Can you imagine two Moabite kids on the playground? One said to the other, “My daddy told me about our great grandpas, our most ancient ancestors, Abraham and Lot. Daddy said that Moab was born when Lot’s daughter ‘became pregnant by her father’ ” (Genesis 19:36-37). What a proud heritage! The Moabites were named for the product of an incestuous relationship. Yuk!
The Moabites, settled in the rolling hills east of the Dead Sea. A major east-west corridor, the “King’s Highway” (Numbers 20:17, 21:22), dissected their lands. At the end of the Israelite’s forty-year wilderness wanderings, God led His people, the emancipated slaves from Egypt, to the Promised Land. To arrive at the Jordan River from the east, Israel needed to travel the King’s Highway, passing through territories held by the Ammonites and the Moabites. Both empires refused passage. Balak, the king of Moab, knew that he couldn’t defeat Israel on the battlefield, so he hired Balaam, a famous soothsayer, to curse them (Numbers 22-25). The animosity between God’s people and the evil Moabite kingdom persisted, precipitating God’s declaration: “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, may ever enter the Lord’s assembly” (Deuteronomy 23:3–6). The Moabites were Divinely blacklisted!
Fast forward about three hundred years… “During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion” (Ruth 1:1–2). Elimelech left Bethlehem, “the house of bread,” to escape the famine. He apparently didn’t pray for God’s guidance and direction but just packed up and moved to a pagan land, presumably because the fertile fields and pastures there had remained productive.
Disaster ensued. In Moab, Elimelech died. Mahlon and Chilion both took Moabite wives, and then the two brothers died. Naomi was left grieving and alone, with a pair of Moabite daughters-in-law. Before returning to Bethlehem, Naomi consoled the two younger widows. “ ‘Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. May the Lord grant each of you rest in the house of a new husband.’ She kissed them, and they wept loudly”(Ruth 1:8–9).
Chilion’s widow, Orpah, returned to her parent’s home. Ruth, Mahlon’s widow refused, saying to her mother-in-law, “Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16–17).
Back in Bethlehem, God miraculously ordained events that led to the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. It was a match made in heaven! Literally! “Salmon fathered Boaz by Rahab, Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered King David. David fathered Solomon by Uriah’s wife … and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary, who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Messiah” (Matthew 1:5–6, 16).
Ruth was a Moabitess! Because of her ancestry, she was blacklisted! “No Moabite may enter the Lord’s assembly!” Clearly, this entire episode is a beautiful illustration of God’s grace!!