Chapter 2

Was Ruth a Moabite?

From the booklet Ruth—Becoming the Bride of Christ
By Gerald Flurry

You can view Ruth as the beginning of the royal line of David. This gives Ruth’s story a special luster. The book of Ruth is about royalty—real royalty! Ruth married Boaz, the prince, and she became one of the greatest royal figures of the Bible!

She can be considered the mother of David’s line, and that physical line flowed right down to Jesus Christ Himself. Christ is a Son of David (Matthew 1:1). Given Ruth’s prominence in this noble line, it is important to carefully consider her own background.

Ruth was a lady from “the country of Moab” (Ruth 1:6). The Moabites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lot’s daughters thought they wouldn’t have any other chances to have children, so they got their father drunk and got themselves pregnant by him—a terrible history! (Genesis 19:30-38). This shows how much living in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah had affected them. It was a most polluted act. And the Moabites came from this evil, incestuous relationship.

Does it seem a little odd that Ruth would be from this people who were, you could say, polluted because of what had happened? Is it logical to think that God—who is a God of purity like we’ve never known ourselves—would begin the house of David with someone who came from such a background? I don’t think He would. For one thing, it simply doesn’t have the ring of truth to it. But beyond that, there is a lot in the Bible that indicates God wouldn’t do that. After all, God forbade Moabites in Israel from entering the congregation of the Lord for 10 generations (Deuteronomy 23:3).

We can gain insight into God’s view on this subject by studying the purity He required in ancient Israel.

Jesus Christ’s Ancestry

An important clue about this is found in the book of Ezra. When the Jews returned to Jerusalem after going into captivity, they intermarried with non-Israelites. Ezra 9:1-2 reveal that they didn’t separate themselves from the people of the land, but “have taken of their daughters for themselves, and for their sons: so that the holy seed have mingled themselves with the people of those lands ….”

Writing about this account in Mystery of the Ages, Herbert W. Armstrong made a statement that we need to pay attention to.

“Against God’s command, the people of the colony began to intermarry with Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and other races [including the Moabites]” and then he quoted Ezra 9:2, and inserted the comment in brackets: “so that the holy seed [racially pure, for they had not the Holy Spirit] have mingled themselves with the people of those lands ….”

Mr. Armstrong continued, “The Prophet Ezra was angry! He stood up before the congregation and said: ‘Ye have transgressed, and have taken strange wives, to increase the trespass of Israel. Now therefore … separate yourselves from the people of the land, and from the strange wives’ (Ezra 10:10-11).” Ezra really was wrathful and did a lot to stop this sin.

Mr. Armstrong concluded with this statement: “Jesus Christ was born of the tribe of Judah, and it was necessary that He be of the original pure racial strain, even as Noah was” (emphasis mine throughout). The Hebrew word that tells us of Noah’s “perfect” genealogy (Genesis 6:9) is the same word translated “without blemish” in Exodus 12:5 to describe the Passover lamb.

That statement is surely controversial in today’s world, but it is based on a number of facts. God puts a lot of emphasis on purity, certainly spiritually, but even physically. He forbade interracial marriage as the Ezra account makes clear. In fact, His law emphasizes the importance of such purity by commanding it even in breeding and working cattle—as well as sowing seed and using fabrics for garments (Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:9-11). His tabernacle, symbolic of His Church, was made of the finest, purest materials (read Exodus 25).

These physical aspects of purity, however, are only types of the spiritual purity God wants in His people (e.g. Psalm 24:3-4; Matthew 5:8; 1 Timothy 5:22; 1 John 3:3). Christ is pure love! He is all give, and He is going to marry a Church that is a “chaste virgin” (2 Corinthians 11:2). We want to be pure as God is pure—totally righteous as much as we can be. We want to think and act like God as much as we possibly can. That is what this is really talking about.

But Mr. Armstrong did say that from the beginning up until the time of Christ, that physical, racial line—the descendants of David only, of the tribe of Judah—was pure. So you have to wonder about Ruth’s background, this lady from “Moab,” who was such a biblically prominent part of that line.

Was Ruth a Moabite? To answer this question, we need to look at some specifics in Israel’s history before her time.

In the Land of Moab

When the Israelites were journeying to the Promised Land, they sought permission from Sihon, king of the Amorites, to pass through his land. Sihon refused and launched a war against the Israelites (Numbers 21:21-23). And what happened? “And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Ammon: for the border of the children of Ammon was strong. And Israel took all these cities: and Israel dwelt in all the cities of the Amorites, in Heshbon, and in all the villages thereof. For Heshbon was the city of Sihon the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto Arnon” (verses 24-26).

