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).

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Dr Eli. It’s so clear that even in the Torah that God showed how He intended the inclusion of all Nations(Gentiles) in His Salvation plan eventually with the coming of the Messiah Yeshua.
    It is so that all would embrace the God of Israel, in His Son Yeshua.

  2. Powerful message one of the “types and shadows” of the coming of Messiah cannot understand with all the faithful studying people do why they do not recognize the inclusion as long as the understanding of only God Jehovah is the God to serve

  3. Thank you Dr. Schaser for highlighting this. I’ve read these two accounts before and never noticed before. I am currently reading the Torah portions along with Israel and might have noticed it this time around, but now that you pointed it out I will pay closer attention upon reading Ruth

  4. This may seem to be a trivial question. Most folk in my area pronounce the name “Elimelech” as E-lim-e-lech. I pronounce it as El-i-mel-ech because the name means “my God is king. How do you, Dr Shaser, pronounce it?

    • Your pronunciation is correct, Jim. In Hebrew, the name is pronounced “El-i-MEL-ekh” with the emphasis on the third syllable (“mel”); but the emphasis of Hebrew words sometimes shifts when they are used in English discourse (this is true for English-speaking Christian and Jewish communities).

  5. In Deut. 23:3 Moses banned Moabites and Ammonites from the assembly of the LORD, “Even to the tenth generation,”. If I am counting correctly there is a distinct possibility that Ruth belonged to the tenth generation after Moses announced the prohibition.

    • Thanks for your comment, Nick. Since the final phrase of Deut 23:3 is עד-עולם (ad-olam), which means something like “perpetually,” it might be better to read the “tenth generation” language not as a literal time-limit for Moabite inclusion, but rather as a symbolic number that represents an indefinite period.

  6. Shalom sir….can Christians who love YESHUA then be seen as Hebrews since for us there was a specific crossover/ ivri from darkness to light… though we cant be Israelites or Jews?

    • Thanks for your question, Daniel. Ruth doesn’t provide precedent for Gentile Christians being “Hebrews,” since Ruth doesn’t become a Hebrew; to the contrary, she continues to be identified as a “Moabite” after her declaration of solidarity with the people and God of Israel in 1:16-17 (see 1:22; 2:2, 6, 21; 4:5, 10). In a similar way, Gentile Jesus-followers do not become “Israel” or “Hebrews” or “Jews,” but they are included under a theological tent alongside the people of Israel insofar as they also worship the same God (cf. Acts 15:16-17; Rom 15:8-10).

  7. Thanks for the enlightenment. I have been reading the TORAH with my students since 1985, and I read RUTH with a female professor in ULPAN in 1980. I knew what Ruth left behind and what she embraced, but I did not make the connection with Abraham. Thanks again.

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