Today’s Reading: Deuteronomy 21-23
Today’s Reflection: Deuteronomy 23:3
3) “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever.
After God freed the children of Israel from Egypt through the Exodus, they faced many obstacles on the way to the Promised Land. One they faced repeatedly was the nation of Moab. These descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, were distant cousins of Israel (Genesis 19:30-38), yet showed them cruelty when they began their wilderness journey. Balak, king of Moab, attempted to use Balaam to curse and destroy Israel (Numbers), and the Moabites tempted Israelites into idolatry (Numbers 25:1-5). For these reasons God gave Israel this instruction, not to allow Moabites into their assembly. Simple, right?
So how does Ruth, a Moabite widow, become part of the assembly of Israel (Ruth 1)? Furthermore she marries a man named Boaz, becomes great-grandmother to King David (Ruth 4:13-22), and ultimately part of the lineage of Jesus Christ Himself (Matthew 1:1-17). How do we make sense of what appears to be a clear violation of God’s law?
First we have to understand God’s purpose in the law. It is to build, support and maintain relationships, between us and God, and between us and each other. The law is not about rules, but about relationships. Sin broke the relationship between mankind and God (Isaiah 59:2), and destroys relationships between people. God’s law is one of the tools He uses to restore what has been lost to sin. Understanding this, why would God prohibit Israelites from allowing Moabites into their assembly?
Well, Numbers 25 shows what happened when Israel did allow Moabites into their assembly. The men were seduced by Moabite women, and eventually began worshiping their idols and their god, Baal of Peor. The Israelite men’s reason for allowing Moabites into the nation was lust, and the consequence was breaking their covenant with God. So God instituted this law to protect Israel’s relationship with Him.
At the same time, the Moabite Ruth, who had been married to a Jew decided to stay with her Hebrew mother-in-law Naomi after she was widowed. Though Naomi tried to send her back to her home and family in Moab, Ruth replied with one of the most beautiful proclamations in scripture:
Ruth 1:16-17 – 16) But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17) Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
Though she was a Moabite, God saw her honest desire to follow Him. And in that desire God saw an expression of the relationship He desires to have with each and every one of us. To forbid Ruth from becoming part of Israel would have been keeping the literal letter of the law, but a violation of the law’s very purpose, building relationships between us and God and us and each other. Allowing Ruth not only to enter the assembly of Israel, but actually making her part of the lineage of Jesus, makes it clear that the law must serve God’s ultimate purpose of love, and it is only through the lens of God’s love that we can properly understand and apply His law.
Matthew 22:36-40 – 36) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37) And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38) This is the great and first commandment. 39) And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40) On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Romans 13:10 – Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Galatians 5:14 – For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Law can’t stop love, because the Law was created to serve Love. In the end, Love Wins.
1 Corinthians 13:13 – So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.