316. MARRIED, AT WHAT COST?

(The Single Woman Series – Batch 5)

This morning, my devotions through the Old Testament, led me to the book of Ruth, a book I had read on many occasions before. Given that it was a book with which I was quite familiar, I prayed before I began, asking the Lord to speak to me through the book. I wanted some fresh insights and given that God’s Word is alive, no matter how many times you read the same thing, he is able to open your eyes to more truth, contained therein.

I therefore proceeded to read and it soon dawned on me, that we spend so much time studying and talking about the life of Ruth the Moabitess and her admirable character, that we can miss out on valuable lessons to be learned from a study of the other characters, as well.

Take Naomi, for example. Notably, in Chapter 1, Naomi and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, had left Bethlehem-judah to go live in the country of Moab, at a time when there was a famine in the land of Israel.

Whether Naomi was in agreement with this decision or counseled her husband to do so or simply went along with his decision in order to be a submissive wife, I do not know. However, what is notable is that, at a time when the people of Israel, God’s people were going through hardship, this family made the decision, not to band with God’s people and endure but to go out into the country of Moab (which, to my mind, can signify the world), to see if they could fare better.

Now, I am not going to say, as I’ve heard other persons say, that it was because of this that Naomi’s husband and sons (who eventually married Moabitess women), died. I do not have sufficient facts to draw that conclusion definitively. I would highlight a few noteworthy points though, in relation to the people of Moab and who they were.

A little history about the people of Moab

First of all, the people of Moab were products of the incestuous encounter that one of Lot’s two surviving daughters had had with him.

Both daughters had gotten him drunk with the deceptive purpose of bearing children by him because there were no other men around them. Genesis 19:36-37 reads, “Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day.”

Lot and his daughters had therefore lived in a perverse place (Sodom and Gomorrah) along with his wife who had turned into a pillar of salt. Even when they left Sodom and Gomorrah (because God brought them out before he utterly destroyed the place and the people there), something of the perversion of the land that they had occupied, continued. The daughters, obviously impacted by the lack of morals in the place that they had lived, (the place that Lot their father, focusing only on how good the land had seemed to the eyes, had chosen to set up and raise his family) apparently saw nothing wrong with what they did, in order to have children.

Secondly, it was Balak the king of Moab, that tried repeatedly, to have Balaam curse the children of Israel, offering to give him the rewards of divination if he complied (Numbers 22).

Eventually, greedy for gain, Balaam disregarded the Lord’s will. After trying to curse the Israelites but being unable to do so, he advised Balak to use the Moabite women to sexually entice the Israelite men, so that they would disobey God.

Balaam understood that the Israelites, as God’s chosen people were commanded to remain separate and to not enter into any kind of relationship with non-Israelites. If they did, he knew that God would punish his own people for their disobedience. He therefore advised the king of Moab to use that strategy and it worked. Numbers 25:1 states “And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit whoredom with the daughters of Moab.”

Of the severe punishment that Israel suffered as a result of their disobedience, in Numbers 31:16, Moses stated of the Moabite women, “Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord.” In Revelation 2:14, the glorified Lord Jesus stated of Balaam that he, “…taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.”

Thirdly as a result of all of the foregoing, in Deuteronomy 23, the Lord gave a clear command to the children of Israel, in relation to both the Ammonites (who came from Ammon, the second child from the incestous encounter between Lot and his other daughter) and the Moabites.

In verses 2-3, he commanded them:

  • “A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to his tenth generation shall he not enter into the congregation of the Lord. An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever: Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee. Nevertheless the Lord thy God would not hearken unto Balaam; but the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee. Thou shalt not seek their peace nor their prosperity all thy days for ever.”

All of this background information about Moab is important, as it puts everything into context by the time we get to the book of Ruth and begin to read about Naomi and her family. For, when Naomi and her husband Elimelech, decided to leave the Lord’s people in Bethlehem-judah and to go and live in the country of Moab with their children, it was against all of this backdrop.

