THE scroll of Ruth opens with a time of great economic stress: famine in the Land. This causes Elimelech (meaning “My God is king”) to leave Judah with his wife Naomi (“Pleasant”) and two sons, Mahlon (“Tiny”) and Chilion (“Sickly”). The names of these boys perhaps indicates their condition at birth. They may also have been prophetically named.
Like Abraham before them, they left Israel for supposedly greener pastures in the Galut (Diaspora, or Exile) during a famine. Like Abraham, they learned that as difficult as life is in Israel, it is often harder in the Exile. They moved to Moab, in what is today modern Jordan. Elimelech died, leaving Naomi alone with her two sons.
Like many Jews today living in the Diaspora, her two sons married a couple of Gentile girls, the Moabites Ruth and Orpah. This once-proud Jewish family would apparently never have any Jewish grandchildren.
Then both “Tiny” and “Sickly” died, leaving Naomi with her daughters-in-law. When Naomi heard that there was again food in Israel, she arose with Ruth and Orpah, intending at first to return to Israel with them. (Ruth 1:6-7.) Then she apparently had second thoughts and told her daughters-in-law to return to their people. However, they loved their Jewish mother-in-law, and wanted to go with Naomi to Israel.
Naomi attempted to discourage her daughters-in-law by telling them, “Why should you return with me? Do I have more sons and daughters in my womb to be your husbands?” Orpah was discouraged by this remark, and returned to her family. Ruth, however, was persistent. She clung to her beloved mother-in-law and basically “converted” to Judaism. The language of this conversion is most instructive. She said:
“Wherever you walk (like halakha, a lifestyle commitment), I shall walk. Wherever you shall live, I shall live (24-hour-a-day commitment). Your people shall be my people (a commitment to Israel and the Jewish people). Your God shall be my God (a commitment to the God of Israel). Wherever you shall die, there I shall die, and there I shall be buried (commitment that even extends to the grave!).” (Ruth 1:16)
This commitment is especially remarkable considering that there was historic hatred and animosity between the Jews and Moabites (Numbers 22-24) which even found expression in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 23:3). Ruth must have known that she would be in a strange country, without family, among a people who might reject her as an unwelcome foreigner! Yet, despite the obstacles, she “converted” and made aliyah (“went up” to Israel) with her mother-in-law.
Naomi did not return to Israel a happy woman. She said, “Don’t call me Naomi (‘Pleasant’). Call me Mara (‘Bitter’).” Naomi and Ruth arrived in Israel virtually penniless. Fortunately, the Law of Moses made provision for the poor, so that at least the poor wouldn’t starve. No, they didn’t hand out welfare checks. However, the poor could “glean” in the fields, picking the grain that the reapers left behind at the harvest. Also, the corners of the field were for the poor and even the alien. They arrived in Bethlehem, the town that Naomi that Naomi came from, at the time of the barley harvest.
By “coincidence,” Ruth ended up gleaning in the field of Boaz. Unknown to her, Boaz was a wealthy near kinsman to her dead husband. By this time, most of you have read ahead and know the rest of the story. Boaz blesses Ruth by giving her special favor in the fields. She gleans bushels of grain. Naomi tells Ruth about her rights to Boaz as a “kinsman redeemer” for her dead husband (Deut. 25:5-10). Ruth marries Boaz, and presumably they live happily ever after. This, by the way, was a rather radical marriage. Ruth was a Jewish convert of Moabite ancestry. It would be the equivalent of an Arab Muslim woman converting to Judaism and marrying a Jew.
Here are some things you perhaps didn’t know. Ruth wasn’t the first Jewish convert to marry into the family of Boaz. His mother was none other than the famous Rahab the harlot, who hid the Jewish spies in Jericho. You understand, of course, that she gave up her old profession after she became part of the Jewish people and opened up a gift shop in Jericho selling post cards. Nevertheless, 1500 years later the writer of Hebrews (11:31) still referred to her as “Rahab the harlot.” Sure, sins can be repented of and completely forgiven, but sin always seems to leave a stain that may be with us even after we pass into eternity.
One of the major problems that Jewish people face today is the problem of assimilation. This is particularly a severe problem in the Diaspora. However, even in Israel assimilation is a problem -- assimilation into Gentile cultures that have invaded Israel through the various media. One aspect of that problem is intermarriage. In the past, the primary response of the Jewish community was to “exile” the offending couple from the Jewish community, even going so far as to occasionally have a mock funeral in which the Jewish partner in the mixed marriage was considered “dead.” These steps certainly served as a great deterrent to intermarriage. Prior to 1960, less than 10 percent of Jews intermarried. Today, the figure is over 50 percent. Obviously, it would be a major loss to the Jewish community to “exile” all these Jews from the Jewish community. One result would be losing all the descendants of these intermarried couples from Judaism.
Ruth, of course, converted prior to marrying Boaz. Her conversion wasn’t a conversion of convenience in order to marry a Jew. However, her first husband was a Jew. She didn’t convert until after he died. Also, it should be noted: Her conversion was not done according to Rabbinic Jewish Halachah, because Rabbinic Halachah doesn’t go back that far.
