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Ruth and the Law of Exclusion

One of the provocative questions raised by the Old Testament story of Ruth is how a Moabite could be accepted into the community of Israel.

Moses had said in behalf of God, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever, “because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you” (Deut 23:3-4).  Later,  as Nehemiah led in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem he was furious with the men of Israel for marrying women from Moab (Neh 13:1-3, 23-27).

Ruth, however, not only entered the community of Israel, but through her marriage to Boaz found a place in the ancestral line of King David, and eventually into the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah (Ruth 4:13-22; Matt 1:5-16).

Some try to get around the legal exclusion by suggesting that the law only excluded a Moabite male from the worship meetings of Israel, or even more precisely from a position of leadership in Israel. I haven’t yet seen evidence that the law was meant to be applied that narrowly.

What makes more sense to me  is the way that Ruth the Moabite is a wonderful picture of the only way any of us can come into the family of God.

By law, Ruth could not be allowed into the congregation of Israel. But by mercy, and by grace through faith she was welcomed even into the family line of Jesus.

In reality,  by lawnone of us could be accepted into the family of God. By the standard of moral and spiritual law, none of us qualifies. Yet through God’s mercy and grace– the only requirement being our faith– the most godless among us can be welcomed into the eternal family of God.

Even in Old Testament times those who accepted the God of Israel were told by the prophet Isaiah, “Do not let the son of the foreigner Who has joined himself to the LORD Speak, saying, “The LORD has utterly separated me from His people” (Isa 56:3).

God loves to show mercy rather than judgment to those who humble themselves before him.

When God has our hearts and our trust… he has what he wants… to bring something inexpressibly wonderful out of our brokenness…

Wonder whether this makes sense to you or whether you have any other explanation for how we can honor a woman whose ethnic ancestry and family history should have excluded her from the faith and community of Israel.

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29 Responses to “Ruth and the Law of Exclusion”

  1. bretnb says:

    I never have looked at this story like this until this morning.

    It is a great example of how the lost comes to Jesus.

    Mercy and grace of God forgiveness is our only hope none of us can do it on our on.

  2. SFDBWV says:

    Mart, Let me say that further reading in Isaiah 56 gives answer to the question. The comment about the stranger is joined with a comment about eunuchs. Then in vs 5 ” Even unto them will I give in mine house and within mine walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” “:6 Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants,everyone that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant.” ” :7 Even them will I bring to my Holy Mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offering and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” ” :8 The Lord God which gathereth the outcast of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside thoes that are gathered unto him.”

    It would seem that God will do as He wants, and all for the salvation of us all.

  3. jam200 says:

    I think another component of this story is how Ruth humbled herself before her mother-in-law and eventually Boaz. That’s the first step towards accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Humility opens the door to our heart and allows Jesus to come in. In a way, she refuted the history of the Moabites through her humility.

  4. SFDBWV says:

    All through scripture, the Holy Spirit has used actual experiance as prophesy, and here would be an example of just that. All are allowed into the Family of God. Ruth is the proof.

    Yes jam200, I agree we must humble ourselves to allow Christ to have his way in our hearts. As well as renounce our sin and leave them behind. Never to look back to them again but to look upward and forward to the Christ. Just as Ruth did with her past.

  5. sawaybon says:

    The story of Ruth being accepted into the faith and community of Israel in spite of the fact that she was a Moabitess is a beautiful picture of how we as Gentiles have also been grafted into the family of God that was originally exclusive to the children of Israel.

    Lauren Winner writes a book called Girl Meets God in which she identifies with Ruth. Winner was raised Jewish by her parents even though her mother was a lapsed Southern Baptist. Although her father was a Jew, she had to convert to Judaism in order to become an Orthodox Jew, because Judaism is passed down through the mother. Her experience was such that she was never fully recognized as a Jew because she was a Jewish convert. This struggle, in part, prompted her to explore Christianity, to which she eventually converted. She is inspired by Ruth, not just because Ruth is a convert, “but she is a bridge, genealogically and literarily, to Jesus” (241).