Commentators have stated that they believe that they were wrong to make this decision, as the Israelites were clearly to have nothing to do with the Moabites. They have even stated that this is why they suffered so. Maybe this was the case. As stated before though, I cannot say definitively why Elimelech and his two sons (who eventually married Moabite women in the land of Moab where they sojourned), died. I will say though, that it was clear that the Moabites were to be regarded generally as the enemies of God’s people.

I will say as well, that it appears that Elimelech and his wife Naomi only focused on the physicality, valuing food over spirituality. Like Lot, who only acted by what he could see in choosing to go live in Sodom and Gomorrah because it seemed well watered and seemingly without any consideration for the spiritual ramifications, Elimelech seemingly put more value on him and his family being physically fed, than on the spiritual. He apparently walked by sight and not by faith in this decision. For, when the going got rough among God’s people, he and his family did not stick around and band with them through the storm, in the place where God dwelt. Instead, they decided to separate themselves and to go out to an ungodly place and among the people known historically to be enemies of Israel, to see if their physical needs would be provided there.

The outcome was dismal and I think that there can be a lesson in this for us today. The lesson is this: No matter what, no matter the seeming deprivation or hardship we are called to endure as God’s people, the safest place to be is always where the presence of the Lord is. Even if faced with a storm, adversity or the pressures of life, it is always better to stay and suffer with the Lord’s people, than to go out into the world, where the ungodly is, to see if we can fend better for ourselves.

Moses understood this. Many years prior, as a child, he had been adopted by king Pharaoh’s daughter in Egypt. He therefore had the opportunity, although an Israelite, to be called her son and to live a life of luxury and power. Yet, Hebrews 11:25-29 tells us that:

  • “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward.  By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible.

Now, years later, after Naomi’s husband and two sons had died, she found herself in the land of Moab with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. To be without a man’s covering and protection back then was a very dismal place to be in, especially given that it was the man that went out and brought in food for the family.

When Naomi, clearly suffering hardship in the land of Moab along with her daughters-in-law, finally decided to return to the land of Bethlehem-Judah where she belonged and solely because she had heard that the Lord had given them bread (physical provision), her daughters-in-law began to embark on the journey with her. However, while on the way, Naomi, who clearly loved her daughters-in-law and felt grieved about the situation and even guilty about how life had turned out for them, told them to turn back and to return to the land of Moab.

The scripture states:

  • “And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.  The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept.” (Ruth 1:8-9)

Naomi’s desire therefore was for her daughters-in-law to find husbands again and get married, most likely so that they could benefit from the physical and financial protection that having a man’s covering offered and even conceive children.

This was understandable. To desire that her daughters-in-law found men to remarry was even a good thing. Hebrews 13:4 tells us that marriage is an honourable institution. However, when the idea of marriage and having a husband is given too much importance, to the point where we behave and treat others as if life is not worth living without having a man at one’s side, when we value getting married above the God of all creation and our relationship with him, this beautiful institution becomes idolatrous.

Now why would I say such a thing?

Well, it is clear that Naomi’s motivation for wanting her daughters to return to Moab was so that they could find husbands to get remarried to. She obviously cared for their physical needs and desires, namely, food security, protection, sexual intimacy and childbearing. However, as noble as this concern was, in my view, Naomi valued it too highly. For, she encouraged her daughters-in-law to go back to the land of Moab, to their mother’s house, although she knew that the land was characterized by the worship of false gods.

She was basically telling her daughters-in-law therefore, to disregard the true and living God that they had been exposed to while around Naomi and her family. She was telling them to return to all the filth that Moab represented, even the false gods, for the sake of getting a husband. It is clear that this was her preoccupation, to get husbands for her daughters-in-law, at any cost, even if it meant that they would once again be steeped in idolatrous worship of gods, that were no gods at all.

