The Truth about Ruth.
There are a number of religious traditions which maintain the statement that Ruth, an ancestor of Jesus Christ, was a racial Moabitess. Such belief is crucial to such philosophy as the motivator for the activities of the followers. As is the case with all religious traditions, the scripture is trolled selectively to support the tradition but rarely is the actual scripture itself used as the final authority. Where the scripture directly contradicts the tradition, mechanisms are employed to rationalise the areas of difficulty..
The statement concerning Ruth in this case is irreconcilable with the scripture. For example, Deuteronomy 23:3 (and with confirmations in other places) records that God (Yahweh) commands permanent exclusion of the Moabites (and Ammonites) from His Congregation, “for ever”. Therefore for Ruth, as a ancestor of God's Son, to have been a Moabitess, calls into question God's integrity.
Therefore the question is - did God break His own Law in respect of His Son while requiring Israelites be put to death for breaking the same Law? What is the truth about Ruth?
Let's consider the following evidence:
(A) The Geographical Evidence:
Sketch 1 shows the nations, which occupied the area in and around the Promised Land before the arrival of Israel from out of the Wilderness.
Long before the Israelites arrived on the scene, however, the Moabites had occupied all the land on the east side of Jordan from the River Jabbok right down the eastern coast to the southern end of the Dead Sea.
The 'Plains of Moab' was a small area flanking the eastern bank of the Jordan for 10 miles or so north of the Dead Sea and extending 5 or 6 miles to the east.
Then the Amorites, who were descendants of Canaan, moved eastward across the Jordan and drove the Moabites out of the northern section of Moab, and out of the Plains of Moab, down the eastern coast of the Dead Sea and across the River Arnon.
The Amorites then occupied the 'Plains of Moab' and all the country of Moab north of the River Arnon to the River Jabbok, as shown in Sketch 1.
Numbers 21:13 tell us quite definitely that 'Arnon' was the border of Moab at the time when the Israelites came north out of the Wilderness. The Israelites followed a tortuous path (sketch 1) circumventing the territory in which the Moabites were then living and came into Amorite occupied territory just north of the River Arnon.
Numbers 21:22 states that they then asked permission of the Amorite King Sihon to pass through his land. When this was refused, the Israelites - under God's instructions - fought and destroyed the whole Amorite nation (men, women and children). Deut. 2:34 and 20:16-17 state that this was done because these people were descendants of the Nephilim. Numbers 21:24 states that the Israelites then possessed all the land from Arnon to the River Jabbok, including the Plains of Moab.
The Israelites continued their campaign northwards and conquered all the land of Bashan, north of the River Jabbok, right up to Hittite territory. And they completely wiped out the entire population of Bashan as they had done with the Amorites. They then returned south and camped in the Plains of Moab ready for crossing the Jordan, opposite Jericho, into Canaan.
Numbers 32 states that the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, elected to take their inheritance in those conquered lands on the eastern bank of the Jordan and the Dead Sea, north of the River Arnon. These lands, as we have seen, included the "Plains of Moab" and were never called the "Land of Israel" even though occupied by these tribes continuously until the fall of Israel under Assyrian attack 700 years later - 1 Chron. 5:26. This land was granted to them providing their fighting men crossed the Jordan and helped their brethren to drive out the Canaanites which they did.
Sketch 2 shows the disposition of the different tribes after Canaan had been conquered. Thus the tribes of Reuben and Gad each had a part of the Plains of Moab in their territories, and no Amorites, and no Moabites lived there any more.
And why was it these tribes elected to stay on the east side of Jordan? Numbers 32:1 gives us the reason - because it was excellent cattle country, plenty of water and grass, and it could withstand droughts and famines.