    Winner raises a question about the genealogy of Jesus, specifically about Joseph. He was not the biological father of Jesus, which creates a genealogical conundrum about the line of David that traces back all the way to Ruth and beyond. Jesus is in the line of David through Joseph, who wasn’t really his father. How do we explain that?

    Which leads me to another question: If Jesus was biologically not Joseph’s son, we do think of him being biologically Mary’s son because she conceived him, but is that necessarily true as well? Did Jesus have Mary’s DNA, or was she more like a surrogate mother to him?

    I realize that I have strayed somewhat from the topic, but these are questions that an extension of the story of Ruth prompt in me.

  6. BruceC says:

    Exclusion. Happens all the time today too. With siblings, fellow students, brothers and sisters in Christ, the workplace, etc. The grace of God however does not exclude. It is offered to all regardless of what we have done or who we are. As an example just look at the amount of Muslims coming to Christ. Many of which desired the destruction of Israel. We need to be on our guard against exclusion in our walk with Christ. The Pharisees in their self-righteousness exluded many sinners; but Christ lovingly welcomed them.

  7. SFDBWV says:

    Good call, Bob I was about to post about Mary’s connection to David also….Thinking alike.

  8. sawaybon says:

    Bob and Steve, I’m trying to figure out how the genealogy in Luke is connected to Mary. Verse 23 begins it with Joseph and traces it back to Adam, whereas the one in Matthew begins with Abraham and traces it forward to Christ. I have not done a study of these genealogies, but they include different names. Is that what makes one connected to Mary and the other to Joseph? Please explain this a little more clearly to me.

    Even so, the question of biology is still not answered. We think of Jesus as being a Jew, but He is clearly not biologically Joseph’s son. What then makes Him a Jew? Is He a Jew through Mary? Does He have any Jewish blood in Him? Jesus was fully human and fully divine. Since Jesus was God, some refer to Mary as the Mother of God, but we would never think of Joseph as the Father of God. I’m just trying to make some sense of this, or is that impossible?

  9. ppostma1 says:

    you’re point remains valid, but it was the “Assembly of leaders.” They had appointed leaders or captains of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. (Ex 18:21) When they assembled together to lead it was called the “assembly”. This decree banned them from what we would consider to be the congress or the senate.

  10. poohpity says:

    It would seem that even from the exodus from Egypt any foreigner who made the choice to follow God was not turned away. First they had to be circumcised, of course that does not pertain to Ruth, lol. So it would seem that from almost the beginning anyone who wanted to be a follower of God was not turned away. (Exo 12:48,49; 22:20-22; Lev 18:25-27) They had to follow the same requirements as the descendants of Jacob (Israel). It seems that the main thought was that they were once aliens in foreign lands so they needed to accept those aliens who desired to follow God.

  11. wretch-like-me says:

    This topic raises several questions in my mind.(what’s left of it, anyway,lol)

    Moses tends to come off sounding so dogmatic in his interpretation of God’s Voice. It’s hard sometimes to determine if What he says is what God means. Is the statement in Deuteronomy a command or a prophetic statement? Has anyone done the math? Were there 10 generations between the time of that statement and Ruth?

    If it is a command… it was ultimately broken. Could the reason it was broken due to the failure of the Israelites to keep the other commands relative to it. They were the ones who failed all along the way… to annihilate the inhabitant of the promised land; to destroy everything as commanded or not to reserve anything for themselves.

    God in His infinite mercy provides for those who are the product of our mistakes. Remember Cain, God still provided for him after his sin; God provided for the product of Abraham and Sarah’s maidservant even though the Arab nation is such a ‘pain’ today.

    Ultimately, it does show the deep, abiding love God has for all of His creation and the mercy He bestows on all of us, regardless of our choices. He causes the rain to fall on the unjust as well as the just.

    This is not to say that there will not be a judgement day; only that Our God is long suffering, desiring that none should perish and that all should have everlasting life thru Jesus, Our Lord.

