(Rut 4:11-12 ESV) Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.”
What’s the significance of Perez to Ruth and Boaz?
Judah was seduced into having twin sons by Tamar, his daughter-in-law, after her husband died and his brother refused his duties as Levirate husband.
The proclamation of the townspeople recalls that this incestuous relationship was blessed by God. After all, the noble Boaz was a descendant of Judah and Tamar. They prayed that God would bless the marriage of Boaz to Ruth as well.
It’s an odd thing to pray for, given that Tamar seduced Judah under false pretenses, pretending to be a prostitute. But in both cases, the man who was obligated to become the Levirate husband refused his duties, and so another man had to become the kinsman redeemer so that the widow would not be left shamed and in poverty.
In short, Judah unwillingly honored his obligations under the Levirate law, whereas Boaz went to great lengths to fulfill his duties under the Law. And yet God has blessed the household of Perez — the tribe of Judah was perhaps the largest of the 12 tribes — and so God will surely bless Boaz and Ruth all the more!
(Rut 4:17b-22 ESV) They named [the first son of Boaz and Ruth] Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
Ruth had a son named Obed, Naomi was honored by the people, but the true conclusion of the story isn’t the son of Ruth. It’s the grandson of Obed — David.
The genealogy goes back to Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, born in apparent incest but to correct a refusal of Judah’s son Onan to honor his Levirate obligations to Tamar. From there we find the generations leading through Boaz to Jesse to David.
Why? Is this just a nice story about David’s ancestry? Probably Ruth was written as a defense of David’s legitimate claim to the throne. After all, Saul and David would be rivals for the throne for years. After Saul’s death in battle, Saul’s son Ishbosheth would reign over 11 tribes of Israel for 7 years, while David ruled only Judah.
Surely some supporters of Saul’s family used David’s Moabite blood against him, arguing that he was not a pure-blood Jew. The book of Ruth showed that Ruth had become a Jew by choice — a proselyte — and that Boaz was required by the Law of Moses to marry her. The marriage was not just legitimate, but mandated by the Law!
It’s a great story. The customs are so foreign to us, and yet our knowledge of the legal system of that age is so incomplete that we are left scratching our heads at some points.
We see much later, in the first chapter of Matthew, that Matthew, surely thinking of the genealogy at the end of Ruth, includes Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth by name in the genealogy of Jesus.
Matthew seems to revel in the imperfections of Jesus’ bloodlines. Yes, he is heir of David, the greatest of the Hebrew kings, but he is also heir of a prostitute, a woman who seduced her father-in-law into incest, and a Moabite. And in that culture, what greater honor might a woman have than to be an ancestor of the Messiah?
Although not mentioned explicitly in Ruth or Matthew 1, Moab, the father of the nation of Moabites, was a son of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, by means of incest, as well (Lots’ daughters got him drunk and seduced him after they fled Sodom). Thus, both Boaz and Ruth had great sin in their ancestries, and nonetheless, God chose to anoint David and to send Jesus through bloodlines tainted with sin.
This is grace. The extent of this grace is not obvious to modern Americans, because we don’t see sin as passing through bloodlines. But the Jews certainly did —
(Deu 23:2 ESV) 2 “No one born of a forbidden union may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD.”
David is the 11th generation from Judah, who committed incest with Tamar. Thus, Perez was a mamzer and so barred from entering the Tabernacle or Temple. Mamzer does not mean illegitimate but born of an impermissible sexual union.
Oddly enough, a Levirate marriage would be incestuous under the Law of Moses, except for being required. A man is not allowed to marry the wife of his deceased brother under the Law — and so the child of such a marriage would be a mamzer unless it’s a commanded Levirate marriage.
Therefore, it may well be that Perez was no mamzer (if we take Judah to be fulfilling his obligation under the Levirate law), although you can see how reasonable minds might disagree. And that being the case, it was important to show that David was sufficiently removed from Perez to no longer be a mamzer by inheritance of Judah’s guilt.
On the other hand, Deuteronomy also states,
(Deu 23:3-4 ESV) 3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the LORD forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and with 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.”
David was certainly fewer than 10 generations removed from Ruth, but the argument is that only male Moabites (and their heirs) suffer this condemnation because ethnic descent under Jewish law is male to male. They likely considered the “seed” planted by the man in the woman’s womb to be the sole source of the baby. Hence, the son of a Jewish man and Moabite woman was a Jew. But the son of a Moabite man and a Jewish woman was a Moabite — for 10 generations.
As a female, Ruth was able to be absorbed into the Jewish nation (due to the principle of patrilineal descent) and as a believer in the true God was no more considered a “heathen” of the sort forbidden for marriage under the definition of mamzer.
See this article as well.
The purpose of the Book of Ruth
So why was Ruth written and placed in the Old Testament? Well, to demonstrate that David was not a mamzer and so eligible to be king.
But more importantly, to show the working of the hand of God. Although the place of God in Ruth’s story is not explicitly stated, the book is well written to give a sense of God’s plan being worked out according to his purposes. Things did not have to work out so well for Ruth. Indeed, things could have gone very badly.
Ruth was in poverty. It just happens that she chose to glean the fields of Boaz, unaware that he was an in-law and a kinsman-redeemer.
It just happens that Boaz is a generous man who makes certain Ruth is well provided for, provoking Naomi to inquire as to whose field Ruth had gleaned that day.
It just happens that Boaz worries that a young widow in the field might be in danger, and so he orders her protection. Had he not done so, she might have been robbed, sold into slavery, killed, or raped. Had he not protected her, she’d likely not have become an ancestor of David.
It just happens that Boaz was willing to marry Ruth even though it would dilute the inheritance of his sons by another wife.
It just happens that the true kinsman-redeemer was unwilling to marry Ruth, for purely financial reasons.
It just happens that Boaz was next in line.
All this was set up by Ruth’s decision not to remarry in Moab but to go with Naomi to Bethlehem, to a land that was unfamiliar to her, to be among people who were not her blood kin — foreigners to her — to worship the God of the Jews and to glean the fields of strangers to support her mother-in-law.
That’s the essence of the story. It happened this way because God wanted it to happen this way.
It happened this way only because Ruth and Boaz were willing to honorably follow the Law regarding Levirate marriage — a law violated by the parents of Perez. Boaz and Ruth demonstrated how Moses’ commands work when properly applied and meticulously followed, and in a very real sense, erasing the sin of incest from both their ancestries by honoring the Law. Ruth shows the blessings of obedience to the Law.
And, of course, by showing the legitimacy of David’s claim to the throne, the Book of Ruth defends the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah. It’s all connected.