(A communion meditation with Queen's University students at St. James'
Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario, 27 January 1999)
This should never have happened. Ruth was an Arab from the tribe of Moab across the Jordan. The Jewish law of Moses was absolutely adamant : "No Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord, even to the tenth generation" (Deuteronomy 23:3). Not only had she no right to be accepted among Jewish people, but she managed to hook a Jewish man to give her a child. "When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contended mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet was a woman!" (Ruth 3:7).
It is important not to be shocked by the Jewish Old Testament. Our devious frailty doesn't seem to frustrate God's purposes.
The New Testament begins with the genealogy of the Messianic line that ended with Jesus. And Ruth the Arab is listed among five women who bore a son for that royal line (Matthew 1:1, 5). The first was Tamar, whose pornographic story included spilling of seed to avoid paternity, prostitution, and incest with her father in law (Genesis 38:1-30, Matthew 1:3). The next was Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute who ran a brothel in Jericho (Joshua 2:1, 6:22, 25, Matthew 1:5, Luke 3:31). Ruth the Arab was the third. The story of Bathsheba is one of the horrors of the Old Testament. She got pregnant by King David, and her army officer husband was put out in front to be killed in battle (2 Samuel 11:2-5, 14-17).
If God can grow roses from such raw manure, nothing in my background or yours will phase him. Our past may be as murky as Tamar or Rahab. We may have been abused, and our marriage devastated like Bathsheba. Ruth certainly had no racial right to be included in the Messiah's family.
The fifth woman who came into the genealogy of the Royal line was Mary (Matthew 1:16). She was not concerned about the horror of her past. Her problem was whether God could take care of her future. She was told that the Holy Spirit of God would conceive the Messiah in her womb (Luke 1:35). That was hard enough. When she got pregnant the Holy Spirit would also need to persuade her husband that the baby in her womb was the Messiah (Matthew 1:18-20).
The Spirit then had to bring Mary to Bethlehem, and move Joseph to register the newborn baby in the royal genealogy as his own son, and so give him the right to the throne of David. Apparently no one ever questioned that right , or Jesus could have been immediately proved to be an impostor.
The baby would certainly have been killed by Herod if the Spirit had not given a dream to her husband to leave immediately in the middle of the night (Matthew 2:13-14). He was then given further dreams to leave Egypt and settle in Galilee (Matthew 2:20-23). The Spirit would also take care of every further impossible step in the life of her son (Luke 2:40, 3:22, 4:1, 14, 18, 6:19, 10:21, 11:20, 12:12, 24:49, Romans 8:11).
The first four of the women listed in the genealogy of the Messiah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth the Arab, and Bathsheba, had no idea how God could possibly accept them in view of who they were. And in your case, if your past bothers you, it certainly doesn't bother God.
The fifth women, Mary, had no idea how God could possibly work things out for her future. If your whole future scares you, it doesn't scare God. All Mary had to say was "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." That means that God can work in us both to will and do all that is needed to fulfill his purposes (Philippians 2:13).
After five years in the army as a militant atheist, I was converted at the age of twenty-three. I said brashly to God "If you can do anything with me, please get on with it." That is a good prayer to begin with.
And then immediately you find yourself invited to eat at the Messiah's royal table, and drink the cup of his salvation. That is what this communion service is about. You will be astonished to see what happens.
Arabs and Jews both trace their racial genealogy back to Abraham. The Bible records how the original Jewish genealogies descended through Abraham's son Isaac, and the children of his grandson Jacob (Israel).
Arabs claim to be descended from Abraham's firstborn son, Ishmael. The Jewish Bible records that the Arabs would be so multiplied that "they cannot be counted for multitude" (Genesis 16:10). Twelve Arab tribes directly descended from Ishmael are listed in Genesis 25:12-18.
There are also the genealogies of other Arab tribes, including the Moabites and Ammonites from across the Jordan (Genesis 19:36-37), the Edomites (Genesis 36:1-43), Midian, Sheba, Dedan in Arabia (Genesis 25:1-6). These tribes intermarried and made alliances in a vast area from present day Iraq to Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. It was Muhammad (c.570-632) who forged them into one Arab people, together with cousins descended from Joktan (Genesis 10:26-31).
According to the Table of Nations all Arabs and Jews were viewed as
Shemitic by race and descended from Shem's son, Arpachshad (Genesis
10:24-31, 11:10-32). The language spoken by Arpachshad was probably
Sumerian, and this is what Abraham spoke in Ur of the Chaldees. But when
Abraham came into Canaan he learnt Canaanite, which the Table of Nations
views as a Hamitic language (Genesis 10:15-20). A hundred years
ago scholars made the mistake of calling Hebrew (which is the same family
as Canaanite), and Arabic (which is closely related) Semitic languages
(see the article "Arabs And The Bible").
Jews and Arabs are very close Shemitic cousins, and strangely their common
language is Hamitic.