Sordid Lineage, Beautiful Legacy

Ruth Wasn’t Even a Jew

The book of Ruth is amazing. Not simply because it’s a great story about love, loyalty, faith, romance and redemption. But its very presence in the Bible is amazing. Stuck right there in the Old Testament is a book named after a non-Jewish woman.

Ruth was a Moabite. Her ancestry had its origin in the incest committed between Lot and his oldest daughter. And though Moabites were related to the Israelites, so to speak, they were enemies because Moab had opposed Israel’s advance toward Canaan. And Moabites were not known to worship Yahweh. They were polytheistic pagans, occasionally offering human sacrifices to idol-gods like Chemosh.

As a result, God prohibited the Jews from intermingling and intermarrying with Moabites (Ezra 9:10-12)—unless a Moabite renounced all that being a Moabite meant and became all that it meant to be a Jew.

So the fact that one of the canonical books of the Old Covenant is named after a Moabite woman is itself a testimony that a miracle of God’s grace had taken place.

A Great Back-story in Ruth

There is a great back-story in Ruth that makes things really interesting. Boaz, who became Ruth’s redeemer-husband, was the son of Rahab. (From the biblical record, it appears that Boaz’s father was Salmon and his mother was Rahab (Ruth 4:21, 1 Chron. 2:11, Matt. 1:5), but since biblical genealogies sometimes skip generations, it's possible that Rahab was Boaz’s grandmother or great-grandmother. Regardless, her maternal influence in Boaz’s family would likely have had a similar effect on Boaz to the one I imagine here.)

Remember Rahab? She was another non-Jewish woman, a Canaanite and a former prostitute. She and her family were the only survivors of Israel’s conquest of Jericho, because she hid the Jewish spies and helped them escape.

So imagine the stories Boaz heard as he grew up. And imagine how having a mother who had been a foreigner and a harlot, yet was grafted into the olive tree of Israel by the grace of God, affected the way Boaz viewed Ruth that day he saw her gleaning in his field. Other men might have simply seen a foreign woman scrounging for food, like a parasite. But Boaz saw something familiar and dear in a woman who had left her family, her nation, and her gods, to embrace Naomi, her nation, and her God.

It seems Boaz was uniquely prepared by God for Ruth and Ruth for Boaz. Isn’t that beautiful? A marriage made in heaven.

But there was so much more in the works than a fairytale romance. Their union produced a son named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David, who became the greatest king Israel ever had.

Until David’s progeny produced a King named Jesus.

Notorious Women in Jesus’ Family

Jesus is unashamed to have women of questionable repute in his family. In fact, he actually goes out of his way to point them out. In Jesus’ genealogy listed in Matthew chapter one, only fathers and sons are recorded, with five notable exceptions where mothers are also named.

Both Ruth and Rahab make the list (Matt 1:5). So does Tamar (Matt. 1:3), who entered the royal bloodline by disguising herself as a harlot and seducing Judah to impregnate her (because of the unjust way he treated her—see Gen. 38). Bathsheba, whom David stole from Uriah, gets mentioned (Matt 1:6). And so does Mary, Jesus’ own mother, who became pregnant with Jesus outside of marriage, and whose claim to miraculous conception was received by most with…um… skepticism (Matt 1:16).

Isn’t that wonderful? People tend to conceal the more disgraceful events and people in their family. But not Jesus. He chooses to highlight possibly the five most scandalous women in his lineage.

God weaves his grace throughout the Bible—even through the genealogies! God loves to redeem sinners. He loves to produce something beautiful out of sordid family backgrounds. He loves to make foreigners his children and reconcile his enemies. He loves to make all things work together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom. 8:28).

Each of these women, who entered redemptive history during the Old Covenant era, are beautiful illustrations of what God would later say to Peter when clarifying that his grace is extended to all peoples: “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). That is amazingly good news to commoners, foreigners, and sinners like us.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is the author of Not by Sight: A Fresh Look at Old Stories of Walking by Faith and serves as the President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994. He lives in the Twin Cities with his wife, Pam, their five children, and one naughty dog.