You can see the geographic area of these events on Maps A and B. Map B shows that Israel moved in and conquered the Amorites. This was in the land east of the Dead Sea and the Jordan River.

Beginning in verse 33, you see how the Israelites went on to conquer the people of Bashan as well, including Og the king. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Fear him not: for I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land; and thou shalt do to him as thou didst unto Sihon king of the Amorites, which dwelt at Heshbon. So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people, until there was none left him alive: and they possessed his land” (verses 34-35).

Numbers 22 begins: “And the children of Israel set forward, and pitched in the plains of Moab on this side Jordan by Jericho.” Map B shows the plains of Moab are clearly in Israelite territory. They conquered that whole area. No Moabites even dwelt there when Israel took that area over. They took it from the Amorites, who had previously driven out the Moabites.

Notice, however, that Moab remained just below them, south of the Arnon River. And they are still in that same area today. God actually would not let the Israelites take that land: “And the Lord said unto me, Distress not the Moabites, neither contend with them in battle: for I will not give thee of their land for a possession; because I have given Ar unto the children of Lot for a possession” (Deuteronomy 2:9). Perhaps one reason is that this may be where God will locate the place of safety.

Before the Israelites crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad told Moses that they actually wanted to have their inheritance right there on the east of the river, rather than in Canaan. It was prime grazing land, and these tribes had a lot of cattle (Numbers 32:1-5). This is talking about the plains of Moab, so it is the very area discussed in the book of Ruth. This area east of Jordan is clearly Israelite territory. Joshua 22:25 shows that the Jordan River was a clear divide between the Israelite territory on the east (“plains of Moab”) and that on the west (“Canaan”).

Fast-forward to the time of the judges. In Judges 11, the Israelites have just conquered two countries and are settled above Moab, which by this point is much smaller. “And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel” (Judges 11:4). Israelite elders fetched Jephthah, and notice: “And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land? And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably” (verses 12-13). The Ammonites wanted those lands back.

Jephthah’s response, in verses 14-28, is significant. He explains the whole history of that area and says that the Israelites are the rightful inhabitants! They had lived there for 300 years, and the Ammonites had never tried to reclaim the territory before then.

Map C shows the locations of the tribes of Manasseh, Gad and Reuben. Gad and Reuben occupy the plains of Moab. The plains don’t belong to the Moabites—they belong to Israel. No ethnic “Moabites” lived there!

The 300 years of Israel occupying that land includes the time of Ruth.

Ruth 1:1 says Elimelech “went to sojourn in the country of Moab” along with his family. Verse 2 says “they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.” It could read “the plains of Moab”—which was partly inhabited by the tribe of Reuben.

Isabel Hill Elder laid out these facts in her book Far Above Rubies. “The territory continued under its ancient name, the land of Moab, during the Amorite occupation,” she explained. “When now by conquest it became the possession of the Israelites, the name was not altered by the new owners. Moses leaves posterity in no doubt as to the location of the newly acquired land of Moab, as distinct from the Moabite territory south and southeast of the Dead Sea, to which racial Moab was now confined. On nine occasions the great leader describes the new Israelite possession as ‘the land of Moab by Jordan, opposite Jericho.’” That is not in the nation of Moab, as you can plainly see from Map C.

For example, Numbers 33:50 says that “the plains of Moab” were “by Jordan near Jericho,” which is under Benjamin’s territory (see Map C). So in the Bible, the area is called “the plains of Moab” even after Israel had taken over the area. The Israelites retained the name Moab, just like they retained the name Canaan even after entering the Promised Land.

God’s Law About Moabites

Read God’s command in Deuteronomy 23:3: “An Ammonite or 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.” God gave this plain instruction through Moses.

As Elder wrote, “This racial law never was canceled nor annulled.” You can’t find it in the Bible. And even if they went to the 10th generation, that would take them past the time of Ruth. Had Ruth been a Moabite, then Ruth’s first husband, Mahlon, broke that law, and so did her second husband, Boaz.

