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(Ruth 1:6-22) Three Widows . . . Three Ways

(Ruth 1:6-22) Three Widows . . . Three Ways

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in Ruth
Ref: Ruth 1:6–22

Three different widows in Ruth chapter 1 are about to walk three different paths, and contrary to popular belief all paths will not lead to God. Find out which one does in this message.


Three Widows . . . Three Ways

Ruth 1:6-22

I have an aversion to doctors, dentists and needles.  Anybody here have the same testimony?

You sit back in that dentist chair and the assistant comes in with a needle and she says, “Now, this won’t hurt” . . . she’s lying.  They’re all a pack of liars. 

I remember going in for some x-rays where you had to drink something and they could track it on a machine.  The doctor said to me, “Here drink this, it tastes like a milkshake.”

It tasted like sludge . . . whatever that tastes like.

I’m convinced that you can’t get a medical degree without being able to lie with a straight face.

This will only take a moment;

This will pinch for just a second – yea right.


Several years ago, pain from a chipped tooth finally drove me to making an appointment with a dentist; I’d been taking pain relievers for months and I finally knew I had to do something about it . . . so I went to the dentist.  After taking x-rays of all my teeth he informed me that I had not one, but three broken teeth and I needed three crowns.

Listen, I think a crown is an appropriate name, because only Kings and Queens can afford them.  Amen?

Nearly 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to a friend in which he stated, “The art of life is the avoiding of pain” which proves he never went to the dentist either.

The art of life is avoiding pain . . .

citation:enotes, Thomas Jefferson , in a letter dated October 12, 1786, to Maria Cosway.

I would have to disagree . . .

The art of life is not avoiding pain . . . the art of life is accepting and responding to pain.

Pain manufactures maturity.

Crises condition character.

Difficulty develops depth.


The truth is, difficulty and pain and suffering and sorrow create crossroads and the path we choose to take will make all the difference in whether or not we grow and sweeten or stagnate and weaken in our faith.

If you’ve ever wondered where a crossroads experience is described in scripture, where there are decisions to be made that will determine the destiny of a person’s life, Ruth chapter 1 is such a place.

It is a crisis at the crossroad of life for 3 women.

And what a crisis it is. 

When we last left this family in Ruth chapter 1, they had become familiar sights at the local funeral home.  They all knew Naomi by name.

First, Naomi’s husband had died.  Then one of her sons died and then, soon after, her only other child - another grown son passed away.

No details . . . no description . . . just three widows grieving their incredible loss.


In this world, at this time, in this culture . . . this was beyond grief.  It not only threatened their future happiness on earth but their very ability to survive.

Naomi and her husband and two sons had left Bethlehem, believing they were leaving trouble behind.  Nothing but green pastures ahead.

But now, ten years later, there is nothing in Moab for Naomi except three graves . . . great sorrow . . . unbelievable grief. 

Stanley Collins, Ruth & Esther: Courage and Submission (G/L Regal Books, 1975), p. 8

She can stay there and mourn . . . and starve to death, or leave.  Besides, word has reached her that Bethlehem has food again – Bethlehem, the house of Bread has bread once again for all who live there.

And so, without any apparent hesitation, verse 7 of chapter 1 informs us that Naomi departed from the place where she was and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.

It was a typical oriental custom for hosts to accompany their departing guests some distance down the road then bid them farewell – which seems to be the picture here.

Robert L. Hubbard, New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Ruth (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 102

Three widows eventually end up at either the border – or perhaps the edge of the Jordan River just above the Dead sea . . . we’re not told. 

Bethlehem was a three day journey from Moab and Naomi wouldn’t have wanted them to walk very far until she said farewell, which is exactly what she had in mind to do.

Notice verse 8.  And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house; may the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me.”

You might think it’s strange for Naomi to encourage these women to return, not to their father’s house, but their mother’s house.

This doesn’t mean that Orpah and Ruth have deceased fathers.  This expression is actually referring to the mother’s place –

it was the mother’s chamber where marriages were planned and often arranged.

Adapted from Frederic W. Bush, Word Biblical Commentary: Volume 9, Ruth (Word Books, 1996), p. 75

In other words, “Girls, listen, you’re young; you have your life in front of you . . . go back to your mothers and makes plans for another wedding.”

Naomi continues with her blessing in verse 8b. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.”  Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.”

Out in the open – literally without hope, security, and to their minds, a future – they weep.

Three widows . . . their lives turned upside down by unfulfilled expectations and unexpected sorrow.  I don’t think I’ve ever met a family with three widows, related to one another by marriage, where none of them have surviving children or grandchildren.

There are few more tender and heartbreaking scenes in the Bible than this one.  This isn’t one damsel in distress, but three.

