare of their souls. It is well to see the profane putting on the decencies of morality, and renouncing their vile habits and pursuits. It is well, we say, to see these hopeful signs. But, alas! they often disappoint our fondest hopes.
III. ORPAH'S FATAL DEFICIENCY, She only began her march to Canaan — her resolution failed — she persevered not, but returned to her own land! Naomi wished not to prevent either Ruth or Orpah from accompanying her to Canaan, but from doing so for her sake. She had no earthly inducement to hold out to them. If they came, she wished them to come from religious considerations alone. If we take up the cause of God from any but spiritual motives — if we attach ourselves to the cause and people of God from earthly views, our religion is hateful in heaven. The "loaves and fishes" are to have nothing to do with our pursuit of Christ, but the attractions of His grace — the privilege of serving Him, and a supreme desire to be His — His alone — His for ever.
1. Orpah forsook the cause of God — she returned to her people. Their maxims and their habits, after all, were more congenial with her mind. Woe awaits those who are kept from "following the Lord fully" from regard to earthly connections and associates.
2. Orpah forsook the cause of God with great reluctance. Agrippa-like, she was almost persuaded to go with her to the land of Judah, yet, though with many misgivings, she retraced her steps to her own country, and saw her no more. Now, with the view of inducing these wavering characters, who are thus daily withstanding the convictions of their own minds — who return to Moab, but with many tears — to hasten out of their present condition, we beg to say a few words concerning their danger. It is a great mercy to have our minds in the smallest degree impressed with Divine things, and awakened to the importance of the things which accompany salvation. It is a mercy to be made to feel some measure of anxiety about our never-dying souls and their everlasting welfare. It is the Holy Ghost striving with us, and bidding us to consider our peril while yet it may be avoided. With the view of urging these characters to a speedy determination to be altogether on the Lord's side, we beg to add a few remarks likewise concerning their present folly. When man neglects to follow the admonitions of his conscience, he deprives himself of all comfort. He cannot enjoy inward tranquillity in this state. There is something within him constantly telling him that his end cannot be desirable if a radical spiritual change does not take place in him. He cannot have real joy in this condition. If your religion resembles that of Orpah, give God no rest till the weight of your transgression drives you to the Saviour, and a believing view of His matchless love constrains you to devote your persons and your talents to His service and glory.
I. FAMILY SORROWS.
II. FAMILY ERRORS.
1. Preference of worldly comfort before religious privileges.
2. Formation of worldly connections.
III. FAMILY ATTACHMENTS.
1. Their power. The amiableness of Naomi has so attached these idolaters to her that they are willing to forsake even their own mother.
2. Their weakness. The case of Orpah may teach us that an attachment to religious people is not religion; nor can it, of itself, produce religion in the heart.
IV. FAMILY MERCIES.
1. The return of moderate prosperity.
2. Converting grace bestowed upon an idolater.
() A family perished, not long ago, by a fire in their own house. They were not consumed by the flames, but suffocated by the smoke. No blaze was visible at all, nor could any alarming sign of fire be discovered from the street, and yet death came as effectually upon them as if they had been burned to ashes. Thus is sin fatal in its consequences, few being destroyed by outrageous forms of it, flaming up with lurid glare, but multitudes perishing by the stifling smoke of indifference and spiritual slumber.
