Redemption in Ruth: Lot and Judah

In the opening verses of Ruth, we are introduced to a tragic family. When a famine strikes the land, a Judahite named Elimelech takes his wife and two sons and moves to the pagan nation of Moab, where his sons are quickly married off to Moabite women. Over the next few years, Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving the three women all alone.

We’re only five verses into the chapter and we’ve got a dead parent and two dead sons living in the wrong place. The question is, have we read this story before?

Lot and the Moabites

By Genesis 13, God had exceedingly abundantly blessed Abram. In fact, Abram and his people had prospered so much that the land could hardly support Abram’s—and his nephew Lot’s— herds. As a result, Lot made the choice to leave his uncle and strike off on his own. His destination? The beautiful city of Sodom.

That’s right. Rather than give up a few of his earthly possessions and stick with one of the only godly men on the planet, Lot decided to relocate his family to a city so wicked that God would soon be forced to wipe it off the map in a few short years.

Those few short years pass and soon enough, Lot and his family are evacuated as fire rains down from heaven upon Sodom. During the evacuation, Lot’s wife, along with his two sons-in-law, foolishly choose to disobey God’s instructions and end up getting themselves killed. Widowed Lot takes his two widowed daughters and escapes to the mountains, essentially giving up on human civilization and the continuation of their family.

Lot’s daughters begin to worry about the legacy of their father. Without husbands, they would be unable to produce children and thus Lot’s family would end with them—a shameful thing in the ancient world. So the girls come up with a plan:

Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father.” (Genesis 19:32)

Their plan is to get their dad black-out drunk, rape him, and birth incestual children—all to protect Lot’s family legacy. The firstborn of these two children was named Moab, and he became the father of the Moabite people.

Notice the elements of this Moabite origin story:

  1. A disobedient family in the wrong place at the wrong time
  2. A dead parent and two dead sons
  3. A concern about the continued lineage of the patriarch
  4. Sexual sin as a means to fix the problem

All of this might sound familiar. But before returning to Ruth, can you think of any other stories that follow this pattern?

Judah and Tamar

After reading about the early life and betrayal of Joseph, the narrative pauses to tell us a story about Judah. After selling his brother into slavery, we are told that “Judah departed from his brothers” and from the land God had given his family to dwell with the Canaanites (Genesis 38:1). Judah marries a local woman and has three sons—Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Er marries a woman named Tamar, but before they have any children Er’s wicked lifestyle catches up with him and he dies childless. As was the custom of the day, another male from the deceased’s family—usually a brother—would marry the widow and produce children to preserve the lineage of the deceased. Judah follows this custom and has his second son Onan marry Tamar. However, Onan follows in his brother’s wickedness and soon dies, again without any children. Finally, we are told that Judah’s wife died as well.

According to the law, Judah should have then arranged a marriage between his son Shelah and Tamar. However, fearing that Shelah will stray into wickedness and die as well, Judah refuses.

So just as Lot’s daughters before her, Tamar takes matters into her own hands. She takes off her mourning clothes and puts on—well, she puts on a lot less. She dresses herself like a prostitute and stands on the corner outside Judah’s place, hoping to lure him into bed.

And as you would expect of a sinful and lonely man, the plan works perfectly. Soon enough, Tamar is pregnant with twin babies—all to protect Judah’s family legacy. The firstborn of these two children was named Perez, and he became the primary line of the Judahite people.

Take note of the parallels between this story and that of the Moabites:

  1. A disobedient family in the wrong place at the wrong time
  2. A dead parent and two dead sons
  3. A concern about the continued lineage of the patriarch
  4. Sexual sin as a means to fix the problem

Now with all this context in mind, let’s return to the story of Ruth.

Ruth and Boaz

The narrative begins with the first two elements we saw in the stories of Lot and Judah: (1) a disobedient family who moved to the wrong place; and (2) a dead parent and two dead sons. Following the pattern, we should expect a woman to tempt a man into sexual sin in order to continue the patriarch’s lineage. But instead, something happens that changes the trajectory of the whole story.

Ruth chooses to return to Judah.

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.” (Ruth 1:16)

Rather than remain in a pagan country, marry a pagan man, and serve pagan gods, Ruth goes back to the place where Yahweh was visiting His people (Ruth 1:6). She embraces a new people, a new land, and a new God.

Once in the land of Judah, Ruth ends up working the fields of Boaz, a close relative of her father-in-law Elimelech. From Passover to Pentecost, she returns daily to Boaz’s land, hoping to win his affection—along with a marriage proposal. However, after fifty days he still hasn’t made his move.

So Ruth takes matters into her own hands.

