Sin and grace in the Book of Ruth

In Saturday’s blogpost, I examined the four women mentioned in the genealogy that opens Matthew’s gospel. In order to stick to one point, the necessity of the virgin birth of Jesus, I had to pass over some important lessons on grace in the Book of Ruth.

The law of Moses forbade intermarriage with Canaanites and Moabites. Yet we see in the genealogy that Salmon married the Canaanite Rahab and Boaz, apparently his son, married the Moabite Ruth. The law further mandates that the offspring of forbidden marriages be barred from the assembly of the Lord down to ten generations. That is, all of Salmon’s children, grandchildren, etc. to the tenth generation were legally outcasts.

In the book of Ruth, we first meet a Hebrew widow named Naomi. She, her husband, and two sons had fled from a famine in Bethlehem and moved to Moab. There, both sons married Moabite women, then all three of the men died, leaving Naomi without support.

Her bitterness aptly demonstrates that she was not a woman of faith. She announced to her daughters in law that she would return to Bethlehem and they might as well stay behind and try to find husbands among their own people. Ruth loved her so much that she refused to stay behind, renouncing her family, her people, her heritage, and her gods. She swore in the Lord’s name that nothing but death could ever part them.

Skipping to the end of the book, we find that Boaz was touched that Ruth wanted to marry as old a man as she was. She named him kinsman-redeemer, an appeal to his blood relationship with her late husband. One man in town had a closer relationship and therefore a stronger legal right to the dead man’s estate.

Boaz approached that man, who expressed an interest in redeeming the estate, but backed out when he found marrying a Moabite was  part of the deal. He did not want to jeopardize his own estate or the legal standing of his offspring.

According to the letter of the law, that man is the hero of the book. He is the only man mentioned who refused to sin by contracting a forbidden marriage. But in fact, the Bible does not even preserve his name. Some New Testament scholars regard Boaz, who sinned in marrying a Moabite, a Christ figure in the way he honored and protected Ruth.

Actually, according to the letter of the law, David should have been an outcast, too. He was less than ten generations from Salomon’s forbidden marriage to a Canaanite. The letter kills; life comes through grace. The lesson is not so much that God does not care about the details of the law, but that he bestows favor when he sees love and faith in operation.

When Joshua sent spies to Jericho, Rahab protected them and helped them get out of town safely. Such was her faith not only in God’s power but also in his goodness that she asked the spies for protection in his name. By grace Salmon could marry her without making outcasts of his descendants.

By faith and love, Ruth repudiated everything Moabite so she could permanently ally herself not only with Naomi, but also Naomi’s God. Boaz had ample opportunity to take unfair advantage of this young foreign woman, but he saw the love she had for her  mother-in-law. His response to that love moved him to his own most  honorable behavior. God’s grace blessed that forbidden marriage as well and gave Boaz a good reputation that will live forever.

Even baby Obed displays God’s grace. He carried on the family line of Ruth’s late husband. He gave Ruth and Naomi access to his grandfather’s estate so that they could live comfortably. He restored Naomi’s faith and hope, being a grandson she could dote on.

God takes sin very seriously and punishes it vigorously, but his ultimate intention is always redemption. His judgment passes in a  moment so that he can bestow mercy and grace eternally.

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