Prior to the time of Ruth, the Israelites and the Moabites had a quarrelsome history: Balaam cursed Israel at the behest of a Moabite king (Num 22:4-6), and relations between Israelite men and Moabite women caused God’s people to worship other gods (25:1-3). This fraught history leads Moses to ban the Moabites from being a part of the congregation of the Lord (Deut 23:3-4). In light of the disdain that existed between Israel and Moab, the inclusive message of Ruth is all the more powerful. In fact, not only does the writer of Ruth narrate a Moabite woman joining the people of Israel, but the text even presents Ruth as a new Abraham, which highlights the radical inclusivity of the biblical message.
The Hebrew at the start of Ruth recalls Abraham’s experience: “In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land (ויהי רעב בארץ; vayhi ra’av ba’arets), and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn (גור; gur) in the region of Moab” (1:1). Elimelech and Naomi are not the first couple to be forced to leave the Land of Israel due to a famine and sojourn elsewhere—the same thing happens to Abram and Sarai: “There was a famine in the land (ויהי רעב בארץ; vayhi ra’av ba’arets), so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn (גור; gur) there, for the famine was severe in the land” (Genesis 12:10).
Later in the story, Boaz’s description of Ruth recalls God’s call to Abram. Boaz tells Ruth, “All you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully recounted to me: how you left your father and mother (אביך ואמך; avikh v’imekh) and the land of your kindred (ארץ מולדתך; erets moladetekh) and went (תלכי; telkhi) to a people that you did not know before.” (Ruth 2:11). Boaz’s retelling of Ruth’s experience echoes the Lord’s first words to Abram: “Go (לך-לך; lekh-lekha) from your land (ארץ; erets), from your kindred (מולדתך; moladetekha), and from the house of your father (אביך; avikha) to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). In drawing on Genesis, the author of Ruth presents a Moabite woman as a new Abraham; in the face of all of Israel’s unsavory history with Moab, Scripture exalts the historical enemy of Israel to a position alongside the father of the nation. This presentation of Ruth as a new Abraham highlights the divine will for radical inclusion, acceptance, and relationship with all those who say, with Ruth, “Your God is my God” (Ruth 1:16).