Inclusion: A Taught Principle
The idea that God has a principle of inclusion for everyone may be a surprise to some, but it only prevails if it is a taught principle. So far, we’ve seen how God started with the inclusion of a nation into his overarching plan for the world. Then we saw how Israel’s leaders extended this idea to Rahab and her family when they destroyed Jericho. Today, we’ll see how an Israelite did the same for a foreigner. This demonstrates the progression from nation to leaders to citizens. Yet, it is a two-way street. Inclusion has to not only be offered but be accepted.
Maybe it was because the girl was beautiful, or maybe because Boaz was from a family whose mother had been extended this offer of inclusion and he understood his life was blessed because of it. Or, maybe it was a combination of both. Either way, Boaz extended this offer of inclusion to a foreigner. His deed not only benefited him and his family, but also his nation, as well as the entire world.
It’s not an unfamiliar story. Elimelek and his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Judah and went to Moab because of a famine (Ru 1:1-2). Elimelek felt this move was best for his family as he tried to provide for them. Yet, they stayed far longer than they had originally expected. Likely, because his sons married and had jobs there. At any rate, they decided to stay. Family was more important than where they lived, or so they thought. But hardship came. Elimelek died, as did both Mahlon and Kilion a decade later (Ru 1:4-5). Not all at once, of course, but bit by bit, Naomi’s heart was torn, piece by piece. In the end, she found herself the foreigner living among people and customs that were not hers. It had been tolerable when she had family, but now . . . now all she had was sorrow. While she did have her daughters-in-law, survival of women alone living in a man’s world was difficult. When she heard the famine was lifted in Judah, she decided to return (Ru 1:6).
At first, her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, stated they would return with her. Evidently, the three of them got along well. Yet, these were young girls. Naomi knew they would be better able to find new husbands from their own people than from those who would now be foreigners to them. Naomi therefore begged them to stay and remarry (Ru 1:8-9). Orpah eventually relented and stayed, but Ruth begged Naomi to allow her to travel back with her. Ruth’s response has become probably the most noted feature of the book of Ruth and has become a quote often used in weddings to show devotion and commitment: Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely if even death separates you and me (Ru 1:8-9). That’s a great sentiment and a story in and of itself. Yet, it is a side story to the main story of this book.
The return was timed perfectly. It was the barley harvest (Ru 1:22) around Pesach (Passover). Shortly after that would be the wheat harvest (Ru 2:23) around Shavuot (Pentecost). Levitical law required farmers to not reap the edges of their field so the poor and widows could glean and thereby provide for themselves (Lv 19:9). And as fate would have it, and probably Naomi’s planning, and, of course, God’s divine providence, Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s field. Boaz was a relative of Naomi, and Boaz did not let this fact, or her beauty, escape him. Naomi helped Ruth to maintain Boaz’s interest and over a short time capture his heart. Boaz was determined to marry her (Ru 3:11). Yet, there was a closer relative to Naomi that would have first rights to become the kinsman redeemer, one would take over the care of the family and its inheritance (Ru 3:12). Law also required this person to provide an heir to the dead if the family was without children (Dt 25:5). Since Ruth’s husband, Mahlon, had died without an heir, it would be the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer to marry Ruth. This relative already had a family and did not want this responsibility, so he passed and allowed Boaz to be the kinsman redeemer for Naomi and Ruth (Ru 4:6-10). They were married and had a son, Obed, who became the grandfather to King David (Ru 13-16).
The wedding of Boaz and Ruth occurred on or very near Shavuot. I find this apropos as Ruth, the Moabitess, the foreigner, was incorporated into Israel, God’s chosen nation. This is a beautiful picture of inclusion. This time, it was on a personal level and demonstrated to everyone how such a concept should be incorporated into all families within Israel. Inclusion was a way to spread the news of who God is and his character of love for everyone.
This example, of course, did not mean inclusion had to be only by marriage. Yet, it indicates how foreigners were not the enemy but the potential of revealing God to the world. By not showing animosity to foreigners, but sticking to their commitment to God and his Law, they would still be able to be the ambassadors God wanted them to be. With such an attitude, they could bring the knowledge of God to everyone. Sadly, that was not what happened. Yet, it is an example even for us today. Others are not our enemy, but the means and potential to share God and his character to them. Everyone needs God. First, they just need the attitude of inclusion.