Ruth 1:4 says Naomi’s sons “took them wives of the women of Moab.” This is the only verse where the phrase “women of Moab” is used in the entire Bible, and it comes from the Hebrew ishshah, women. When the Bible talks about Moabitish women, it uses the term “daughters of Moab,” from the Hebrew bath (Numbers 25:1; Isaiah 16:2). This word indicates that those women were descendants of Moab—descended from Lot. The Bible never says Ruth was a descendant of Moab. Again, she did not live in the sovereign territory of Moab, but in Israelite territory still called the “plains of Moab.”

“Ruth moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, and married a man named Boaz, of the royal house of Judah,” Elder wrote. “When she bore the child, Obed, the stage was being set for the future kings of the nation of Israel, and the coming of the Messiah.”

Elder actually said that Ruth may well have been a Jew. This seems probable, considering God’s emphasis on the purity of the genealogy of David that Christ had to be a part of.

How much does this mean to people in the world? This is truly important to God’s people, who have the key of the house of David! This Church is going to be teaching people in the World Tomorrow about the book of Ruth! Who could possibly teach that except the people who have the key and understand this at the time God wants us to understand it, just before we’re about to marry Jesus Christ? You have to be here at “the last end” to understand the whole story of Ruth! That is why God is revealing all this now. We must get the whole picture and be able to teach it.

‘God of the King’

In his book Ruth: the Israelite, Robert Alan Balaicius writes, “Naomi’s husband’s name was Elimelech. This is a prophetic flag, for Elimelech means ‘God of the king.’ This name is quite fitting for laying the groundwork for the royal line through which David and so on would descend, and the kings of Judah through him.”

What is a king on this Earth if the true God is not the God of that king? Look at all the evil that can create!

This author shows how Elimelech’s meaning—God of the king—is akin to several similar words: Abbamelech means father of the king; Achmelech, brother of the king; Alammelech, oak of the king; Adrummelech, splendor of the king; Anammelech, affliction of the king; Ebedmelech, servant of the king. God really was orchestrating a plan here in the time of Ruth. All of this will conclude with God over all the kings! And if you don’t have God over the king, you have nothing but evil!

Remember, the book of Ruth took place during the time of the judges, when everybody was doing that which was right in their own eyes, which is a prophecy for this time today. That explains why God isn’t directly mentioned much in this short book. But when you understand it, you can see that God was deeply involved in these events. As Balaicius writes, “God is surely present and overseeing all of this.” He actually mentions how God was involved in ensuring there would be a pure racial line to introduce David, who would have descendants sitting on his throne right up until the time of Jesus Christ, when Christ Himself would sit on it. God is very much in the picture!

If you have a king, this is what you need. For a government with a king to work, you must have God over the king! This is illustrated in Micah 2:13, where it talks about “their king … and the Lord on the head of them.” If God isn’t at the head, the king won’t do anything worthwhile spiritually.

So right at the beginning of the book of Ruth, it talks about the God of the king. This is laying the groundwork for what is coming. God has to rule over whoever has the throne of David to make it effective. We must have God in the picture!

‘Unto Her Gods’

When Orpah decided to return to Moab, 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). That sounds like pagan Moab, but is it really?

The Hebrew word translated “gods” is elohim. That is the word God uses for Himself thousands of times in the Old Testament (e.g. Genesis 1:1). But there are verses where the same Hebrew word is used in other ways. In Exodus 21:6 and 22:8-9, for example, it is correctly translated “judges,” referring to the men who served as judges in Israel. Referring to Ruth 1:15, Elder said: “Therefore this word might correctly have been translated ‘judges,’ and the context warrants this translation.” Yes, it does. This occurred during the time of the judges—when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). That is what they are talking about here. The translators just used the wrong word.

Notice how Ruth responded to Naomi: “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Elder said this statement is “amazing proof that Ruth was an Israelite and possibly a Jewess,” and I believe what she says is irrefutable.

Note that “shall be” is in italics, meaning that these words were added by translators. “Hebrew is written with consonants only, no vowels. The vowels are added in the spoken language,” Elder wrote. “One of the things this does is leave the word tense for the individual to add when reading. You have to understand the context in order to correctly read the Hebrew. To put things in plain English, it is impossible for Ruth to become, or ‘shall be’ a part of Naomi’s tribe, if she was not of the same genetic strain. ‘A Gentile in the woodpile’ would make Ruth a Gentile, not an Israelite of pure racial strain. The future tense, then, is not correct.”

What Ruth said should read, “Your people are my people, and your God is my God.” They really did have the same people and the same God—because it was all Israel!

