It would appear that the plan had been for Naomi and her two daughters-in-law to return to the land of Judah. To that end, it is reported that “as she and her two daughters-in-law began to leave the place where she had been living to return to the land of Judah” (Ruth 1:7). This would indicate that all three were leaving their land of exile, and that all three were about to experience an exodus to the land of the covenant promise, with this being the case even though both Ruth and Orpah were Moabites and had not previously come from the region of Israel, and were not a part of the Creator God’s covenant people. Of course, if one was to peruse the history of the Egyptian exodus, one would come to learn that there were non-Israelites that went out of Egypt with Israel, so this represents something of a re-playing of this as Naomi and the two women leave Moab.
For some reason there is a change of heart on Naomi’s behalf as she “said to her two daughters-in-law ‘Listen to me! Each of you should return to your mother’s home! May the Lord show you the same kind of devotion that you have shown to your deceased husbands and to me! May the Lord enable each of you to find security in the home of a new husband!’” (1:8-9a) Clearly, making this statement was difficult for Naomi, as she then “kissed them goodbye and they wept loudly” (1:9b). However, both were determined to return with Naomi, saying “No! We will return with you to your people” (1:10).
Naomi speaks again and this time is far more persistent, causing Orpah to accede to her wishes and demands as she kissed her goodbye, presumably returning to her mother’s home as directed. However, as is known, “Ruth clung tightly to her” (1:14b). Naomi protested Ruth’s actions, but upon her doing so, Ruth famously and stubbornly declared “Stop urging me to abandon you! For wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will become my people, and your God will become my God” (1:16). Ruth’s dogged determination to be a part of the exodus people won out and Naomi relented, so they returned together to Judah, and more specifically, to Bethlehem.
When they did return, Naomi uses the language of exile and exodus, but seemingly in reverse, as she says “I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed” (1:21a). It is possible that her bitterness (thus, the name change to Mara, or “bitter”) here had overwhelmed her, as she adds that “the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer” (1:21b). Apparently, she has forgotten that she left with her husband and children in a time of famine, and at a time at which it can be presumed that Israel was in subjugation. It is possible that she saw their departure to Moab as an exodus, and had begun to think of Moab as home, rather than as a place of exile. This might very well be the reason why she was so insistent that Orpah and Ruth stay in Moab, which in her own mind had become a place of fullness.
Based on Ruth’s response to Naomi’s land and Naomi’s God, it seems reasonable to believe that Naomi attempted to paint a not-so-flattering picture of that land and of the Lord of that land, with tales of famine and oppression and death and judgment, in an attempt to convince Orpah and Ruth of the futility of going with her and the benefits of staying there in Moab. Correspondingly, if her departure was an exodus, then she is now viewing her return home to Bethlehem in Judah as exile.