And here they are at a crossroads, literally and figuratively.  And in the midst of their pain, we happen to be given a textbook lesson on three classic responses to pain and disillusionment and sorrow.

Perhaps you will identify with one of these widows . . . maybe you’ll identify with all three.

A Crossroads for the Widow Naomi

Let’s take a closer look at Naomi.  You may remember that her name means gracious one; you could render it pleasant or even sweet. 

Trouble is, she has become embittered over these 10 long years.  The lines in her face tell the story of three graves and great loss.

And so she concludes that’s she best left alone.  Let me make some observations from her own words.

  1. First, Naomi considers herself unworthy of love.

Four times she will tell these young women to leave her alone and go back home.

Notice her first reason she expects them to leave her – verse 10.  And they said to her, “No, but we will surely return with you to your people.”  11. But Naomi said, “Return, my daughters. Why should you go with me?  Have I yet sons in my womb, that they may be your husband’s?” 

In other words, “Since my sons are now gone; there’s no longer the bounds of marriage; there isn’t anything in myself that is worthy of you following me or caring about me . . . I’m just an old woman now . . . surely you won’t bother with me.”

Peel back the layers of self-pity and she has convinced herself that God no longer loves her and neither should Orpah or Ruth.

Notice what she says in verse 12.  Return my daughters!  GO, for I am too old to have a husband.  If I said I have hope, if I should even have a husband tonight and also bear sons, 13.  Would you therefore wait until they were grown?  Would you therefore refrain from marrying?  No, my daughters, for it is harder for me than for y9u, for the hand of the Lord has gone forth against me.

God is against me – He doesn’t love me either.  Listen, if you ever reach the point where you’re convinced that God doesn’t love you anymore, you’re going to find it impossible to be loved by anybody else.

Loving God and believing God loves you is actually the foundation for receiving love from others and giving love back to them. 

True, self-sacrificing, genuine love is impossible apart from the love of Christ.

David wrote, “Unless the Lord builds the house, you labor in vain to build it on your own.”  (Psalm 127:1)

True love is always a three party transaction. 

In fact, the commitment that Ruth will show Naomi will be possible only because Ruth has become committed to the Naomi’s true and living God.

Second observation – and this one much more serious.

  1. Naomi considers God unworthy of worship.

Look at verse 14.  And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15.  Then she said, ‘Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.

In other words, go back to your gods . . . they’ll probably be no worse to you than mine was.

In verse 13 she says that God’s hand has been against her;

In verse 20 she says that God has dealt bitterly with her;

In verse 21 she says that God is against her and has afflicted her.

In other words, “My God has really dropped the ball.”  Why don’t you go back to your gods, perhaps they’ll treat you better.

What in the world is Naomi doing demanding that her two-daughters-in-law go back to their gods.  Their chief god was Chemosh – and the worship was child sacrifice.

Why would a Jewish woman, a daughter of Abraham, encourage two pagan women to worship false gods?  Warren Wiersbe asked that same question and he suggested a reason in his commentary.  He said that Naomi wanted to go back to Bethlehem and she really didn’t want anybody to know that she and her husband had permitted their two sons to marry pagan Gentiles.

Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 19

In other words, “I’ll cover up our unfaithfulness to God.” 

But two wrongs don’t make it right!  She’s only adding to her guilt.

Perhaps, at least in my opinion, she isn’t covering up unfaithfulness; she’s counseling these two women based on unbelief. 

“God isn’t really worth following . . . I’ve been to the graveyard now . . . three times . . . and it’s obvious that God doesn’t care.”

Let’s fast forward to the moment she arrives back in Bethlehem – notice verse 19.  So they both went until they came to Bethlehem.  And when they had come to Bethlehem all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 

In other words, all Naomi’s former friends and acquaintances come up to her and say, “Naomi, is that you?”  v. 20.  And she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara – translated, “Don’t call me pleasant or sweet anymore – call me Bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.

In other words, “He made me this way . . . it’s all His fault.”

Nowhere do you read of repentance for having abandoned God’s covenant people and God’s covenant land.  At this point she’s more interested in food than fellowship with God.  She was returning to walk in her land, but she was not returning to walk with her Lord.

Notice what she said, in verse 21.  I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  

She is right in a way.  God has brought her back.  She just doesn’t realize it at the moment that God hasn’t deserted her, even though she’s basically deserting Him.

She has no idea that God is at work in her life now more than ever.  She has no idea that God has plans for a new son-in-law and a grandson named Obed, who will be the great-grandfather of King David.

We are all the same way.  When in pain we tend to magnify what we don’t have and minimize what we do have.  

But there is a ray of hope and insight buried in her words.  She says in verse 21,We went out full and came back empty.” 