The ideal would be for all Gentile partners marrying Jews to convert to Judaism, preferably prior to the marriage. Ideally, of course, we would like to see such couples become Messianic Jews – both of them!! They could then raise their children in a Messianic Jewish home. Who says that it must always be that the Jewish partner has to be the partner to “opt out”? More and more, we are seeing Gentile partners who are “opting in” to become part of Israel. Torah is very much a part of becoming part of Israel. Just eating bagels doesn’t do it anymore. The whole world eats bagels now!
Rahab and Ruth both overcame their past to become a part of Israel. There was, in fact, a “curse” put upon the Moabites to at least the tenth generation from the time of Moses (Deuteronomy 23:3). Since the Hebrew term for “Moabite” in that verse is masculine in gender, it allowed Ruth, a “Moabitess,” to marry a Jew. Both Rahab and Ruth are ancestors of King David and also Yeshua, who is our “kinsman redeemer,” having redeemed our souls from the pit. Someday, Yeshua will return as King Messiah, to reign and rule from Jerusalem. Israel will again become the spiritual and cultural center for world Jewry, and even for the Gentiles!
Rahab and Ruth weren’t the first Gentiles to convert to Judaism. The first to “convert” would have been Abraham. According to various Jewish legends, as well as Talmud and the book of Jasher, Abraham’s father (Terah) was a worshipper and manufacturer of idols! In large part because of the teachings of Shem, Abraham became a worshipper of the One and Living God, who created Heaven and Earth. One of the first promises that YHWH made to Abraham was that He would “make you (Abraham) a great goy (nation).”  Later, God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and his descendents. Every male in the household of Abraham was circumcised in one day.
When Israel left Egypt, they departed with a “mixed multitude.”  Regretfully, this “mixed multitude” caused Israel some major problems in the wilderness, including being a “bad influence,” causing Israel to backslide into idolatry on occasion. When the Israelites finally entered the Land of Israel forty years later, the land was divided among the twelve tribes. However, there was no land set aside for any “tribe of mixed multitude.” Therefore, it is apparent that this “mixed multitude” was adopted into the various twelve tribes of Israel.
The Book of Esther (after Ruth) describes the defeat of the enemies of the Jews. As a result, “many of the people of the land became Jews, for the fear of the Jews fell upon them.”
Ezra also describes some apparent Gentile proselytes to Judaism: “And the children of Israel, who returned from the exile, and all who had separated themselves from the impurity of the heathen of the land, to seek YHWH, the God of Israel, did eat (the Passover).” (Ezra 6:21)
Isaiah also wrote of proselytes: “Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to YHWH, to serve Him, and to love the name of YHWH, to be His servants, every one that keeps from profaning the Sabbath, and takes hold of My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer... YHWH, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:6-8.)
Also, speaking prophetically, “It shall be, from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind shall come to worship before Me.” (Isaiah 66:23.)
Most who claim to be followers of Yeshua are Gentiles. Curiously, during Yeshua’s earthly ministry, He didn’t seek any converts among the Gentiles. He instructed his disciples, saying, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” He told the Syro-Phoenician woman, “I was sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 
It wasn’t until after the Resurrection that He gave instructions for the Good News of the Jewish Messiah to go to the Gentiles. He said, “Go, therefore, and teach all nations.” 
Fifty days after the Resurrection, the disciples of Yeshua were gathered together in an upper room of the Temple for the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost). When the Holy Spirit fell upon them, they began to speak in other tongues (languages), which were understood by the Jews from various countries who had come to worship at the Temple in Jerusalem for this High Holy Day. Included in the midst of these Jews were proselytes, Gentiles who had converted to Judaism. No doubt, some of these proselytes may have come to believe in Yeshua as a result of the miracles that took place that day, and as a result of the preaching of Shimon Kefa (Simon Peter).
Despite Yeshua’s final instructions to “make disciples of all nations,” believing in Yeshua as Messiah and Savior was primarily as “Jewish thing” during the first half of the First Century C.E. There really wasn’t any burning desire on the part of these Jewish disciples of Yeshua to proclaim the Good News of the Jewish Messiah to the Gentiles. After all, isn’t Yeshua the Jewish Messiah? It took a special vision from HaShem to make Shimon Kefa (Peter) willing to share the Messiah with Gentiles. A righteous Gentile named Cornelius and his family were the first Gentiles to receive the message of Messiah from Shimon Kefa. When they heard the message, they also spoke in tongues (Acts 10:45-46)! This was rather radical, since these particular Gentiles had not converted to Judaism at the time they accepted the Jewish Messiah!
Shortly after this, persecution broke out against the early Messianic Jews. For a while, they continued sharing the message of the Messiah with only other Jews. However, some of them in Antioch began to experiment in sharing the Good News of Yeshua to Gentiles. The result was that “a large number (of Gentiles) also turned to Yeshua (Acts 11:20-21)! These Gentile disciples were called Christians in Antioch.
This created some difficulties, because some of the Messianic Jews, particularly those of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed, felt that it was necessary to circumcise these Gentile converts, and instruct them to observe the Law of Moses. The Council that met at Jerusalem decided the following:
“My judgment is that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, but that we write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols, from fornication, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.” (Acts 15:19-21.)
