The world, as represented by Moab, opened its arms to Elimelech the backslider. He settled down in that dark and dangerous place. He lost his sons to Moab. As Moab had once, years before, seduced the men of Israel with the women of Moab, so now Moab seduced the sons of Elimelech with the same bait. Elimelech's sons were quite content to live in Moab, to marry in Moab, and in the end to die in Moab and be buried in Moab. And so they did, far from God, their consciences silenced, their convictions, if they ever had any, seduced, and their days shortened.
Naomi lived through it all, growing more and more desolate, lonely, and embittered as time went on. Her only solace was that her two daughtersin-law respected her and treated her well. Ten years wore wearily away. Graves were dug. Husbands and sons were buried. And all about her the Moabites went about their business and carried on their dark religion as priests of Chemosh offered living children in the fires of their god. Ten weary years passed, and then a change came.
We think, first, of Naomi's tidings. She heard from home. The famine was over! The fields bore promise of a bumper harvest! God had been visiting His people! Revival had come! Naomi made up her mind. She would go home. Backsliding had beggared and embittered her, but her heart was still hungry for the place where God had put His name. She would go home and take her place once more with the people of God. We think, also of Naomi's testimony. She told her two daughters-in-law of her decision. She was sick to death of Moab. She intended to get right with God, with the true and living God of her people. She would say "good-bye" to them. All backsliding had done for her was rob her and ruin her. Mara ("bitter") should be her true name, not Naomi ("pleasant"). Gone was the blessing associated with the name "Naomi" (Ruth 1:20). Instead had come the bitterness associated with the name "Mara." Such was her unpromising testimony.
Poor as that testimony was, however, it bore fruit. Both Ruth and Orpah were impressed by the sudden change in Naomi. They both declared that they would come as well. However, like the backslider she still was, Naomi tried to discourage them. "You would do better to stay in Moab," she said. "You'll never get remarried if you come with me. I can't think of a self-respecting Jew who would marry a Moabite." It was terrible advice. It should warn us never to take advice from a backslider. A backslider is a dangerous person no matter who or where that person is. Abraham's backsliding imperiled Sarah (Gen. 12:11– 20). Lot's backsliding destroyed his family (Gen. 13:8–13; 19:1–38). Jonah's backsliding put others in peril (Jonah 1:4–16).
In Orpah's case, Naomi's words were all too successful. She took Naomi's advice and went back to the nightmare darkness of Moab, back to the demon gods of her people, and we read of her no more. Ever afterward, we can be sure, Naomi had Orpah's lost soul on her conscience. It would haunt her and grieve her beyond words.
But Ruth was made of sterner stuff. She had seen glimpses of God in Naomi. And she liked what she had seen. "I'm coming," she said. "I want to know more of your God and His people." And so she did. Thus God brought something good out of it after all—a precious soul, a woman who would find her place among God's redeemed people and help move forward the coming of the Christ of God.