I. Ruth

Sex sells. In some cases, sex also buys. At least that was Naomi’s thought in chapter 3 of Ruth. Apparently there are times when you have to pimp out your daughter-in-law to one of your relatives to survive.

Naomi had a plan, a sexy, sexy plan: To lockdown Boaz, Naomi told Ruth to wash, put on her nicest clothes, wait until Boaz was blackout drunk, “uncover his feet,” lay beside him, and allow Boaz to tell her what to do (3:1-5). Let’s address the text itself and see all the thinly veiled sexiness therein.

1. First, “feet” is a euphemism for genitals evident in other biblical passages (cf. Ex 4:25, Judges 3:24, 1 Sam 24:4, Isaiah 6:2 and Isaiah 7:20. We know some of those will hurt your head), and the image of “uncovering” someone is similarly linked to sexuality (cf. Lev 18, Deut 22:30 and 27:20). So at the very least, Naomi ordered Ruth to lift Boaz’s robes, leaving his genitals exposed, and then to allow him to take things from there. A sleepy, drunk, half-naked man with a beautiful woman lying next to him in the middle of the night, especially if she’s the one who made him half-naked in the first place without him saying a word of instruction…Rape?

Ruth 3:7-8

7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was high, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain.  Then she came secretly (with intrigue), and she uncovered the place of his feet.

8 At midnight, the man was startled and twisted and bent forward.  Behold, a woman was lying with him (in the place of his feet).

It seems that Naomi does not want Boaz to know which young woman is offering herself sexually to him in the night?  If he recognizes Ruth or smells her perfume and identifies with her from earlier in the evening, Boaz may refuse her because he will not take advantage of the widow of a kinsman.

 It is also noteworthy that the text indicates that time passes between Boaz’s uncovering and his awakening, leaving one to wonder what exactly woke him: a series of gentle caresses; a stiff, cold wind across the threshing-floor; a callous flick in the genitals from a feminine hand tired of waiting for him to wake up? Or a wet dream come to life?

2. In any event when he awoke, Ruth did not wait for his direction. Instead, she takes charge of the situation. After completing the majority of the steps, including “uncovering his feet” and lying beside him, when Boaz jerks awake, she tells him to spread his robe (and all that was under it) over her. Not only can one read the only sexual position but also the cleverness of Ruth using Boaz’s words against him.

In 2:12 Boaz tells Ruth that she would find a reward once covered by the wings/robe {kanaph} of YHWH. In 3:9 she uses the same word when ordering Boaz to action: “…spread therefore thy skirt {kanaph} over thine handmaid…

3. The location of this event is also telling. At least one prophet saw the threshing floor as a place of naughty behavior (cf. Hosea 9:1-2). Perhaps Hosea was thinking of Ruth and Boaz specifically.

4. Boaz having her wait until morning to depart his side: what happened for the rest of the night? Boaz sending her off with a skirt-full of grain (his Seed)…

5. All of the above is suggestive enough, but the most compelling element is stated in Ruth 4:12, which contains these final words of blessing bestowed upon Boaz and Ruth by the elders of the city:

. . . and, through the children that the LORD will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.

This comparison of Ruth to Tamar, which is often overlooked…

II. Tamar

Genesis 38 tells the story of Tamar.  In summary, Tamar was married to Judah’s first son Er who pissed God off in some unspecified way and was smote, smitted, got smotten . . . was killed by God. At this point, Tamar was in the same position as Ruth for Hebrew law and custom dictated that when a women is left widowed, she was to be “redeemed” by a kinsman of her dead husband —a go’el. Some male relative was to marry her. (cf. Deut 25:5-6) In Ruth’s case, that was an unnamed relative who turned down the opportunity, and then Boaz, who was next in line. For Tamar, that duty fell to her brother-in-law, Onan.

However Onan, just like the unnamed “redeemer” in Ruth chapter 4, did not want his children being the heirs to his dead relative instead of himself as the custom required— all land, wealth and notoriety gained for/by the children, would be attributed to the lineage of the dead. But, unlike the unnamed character in Ruth, Onan still wanted to get his freak on. So he had sex with Tamar, but then pulled out to “spill his seed in the dust.” Of course God killed him too. (Gen 38:9. Of course we have a Canon Card about this verse too.)

