Foreign inclusion: A lesson from Ruth
Every human being in this world has a need to be accepted by other people. Although some express this need more so than others, sooner or later we all want to go "where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came," as the Cheers theme song says. Concerning God and His people, there are outsiders and insiders—foreigners and family (Exodus 6:7; Heb 8:10; Rom 12:5). Thus, when a foreign woman from Moab appears in Judah among God's people, she is out of place.
Ruth is a Moabite who moved to Bethlehem, which is in Judah. At first it may not seem unusual that she is there, but upon closer examination, we learn that the Moabites were a people forbidden to fellowship with God's people, and God's people were forbidden to do anything that would benefit the Moabites (Deuteronomy 23:3-6).
Additionally, Moab and their allies defeated God's people, the Israelites. So, Israel served Eglon the king of Moab for 18 years (Judges 3:14). But later God empowered His people to defeat Moab and break free from that oppressive tyrant (3:28-30). With that said, it is obvious that there was no love lost between these two people groups. Hate is too mild of a word to describe their feelings for each other.
"Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife" (Ruth 4:10a). These are the words of Boaz, the greatest man of God in Bethlehem at that time. And his words above are nothing short of shocking! Weren't these two families enemies? Why would a Jew want to marry a Moabite? To be sure, the Moabites were Godless strangers to God's covenant and people. They were outsiders, and no one in Israel knew their names and no one in Israel would be glad they came; Or would they?
God is trying to teach us about sinners and foreigners being included into His covenant family in the book of Ruth. For example, it is no mistake that Ruth is called a Moabite six times in the book of Ruth, nor is it a mistake that Boaz refers to her as a Moabite in his wedding speech in front of many witnesses, including the village elders.
Boaz redeemed Ruth, but God had redeemed her first. This is evidenced in Ruth's words, "Your people shall be my people and your God my God" (1:16). God had saved Ruth by His grace, and her heart was changed to sincerely want God and His people rather than her sin and false gods.
Her sister-in-law was the Almost Christian Discovered, (Matthew Mead), who returned to worship false gods (1:15), but Ruth was different. Although Ruth wasn't a Jew outwardly, she was made a Jew inwardly. She was a true Jew who experienced God's "circumcision" of the heart (Rom 2:29).
God does His saving work in us inwardly, by grace and through faith. And with Ruth, God brought the last person anyone would expect into fellowship with Himself and His family. A Moabite! And that is precisely what He does for us in Jesus Christ. We were sinners and outsiders (spiritual Moabites), "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise" (Eph 2:12). We were hopeless, helpless and Godless.
"But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (2:13). By His death and resurrection, He has made both groups, Jew and Gentile (i.e. non-Jews), into "one new man" (Eph 2:15). For those who are in Christ there is no condemnation for former sins, your slate is wiped clean (Rom 8:1). And more to the point, in Christ no one is a stranger—no matter his ethnicity or former life.
"Ye Gentiles and nations, glorify ye God with his own people, [Isa 24:15] by which the Holy Ghost foretold that there would be such a melody that all men should sing God's praises, both Gentiles and Jews, when they were once united and gathered from out of the scattering in which we all are, as has been said already, and as we have seen before."
Chris Cookston is the pastor at Prineville Community Church. He can be reached at 541-447-6315.
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