This past Sunday, we mentioned the story of Balak and Balaam. Balak was King of the Moabites and when the Israelites, a huge intimidating mass of people, came out of the desert. He called on Balaam, a prophet from the north, to come and curse them. Balaam was not able to curse the Israelites, so he advised Balak to try to draw the Israelites away from their God, so they would be vulnerable.
This plot also failed, but God did not forget the Moabites reception of the Israelites. Instead, as the Israelites were preparing to enter the promised land, they were warned not toe accept any Moabites into their company. “You shall never promote their welfare or their prosperity as long as you live.” (Deuteronomy 23:6) This condemnation is given for ten generations, which is even more than it sounds. Ten is a symbolic number that represents wholeness and completeness. The judgment is for the whole of time, for every generation of the Moabites
This is about as strong a condemnation that I can imagine for a people who still remained under God’s protection. For God also told the Israelites not to take any other their land. Moses recounted, “Do not harass Moab or engage them in battle, for I will not give you any of its land as a possession, since I have given Ar as a possession to the descendants of Lot.” (Deuteronomy 2:9) But, it is almost a grudging concession from God. He declares the Moabites to Israel’s enemies, and battles between the Israelites and Moabites raged throughout the Old Testament story. Many of the ugliest stories of violence in the Old Testament are rooted in this conflict.
However, the Moabites do appear in one more context in the Old Testament. They appear when a famine hit Israel, and Elimelech of Bethlehem fled to Moab to find food. He took with him his wife and two sons. They remained there long enough for the sons to marry, and for both the father and sons to subsequently die. Elimelech’s wife, Naomi is racked by grief. But she is not forsaken. Her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth refuses to leave her. She returns with Naomi to Bethlehem, goes to work in the fields so that they will both have food, and meets Boaz, the owner of the fields. With Naomi’s guidance, she follows Israelite custom into marriage with Boaz, and it is out of this marriage that the grandfather of King David is born.
In this way, a Moabite, who the Israelites are forbidden even to help, becomes the ancestor of the greatest King of Israel. He would who lead his people spiritually as well as politically, and wrote many of the Psalms we still read and sing in worship today. The story is a reminder that while sin and brokenness can be impossibly deep, nothing is deeper than God’s grace. God responds to acts of compassion and mercy. God blesses those who share their blessing. God loves those who participate in His love.
So please hear this encouragement today. We may be quick to judge and condemn ourselves and others. And it may even be true that we have earned and deserve condemnation and judgment. But there is nothing that can deny the grace of God.
God is known best in Jesus. And Jesus is the face of God’s love, not just for a few, but for all creation. We, too, are invited into God’s love. May we allow ourselves to receive and share it. May we learn new ways and paths, as at least some of the Moabites did. Doing so, we may enter into God’s peace. <><