Now wait a second.  They left in the middle of a famine . . . they had little to eat; they saw the loss of their property value . . . enemy Midianites just around the corner.  That’s why they headed for the green and fertile fields of Moab.

But notice what she said to these women, “We were in reality full.”  In other words, “We had everything that really mattered in Bethlehem.”

A Crossroads for the Widow Orpah


Now, let’s go back and take a quick look at the Orpah, the second widow in this setting of pain and suffering.

When Naomi first demanded that the girls return to their mothers, you’ll notice in verse 10 that both Ruth and Orpah refused to go and they both said in unison, “We will return with you to your people.”

But then Naomi lays out the reality of what they’ll lose if they do. 

And that changed everything!

Orpah gets the message:

  • Her life will be difficult as a widow from Moab;
  • Her prospects of a husband will be less than nothing;
  • She’ll be unwanted by the Jewish community – Moabites and Jews don’t get along, in fact they hated one another;
  • She will leave her nation with all its comfortable customs and conditions for a different nation;
  • She will be forfeiting her rights as a citizen;
  • She is given no prospects and no promises.

And Orpah lifted her voice and wept, then kissed her mother-in-law and said goodbye.

J. Vernon McGee wrote that Ruth and Orpah demonstrate the two kinds of members in the church – the professors and the possessors.  Orpah made a profession of faith, but Ruth possessed genuine faith.

J. Vernon McGee, The Romance of Redemption (Thomas Nelson, 1943), p. 61

So at this crossroad of life a decision is made by Orpah which will determine her eternal destiny.

Like many I’ve witnessed to who believe Christ will interrupt their lives more than they want; who believe God will mess up their social connections and their reputation; they just might have to give up an idol or two; that following Christ just might mean a cross to bear. 

So Orpah calculated the cost and decides to go back to darkness.  She was sad about it . . . she shed tears and they were real . . . but at this crossroad of life, she chooses to go back to paganism . . . back to Moab . . . back to her gods and this time, perhaps, a good man of Moabite stock.

Oprah disappears back over the horizon and the Bible never mentions her again.

And Naomi says, “Well Ruth . . . what are you waiting for?  Look – Behold (v. 15), your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after her.”  Go on . . . get.

And what happens next is nothing less than one of the greatest confessions of faith you’ll find anywhere in scripture.

A Crossroads for the Widow Ruth

Notice verse 16.  But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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. 17. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.  Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me. 18. And when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

To sum it all up, Ruth is saying to Naomi, no matter what the future holds and no matter where the future takes us, I will stay by your side.

This is no blind decision.  Ruth knows that Naomi has nothing to offer her except poverty and hardship. 

She has absolutely nothing to gain by going with Naomi and everything to lose,

Collins,  p.11

Naomi tried to tell her, “Go back to your mother.”  Ruth’s mother, a Moabitess is evidently alive . . . I can just imagine that conversation; “Ruth, are you out of your mind?!  I knew there would be trouble when you married that Israelite. Stay in Moab; stick to your family . . . worship our gods . . . marry a nice Moabite man.

We’ve read this story so often that we’ve forgotten what Ruth is giving up.  After losing her husband she is turning her back on her citizenship, her family, her country, her religion and her security.

She is literally giving away her future.

One author put it this way, “Ruth possesses nothing.  No deity has promised her blessing; no human being has come to her aid.  She lives and chooses without a support system and she knows that the fruit of her decision may well be the emptiness of rejection and perhaps even death.  She has committed herself to the life of an older widow rather than the search for a new husband.  There is no more radical decision in all the memories of Israel.

Bush, p. 87

Twice in this well rehearsed speech, she refers to God in personal terminology . . . the God of Israel is the One whom she is now believing in and trusting for her future.

While in Toulon, France a number of years ago, Marsha and I stayed with a French pastor – John Pierre and his wife – Jocelyn.  John-Pierre couldn’t speak English well and Jocelyn often translated for him as we talked one evening.  John-Pierre told us about a young lady who had received Christ not too long ago. She faced a great deal of persecution due to her decision.  She lost her friends and was nearly disowned by her family. The John-Pierre said something that Jocelyn was having a hard time translating into English.  She then said, “My husband is saying that in spite of everything, this young lady gripped God.”

She gripped, by faith, her living Lord.

Here are three widows, with three different ways of handling the pain of life that they just couldn’t avoid.

  • Orpah departs – her shallow faith was based on circumstances
  • Naomi returns – her weak faith was biased by circumstances
  • Ruth arrives – her new-found faith went beyond circumstances – it was independent of circumstances entirely.

Here in this strange new land, she has a tight grip on her new found, true and living God.

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