By all that is holy, Ruth should never have left Moab. I know, I know: your god is my god, and all that. But believing is no excuse for being a Moabite. According to revealed policy, no matter what commitment she might have made to Naomi and to god, Ruth and her offspring ought to have been summarily and permanently excluded from hanging out with god’s people.
Deuteronomy’s revealed policy on the matter does not equivocate:
“An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever.”
Someone in olden days messed up, because Ruth—a Moabite, as far as we know from the divine record that we have—did enter into the congregation of the Lord, and there was no exclusion of her first generation, let alone all her generations to the tenth.
Those of us faithful, then, face some conundrum. How did Ruth—persona non grata—not only get into the congregation in direct contravention of revealed policy, not only become, personally, an icon of the congregation from which revealed policy excluded her, but make her immediate descendants, whom revealed policy ought to have excluded, as well, the congregation’s sanctified leaders?
Ruth is a real head-scratcher for us faithful folks. Strict obedience, and all that.
Perhaps Ruth’s ecclesiastical leaders did not know the policy. It certainly wouldn’t strain credulity to imagine a small selection of marginally-educated priests who were so encumbered by administrative and professional responsibilities that they were simply not acquainted with this one part of the voluminous policies that had been given to them to enforce. So, perhaps, Ruth slipped into the congregation of the Lord through a few leaders’ ignorance of the fact that they were supposed to keep people like her out.
Or, perhaps, the roulette-wheel let Ruth land on some ‘progressive’ or ‘liberal’ judge. Some few judges were probably faithless enough to set aside some small parts of revealed policy with which they disagreed, vainly thinking they were serving the greater good by being kind. Maybe Ruth just happened to find herself across the desk from one of these eye-winking authorities. It happens.
Maybe she lied. When the interviewer asked her: do you affiliate with any Moabites, whose identities are contrary to or opposed to those accepted by the congregation of the Lord—maybe she just said, No. Or, maybe she made an arrangement with the interviewer, by which she admitted to being a Moabite, but promised not to act like one.
Maybe it was all on Boaz’s shoulders. Ruth was female, after all, so it’s not like she would have had a real identity of her own, Moabite or otherwise. It might have been that the exclusion of Ruth which the revealed policy called for was Boaz’s responsibility, and everyone simply trusted that he was abiding by revealed policy, same as they. But the text makes it sound like Ruth’s Moabite identity was pretty well-known.
In any case, Boaz managed to secure Ruth for himself by making sure that her rightful suitor knew she was a Moabite. Now, that guy knew revealed policy. As soon as Ruth’s cousin found out that she was a Moabite, he backed away without a second thought. Not gonna find me bringing a Moabite into the congregation of the Lord, that guy seems to have said. I’m going to follow the prophet. However it happened that Ruth got in, she wouldn’t have if we’d only had a few more of those upstanding guys whom the narrative doesn’t bother to give names to.
There’s a Talmudic resolution, of course. The revealed policy may only have meant to exclude Moabite men. Yeah, okay. But if we start being Talmudic, here, where will it end? We’ll have to start studying revealed policy and all the commentaries and we’ll have to start reasoning through all sorts of things far beyond this one problem of Ruth sneaking into the congregation and we’ll have to make revealed policy a matter of careful, cumulative thinking. Let’s not let Ruth off the hook for that can of worms. Instead, let’s keep to the trunk. The policy says what it says: Ammonite/Moabite, nada.
We could, I suppose, just say: that whole story is in the old testament. I’m not sure how this solves the problem, but it can let us pretend that the problem doesn’t teach us something.
In the end, I don’t know how she did it. Somehow, Ruth, who was expressly forbidden by revealed policy to join the congregation, and whose offspring were also expressly forbidden from joining the congregation, got in. Somehow, David—who was well within those ten generations whom the congregation was to exclude—became King of Israel. If you believe the genealogies, Jesus himself had Ruth’s Moabite blood in him.
I guess Ruth is just one of those things you have to put up on a shelf and try not to look at too often.