Judah had a third son named Shelah who should have married Tamar, but fearing that she was a bad luck charm for his boys, Judah told Tamar that Shelah was too young to marry, and sent her back to her father’s house, with promises that he (Judah) would give her notice when Shelah came of age.

Years pass and Tamar has not been contacted by Judah about marrying Shelah. Hearing that Judah is travelling on business, she disguises herself and sits at the entrance to a town on the way to Judah’s destination. It just so happens that Judah’s wife had recently died and he was horny. Seeing the disguised Tamar, Judah assumes she is a prostitute, and kicks his old-school, mack-daddy, Hebrew-vibe at her, saying, “let me come into you,” promising her a young goat as payment (Gen 38:16-17).

Tamar, being a very clever woman, pretends she required collateral until she gets the goat: She takes his seal, its cord, and the staff in his hand. He handed them over, gave her what he had, and then she left. Later Judah sent a friend with the goat and to get his swag back, but the friend couldn’t find her. When he asked the townspeople, “where is the prostitute?” they looked at him like he was crazy: they didn’t have any prostitutes. What kind of a village did he think this was? When Judah hears this, he decides to cut his losses and drop the matter lest people mock him for getting rolled by a woman who wasn’t even a professional prostitute.

About three months pass and Judah receives word through the rumor mill: “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore; moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.” To which Judah says, “Bring her out, and let her be burned.” (Gen 38:24) But Tamar had planned for this:

As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, “It was the owner of these who made me pregnant.” And she said, “Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.” Then Judah acknowledged them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not lie with her again. (vs. 25-26)…

The Mosaic Laws, given by God at Mt Sinai in the mid 1400s BC, established Israel as God’s chosen people.  Included in these laws were prohibitions and restrictions against inter-marrying with foreigners to prevent the Israelites from adopting their pagan religions and cultures.  Even prior to the law, going back about 600 years to the time of the patriarch Abraham, it was preferable that the chosen line of Isaac not intermarry with the Canaanites (Gen 24:1-4).  Judah’s marriage to an un-named Canaanite produced three sons and led to the lowest point in his life (Gen 38).  In contrast, Joseph’s marriage to the daughter of an Egyptian priest produced Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 41:50-52), two of the namesakes for the twelve tribes of Israel.  Moses himself married the Midianite Zipporah after fleeing Egypt to Midain (Ex 2:11-22).  In Numbers 12, his brother Aaron and sister Mirian used Moses’ foreign wife as a pretense to question his authority.  God responded by striking Mirian with leprosy for a week.

Returning to the Mosaic Laws, we note the following Scriptures prohibiting intermarriage:

Then the LORD said: “I am making a covenant with you.  Before all your people I will do wonders never before done in any nation in all the world.  The people you live among will see how awesome is the work that I, the LORD, will do for you.  Obey what I command you today.  I will drive out before you the Amorites, Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going, or they will be a snare among you.  Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles.  Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.  Be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land; for when they prostitute themselves to their gods and sacrifice to them, they will invite you and you will eat their sacrifices.  And when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.” (Ex 34:10-16)

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you- and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally.  Make no treaty with them, and show them no mercy.  Do not intermarry with them.  Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods, and the LORD’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you.  This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire.  For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.  The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. (Dt 7:1-6)

We observe that the preceding Scriptures do not universally ban all intermarriage, only those with specific nations for specific reasons.  Other Scripture (eg Dt 21:10-14) allows marriage with a foreign woman captured in war (subject to the prohibitions elsewhere).

In addition the statutes relating to intermarriage, the law contains the following significant decree in considering the Ruth-Boaz union:

No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generationFor they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you.  However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you.  Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live. (Dt 23:3-6)

We see the king of Moab (in close alliance with the Midianites) summoning Balaam in Numbers 22.  We then witness the results in Numbers 25, where the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods.  The people ate and bowed down before these gods.  So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor.  And the LORD’s anger burned against them (Num 25:1-3).

We’ll further evaluate Dt 23:3-6 later in the article, but we now mention a few well-known intermarriages which occurred after the giving of the law.  While Israel was still in the desert, a son of an Israelite-Egyptian marriage got into a fight and blasphemed the Name (God).  The Lord commanded the blasphemer be stoned outside the camp, revealing that foreigners and natives should receive equal justice under the law (Lev 24:10-22).