()When Christian set out from the City of Destruction, he too, for a short part of his journey, was attended by two companions: the first indeed, Obstinate, only went with him in order to try and bring him back to what he considered wiser courses, but the other, Pliable, was absolutely sincere in his desire to reach the Celestial City." I intend to go along with this good man," he said, "and to cast in my lot with him"; he might have availed himself of the words of sincerely-meant devotion in which Orpah joined with Ruth, and have declared, "Surely I will return with thee unto thy people." Yet, as we know, when the pilgrims, "being heedless," fell into the Slough of Despondency, poor Pliable, his virtuous intentions notwithstanding, "gave a desperate struggle or two, and got out of the mire, on that side of the Slough which was next to his own house. So away he went, and Christian saw him no more." There are one or two particulars in which the behaviour of Orpah was not unlike that of well meaning Pliable. To begin with, there can be no question but that she had a sincere affection and regard for Naomi, and would genuinely have liked to spend the remainder of her days in her society; but the attachment was purely personal, and in all such friendships there is a breaking point, a limit to the extent to which others are prepared to follow us. For it is only us whom they are following, and our path may lead us into circumstances more trying than they are prepared to undergo whose hearts are not buoyed up by the hope which animates our own. Another somewhat sad reflection respecting the history of Orpah springs from the fact that she actually started for the better land, and indeed went some considerable way on the journey. The thought of those fellow-travellers of ours who set out so cheerily with us and yet failed after all to persevere is one of the saddest that comes into our memory when we review our pilgrimage. We call to mind their fervour, their enthusiasm, their kindly interest; we shall never forget how our heart sank within us when they announced their intention of turning back. And in the case of Orpah our feelings are the more regretful because we bear in mind that she was full of the best possible resolutions of going further still. "Surely," she said, no less earnestly than did Ruth herself, "Surely we will return with thee unto thy people." But, as we have already noticed, the desire in her mind was to be, as she put it, "with thee "; it was the personal element in her relation to Naomi which, however charming in itself, constituted the weakness of her position — it was on this rock that her frail vessel was wrecked at last. Further, if Orpah's decision pains us, can we remain unmoved at Orpah's tears? She is quite clear in her own mind that she can go no further; she will leave no inconsiderable portion of her heart behind her when she says farewell to Naomi; she lifted up her voice and wept; she lifted up her voice and wept again. Alas for the impotence of tears! The question for each to ask himself is not, What have I felt? but, What have I done? Orpah loved Naomi dearly, and wept bitterly at the prospect of parting from her, but returned to her people and her gods nevertheless. And here we must pause to inquire how far Naomi was to blame for the failure of Orpah. We recognise the honesty with which the older woman points out to her companions the sacrifice which they will be called upon to make if they elect to go further with her. She must have known, she evidently did know, that by turning back Orpah was losing her reversionary interest in the property of her deceased husband, yet we do not find Naomi telling her of this. Warn people by all means that life in the kingdom of heaven is the life of a servant and a soldier, but tell them too that their entry into the kingdom has made them inheritors of a possession greater and more real than anything than the world can offer, and which it would be the most fearful madness to throw away. Love had brought Orpah a long way towards the land of Judah: might not a little affectionate entreaty have brought her further still? It is important that before passing away from the story of Orpah we should try to realise what it was that she lost by turning back. And with the inheritance, redeemed as it was by Boaz, Orpah had also lost the honour — Ruth's chiefest glory in the ages yet to come — of being the ancestress of David and of the Messiah. Of all the promises to Abraham, that upon which in all probability the patriarch set the greatest store was God's pledge that in him all the nations of the world should be blessed. To be an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven is in itself a marvel of grace, the true meaning of which we shall never fully know here, but to have it in one's power to bring redemption within the reach of others, surely this is an infinitely greater marvel still. God offers us salvation as the satisfaction of the needs of our own heart; but He also offers it to us in order that we may be qualified as the possessors of it to work with Him in plucking from the burning those who are the bondsmen of Satan and of sin. What answer shall we give to Him that speaketh?
()Where was it that Orpah parted from her companions? She went with them some way, possibly a great way, but at last they reached a point in the journey which was geographically, so to speak, one of decision, one beyond which no one could pass without committing herself to new things and a new life, and at this point Orpah made up her mind to return. What more likely than that this point was the river itself, which if they adopted the southern route would form the boundary between Moab and the land of Judah? The river flows still, and each pilgrim has to make up his mind whether or not he shall cross it. There, then, flows the river: shall we cross? Sometimes it seems to us to be the river of surrender. Can I give myself wholly and unreservedly to God? And can I give up, or consent to His taking from me, whatever is contrary to His will and therefore to my happiness, love it as I may? Sometimes the river is one of confession. We have travelled thus far without our life or our relation to the world being appreciably affected or altered, and God, who is infinitely tender in His dealing with the returning soul, often postpones the necessity of or the occasion for a definite confession of our allegiance to Him until we are strong enough to make it. Yet sooner or later the river has to be crossed, and the more definitely the confession is made the better it always is for the soul. And sometimes the river is that of a consistent life." I would not shrink from throwing in my lot with that of the people of God," says many an one, "if I could only hope to lead a consistent life: I will make no profession unless I can carry it out, and I fail to see how under my circumstances that can be possible." Certainly God requires that those who follow Him shall follow Him fully, as Caleb did, but God asks no one to lead the life of faith in his own strength or trusting to his own resources. A new life lies before you; but to enable you to live it, God offers you new strength.
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