(B) The Judicial Evidence:
Deuteronomy, the Book of God's Law, states categorically (Deut.23:3) that an Ammonite or a Moabite cannot enter the Assembly of the Lord. Even a tenth generation (descendant of one) shall not enter the Assembly of the Lord for 'the Age' (i.e. for ever). Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David, hence if Ruth was a Moabite by race, then:
Many commentators simply ignore the contradiction but a few have attempted to reconcile their beliefs by arguing that where God's law states that an Ammonite or a Moabite can NOT enter the Assembly of the Lord (Dept 23:3), the words "Ammonite" and "Moabite" are masculine; therefore that means that only male Ammonites and Moabites were excluded - not the women. Hence according to this reasoning they maintain it was acceptable for Ruth to be a racial Moabitess and still keep the Law intact. However such reasoning does not stand up to scrutiny. For example in Ex.23:28 God said He would send hornets to drive out “the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite" from before the Israelites. But these are also masculine words, so by this same argument, it would have to be assumed that the hornets discriminated between men and women and only drove out the male Hivites, Canaanites and Hittites and left all the women for the Israelites.
Otherwise, Numbers 25:1 confirms how the Law was understood and obeyed. Here we are told that, while waiting in Abel-Shittim, the Israelites committed harlotry with the daughters of Moab who were friendly at this stage because Israel had defeated their enemies, the Amorites. Harlotry has a double meaning here. It means worship of heathen gods primarily, but in this case the Moabite and Midianite women who invited the Israelites to-participate in this worship were the temple-prostitutes necessary for the licentious worship of their god Chemosh. For this transgression of the Law, God ordered 1000 of the backsliding Israelites to be executed and their bodies shamefully hung or nailed to stakes in view of all the people. God also sent a plague upon the children of Israel and a further 23,000 people of Israel died. In the midst of this a member of the Tribe of Simeon flaunted his Midianitish woman in front of the now penitent Israel Assembly. Then Phineas, the son of the High Priest, took a javelin and went into the Simeonite's tent and slew both the man and his mistress. And so the plague upon Israel was stayed. Paul confirms this slaughter of Israelites in 1 Cor. 10:8.
23,000 is 10 x 2300.
Ten is the number of Divine perfection -there were 10 commandments; 10 plagues fell on Egypt, the tithe is one tenth; 2300 is the number associated with the 'cleansing of the Sanctuary'. Thus the Sanctuary of Israel was thoroughly cleansed of its idolatry. When this had been done God ordered Moses to send out 12,000 armed men to slaughter the Midianites. And Numbers 31 tells us that they slew all that they found of men, women and the male children.)
Thus all the judicial evidence shows that it was impossible for a non-Israelite girl to have filled the role of Ruth without total disregard of God's Word, God's Law, and of the Facts that God has given us in His Word.
Let us then go to the Book of Ruth (in the Hebrew text) and see for ourselves what God did say.
(C) The Historical Evidence:
Chapter 1 verse 1 of the Book of Ruth starts off with the words, "Now it came to pass".
Verse 1 states that it was in the days "when the Judges ruled (Israel)". Now why did God give us this bit of information? He did it because this provides the first vital clue to the understanding of later events, so keep it in mind for the time being. Then we are told that a man of Bethlehem-Judah left his home, and this is the second clue. Verse 1 in the A.V. then says "... a certain man went to sojourn in the country of Moab". The word used here for 'country' is 'seday' and it means 'fields of'. This word can be translated as 'country' only in the sense that we say we are going for a picnic in the country. We don't mean a foreign land, we mean the rural scene as opposed to the city.
Now just where were these 'Fields of Moab' in which Elimelech (whose name means 'My God is King') and his family went to live?
When the Israelites finally came out of the Wilderness we are told (Numbers 33:49) that they pitched their camp:
Verse 50 then states that Yahweh spoke to Moses:
Jericho is at least 30 miles north of the River Arnon, which as we have already seen, was the nearest border of the land where the Moabites were then living. Yahweh told Moses to speak to the children of Israel, and Deut.1:5 states that Moses started to do this:
In the Hebrew text, there is no Definite Article in front of the word 'land' in this verse. Deut. 2:9 states that Moses reminded the Israelites that (when they were coming out of the Wilderness near Moab) Yahweh had warned them not to quarrel with the Moabites for Yahweh said, "I will NOT give thee of their land". That is, God would NOT give Israel any land occupied by Moabites. The literal Hebrew reads "I will not give thee from his (Moab's) THE land". Notice carefully that the Israelites did not take any of THE land of the Moabites from them. Yet here was Moses speaking to the Israelites in a_ 'land of Moab'. The whole distinction between which land of Moab was occupied by Moabites and which was occupied by Israelites lies in use of the Definite Article to distinguish whose land belonged to whom. Moses was speaking in a land of Moab, and there is no Definite Article - T H E - in front of it. It thus means land which used to belong to Moab, land which our geographical evidence showed that the Amorites had taken from the Moabites, and which the Israelites, in their turn, had taken from the Amorites. Judges 11:15-18 repeats the fact that the Israelites took none of 'eth-land of Moab', nor of 'eth-land of children of Ammon'. The Hebrew particle 'eth' is used here like the Definite Article to give prominence to that particular land which was NOT taken from the Moabites or the Ammonites.
