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"No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation." Deut. 23:3.
If this is so, why was David, one-fourth Moabite, not only a member of the assembly of the Lord, but King of Israel? Why was his grandmother, Ruth, admitted to the assembly?
This one is actually fairly easy to deal with, but we should point out first here that at the very least, what we have here is not a contradiction or a discrepancy, but a case where an order was disobeyed - i.e., Ruth was admitted to the assembly of the Lord in spite of the above.
But in fact, we don't even need to consider that point, because the basic answer is that the command was not violated with Ruth, because in the ANE (and even today in the Near East) nationality was determined by fatherhood, so that any of Ruth's children were automatically Israelites and therefore eligible to be members of the assembly of the Lord. This is the concept of patrilineal descent. In fact, this is indicated in the Hebrew, where the verse uses the male pronoun exclusively to refer to those whom the command applies to.
Objection: This explanation does not square with Neh. 8:2 ("congregation" consisted of men and women).
Let's look at this verse:
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand.
"The assembly" - not the "assembly of the Lord." The Hebrew word here is qahal, and it is used in Neh. 8:2 in a generic sense.
This explanation does not square with Nehemiah 13:25, where the mixed congregation is told: "Ye shall not give your daughters unto their (Moab) sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons." It was considered a "great evil" to marry "strange wives." Neh. 13:27....Thus, the explanation (M.M.) has given makes no sense, given that the denounced "great evil" is exactly what occurred with Ruth married Boaz. That act disentitled Boaz's children from the mixed congregation. For the final proof, see Neh 13:1: "On that day they read in the book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever;"
Some comments here:
- The problem with using Nehemiah in any way in this situation is that we are dealing with an entirely different social situation wherein the male Jews were marrying foreign wives and allowing their cultural mores to supersede Jewish mores, leading to a sort of zealous nationalism - for example, Nehemiah was disgusted to find that many of the children of these marriages did not speak the native tongue of Judah, and got pretty upset about it.
The "great evil" was not then the marriages themselves, but what sort of marriage they became. In other words, the MAIN concern with Nehi here [and Ezra] was the pagan influence these "strange wives" were having on their husbands - who were SUPPOSED to be the ones "converting" the women to Judaism.
What was done in that day was a calculated "over-reaction" to counter the influx of paganism.
- Second, re Neh. 13:1 - our Skeptic here quotes out of context; verse 3 goes on to say that "When the people heard this law, they excluded from Israel all who were of foreign descent." This says nothing about who these people were; the foreign wives, however, were clearly not excluded at this point, because they are dealt with not until v. 23. (This fits with the idea that wives of foreign descent, and their children, absorbed the nationality of the father.)
Deut. 23:3 is a false prophecy.
Deut. 23:3 is not a prophecy, but a command. However, there is a difference from being a resident living in Israel and being involved in the specific covenant relationship [i.e. citizenship in the nation of Israel] that God shared with the Jewish people. We can see from Exodus 12:48 that there were aliens that fit that description. This does not mean, however, that Ruth would have been excluded from a relationship with Yahweh. A modern analogy to this is church membership. One can attend a church regularly for many years without officially joining.