After the death of Moses, Joshua sent two spies into Jericho in preparation for the conquest of the Promised Land about 1400 BC.  These spies were aided by a Canaanite prostitute named Rahab (Jsh 2), who also acknowledged the supremacy of the God of Israel (Jsh 2:11).  As a result, Rahab’s family was the only Canaanites spared when Jericho fell (Jsh 6).  In addition, she would later marry Salmon of the tribe of Judah and become an ancestor of Boaz, King David and the Messiah (Ruth 4:21-22, Mt 1:5).  See our article on the Conquest for more information on Rahab’s inclusion into Israel.

In the period of the Judges, Samson (~1200 BC), over the objections of his parents, married two Philistine women, an unnamed woman and Delilah.  The second marriage cost Samson his life, but God used the turmoil within both marriages to enact justice upon the Philistines (Jdg 14-16.  In chapter 19 and 20, we have the sordid tale of the civil war with the tribe of Benjamin, leading to Benjamin’s decimation.  The other tribes of Israel vowed never to give their daughters in marriage to the Benjamites, so they were forced to take Canaanite wives to insure their survival (Judges 21).

Moving to the monarchy, we see the affair of David with Bathsheba, an Israelite woman married to the Hittite Uriah.  He marries Bathsheba after arranging for her husband to be killed in battle (2Sam 11).  The outcome of these actions was the death of their first child, along with continued trouble throughout his lifetime (2Sam 12:11-23).  By His grace however, God allowed David and Bathsheba to have a second son, Solomon (2Sam 12:24-25), who would carry on the promised royal line.  David married several other women, including the foreigner Maacah, the daughter of the King of Geshur.  This union, probably for political purposes, produced his son Absalom, who killed his half-brother Amnon for raping his sister Tamar (2Sam 13:23-37).  Absalom later staged a successful coup (2Sam 15:1-12) against his father David’s throne, but was killed against David’s wishes by David’s general Joab (2Sam 19).

Solomon began by being faithful to God (1Kg 3-4), but his many marriages to foreign wives (700 total wives and 300 concubines) led him into worshipping foreign gods and idols, until God pronounced that He would take away the kingdom from Solomon’s son although, because of His promise to his father David (1Kg 11:1-13), his descendants would retain rule over one tribe (Judah).  This judgment was fulfilled when the northern tribes split from Rehoboam, the son of Solomon with Naamah the Ammonite (1Kg 12:1-20, 14:21-31).  Although the name “Israel” could still refer to both kingdoms, the southern tribe ruled by Solomon’s descendants became Judea and the northern tribes continued to be called Israel.

To mention one more prominent intermarriage, we move forward about 100 years to Ahab, King of Israel, who did more evil in God’s eyes than any of the kings before him (1Kg 16:29-33), including marrying the infamous Jezebel, daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidonians and worshiper of the false god Baal.  Ahab’s reign is chronicled in 1Kg 16:29 – 22:40, including Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal and Asherah on Mt Carmel (1Kg 18).

So, due to their apostasy and idolatry, due in part to the outside influences and intermarriage with the forbidden Canaanites and other aliens, God raised up foreign powers to banish His chosen people from the Promised Land.  First, the Assyrians conquered the northern tribes of Israel (2Kg 17, 722 BC), then the Babylonians exiled the southern tribe of Judah (2 Kg 25, 586 BC).

After the Persian conquered Babylon in 539BC, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem.  An estimated 50,000 Israelites departed in the first group led by Sheshbazzar, but many chose to stay in Persia.  During this time, God ordained the marriage of the Jewish Esther to King Xerxes of Persia and used her to foil a plot to kill all the Jews in the empire.  This story is recorded in the Book of Esther.

About eighty years after the return of the first exiles, the priest Ezra, a Levite descendant of Aaron, Phinehas and Zadok, set out for Jerusalem (Ezra 7, 458 BC) with another group of Israelites.  We should clarify that all groups of Israelites (or Jews) returning from Babylon were Judeans, that is, from the southern Kingdom of Judea.  The northern tribes were now dispersed throughout the Middle East and Asia.  The Assyrians had exported much of the population and imported many other conquered foreigners (2Kg 17:24), so the northern part of the land, known as Samaria, consisted of a mixed breed of people that combined pagan and Jewish religion.  During the time of Jesus, the Samaritans were considered “unclean” (unacceptable to attend worship) and Jesus instructed His apostles to go to the Jews first, then later to the Samaritans and all other people (Mt 10:5-6, Jn 4, Acts 1:8).

