From the Editor: To fully appreciate this article, we suggest you open your Bible to the beautiful book of Ruth, chapter 2. It will only take you about 20 minutes to read. If you choose to read Ruth, this article will mean so much more to you.
Boaz is given a lot to think about here. Ruth is young, she’s Moabite, she arrived with Naomi (and therefore is possibly related to her), she’s poor (which is why she’s gleaning), she’s humble and courteous (she’s politely asked permission to do it), and she’s hardworking (she’s toiled all day). Our first impressions of Boaz were positive, and so are his general impressions of Ruth. Is it chance or providence that is bringing them together? That is the question this intriguing scene poses for us.
There is a serious impediment, however: Ruth’s ethnicity. Israel’s relationship with the Moabites was a complicated one that went right back to the time of Abraham (Genesis 19:30–37, especially verse 37) and had taken a particularly nasty turn in the time of Moses. As a consequence of the latter a permanent ban had been placed on the Moabites. They were never to be admitted into Israel; the Law of Moses forbade it.
No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord for- ever, because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. But the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam; instead the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loved you. You shall not seek their peace or their prosperity all your days forever. (Deuteronomy 23:3–6)
Given this background, if Boaz the pious Israelite finds himself attracted to Ruth the Moabitess, this has the potential to become a very complicated story indeed!
…Two great lessons emerge for us from this second chapter of Ruth. First, applying the Word of God to the messy business of life requires great wisdom. All of it is inspired by God and carries the stamp of his authority. So all of it is to be honored and obeyed. However, treating it as a set of absolute rules that must all be applied in the same direct way in every situation, regardless of the intention behind them or the complexities of particular cases, simply will not do.
Jesus rebuked the Pharisees of his day for failing to distinguish between the lesser and greater matters of the Law, magnifying the former and neglecting the latter (Matthew 23:23). The result was a harsh legalism that failed to express the divine concern for justice and compassion that was the real heart of the Law and lay behind all the commandments.
The truth is that the ban on Moabites was given to prevent Israel from ever again being harmed by Moab, or seduced into worshiping its gods. It was never intended to exclude someone like Ruth who had abandoned those gods and taken refuge in the Lord, any more than the ban on Canaanites was intended to exclude the harlot Rahab, who was in awe of Israel’s God and decided to cast in her lot with him and his people. If proof is needed, it is found in the way Ruth and Rahab are both included in the genealogy of Jesus that opens the New Testament!
The way the book of Ruth ends, with blessing upon blessing, leaves us in no doubt that Boaz was a law keeper, not a lawbreaker. In Ruth’s case he was absolutely right in letting his concern for the poor, the alien, and the widow take precedence over the ban on Moabites.
This is something that evangelicals in particular need to note very carefully. We are right to honor the Bible as the inspired Word of God and make it the final judge of our beliefs and practices. But we, too, need discernment in knowing how to apply it to the complexities of life, lest we make the same mistake the Pharisees did and end up out of step with the very God whose word it is.
May God grant us such discernment.