  12. sitsathisfeet says:

    Isn’t the Lord amazing, His ways too wonderful to imagine? He can take a life like Ruth’s reconcile it to Himself and restore and enable a whole people and genealogical line! We always want to know the whys, and the hows of things. We want reasons and explanations, when really all is required is faith. Faith in the Lord, faith in his Sovereignty, His control and his plan. We are so blessed, being made for Him. If you think about Ruth’s and really all of our adoption into Jesus’s family of God it is amazing. My youngest son was adopted by us, and what a marvelous thing it is, but pales in comparison to what Jesus did for us in his redemptive plan. We are all adopted sons and daughters, Praise God.

  13. mjday11 says:

    Thanks for a challenging study on the book of Ruth. I’m enjoying all the thoughts, questions, and answers. And thank you poohpity, sjd, and pegramsdell for your kind words to me the other day. They were warmly and gratefully received. This place is becoming very special for me.

  14. drkennyg says:

    While the old law of Moses excluded all Moabites the grace of God allows Ruth in. It is His plan to lead us all to His Son Jesus and His death for our sins and His resurrection to show us that he has indeed defeated Satan whose only domain is earth as we know it. Later Satan will be permanently separated into hell.

    Although I accept that Jesus was fully man and fully God here on earth 2000 yrs ago, I’m rather doubtful regarding that DNA suggestion. None of us can know and it really is a mote point anyway. It may be worth noting that tracing human remains backward in time relies on the mitocondrial DNA of the female. You get all mixed up if you attempt to follow the DNA trail through the males. But for this subject it is not helpful to know that. All things are possible with God. I usually don’t tend to attribute His reasoning with my puny human mind. God reconciles Himself to us not the other way around.

  15. gr8grannyjacobs says:

    I would think Naomi had told Ruth all she herself knew about God. Somewhere in the telling Ruth must have opened her own heart to experience this God Naomi spoke about. Even when Naomi was very sad and discouraged after all that had happened to her it did not affect Ruth’s faith in God so for me it affirms Ruth had experienced God for herself and experienced His love. She had learned to trust God in her own heart.

    It took me a long time in my own life to fully understand and know how to trust God with all of my heart .I believed in God and His Son but it took time for God to teach me about trusting Him completly.When things are going well in life it can be so easy to think we are trusting in God but when painful or hard times come we can see how much we are or are not.

    Like Naomi I have felt great sorrow at times in my life but now looking back I can see how God used those times to build my trust and I am so thankful for His mercy and grace. I believe Naomi had this same experience.

    Like Ruth I don’t deserve but oh how awesome the love of God.

    We honor both Naomi and Ruth because they loved our Lord and trusted Him.

  16. SFDBWV says:

    It’s been a very long day….
    sawaybon, Once again Bob has trumped any attempt for me to address your question. The geneology in Luke is clearly Mary’s. vs 23 states (as was supposed) in reference to Joseph.
    Matthews geneology gives reference to Joseph.

    jesus the man is a Jew and refered to as such. As drkennyng mentioned, as we understand biology the identifyer in DNA is the female. I always loved that story as it broke in science news. The discovery of DNA indentification stated all mankind of every race came from the same pregnant woman….Wow did the science news reporters do some back peddling on that one.

    It is also an interesting thought that Joseph adopted Jesus as his own son and presented him as such. God has promised to adopt us all into His family plan. I don’t know if there is a connection but it is an interesting thought.

  17. daisymarygoldr says:

    Mart, today your message on God’s mercy and grace and the emphasis on our faith comes through loud and clear and makes perfect sense and so did the comments… couldn’t have asked for more. Sorry about “waves, stars and broken jars”. I take back what I said about being babyish. However, I must say that unlike the small glimmer of God in a telephone pole, today’s subject gives me a complete understanding of God’s heart.

    Ruth is an example of great faith. She chose to leave her strange gods and embraced the true and living God of Israel. Oprah obeyed her MIL, but Ruth obeyed God. We must obey God rather than men. And what exactly did Ruth obey? “Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house.” Ps 45:10. I’m thinking maybe Elimelech and Naomi had a Jewish wedding for their sons …during which they might have sung the 45th Ps. I don’t know, just my thoughts…
    Anyway, the Spiritual lesson from this… The church is being prepared as the Bride and therefore, when we decide to follow Jesus, we must leave the world behind. We are called to forsake and forget everything and everyone that belongs to the past. We cannot afford to turn around and look back and long for the things of the world. God forbade the Jews from marrying non Jewish women. It was to prevent them from following their strange Gods. Even today God’s Word forbids alliances with the world and to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.

