Ruth Alone. Loyalty to Naomi. Conversion to Judaism. Enter Boaz. Loyalty to Boaz. An Exception Is Made. Married.
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
Ruth 1:16 (NIV)
No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.
Deuteronomy 23:3 (NIV)
Two verses to start this entry. Breaking all the rules. I made an exception.
The Book of Ruth deserves that much, because it so firmly plants itself outside of the norms set forth so far. Firstly, she’s A WOMAN WITH HER OWN BOOK OF THE BIBLE. Yes, this is huge – but with a distinct asterisk. Like Hattie-McDaniel-winning-an-Oscar-for-a-demeaning-Gone-with-the-Wind-role huge, because it acknowledges significance while still maintaining original statuses. Ruth is brought to our attention, seemingly because there are no men around (her husband had previously died). Add that to her submissive role throughout the narrative, and you end up with only a half step forward. Yes, we have a female protagonist, but one who supports all our stereotypes.
So. This is huge*.
Secondly, there’s the whole interracial marriage thing.
Let’s go back. God deals Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, a tough hand. Her husband dies, and then her sons die. In grief and old age, she releases her daughters-in-law to the world and changes her name to Mara, meaning bitter. Tough times. But Ruth does not accept this release and demands to stay with her mother-in-law and worship her God.
Yes, that means that Ruth is not culturally or ethnically Jewish. She is a Moabite, and the Law of Deuteronomy is none too nice to that group of individuals. We are told in Chapter 23 “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord.” That is pretty clear – little room for subtext. Ruth is not a Jew, and despite her belief, she should not be allowed to convert. But she does.
And over time, and with much loyalty to Naomi-now-Mara, Ruth encounters a fine Israelite man named Boaz. He seems suitable to marry – a gentleman, a landowner, and seducible with the right strategy. Naomi convinces Ruth to wait by his feet on the threshing floor until he provides instructions. She strikes at his heel, and all goes well. They marry and with it, sign an agreement over property (like all healthy romantic ceremonies).
So here we have a non-Jewish woman who, by Law, may not become a Jew.
And so she becomes a Jew. And no one says anything.
And then we have this same non-Jewish woman who, by Law, may not marry a Jew.
And so she marries a Jew. And no one says anything.
The pundits are silent. What are we to do when the Law is disregarded and a pillar of fire does not strike from the sky?
Is God asleep at the wheel? Or is He making a point?
Regardless, this proves that there are exceptions to the rule. I know this, because Ruth and Boaz together provide the holy lineage all the way through David and eventually to Jesus. This God has an obsession with the purity of His people. He would never allow a tainted, unclean woman to betray that fleckless heritage.
So, an exception. The first. No subtext required, it is right there in the print. I have a feeling this is a foreshadowing for the Christian revolution that hails ahead a couple dozen Books.
Exceptions will abound. I can feel it.
Did you know some characterize the relationship between Ruth and Naomi as intimate and sexual (meaning… lesbians)? I poked around and found a great summary of the Naomi-Ruth-lesbian argument on the website “Would Jesus Discriminate.” Check it out here.
Note: This would have been the focus of my article, but it requires the ability to read these passages in their original languages. I attempt to keep my analysis on the level of Joe-the-Hebrew-Illiterate reading the Bible, like most of us are.