The Story of Ruth as a Chance to Right Historical Wrongs

During last night’s discussion on Ruth, I had several thoughts come to me about the story of Ruth, especially as a polemic way of righting wrongs and standing against political oppression. These are just thoughts, and I am in no way interested in becoming a Ruth-io-blogger, but it is a fascinating book nevertheless, even with the euphemisms.

I see three recapitulations in Ruth’s tale:

1. Tamar

Genesis 38.6-27 tells the story of Judah and his daughter in law, Tamar. Tamar’s husband died, and according to custom, was supposed to be married to her brother-in-law in order that her dead husband’s name to continue on. That didn’t go as planned, so some years later, she tricked Judah into fulling that obligation.

2. Lot and his daughters

The next morning the older daughter said to her younger sister, “I had sex with our father last night. Let’s get him drunk with wine again tonight, and you go in and have sex with him. That way we will preserve our family line through our father.” So that night they got him drunk with wine again, and the younger daughter went in and had intercourse with him. As before, he was unaware of her lying down or getting up again. As a result, both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their own father. When the older daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Moab. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Moabites. When the younger daughter gave birth to a son, she named him Ben-ammi. He became the ancestor of the nation now known as the Ammonites. (Gen 19:34-38 NLT)

Both Tamar and Lot’s daughters tricked their partners, resulting in children. For Ruth, while there is a certain amount of mischievousness going on, essentially, both she and Boaz (unlike Tamar and Judah) fulfill the demands of the Law. Unlike Lot and his daughters, there is no breaking of the law either. Ruth, a Gentile, corrects the sins of the Tamar and Lot and his daughters.

3. Moab’s refusal to help when Israel invaded

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites. (Deu 23:3-6 NLT)

When Israel was marching into the Promised Land, the Moabites refused to render aid to God’s people. As you can guess, this no doubt angered YHWH a bit, which caused this eternal curse. Ruth the Moabite not only follows Naomi into the Promised Land but serves to render support and begins to worship the God of the Jews. This is the opposite of what her descendants did to the Israelites who arrived generations early.

Finally, while this is certainly no ‘second chance’ thing, if we set Ruth against Ezra and Nehemiah’s reforms,

On that same day, as the Book of Moses was being read to the people, the passage was found that said no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be permitted to enter the assembly of God. For they had not provided the Israelites with food and water in the wilderness. Instead, they hired Balaam to curse them, though our God turned the curse into a blessing. When this passage of the Law was read, all those of foreign descent were immediately excluded from the assembly. (Nehemiah 13:1-3 NLT)

For the men of Israel have married women from these people and have taken them as wives for their sons. So the holy race has become polluted by these mixed marriages. Worse yet, the leaders and officials have led the way in this outrage.” (Ezra 9:2 NLT)

Set that against Ruth and her descendants, which would have included the Royal Line of David. Did Ezra expel them as well? Was Ruth written during this as a warning against Ezra’s reforms and perhaps, especially since she is set up as an immediate ancestor to David, as a reminder that it is difficult to separate all of the ‘mixed’ from the ‘pure?’

And what of Matthew’s genealogy which expressly included Ruth?

Post By Joel Watts (10,059 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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1 thought on The Story of Ruth as a Chance to Right Historical Wrongs

  1. Nehemiah 13 conveniently leaves out any mention of the “ten-generations” rule, which would have meant that by the time of Nehemiah the marriage prohibition would have already passed, wouldn’t it? So if Nehemiah was wrongfully forcing divorces, one could well imagine other books, like Ruth, setting out to correct his errors. Interesting to note is the words of Nehemiah’s possible contemporary, Malachi, who speaks for God in saying (Neh 2:13-16):

    “And you have done it again: covering the altar of YHWH with tears, with weeping, and with wailing, to such an extent that he no longer has any regard for your offering, nor does he willingly receive it from your hand. But still you say, ‘Why?’ Because YHWH is a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously; for she is still your companion, the wife of your covenant! And did [YHWH] not make them one? . . . And why [has YHWH made them] one? To seek godly offspring. Therefore let your spirit be warned, and let no one deal treacherously with the wife of his youth. For YHWH, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce . . .”

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