The dam has been breached. Since the #MeToo movement broke, we have been flooded with stories of assault, perpetrators are neck-deep in allegations, and institutional practices that enabled predators have been busted open. The movement has overflowed to #ChurchToo, and #NunsToo.
How do we reconstruct after such devastation? How to make positive changes that are better for both men and women? How do we proceed to that (in Oprah’s words) “new day in the horizon” when nobody says “me too, again”. The movement seems to be at a loss as to how to move towards that day.
How do we go forward? How to make positive changes? The movement seems to be at a loss.
Christians, however, have one resource that the world does not. It has some great scriptural examples of how men can deal with vulnerable women. We find one of these in the story of Ruth. Even though he was born around 1100BC, Boaz might just be the radical male for our times.
Maybe we think we’re familiar with the sweet love story of Ruth. But that familiarity shouldn’t stop us from noticing its historical context. The time of Ruth is the time of Judges (Ruth 1:1)—a time of great political instability, and of particular danger for women. For example, in Judges 19-21, we read of women subject to abuse and violence from their intimate partners and from the wider community.
Ruth’s violent and volatile backdrop makes the man, Boaz, all the more striking. Here is some wisdom we can glean from Boaz in his care of vulnerable women.
He understands her situation
Boaz’s opening statement to Ruth is a warning, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women… Have I not charged the young men not to touch you?” (2:8–9a). Up until that point, there have been no signs of any personal danger to Ruth. Indeed, she is never hurt throughout the story. Is Boaz being overly protective? In Ruth 2:22, Naomi says, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with [Boaz’s] young women, lest in another field you be assaulted”, spelling out the danger that Boaz was aware of all along. He sees to it that no one takes advantage of her: not his staff, not even himself (Ruth 3:2–14).
Did Boaz need to show this level of concern over an unrelated foreigner? Probably not in the culture of that day. But Boaz sees Ruth’s vulnerable situation and makes her safety a priority.
He uses his power in service of the vulnerable
How many ways did Boaz have more power than Ruth? He is a man, she is a woman. He is the CEO of a thriving agricultural business with servants to command. As an Israelite, he is an insider— a man with standing in the Israelite community; one who benefits from the wisdom of the Torah. By contrast, Ruth is a younger, foreign, and unemployed widow, and is the sole carer of another (elderly) widow. It’d be hard to find a more formidable, trusting, loyal, hardworking, caring, resourceful and indomitable character in the Bible than Ruth. Yet she has no influence, no money, no agency in this community. Ruth and Naomi are at the mercy of strangers—completely dependent on others to change their circumstances.
Notice that Boaz never denies having power. He uses his power to empower the powerless. He goes in to bat for Ruth and Naomi, advocating and securing the business transaction that they could not.
Boaz never abuses his power, showing that power doesn’t always corrupt. Notice that Boaz never denies having power. Pretending not to be powerful can sometimes be a way of avoiding the responsibility that comes with it. But Boaz is unembarrassed about having power. He uses his power to empower the powerless. He goes in to bat for Ruth and Naomi, advocating and securing the business transaction that they could not. The other redeemer in the story points out that this transaction comes at a cost to his assets and his personal life (Ruth 4:6). Yes, Boaz does gain something in the process (a wife and land package), but the story emphasises that his motives are not self-seeking, “I will do for you all that you ask…” (3:11).
Boaz puts his money where his mouth is, becoming a powerful, sacrificial ally to these vulnerable women.
He sees himself as an agent of God’s blessing
There is a strong correlation between the Lord’s blessing and Boaz’s actions. Boaz’s words are full of blessing, “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:12). He then proceeds to bless her accordingly, with food, shelter and protection. When Naomi hears what Boaz has done, Naomi recognises it as the Lord’s kindness, “May [Boaz] be blessed by the LORD whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead” (2:20). We see this correlation again in chapter 3, when Ruth proposes her plan to him. Boaz’s agrees by answering, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter” (3:10). Again, he himself is the conduit of the Lord’s blessing, filling Ruth’s empty hands, and dealing with her matter (3:17-18). As Boaz and Ruth get married and have descendants, the elders (4:11–12) and the women (4:14–15) praise God for blessing their house.
The narrator and the characters concur that the Lord reverses the fortunes for Ruth and Naomi. That divine intervention and blessing comes through a human agent.
In summary: Boaz is a man who understands the women’s position, God’s position on vulnerable people and his own position in God’s puposes.
Two male models
Boaz’s words and conduct have wide-ranging and lasting impact on vulnerable women. Not only does he protect them from assault, his actions also change their social standing, their financial status and their place in Judah’s history. Of course, Boaz is not the only male role model in the Old Testament. There is another male archetype who models how to treat women: Adam, the first man.
Instead of being the woman’s ally and champion, Adam sets himself against her (Genesis 3). Instead of speaking words of encouragement, blessing and praise, Adam blames and accuses her (3:12). Rather than protecting her body and reputation, Adam puts himself first. Rather than providing wisdom and supporting her needs, Adam is passive (3:6b). He is silent when he should have spoken and abdicates his responsibilities, failing to hold himself to account and in denial about his sin. Like Boaz, Adam’s words and (in)action also has a lasting effect on women (3:16).
Instead of being the woman’s ally and champion, Adam sets himself against her. Rather than protecting her body and reputation, Adam puts himself first.
When I read contemporary responses to the #MeToo movement, I sometimes fear that there are more Adams than Boazes around—or, at least, that the Adam types are more vocal. Perhaps you have noticed it, too: the insecurity and defensiveness that makes some men respond to male violence simply by complaining that the real problem is feminism. The abdication of responsibility by not doing or saying anything at all.
Perhaps these days, good men might have reasons to be silent. Perhaps they don’t want to aggravate an already volatile situation. Maybe they see how the current masculine culture is being challenged and decide it’s safer to stay silent? And, of course, some men have spoken up.
But in 2019, we need men like Boaz more than ever.
- Men who will encourage and give dignity to women by taking the time to understand the issues for women.
- Men who will use their words and position to influence other men, to create environments and structures where women can be safe and flourish.
- Men who will see themselves as agents of God’s blessing and, in wisdom, take responsibility for the vulnerable.
Boaz is the grandfather of the OT Messiah and a forerunner to Christ, the ultimate kinsmen redeemer and epitome of true manhood. Christ wields his perfect power—not to exalt himself or oppress the weak—but in service of the powerless, at great cost to himself. He is the advocate, the ally, and the refuge of the vulnerable. With this heritage, it’s in our spiritual DNA to care for the more vulnerable. And how much more reason to do this, having known Christ?
Can you imagine communities flooded with men like that?