Why was Ruth the Moabitess (a foreigner) accepted, when in Nehemiah’s day those who had married foreign wives were asked to give them up? The Moabites could not even enter the temple.
Your question raises a fundamental issue: What is the basis for God’s attitude toward different people? Why does He favor some and reject others?
He loves the righteous:
“For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright” (Psalm 11:7);
“He loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (Psalm 33:5).
He hates the evildoer, the wicked, the rebellious, those who turn away from Him and refuse to live by His laws:
“The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity” (Psalm 5:5); “For the Lord loves justice, And does not forsake His saints; They are preserved forever,
But the descendants of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psalm 37:28).
“But the transgressors shall be destroyed together: the end of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psalm 37:38)
“…the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it” (Proverbs 2:22).
He weighs the actions, the conduct, the inner life:
“Talk no more so very proudly; Let no arrogance come from your mouth, For the Lord is
the God of knowledge; And by Him actions are weighed” (1 Samuel 2:3).
“The Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Paul knew that “there is partiality with God” (Romans 2:11), and warned masters who had slaves that they too had a Master in heaven, who would show them no favor just because they had servants under their command: “You masters,… [give up] threatening: knowing that your Master also is in heaven; and there is no partiality with Him” (Eph. 6:9). Again he warned, “he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col. 3:25).
The author of the book of James was of the same mind: “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons” (James 2:1).
Peter declared his personal conviction that “God shows no partiality. 35 But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (Acts 10:34-35). And he wrote also, in his Epistle, that “the Father… without partiality judges according to each one’s work” (1 Peter 1:17).
Jesus in Revelation declared that the redeemed would be from “every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Rev. 5:9-10).
Even when God condemned a city, or a nation, or a people for their wickedness, He still accepted individuals who would repent. When the Israelite nation went into captivity, thousands were killed, but some shining examples of faithfulness were found among the captives who were taken to Babylon (i.e., Daniel, the three Hebrew children, Ezekiel, and others).
Abraham showed his understanding of God’s fairness in not punishing the innocent with the guilty when he was told by the angels that God was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18). Would God destroy the righteous with the wicked, Abraham asked? If fifty righteous persons could be found in Sodom, wouldn’t God spare the city for their sake? Yes, the angel agreed. God would spare the city for the sake of fifty. Then Abraham backed down–what if there were only forty-five…or forty…all the way down to ten. Yes, the Lord would spare it for ten. But there were not even ten. And so God made a way for a few to escape–just four in all, and destroyed the city.
The prophet Ezekiel also declared God’s fairness: that the father would not be punished if the son sinned, and the son would not be punished for the sins of the father. “a person shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deut. 24:16; see also Ezek. 18:20).
Now let us return to our question: Was God’s providence for Israelites only and not foreigners? If so, why was Ruth the Moabitess accepted, and those who married foreign wives in Nehemiah’s time had to give them up?
First, Ruth was not judged on the basis of her nationality but by her character, let us briefly review her background.
The Moabites were a kindred nation of Israel that had turned away from God. They sacrificed their children to their national god Molech. Their children were slain and then burned in Molech’s outstretched arms. During a time of severe drought in Israel, Naomi, her husband and two sons went to the land of Moab to seek refuge. In the land of Moab, her two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. In the land of Moab, her husband and both sons died leaving her childless.
After Naomi had been in Moab about ten years she heard that the drought was over and that once again harvests were plentiful in Israel. So she and her two daughters-in-law decided to return to Israel. Naomi put her two daughters-in-law to the test. And this is where we first see the true character of Ruth. Both wept bitterly when Naomi told them to go back to their own mother’s house, and Orpah turned back. Then Naomi said to Ruth, “Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law” (Ruth 1:15). But Ruth was determined to go with Naomi. “But Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me’ ” (Ruth 1:16-17). So Ruth stayed with Naomi in Israel.
Boaz, a mighty man of wealth, recognized Ruth’s noble character and firm decision to serve the true God, and favored her. Grateful, Ruth posed a question to Boaz very similar to the one our correspondent asks. “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?” How did Boaz reply? “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:1 1-13, NIV).
Listen carefully as the Scriptures bear further witness to her character. “And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:11).
As a result, this very Ruth, the Moabitess, became the wife of Boaz, the mother of Obed, and the great-grandmother of David, the king of Israel, from whose lineage came Jesus Christ.
Should not Ruth have been accepted as much as any loyal Israelite? She had forsaken her people and the gods of her people and come to put her trust in the true and living God, and worshiped Him; her nationality did not stand against her. She certainly fit the category of one who “works righteousness” (Acts 10:35). God would not condemn her. Nor would His people condemn her.
The situation pertaining to the foreign wives during the time of Nehemiah was very different. At that time the Children of Israel were just returning to their homeland after seventy years in captivity. They had been living among the people of a heathen nation. They had forgotten the laws of God and married strange (foreign, unbelieving) wives. These wives were not like Ruth. They worshiped other gods and persuaded their husbands and children to do the same. This was abomination in the sight of God. His commandment was clear to the people not to take strange wives to themselves or for their daughters to be given in marriage to foreign sons. We read in Ezra 9:11-12, “which You commanded by Your servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering to possess is an unclean land, with the uncleanness of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from one end to another with their impurity. Now therefore, do not give your daughters as wives for their sons, nor take their daughters to your sons; and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong and eat the good of the land, and leave it as an inheritance to your children forever” (Ezra 9:11-12). The reason behind the command not to mingle with the people of the land was very clear: If they took of the daughters of the land that worshiped strange gods their wives would “play the harlot with their gods and make your sons play the harlot with their gods” (Ex. 34:16).
There was no indication that Ruth, though from Moab, was accounted as a “strange wife.” She entirely denounced the strange gods of her own nation and came to trust and serve the true God of Israel. By so doing she was just as much a part of the people as any in the nation. It would have been an evil not a righteous act to have treated Ruth as a stranger.
Ruth did marry Boaz and she bare him a son. Only if we understand the importance of progeny to the people of that time can we really understand the significance of all those things which Ruth did for her mother-in-law. While we cannot go into those details in this article let us at least get a small glimpse. “Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. Also the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, ‘There is a son born to Naomi.’ ” (Ruth 4:14-16).