In verse 11 for example, when her daughters-in-law initially refused to return unto their people and expressed their desire to go with her to Bethlehem-judah, all Naomi could think of was that returning with her, while it might be good for their spiritual welfare, would be detrimental to their prospects of getting spouses. She may have reasoned that they were Moabite women and widows and therefore, that no man in Israel would want them. In her mind, all that mattered was getting her daughters-in-law husbands and sacrificing the spiritual for the physical was the better option. Her daughters-in-law therefore needed to return to Moab.

Possibly thinking that time was running out for her daughters-in-law, she told them:

  • “Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? WOULD YE STAY for them FROM HAVING HUSBANDS? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.”

Naomi therefore had a one-track mind on this issue. All she could see was the need to get her daughters-in-law married, at any cost and so every other consideration was thrown on the back-burner. Her mind was on the physical welfare of her daughters-in-law but sadly, not on their spiritual. In her desire to see them married, at all costs, she was prepared for them to sacrifice the truth of who the true and living God was and to turn their back on what they knew about him, for the sake of them becoming a wife again.

Once again, similar to the thought process that seemingly motivated she and her husband to leave Bethlehem-judah for Moab, she was focused only on the physicality of life and not the spiritual. When Orpah gave in and decided to return, she told Ruth, “Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister-in-law.”

Naomi therefore knew fully well what returning to Moab meant. She did not say, for example, return to Moab and serve the true and living God while there but that Orpah had returned to her people and unto her gods. She understood that returning to Moab meant that her daughters-in-law would return to the worship of false gods which is idolatry and yet, she encouraged, even insisted that they do so, simply to get themselves out of a life of singleness.

This is very sad and downright shameful. Naomi clearly idolized marriage and all the physical benefits that it could bring, as she placed it above the need to pursue after the true and living God and to serve him. Although she must have known the command of God, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3), which was given to the Israelites and knew that God hated idol worship, she was encouraging her daughters-in-law to embrace that, to do whatever it took, to ensure that they became wives again.

Thankfully, Ruth resolved not to return to the beggarly elements but to stick next to Naomi’s side and to serve her God. As a result of her selflessness, commitment, faithfulness and devotion, God rewarded her mightily in the land of Bethlehem-judah, although she was a Moabite. He blessed her with a husband and not just a husband but one that was wealthy and not just one that was wealthy but one that was of good, honourable, noble and godly character. As a result of her resolve, God also gave her conception, she had a son called Obed and was recorded in the scriptures as the great-grandmother of the second King of Israel, David.

By contrast, nothing was ever heard of Orpah again. At least nothing was recorded. Whether she made it back to the land of Moab, we do not know. She may have well returned and never got the opportunity to remarry. She may have remarried and remained childless. Even if she did remarry and have children and all of life seemed to be dandy, to my mind, her story could never have ended well, if she returned to worshipping false gods, after being exposed to the true and living God.

The account given of Naomi and her daughters-in-law, remind me of what we as Christian women face today. There are many older Christian women, who, although they genuinely desire to see younger Christian women marry and have families of their own, take it to the point of idolatry. When they see these younger women, whether at Church or family gatherings, without even enquiring about their spiritual welfare or their health, the first thing that is often out their lips is, “When are you getting married? Haven’t you seen anyone as yet? What are you waiting for? Remember you have a biological clock!”

Indeed, they can be so driven with this agenda, that it borders on harassment. Alas, many young and middle aged women have practically grabbed anyone that they could find, just to get away from these women and their constant nagging.

Sadly, even when some of God’s daughters make bad choices and end up in bad marriages because they felt driven to escape the taunting and so just got married to any man who showed interest, although they’ve made a mess of their lives spiritually, these elderly women seem satisfied, that at least they are married!

This is clearly an idolatrous way of looking at things. It mirrors the behaviour and mindset of Naomi, which was to get married at any cost. This cannot at all be pleasing to almighty God. When we behave as if the world and our whole life purpose revolve around getting a husband, this is dishonouring to God. It is not a marriage licence that will grant us access to the place that the Lord is preparing for his saints when this life is over. It is the blood covering of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is not marital status that determines whether we have God’s favour or not. It is living a life that is obedient to him, that does. Marriage is lovely yes but it is to take a back burner when it comes to spiritual matters. It is never to be the number one consideration. Serving God must always come first, even if it means to give up on the dream altogether.