She takes a steamy bath and shaves her legs. She puts on makeup and perfume. She throws on her hottest dress. And in the middle of the night, she heads over to Boaz’s place.

Based on the pattern of Lot and Judah, this is where we’d expect Ruth to entice Boaz into some sort of sexual sin to close the deal. But instead, Ruth finds Boaz (passed out drunk, no less)—and sits quietly at the foot of his bed. After a few hours he wakes up and sees a shadowy figure by his bed. She immediately tells him, “Take me under your wing, for you are my family redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).

She calls him to action, but she wants things done by the books.

The next morning, Boaz heads into town and completes all the paperwork. Soon after he and Ruth are married.

Family Redemption

Hundreds of years earlier, two families committed terrible sins that created problems for generations. The Moabites were born out of rape and incest; the Judahites were born from prostitution. And in the story of Ruth, everything was in place for those same sins to be repeated.

But instead, a Moabite woman decided to turn from her family’s sins and follow the true God. A Judahite man decided to turn from his family’s sins and obey God’s commandments. In the union of Ruth and Boaz, both Jew and Gentile redeemed their ancestor’s shame.

It’s no wonder God chose these two redeemers to be the patriarch and matriarch of a new family—the family of King David, which would culminate 32 generations later in Jesus the Messiah.

The Selfish King who was Accidentally Right

Our family started reading the Book of Esther today. The story begins with the King of Persia ordering his wife to come entertain his drunk buddies and her refusing. The king’s wisest counselors fear that other wives will disobey their husbands’ demands if the queen isn’t dealt with, so she is banished. The chapter ends with the king issuing a royal decree: “Each man shall be head in his own house.” 

Here’s the thing: The king was right… sort of. Every man should be the head of his household. Wives should honor and follow their husbands. The king and his counselors were right. But they wanted to wield this role selfishly, rather than selflessly. 

The man isn’t called to lead so he can have whatever he wants. He’s called to lead so he can serve and protect his household. The man leads by discipling his family, as Moses said (Deut. 6). The man leads by loving and sacrificing, as Paul said (Eph. 5). The man leads by serving, as Jesus said (Matt. 20). 

The king and his counselors wanted the benefits of their position, but they didn’t want the responsibilities. They wanted to be leaders, but they didn’t want to lead. 

It’s noteworthy that in the second chapter of Esther, we are introduced to a man—Mordecai—who spends the entire book serving and protecting others. And by the end of the book, the king’s wise counselors are replaced by this Mordecai, as the book concludes: 

Mordecai the Jew was second to the king… seeking the good of his people and speaking peace to all his countrymen.” 

If you want to be “head of your own house,” follow Mordecai’s example. “Seek the good of your people.” 

Prayers for My Children

We’ve often heard verses like “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart” or “do not provoke your children to wrath.” But when you read the Bible intentionally with the eyes of a parent, you’ll find that God is constantly talking about kids.

Here are a few verses that you may be unfamiliar with about children. I started praying these verses when my wife was pregnant with our first son, and we pray them over our kids every day. Hopefully there are a few new ones you can add to your list.

  1. My children are taught by the Lord, and they have great peace (Isaiah 54:13)
  2. The Holy Spirit will be upon my children and my children’s children (Isaiah 59:21)
  3. God’s Word will always be in the mouths of my children and my children’s children (Isaiah 59:21)
  4. My descendants will be mighty upon the earth (Psalm 112:1-2)
  5. God will pour out His Spirit and His blessing upon my descendants (Isaiah 44:2-5)
  6. My descendants will be known upon the Gentiles as the people whom the Lord has blessed (Isaiah 61:9)
  7. My children will not be trouble. (Isiah 65:23-24)
  8. God will answer my descendants’ prayers before they ask, and will hear their prayers as they pray (Isaiah 65:23-24)
  9. My children will have a place of refuge (Proverbs 14:26)
  10. God will not turn away from doing good to and for my children (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
  11. God will put the fear of the Lord in their hearts, and they will not depart from Him (Jeremiah 32:39-41)
  12. Things will go well for me, my children, and my children’s children (Deuteronomy 4:40)
  13. Me and my descendants will dwell in prosperity, and they will inherit the earth (Psalm 25:12-13)
  14. My descendants will inherit the nations, and rebuild communities (Isaiah 54:2-3)
  15. God teaches my children and infants to tell of His strength (Psalm 8:2)
  16. The Lord will bless and keep my children, and will shine His face upon them and be gracious to them (Numbers 6:27)
  17. The Lord will lift up His countenance upon them and give them peace (Numbers 6:27)