King David Descended from Lot’s Daughters

March 22, 2019 | by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

Yesterday I was reading in Genesis the story of Lot’s daughters who bore children from him and begat the nations of Amon and Moab. It then struck me that since King David’s great-grandmother was Ruth the Moabite, it means that in some way this very immoral nation entered one of the most important families in Israel. How could that be?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

It’s a very interesting point. The nations of Amon and Moab were founded on incest. It seems peculiar that Moab of all nations played such a great role in creating the House of David – and ultimately the Messiah son of David. Why did God will it that the kings of Israel would descend from such seemingly impure roots?

Before I answer, I’ll add to the question by observing that one of Solomon’s wives was Na’amah the Amonite – and it was through her that Rehoboam was born and the dynasty continued (I Kings 14:21). Thus both Moab and Amon played roles in the creation of the royal line. So again, why was this God’s will?

If we read the story of Lot’s daughters carefully, we recognize that Lot’s daughters were not simply being lewd. According to the Sages, they sincerely believed that the world had come to an end (Bereishit Rabbah 51:8). The entire metropolis of Sodom had been destroyed, and they had no way of knowing that the rest of the world beyond still existed. (According to many of the commentators, the nearby city of Zoar, where they first escaped to, was subsequently destroyed.) The older sister likewise said to the younger: “And there is no man on the land to come to us as the way of the whole land” (Genesis 19:31). They thus honestly believed at the time that it was up to them to repopulate the world, and this was the only means they had of doing so.

The quality that Lot’s daughters exhibited is thus not a bad one. Although in their case there were no grounds for their behavior, being prepared to do what it takes to rectify a situation is an important positive quality if used in the right way.

Such a quality is essential for a king of Israel. A Jewish king must be prepared to right the wrongs of society, to take charge of the nation and see to it that all is functioning smoothly and the Torah’s laws are being properly upheld. Unlike a Jewish court, which generally may only punish sinners through due process of law, a king may establish laws and even execute sinners as he sees fit. His job is to maintain the spiritual standing of the nation, and he can and must use all means at his disposal to bring this about (Maimonides Laws of Kings 3).

It is thus not surprising that King David descended in part from the nation of Moab. For all its faults, it was a nation which exhibited the quality which Jewish monarchy requires.

Equally fascinating is that David’s pious great-grandmother Ruth demonstrated the very same quality when she entered Israel. After her husband Machlon died without children, she accompanied her mother-in-law Naomi to Israel. They hoped their righteous relative Boaz would marry her and continue the family line. When he made no indication he had any such intentions himself, Naomi had Ruth secretly approach him in the middle of the night and uncover his feet to remind him of his obligation to the family. Their gamble was successful and Boaz recognized his duty. He married Ruth and she bore David’s grandfather Oved.

Ruth thus exhibited the very same quality as her ancestor. She showed she was prepared to act unconventionally when she saw it was needed. But she did so far more modestly than Lot’s daughters. Rather than initiating an immoral relationship, she modestly hinted to Boaz his family obligation: “Spread your robe over your handmaiden for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9).

As a result, Ruth entered Israel, bringing the needed quality of Moab – in a sublimated version – into the House of David.

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