Thus we can now see that all the references to 'a land of Moab' and to 'plains of Moab' and 'wilderness of Moab' (which the Israelites occupied) did not have racial Moabites living in them.
History tells us that the Moabites were a determined enemy continually at war with the Tribes of Israel. Yet our religious translators would have us believe that Naomi and her family could migrate as they wished:
Now referring back to the Book of Ruth, we are told in verse 1 that Elimelech was a 'man of Bethlehem-Judah' (that is a Judahite) but in verse 2 his two sons were called 'Ephrathites'. Ephrath was the ancient name of Bethlehem, so this little snippet of information shows us that people were called not only by their tribal name, but were even known by the local name of the district in which they lived. Consequently those Israelites of the Tribes of Gad and Reuben who lived in 'a land of Moab' were called Moabites, in the same way as Englishmen settling in Australia are called Australians.
Ruth therefore was one of those Israelites living in the 'Fields of Moab’, which were occupied and cultivated by Israelites. She was a country-girl as distinct from a city girl, and she is called a Moabitess because of where she lived, NOT because of any supposed differences in racial origin. Moreover she is called a Moabitess five times in this Book, thus again emphasising by the use of this number that the Spirit of God was associated with her and with her selection as a daughter-in-law to Naomi.
Then when her husband and sons died, Naomi decided to return to her own tribal land near Bethlehem, and we come to the touching scene where Naomi tries to part with her two husbandless daughters-in-law and Ruth refuses to leave her. In verse 15, Naomi said to Ruth, "Behold, thy sister-in-law has gone back to her 'elohim', return after your sister-in-law". But Ruth answered and said, "Urge me not to leave you ... for whither thou goest, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy 'elohim', my 'elohim'. Where thou diest, will I die, and Ithere will I be buried: YAHWEH do so to me and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."
Now it has been shown in the preceding paragraphs that Naomi and her family did NOT go to the country of the Moab people, but to the 'Fields of Moab' east of the Jordan, occupied by her own countrymen. Therefore Ruth could not have-been anything else but an Israelite born and bred. But let us look at another scriptural fact that God has given us in His book to prove these statements:
Look at this word 'elohim' which both Naomi and Ruth use and which some bibles translate as the "heathen gods" (plural) of Orpah, but the "Holy God" (singular) of Ruth. Other bibles translate 'elohim'-which is a plural word - as God (singular) for both Orpah and Ruth. In other words, the translators didn't know how to translate it in this context, so literally they tossed for it, and some of them made it plural and some made it singular.
What then does this word 'elohim' mean? Its primary meaning is 'creators' (plural) but it has several other meanings that can only be determined by the context IN WHICH GOD HAS USED IT.
NOT - repeat NOT - by the pious bias of any translator.
In the Bible we find the word 'elohim' used in several different ways:
If you were asked to translate this passage in Ruth, how would you translate this word 'elohim'? Look at the problem yourself.
Let us go back to the first clue that God gave us in the very first verse of Chapter 1 where we are told "it was in the days when the JUDGES ruled". Then look at the last definition of ‘elohim’ that shows that 'elohim' can be translated as 'judges', and there we find the complete and the ONLY satisfactory translation of this word in THIS context, for it satisfies every single condition.
