Special Study Articles
Thoughts On David’s Background
In reading through Deuteronomy again, I had to reflect further about something that, on the surface, seems a bit puzzling; and I’m not the only one who thought about this. When Moses was giving instructions to the generation that would enter the Land, He specifically excluded the Ammonites and Moabites from being able to enter the Lord’s assembly:
“No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord; none of their descendants, even to the tenth generation, shall ever enter the assembly of the Lord, because they did not meet you with food and water on the way when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you” (Deut. 23:3-4).
The point was not that at the eleventh generation they would then be welcomed in. “Even to the tenth generation” refers to a ban lasting indefinitely. To verify this, think about the fact that this law was referenced in the days of Nehemiah, several hundreds of years later, and they still saw it as binding (Neh. 13:1-4).
Now here’s the puzzling part. From the time of Moses and the giving of these instructions, fast forward many years to the story of Ruth. Recall that Ruth was a Moabite. Without getting into the details or the overall purposes of the book, I want to make two main points about this:
1. The fact that people from Israel were entering Moab and taking wives from there should not be considered good. They weren’t supposed to do this. This was the period of the judges in which the people were doing right in their own eyes (Jud. 17:6), and they were taking wives from among people who had been specifically forbidden. Whatever else we may think of Ruth as a story, the beginning was not a commentary on people doing good things. In fact, this serves to highlight how bad the circumstances were in Israel.
2. An argument can be made that the main purpose of the book of Ruth is to get to the end. This isn’t really about Ruth. That is, the genealogy at the end is the point. On the bigger picture scale, it was a way of demonstrating that God was still going to keep His promises to bring about the Seed, even in the midst of horrifically unrighteous times.
Think about this. David, the great king and type of Christ, and whose name is the last word in the book of Ruth, was a descendent of a Moabite woman. What’s going on here? Surely the writers were aware of this. The very one who would become the standard of the kings, known for his relationship with God, came through a woman whose nationality was specifically excluded from being able to enter the assembly. Bear in mind, also, that Boaz was the son of Rahab (Matt. 1:5). Is all of this a problem? Here are a few thoughts:
1. Boaz, though having gentile blood, was still part of Israel, and Ruth appears to have converted (at least by what she says). Perhaps that helps make the Moabite problem less so (compared to those who had no desire to conform to Israel), but is this a final solution? We are reminded through the book that Ruth was a Moabitess. It’s also interesting that the child born to Boaz and Ruth was credited to Naomi (4:16-17), but does that erase the fact that the book reminds us of the Moabite background to the story? To be sure, David doesn’t identify himself as a Moabite, but the background is obviously there.
2. The greater solution is likely found in the fact that God is the One who chose. The reason David became king is not because of his own ability, power, or will, and not because the people chose him, but rather because He was God’s choice (1 Sam. 16). That’s the point. God is the One who brought David into the picture, even with his background. God is the One who showed the grace and compassion, and He had every right to do so. If we see this as an exception, remember that God is Lord of the Law and has the right to make the exceptions. Yet as with so many other situations, God took a man with a difficult background and unassuming position and raised him up to be king. God takes what is lowly and makes it lofty.
3. The inclusion of gentile blood in the line of the Messiah should not be missed. Matthew’s genealogy lists both Ruth and Rahab. The inclusion of the gentiles was part of God’s plan all along, and He is the One who saw to its fulfillment (see Rom. 11). When the early church faced questions over the preaching to the gentiles, James, the Lord’s brother, quoted from the prophets as proof that God intended for this to happen (Acts 15:13-18).
The point is to show that the plan worked because God made it work in spite of the failures of the people. Today, we are saved not by our might or power, but by the grace of God Almighty (Eph. 2:1-10). And it matters not our background. Praise God!
“…and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen…” (1 Cor. 1:28).