Clarifications on Ruth "the illegal immigrant"
On March 10th, I wrote a piece on my blog praising the Biblical character Boaz for showing compassion to Ruth, whom I referred to in the article as an “illegal immigrant.” Ruth, as you may know, was a descendant of Moab and according to the law at the time was supposed to be excluded from the congregation of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3). God apparently was so angry with the Moabites that He even tells the children of Israel “not to seek their peace nor their prosperity all their days forever” (Deuteronomy 23:6) and yet when we read the Book of Ruth we all seem to know instinctively that Boaz is a hero in the story precisely because he showed compassion to Ruth despite what the law–even God’s law–said.
Within days the article appeared on several high traffic sites. Almost immediately people began accusing me of twisting the Scriptures by calling Ruth an “illegal immigrant.” After all, Ruth was married to an Israelite and the law said that Moabites were only supposed to be excluded from the assembly of the Lord, not from the people of Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3). The response was so strong that I even began to second guess myself–until I read Nehemiah chapter 13 and it dawned on me that it was against the law for a child of Israel to marry a Moabite in the first place–which is exactly what Boaz did in the story of Ruth. No matter which way you look at it, Boaz did what even God’s law forbade and He was commended for it–by God.
In the interests of clearing some things up, I’d like to make a few clarification points:
1. Many people have called me blasphemous because I wrote that Joseph discovered his wife was pregnant with an “illegitimate child.” I thought it would be obvious to the average reader that after Joseph discovered his betrothed wife was pregnant and before his dream, it certainly would have appeared that Jesus was conceived in an illegitimate way. People have written me and said that Mary should not have been stoned according to the law because she was innocent. Of course! But did Joseph know that before the dream? No he didn’t, and yet the Scriptures still refer to him as a just man precisely because He chose compassion over the letter of the law. (Compare Deuteronomy 22:20-21 with Matthew 1:19)
2. People have commented that my illustration of Jesus defending the disciples picking grain on the Sabbath was taken out of context. The argument goes that all Jesus was doing was proving that He’s the Lord of the Sabbath, therefore He can do with it what He wants. I agree that Jesus was showing His lordship over the Sabbath, but that still doesn’t negate the fact that Jesus used the word unlawful to describe what David did when he ate the showbread in the house of Abiathar the priest–and commends him for it (Mark 2:25-26)! I go back to my original question. If God commended people for breaking His laws because of compassion for their fellow human beings, what might He think of people today who challenge man-made laws for reasons of human compassion? I can understand why some would take issue with using the word break, but is the word unlawful any less offensive? The point is still the same. It appears that in Scripture, God commends people for choosing human compassion over the letter of the law.
3. I realize that calling Ruth an “illegal immigrant” isn’t a direct correlation to the situation we have today, but that’s not the point. It would have been very easy for Boaz to think of Ruth in terms of an illegal immigrant, and he could have used some great “the Bible tells me so” justifications to deny her compassion according to the consensus of the religious elite of his day.
That was before the new Arizona immigration law. I realize that the law is controversial and that there are legitimate issues of border security that need to be addressed, but who would have known that within a few weeks of my article appearing on the Free Republic, the state of Arizona would pass a law that, among many other things, criminalizes compassion to illegal immigrants? As Eugene Cho points out in his post, The law states that those who “knowingly transport or harbor” undocumented immigrants will be at risk of arrest. In other words, if an individual, or perhaps a church or faith institution, takes an illegal immigrant to a grocery store or provides food, clothing, and shelter for an illegal immigrant, they could be arrested.
How does that square with the direct command of Jesus to take in strangers (Matthew 25:35)? The answer is it doesn’t. Showing compassion to another human being should never be illegal, and if it is, then Christians are obligated to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). I’m not saying that I have this conundrum figured out as to how followers of Jesus should balance upholding the law with human compassion. So with that, my parting words on this issue will be a quote from the beloved Apostle Paul. “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).