Naomi said, "Behold thy sister-in-law has gone back to her people (her own tribe) and to her 'Judges'." Now why would they be Orpah's Judges? Because in those days the people of each tribe elected their own Judges. Why did Ruth say that Naomi's Judges shall be her (Ruth's) Judges? Because Ruth, being of a different tribe, would have had no part in electing the Judges which ruled over Naomi's Tribe on the other side of the Jordan. And finally, the fact that Ruth called upon God using the Name 'YAHWEH' is indisputable evidence that Ruth was NOT using the word 'elohim' to mean 'God'; and proof also that she was of pure Israel stock, for the Name 'Yahweh' was revealed and given to Israel only. (Ex. 6:3).
This name 'YAHWEH' was known as THE COVENANT Name, and it was given to THEM - Israel - Ex. 6:4. And this is why the revelation of this Name YAHWEH as the God of "THE LIVING" ensures the resurrection of the People to whom it is given.
No Priest or man of Israel such as Samuel, who presumably wrote this Book of Ruth, would have dared to record Ruth as using the Name 'Yahweh' in this way if she had NOT been of pure Israel stock and had every right to use it. And use it Ruth did, in a manner which implied long knowledge and understanding of what that Name meant; for her words to Naomi have the force of 'May YAHWEH slay me and worse if ought but death part thee and me.'
Following Naomi's return to her own country each of the parties concerned observe every detail of God's Law. That is the same Law which Naomi and her family had - according to the same commentators and translators - completely disregarded when they had gone away, 10 years before', and supposedly let their sons marry foreign women. Not one of these commentators and translators seem to have noticed that, since these kinsmen of Naomi were so carefully observing the Law, then the only reason they were doing it was because everyone of them recognised Ruth as a pure racial ISRAELITE. That same Law they were all observing so diligently and correctly, expressly forbade marriage with a foreign woman. The children of such marriages were regarded and treated as outcasts in Israel. If Naomi's son, Mahlon, had married a foreign woman, then there was NO law of Israel which required any other Israelite to perpetuate the offence. Naomi could have her land redeemed, yes, but in no way could observance of that Law be made to include marrying a foreign woman. Therefore that avaricious kinsman who chose to relinquish his right to redeem Naomi's land by undergoing the severe public disgrace of the ritual of the loosed shoe (Deut. 25:7-10) would have been one of the first to draw attention to the fact that no law existed which could make him or even expect him to marry a foreign woman and raise up outcasts in Israel. (Deut. 23:2). Any suggestion that they knew Ruth to have been a racial Moabitess would have automatically excused him from his lawful obligation and spared him the stigmatism and humiliation he endured. Clearly they all accepted that Ruth was a true Israelitess.
The Hebrew word 'mamzer' used in Deut. 23:2 (and elsewhere in the Bible) means a half-breed or outcast.
Fuerst's Hebrew and Chaldee lexicon, as translated by S. Davidson, D.D. 1867 -
"Mamzer = Masculine, a mongrel, i.e. one whose father is a Jew and whose mother is a Philistine. Zech 9:6 :- a bastard; Deut 23:2, so called from illegal sexual mixtures, and therefore applied to the fruit of adultery. The numerous attempts to explain this word as 'to despise' or 'to be corrupt', must be rejected."
The lexicon of Brown Driver & Briggs concurs with Fuerst.
Thus we see from Deut. 23:3 that Ammonites and Moabites were placed on the same level as those born of mixed racial marriages and their entry into the Congregation of the Lord forbidden for 'the Age'. Moreover in verse 6 God says to the Israelites that, "thou shalt not seek their (the Ammonites and Moabites) peace nor their prosperity (benefit) all thy days for ever."
Ruth could NOT have been a racial Moabitess under any circumstances.
(D) Appendix A
There remain a few other points that need clarification.
In Ruth 2:10 she said to Boaz (in the A.V. and some other Bibles) "... Why have I found grace in thy sight that thou shouldst care for me seeing that I am a stranger". The N.E.B., Ferrar Fenton, and the Jerusalem Bibles put "seeing I am only a foreigner", but this translation is quite wrong. The Hebrew word used here is 'Nokriah' and it is a feminine adjective, NOT a noun, although it is being used in this passage as an adjectival noun. Therefore its meaning can be either 'foreign' or simply 'not known to you' - 'an outsider to your family', and the context alone determines which is the correct reading. If Ruth had wished to state that she was a foreigner or stranger by race, then (in Hebrew) she would have had to use entirely different terms such as, "I am a woman, a foreign one -"ishah Nokri" or "I am a daughter of the foreigner - bart ha Nakar". But Ruth uses the adjective in a purely local sense of being a stranger to his family and therefore not one for whom he should show anything more than ordinary courtesy.
