One day the news came by way of travelers who had come through Israel. “The famine is over. The rains came and the harvests are expected to be abundant.”
Naomi decided to return to her home in Bethlehem. She knew it was still there, awaiting the family’s return. “But now,” she thought, “it is a family of one.”
“Still, my relatives will help to provide for me. They will follow the Law of Caring for the Widow.” Somehow the thought comforted her, and she determined that the feeling of contentment was God’s way of letting her know she was making the right decision.
“I will take only what I can carry. I don’t want anything that will tend to remind me of the losses of my husband and sons,” she explained to Orpah and Ruth.
“We will walk with you!” they assured her.
Early the next morning the three women stood at the entrance to what had been their home, and wept. They cried for their lost husbands, for their lost positions in the community. They wailed as only those can who have experienced the loss of everything.
Neighbors came and joined their mourning.
But most of the village went about their tasks and stoically refused to look in the direction of the cries.
And then the three women headed out of the village and down the road toward Bethlehem.
An hour passed in relative silence. Then Naomi stopped and took a hand of each of her girls. They were still girls, maybe just in their twenties.
“This is as far as I will let you go with me,” she said gently. “Your homes are back there. You are still young. Go back to your fathers and mothers. They will take you in and the matchmaker will find new husbands for you.”
“No! We will go with you! You are Mother. It is you we love. We can’t leave you all alone!”
They walked a little farther before Naomi stopped again.
“Where I am going is different from your homes here in Moab. You’ve never experienced the culture and religion of my people. Go back to your families and their gods.” Naomi looked from one daughter to the other, her eyes pleading with them to listen and obey.
Orpah began to cry. Soon all three of them were crying and wailing. The sense of loss again seemed to overwhelm them. Then Orpah released her hands from Naomi’s and Ruth’s hands. Her face told her decision. Slowly she turned back toward the village. She turned and looked once more at Naomi and Ruth, but did not stop walking away.
Naomi and Ruth stood there holding onto each other. Tears coursed down their cheeks. “Now, it’s your turn, Ruth,” Naomi said softly. “Go home.”
Ruth turned her gaze back to Naomi. “Don’t keep asking me to leave you. You are my home. You are my family. I will go wherever you go. I will stay by your side to strengthen you and provide for you. I will worship the God you have taught me about. Now. let’s go!”
And Ruth began walking toward a future that she knew little about, pulling at Naomi’s hand to come along.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. Ruth kept her mother occupied by asking about Bethlehem, her new home, who her relatives were and where each lived. Morning and evening Naomi instructed Ruth in the Law, the customs, the cultural rules that must be followed once they arrived in her new home.
A crowd of neighbor women quickly gathered in the courtyard of the Elimelek homestead. Each wanted to hear the news and find out about the foreigner with her. “Naomi...” “Naomi...” was called out over and over as each tried to be the recipient of her attention.
Finally, Naomi raised her hands indicating she wanted silence. “Don’t call me Pleasant (Naomi) any more. Call me Bitter (Mara), for that is the lot God has given me.”
Then she turned and guided Ruth inside their home.