“So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest” (verse 22). Here is one of several places in the book of Ruth referring to “the country of Moab.” Elder explained, “The word used for country in the original Hebrew translates best as ‘land.’ The land of Moab, or the plains of Moab, it could read. The reference is to physical land, not to the occupying people of the land. The term is not pointing to the nation, but to the territory.”

In Joshua 22, 21/2 tribes were left on the east side of the Jordan, with a blessing (see Map C on page 35). However, after a short time, the tribes that had continued into Canaan saw them building an altar that they assumed was pagan, and sought to go to war against them. In the confrontation that followed, the tribes on the east—in the country of Moab—assured them that they were not following other gods. In effect, they said, We are the same people, and we worship the same God!

That was the area Ruth came from. She did not worship pagan Moabitish gods. Her God was the same as Naomi’s God—the true God.

A Stranger—Not an Alien

When Ruth began working in his field, Boaz began to show her great favor. He protected her from harm and ensured that she was taken care of and provided for.

Notice Ruth’s response to his kindness: “Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?” (Ruth 2:10). Ruth called herself a “stranger.” Does that mean she was a Gentile?

The Hebrew word she used was nokriy. She did not use the word ger, which refers to people of another race (e.g. Genesis 15:13; 23:4; Exodus 2:22; 18:3). Elder explains, “Ruth is speaking of herself as one strange to those of her own blood, and in the land which she had not visited hitherto. The word nokriy in the Hebrew is therefore the correct term for the sort of stranger Ruth was.”

If Ruth were a stranger, in the sense of being a Gentile, the laws of levirate marriage (where the nearest kinsman marries the widow) would not have applied to her!

The Royal Lineage!

In the end, Ruth had a son by Boaz (Ruth 4:13). “[A]nd they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David” (verse 17). When Ruth bore Obed, the stage was being set for the future kings of the nation of Israel and the coming of the Messiah! Several generations later, Jesus Christ was born from this royal line.

Verse 22 says: “And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David.” That was added by an editor. But look what it is all about: It’s about the throne of David and all the kings who sat on David’s throne! It’s all about race, and then it is given to Jesus Christ, the coming Messiah, and He’s going to bring grace to all the world! God is going to try to bring everybody He possibly can into His Family.

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul writes about two olive trees: a wild olive tree and a good olive tree, the latter representing Israel. The Gentiles must be grafted into the good olive tree—and even Israelites, who have departed from God, have to be regrafted in! In the end, there will be only this one olive tree! The whole world will be ruled from David’s throne—God’s throne! It is going to unite everybody. First, God unites the throne of David with the law and the scepter. Soon He will unite the whole world with that throne! Everybody’s going to be Israel! Everybody will fear God and follow God, or they won’t be around very long.

This is real! And this is what God is trying to help us see in the book of Ruth! He wants to get that vivid picture in our minds. It’s all about the throne of David, or the throne of God, and where all this is leading!

Again, Mr. Armstrong wrote: “Jesus Christ was born of the tribe of Judah, and it was necessary that He be of the original, pure racial strain, even as Noah was” (op cit). God did prepare a pure racial strain for Christ at His first coming—and, I believe, a pure spiritual strain for Christ at His Second Coming. It all seems logical that God wants it to be as pure as it can be, especially at the Second Coming. That physical purity is a type of the spiritual purity God requires. He really wants it to be pure!

God worked through Ruth to begin to establish the throne of David. And why? This points you to God’s ultimate goal: restoring His royal government to this Earth! Nothing is more important to God than that! The Herbert W. Armstrong College Bible Correspondence Course states, “The one great purpose now uppermost in God’s mind is the restoration of His government on Earth. Once His government is restored, God will set His hand to bring salvation to all mankind” (Lesson 31).

That is what the book of Ruth is ultimately about! It is about the key of the house of David! It’s about how this world is going to be ruled and governed by God the Father and, under the Father, by Christ and His Bride!

God’s people who remain loyal to David’s throne today are going to have the opportunity to sit on it with Christ forever! The restoration of His government is uppermost in God’s mind today. Is it uppermost in yours? Do you truly love His government? It should be foremost for every person who is going to share that throne! If we are going to marry Jesus Christ, we must learn to think this way!

The book of Ruth makes the royal lineage real. Notice Luke 1:30-32: “And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David.”

God the Father gave the throne of David to His Son. Christ will rule from that throne forever—totally submissive to His Father’s government. It is a God Family throne. The Father is the Head of His Family.

Continue Reading: Chapter 3: Seven Steps to Becoming the Bride of Christ