It could never be right to encourage women to turn their backs on God, to disregard him and his wisdom, to outright disobey what he has said and to embrace that which is ungodly, just so that they could get hitched and have a family.

In fact, I was shockingly given such advice some years ago, by an elderly lady that had spent years in the denomination to which I belonged. In discussing the issue of marriage one evening while she and her husband transported me from one point to another, she advised me that, if I couldn’t find anyone in the Church to marry, that I should go outside and into the world and choose one from there and bring them in. She added, that sometimes, the man in the world treated you better than the men in the Church.

I could hardly believe it. This woman, most likely making reference to her own daughter’s failed marriage to someone from the same denomination as she, was now dishing out foolish advice, telling younger women in the Church to go into the world to get a husband. In essence, she was telling me, “Forget about God, turn your back on him, go out into the world and pick whoever you want from there and then bring him in. Then, tell God that, since he did not or could not provide a man for you, that you went out and through your own effort, got one for yourself and now he (God) has no choice but to accept him and accept your marriage and bless it.”

When this lady, who was supposed to be an elder ‘sister’ from whom younger sisters could glean wisdom, had said what she said, I thought in my mind, exactly what Job expressed to his wife. I thought, “Thou speakest as one of the foolish women speaketh” (Job 2:10).

Mind you, I did not call her foolish. The words that she uttered, mimicked those that a foolish woman would speak.

Needless to say, I disregarded her advice and to date, maybe about twelve years later, I am still single. Nevertheless, even if I never get a husband (and I serve the God of all provision, so if he wishes me to be married, I shall be married), it could never be worth it (as I learned the hard way in my very early adult years, when I thought that I could bring someone in), to turn my back on God and on his clear Word, just so that I could become a married woman.

God’s Word on not being unequally yoked with unbelievers is clear. I therefore refuse to align myself for marriage or any kind of romantic relationship with a man in the world. I refuse even, to be led away by men purporting to be Christians, where the denominations that they belong to, teach questionable and downright erroneous doctrines. I have seen Christian women leave a place where truth was generally being perpetuated and embracing error in false, rebellious and even apostate gatherings, married to men who call themselves ‘Christians’ but whether they really are is in question. Whether the gatherings to which they are now a part, as married women are teaching and practising the truth and are operating in good faith and truly pleasing God, is also another issue in question.

By the grace of almighty God, I pray that that will never be my portion. I want to marry yes because marriage does come with beautiful physical benefits but serving my Lord is paramount. I am not prepared, as I mentioned in an earlier article, to sacrifice my Lord on the altar, just so that I can have a husband and be regarded in honour by the masses, as a married woman. I am not prepared to embrace doctrinal error, compromise and the world, just so it can be said, she is a married woman now.

The physicality could never be more important or equally as important as the spiritual. If remaining obedient to God and serving him means to embrace a life of singleness, then we should not run away from the presence of God. We should not turn our backs on truth and embrace ungodliness like Orpah seems to have done, just so that we can escape the scourge of singleness. Instead, we must be like Ruth and have the mentality that resolves: If singleness is to be the outcome of my decision to remain faithful to God, then so be it.

(Written on 4th August, 2022)

Dear Reader, if you found the above Article to be interesting, informative, beneficial or edifying, you may also be interested in reading the following:

  • Note 148 – ‘What Does The Bible Say About Being Unequally Yoked With An Unbeliever?’

Additionally, under the ‘BIBLE-BELIEVING Daughters’ Page:

  • Note 200 – ‘No Turning Back, No Turning Back’

Also, under the ‘COURTING OR ENGAGED Daughters’ Page:

  • Note 42 – ‘Making The Wrong Decision Can Be Costly – When You Don’t Wait On God To Introduce You To Your Spouse’

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