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

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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.

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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 kinNaomi’s, mineit’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

before then

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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