When Ezra arrived in Jerusalem, he found that many of the earlier arrivals in Judah Judeans had compromised their faith over the previous decades by intermarrying with foreigner.  Ezra writes:

After these things had been done, the leaders came to me and said, “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites.  They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them.  And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness” (Ezra 9:1-2)

Here, Ezra extends the intermarriage prohibition beyond the nations listed in Deut 7:1.  He prays, and then confronts the people, who renew their covenant with God and separate themselves from their foreign wives (Ezra 9-10).

A decade later, Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem and served as leader (or governor) from 445-433 BC.  After a trip back to Persia, he returned and found that Ezra’s reforms had not lasted and the people, including a son of the high priest, were once again intermarrying with pagans.  He banished the offender and purified the priesthood:

Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon and Moab.  Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah.  I rebuked them and called curses down on them.  I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair.  I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “You are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves.  Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned?  Among the many nations there was no king like him.  He was loved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel, but even he was led into sin by foreign women.  Must we hear now that you too are doing all this terrible wickedness and are being unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women?”

One of the sons of Joiada son of Eliashib the high priest was son-in-law to Sanballat the Horonite.  And I drove him away from me. Remember them, O my God, because they defiled the priestly office and the covenant of the priesthood and of the Levites.  So I purified the priests and the Levites of everything foreign, and assigned them duties, each to his own task. (Neh 13:23-30)

We’ll further evaluate many of the previously mentioned OT Scriptures in our next section.

The Marriage of Ruth and Boaz

To sum up what we’ve written thus far, the Mosaic Law appears to prohibit intermarriage only to certain Canaanite nations; however, Ezra extends this prohibition to all foreigners on a religious basis.  Now that we’ve completed our brief look at some of the prominent intermarriages in the old testament, we can turn our attention to the marriage of Ruth and Boaz.

Ruth was a Moabite from the land of Moab, located across the Dead Sea to the east of Israel.  Moab was formed by the incestuous union of Lot and his oldest daughter (Gen 19:30-38).  The Moabites worshipped a god named Chemosh and one of their idolatrous rituals included child sacrifice.  Because of these practices and their oppression of Israel (Num 22-25, Jdg 3, Is 15-16 etc), the Moabites were cursed by God (summed up in Dt 23:3-6 above).

So, returning to the question of whether or not the intermarriage between an Israelite and a Moabite forbidden by the covenant law, we see that even though Moab is not named in the forbidden nations of Ex 34:10-16 or Dt 7:1-6, the curse against Moab in Dt 23:3-6 is enough to prevent intermarriage between an Israeli and a Moabite.  Some scholars have made an attempt to validate the marriage of Ruth and Boaz by claiming that Ruth was not really a Moabite, but a member of one of the trans-Jordan tribes of Israel (Reuben, Gad, or Manasseh) who happened to live in the land of Moab, but this theory conflicts with the text of the first chapter of the Book of Ruth.

Others have claimed that the marriage was forbidden, but that Ruth and Boaz lived in the early part of the Judges era, so that the marriage did not prohibit King David’s participation in worship.  Remember that Dt 23:3 stated that “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation”, so it is claimed that King David was at least eleven generations removed from Ruth.  This conjecture however, conflicts with Ruth 4:13-17 which states that Ruth was the great-grandmother of David.

Furthermore, we can note that the number “ten” in Hebrew writings often means completeness, so with respect to time, “even to the tenth generation” could mean “forever”.  Following the reformed principle of “analogia fidei” (analogy of faith) which holds that “Scripture interprets Scripture” (Scriptura Scripturae interpres), we see that the author of Nehemiah (probably Ezra the Priest) writes, On that day the Book of Moses was read aloud in the hearing of the people and there it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever be admitted into the assembly of God, because they had not met the Israelites with food and water but had hired Balaam to call a curse down on them. When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent (Neh 13:1-3).  Thus, the inspired author of Nehemiah interprets the text of Dt 23:3 as a permanent injunction.