In Gen. 31:15, Rachel and Leah use exactly the same word of themselves when speaking of their own father, Laban. They said, "Are we not accounted of him strangers?" Laban could not, under any circumstances, call his own daughters 'foreigners' but a greedy man, as he showed himself to be, could and did quickly regard his daughters as 'strangers' - persons having no further financial or other claim on him once they were married to Jacob. Ruth uses this word in the same way to Boaz saying, "... seeing I am unknown to you" - that is, one having no financial or other claim for special consideration by Boaz.
It should be noted that at this stage Ruth does not know that Boaz is her kinsman, and she does not find out until Naomi tells her so in Chapter 2 verse 20; for verse 1 of this chapter is only a narrative statement and not something that was spoken to Ruth. Hence when she does meet and speak to Boaz - verses 8-13 -she expresses great gratitude to him for his kindness to one who (as she believes) is a complete and utter stranger to him and having no claim on him at all. Thus her 'strangeness' is not of RACE, but only an affirmation of the limits of responsibility between any Israel family and another. So in ignorance of his identity as a kinsman she is surprised that he should treat a 'stranger' to his family in such a generous fashion.
In Ruth 2:12 Boaz said to her, "May Yahweh reward your decision, and may Yahweh, the God of Israel, pay thee well since thou hast come to 'shelter under His Wings.'"
These words are often quoted to 'prove' that Ruth was an idolater, and that Boaz was praising her for changing over to Yahweh worship. This is quite wrong. Boaz is simply referring to her decision to leave her own tribe and land to come to Naomi's land and tribe, trusting in God for the future - not to the Judges in her own land who were duty bound to look after her and to find a husband for her.
In Psalm 17:8, King David also asks God "to hide him in the shadow of God's Wings" using the same metaphor that Boaz uses. Nobody would assume that King David was changing from idolatry to the worship of Yahweh so why should Ruth be accused of it?
Finally, let us turn to Ezra (Chapters 9 & 10) and to Nehemiah 9:1-3. In these chapters we find that those of God's People who returned from the Babylonian captivity, to rebuild Jerusalem, bewailed the fact that some of them had married women of the Canaanites, the Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, AND Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. The crime they committed was specified in Ezra 9:2, "for they (the Israelites) have taken of their daughters for themselves and for their sons." SO! Neither Ezra nor Nehemiah regarded Deut. 23:3 as applying to male Moabites and Ammonites only. To them, and to any unbiased translator, the prohibition applied to both male AND female Moabites.
Ezra tore his hair and his beard and roared that, as a result of this crime, "SEED, THE HOLY will mingle itself with the (other) peoples in The Land." The verb used here is 3rd person SINGULAR, and SEED, THE HOLY, refers to that SEED OF GOD HIMSELF, implanted by the HOLY SPIRIT, in Israel - through Abraham and Sarah. This Holy Seed would now become mingled, and thus perish, in these other races if those forbidden marriages were not annulled and the Israel People separated from their foreign alliances. And this action was taken- Ezra 10:3 -in great repentance. They (the Israelites) not only separated themselves from those foreign women, but also from the children that had already been born from them.
Consider for a moment the implications of this recognition of, and return to, the Law. What chance would Ezra and Nehemiah have had to enforce this Law if Ruth had been a racial Moabitess and, as such, had been welcomed by the Israelites of Ruth's time as the equal of Rebekah? They would have had absolutely no chance at all.
Thus the witness of Ezra and Nehemiah alone is evidence beyond question that Deut. 23:3 did apply to female as well as male Moabites, and that under no circumstances whatsoever could Ruth have been anything else than a woman of pure Israel stock. The very exact and explicit words of God in the Hebrew text make no error on this important matter. They show with finality that the popular religious teaching that Ruth was a Moabitess by race is completely false and without any foundation in fact.