    However, God’s love… is all-inclusive. Jesus the good shepherd talks about His own sheep who know Him…and that He laid down His life for His sheep. He then goes on to include other sheep that do not belong to His fold. “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Loved Eph 2:11-22 in The Msg.

    Sawaybon, rdrcomp has given a well balanced answer to your question. In Rev 5 Jesus is referred to as “Lion of the tribe of Judah”. So, He is a Jew. drkennyg, your note on maternal inheritance of mitochondrial DNA was brilliant! Steve, It was a long day for me as well. Yours and sitsathisfeet’s thoughts on adoption are also great!

  18. daisymarygoldr says:

    poohpity, allowed my mind to get carried away with Ps 45…on purpose, just for fun…in case you question the accuracy of my statement:)

  19. Mart De Haan says:

    Thanks, daisymarygoldr. I wasn’t clear in my comment about “telephone poles”. I could have made it easier for you by saying that I use them to remind me of the cross of Christ. In my desire to be aware of what the cross has done for us, the lines link in my mind to the Word/communication and power of God. Memory device :-).

  20. sawaybon says:

    Thank you for the attempts to answer my questions. I realize that I have been pushing the envelope a little here, but it’s an issue of personal significance for me. I like the comments about adoption, and the applause for Joseph, because I can relate to him, since I am also not the biological father of my children, but present them as such.

    I will refer to Lauren Winner again who says that “the Book of Ruth ends by suggesting that biological parentage is not the only kind of parentage that counts” (246). She suggests that Obed had two mothers (Ruth and Naomi) and two fathers (Boaz and Mahlon). In Ruth 4:17, “the women living there said, ‘Naomi has a son'”, and in 4:10, Boaz says, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from his family or from the town records.” So he becomes Obed’s father on behalf of Mahlon.

    Incidentally, I like Winner’s candid writing style, and some of you might enjoy this, too. She refers to the genealogy in Matthew as “a long, tedious list, one that has lulled generations of Sunday schoolers into classtime naps, or sent them flipping through their Bibles for racier bits about adultery or war, or even dietary laws; anything’s more interesting than a genealogy”(247).

    The point she makes about Obed’s parentage follows this logic: “Jesus is not, biologically, Joseph’s son; he is, rather, Joseph’s son the way Obed is Mahlon’s son or Naomi’s son. Because Obed can have four parents — Mahlon and Boaz, Ruth and Naomi — Jesus can have two fathers, God and Joseph. In getting Ruth to the threshing-room floor and then making her conceive, God is making Jesus’ birth biologically possible. In naming Mahlon Obed’s father and Naomi Obed’s mother, the Book of Ruth sets up a precedent of parenthood that makes Jesus’ birth, and his complicated two-fathered-ness, literarily possible, too.”(247-248)

    Wow — I believe she is only 22 when she writes this, which shows her depth of thinking at such a young age.

  21. poohpity says:

    Today’s ODB talks about how it was a requirement for Israel when they entered the promised land to care for foreigners and widows and orphans. Just a little FYI, lol.

    You might read Ruth again.

    You missed my point.

  22. poohpity says:

    Another thought to combine the OT with the NT would be Matthew 22:37-40, 37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” This seems to be like the message from ODB about loving others it is a command from the Lord Himself and is reflected in leaving some left overs of the crops for the needy.

  23. daisymarygoldr says:

    poohpity, seems like I’m always missing the point…blame it on my birdiebrain:) liked your thoughts below…on love.

  24. daisymarygoldr says:

    Mart De Haan, that helped clear the air…in a huge way- Thank you!…also for the memory device.

  25. truthjudy says:

    Amen! We need to remember where we came from and what life the Lord saved us from to give Him the glory.

  26. drkennyg says:

    Recently I joined the Voice of the Martyrs (www/persecution.com/) and participated in their “action pack” program for persecuted Christians in Pakistan. It was a wonderful experience to pack the bag full of items in need such as blankets, jackets, socks, etc.

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