In other words, it would be an awfully heavy trip to lay on these Gentiles, to ask them to accept the whole Law of Moses at the time they came to believe in Yeshua. Orthodox Rabbis believe that the Seven Noachide laws are all that is expected of Gentiles to have a part in the Olam HaBa (the World to Come). These laws prohibit: 1) idolatry, 2) murder, 3) stealing, 4) blasphemy, 5) incest, 6) eating the flesh of a living animal, and have the positive requirement of 7) establishing courts of justice. Curiously, these so-called Seven Noachide Laws are very different from the Biblical Noachide Laws given in Genesis 9:1-7.
I have heard many teach that Acts 15:20 is an abbreviation of the Rabbinic Seven Noachide Laws. However, they are not the same. Both prohibit idolatry and sexual immorality. However, the Rabbinic Seven Noachide Laws do not prohibit eating blood, which curiously is indeed prohibited in Genesis 9:4. Personally, I see little relationship between the Noachide Laws (Biblical or Rabbinic) and Acts 15:20.
Acts 15:21 is generally ignored by most. However, it is key to understanding the Council at Jerusalem. It was expected that these Gentiles would continue to worship and be taught in the synagogues, where they would continue to be instructed in the Law of Moses. As they learned the value of these instructions, it was assumed that they would voluntarily move into greater obedience to Torah.
Some of you might think this is reading more into the text than the text deserves. After all, why would Gentiles be worshipping in synagogues? In point of fact, they were! When Shaul and Silas proclaimed the Good News in the synagogue in Thessalonica, “a multitude of the God-fearing Greeks” also came to a faith in Messiah (Acts 17:1-4). When Rav Shaul preached at a synagogue in Athens, he found himself reasoning with both “Jews and God-fearing Gentiles” (Acts 17:17). When they went on to Corinth, as a good Jewish boy, he went into another synagogue. “And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Shabbat and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Although it wasn’t required that these Gentiles accept the Torah of Moses for salvation, no doubt many chose to convert to Judaism and accept Torah as part of their faith-walk in Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah.
Proselytes to Messianic Judaism
We see much the same thing happening today. Many Gentiles have attached themselves to Messianic Jewish assemblies. Some are content to simply be Gentiles who attend Messianic Jewish congregations. They have rights to membership, and enjoy the worship, fellowship, and teachings. However, they may not have any “calling to convert.” They maintain a Gentile Christian lifestyle, except for attending Messianic assemblies.
Other Gentiles are seeking to be more fully a part of the Jewish people. Some, like Ruth, have a conversion of the heart, where they say, “Your people are my people, and your God, my God.” They take on a Jewish lifestyle, observing Shabbat, the Holy Days, and the dietary laws. For some, this still isn’t enough. They want to more fully identify with the Jewish people. They don’t consider themselves to be “Protestant Christians.” They consider themselves to be Messianic Jews. Some have gone for Messianic Jewish conversions. This is a completely valid decision, especially when they are performed at congregations which respect the mitzvot (commandments). It should be noted, however, that conversion is first and foremost a matter of the heart. The public ceremony only confirms what has already taken place internally.
Others have gone for conversions performed through Conservative and Orthodox rabbis. This is not always an easy road to take. Many rabbis will refuse to perform conversions for Gentiles who believe in Yeshua as Messiah, no matter how Torah-observant the individual is. Also, there should be no lying, such as denying faith in Yeshua as Messiah. For purposes of aliyah, Messianic Jewish conversions aren’t worth the paper they are printed on, which makes Orthodox and Conservative conversions more highly prized.
The “Galatian” heresy described by Rav Shaul (Paul) does not pertain to Gentiles voluntarily deciding to join themselves to the household and nation of Israel. Any honest reading of this epistle will show what Rav Shaul was criticizing those who would compel Gentiles to get circumcised and observe the entire Law of Moses for salvation.
Many Gentiles are now eager to embrace the faith of Yeshua, the Apostles, and Rav Shaul. The religion of Yeshua and Rav Shaul (“Paul) was Judaism! Rav Shaul stated, quite simply, “I am a Jew” (Acts 22:3). On another occasion, Rav Shaul still called himself a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). Yeshua didn’t come to Planet Earth to start up a new religion; He came to Earth to be the promised Messiah for the old religion (Judaism)! He also came to die on the tree, for the sins of both Jews and Gentiles.
 According to Deut. 25:5, a brother would fulfill the duty of a near kinsman by going into the childless wife of a dead brother to provide an offspring in the name of the dead brother.
 Literally, “the going” or “the walk.” Orthodox halakha would include the Rabbinic interpretation of how to obey the mitzvot (commandments).
 Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22.
 Ruth 1:22.
 Matthew 1:5.
 Genesis 12:2a
 Genesis 17:23-27.
 Exodus 12:38.
 Esther 8:17.
 Matthew 10:5
 Matthew 15:24.
 Matthew 28:19
 Acts 2:5.
 Acts 2:10.
 “Common Era,” equivalent to “A.D.”
 Acts 11:19.
 Acts 11:26.
 Acts 15:1,5.