What Jesus says in the above passage clearly shows the expected atmosphere of the home. It was not considered normal for a daughter-in-law and mother-in-law to have strife between themselves. Even in a day of extended family in one compound, and often one house, the relationships were expected to be good ones. For that to happen in such close quarters, beyond the mere acceptance we discussed last week, there had to be love.
And such it was with Naomi and her daughters-in-law. Notice in Ruth 1:4-6, even after their husbands died, these young women stayed with Naomi. This was now a house of mourning and a house of poverty as well. We do not understand the plight of the widow in that culture and time. They had no widows’ pensions, no life insurance policies, no food stamps, and getting a job was pretty well limited to selling oneself as a bondservant. Yet Naomi had cultivated such a wonderful relationship with these girls that they didn’t leave her, even though they both had families they could have gone home to (1:8). These girls knew they were loved and that counted far more than food on the table. Can you imagine what such a relationship must have been like?
When Naomi heard the famine had left Israel and she decided to go back home, even then both of them were determined to go back with her. Not just to go on a trip, but to leave the culture they grew up in, to go where strangers were not particularly appreciated, where they would depend upon those very people to leave enough in the fields for them to survive on.
And because of her genuine concern for them, Naomi did her best to send them back to their families. I have heard people criticize her for this, as if she were sending them to Hell herself. Once again our misunderstanding of culture has made us harsh and judgmental. Their very survival could depend upon where they settled. At home they would once again be under their father’s care and he would probably waste little time making a marriage transaction. Marriage was more about survival than love in those days. The love usually followed after years of handling the trials of life together.
And why couldn’t they have continued to worship God, even in Moab? Pockets of believers still dotted the landscape that far back. Job for one. I have heard a pretty good case made for him being an Edomite. Then there was Jethro, a priest of God who was a Midianite. And how about Naaman, who when he went back home prayed to God, In this thing Jehovah pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, Jehovah pardon your servant in this thing, 2 Kings 5:18. Naaman fully intended to continue serving Jehovah, even though his occupation sometimes had him enter an idol’s temple. Elisha’s answer was, “Go in peace.” So why in the world couldn’t these girls serve Jehovah in Moab? Naomi wanted what was best for them in their lives and evidently she had enough faith in them to know they could stay faithful to God even without her standing over them.
And so Orpah did go back, crying all the way, (1:14). But Ruth would not. I am not sure her level of faith was any higher than Orpah’s, but I am sure her level of love for her mother-in-law was as high as it gets. You don’t inspire that level of love and devotion without consistency and a large amount of time. Especially in that culture, I have no doubt they worked together, laughed together, maybe even shared a few secrets as women are prone to do—sisterhood we call it nowadays, but one that also came with respect for an older woman who proved her love was genuine over and over and over.
What are you inspiring in your daughter-in-law? You can’t build a good relationship if she thinks you look down on her, if she thinks you resent her, if she thinks nothing she does is good enough. She will never learn to trust that you have her best interests at heart if you are constantly criticizing, taking offense at her words, finding hidden meanings where there are none. When you say to her, “I decided I would accept whoever my son brought home as his wife no matter what!” you are being far more transparent than you realize. There would have probably been a “no matter what” no matter who he brought home.
Genuine love and friendship, not something forced or pretended, that’s what every daughter-in-law needs from her mother-in-law. And it will show in everything you do and say.
But Ruth said, "Do not urge me 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 anything but death parts me from you." And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. Ruth 1:16-18.