It seems like every day we hear another story of abuse. Actors and executives, politicians and pastors have been credibly accused of sexual assault and harassment. This troubling trend is witnessed in both secular and religious spaces, and can be seen on both sides of the political aisle. The flood of allegations, presented to us in sickening detail, must not be ignored. These stories remind us that powerful men have often abused those who were vulnerable. The corruption of the masculine soul is on display for all to see. Today we are in desperate need of better men. We need men like Boaz.
We meet this man in the Old Testament book of Ruth. This brief book tells the story of Naomi, a refugee who returns to her native country with her daughter-in-law Ruth. These women were forced to fend for themselves after both of their husbands died. In search of food, Ruth went to the fields to collect any ears of grain the harvesters had missed. The field she happened upon belonged to Boaz, a prominent landowner and distant relative of her mother-in-law.
The time when Boaz lived was not so different from our own. Scripture says that; “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) These were dark days, defined by selfishness and a lack of moral leadership. And these days were especially dark for the women who lived them. The book of Judges, written about this period, concludes with a shocking story of that involves the rape and dismemberment of a woman. When a culture breaks down because of sin, women are often victimized. This was undoubtedly true during Boaz’s time.
When Boaz and Ruth met, their lives were vastly different. Boaz was an older, wealthy, powerful land owner. Ruth was a young, impoverished, widowed, ethnic minority from a foreign country. Boaz also possessed something Ruth needed – food. Throughout this story Ruth shows her strength. She is self-motivated, assertive, and loyal; but she was also incredibly vulnerable. The power dynamics are familiar, and worrisome. Boaz possessed all the social and material advantages. The deck was stacked against Ruth.
Ruth could have easily been harmed in a situation like this. These conditions have often produced disastrous results for women. Boaz was powerful and respected. Ruth was vulnerable and untrusted. If she had been harmed, Ruth’s account of the situation would have been easy to discredit. What Israelite would believe a Moabite woman over their own countryman?
But Boaz was not the kind of man we hear about in the news today. He stood out in his generation, and he stood out among men. In chapter two Boaz is introduced to us as a great man, and his true greatness is displayed through his godly character. After noticing Ruth in his field and inquiring about her, Boaz acts on Ruth’s behalf. He provides extra grain for her, and offers her water and lunch. Boaz saw Ruth’s need and made it his obligation. He also praises Ruth for her loving commitment to Naomi, her mother-in-law (2:11-12).
But he doesn’t stop there. Boaz twice commands the men working in his field not to harm Ruth; first by ordering them not to touch her (2:9), and then by ordering them not verbally attack her (2:15-16). Boaz uses his power to protect and not harm. In this chapter both Boaz (2:8) and Naomi (2:22) express concern for Ruth’s physical safety, and urge her to return to Boaz’s field instead of visiting other fields. The field of Boaz became a refuge for Ruth in a dangerous time.
A few weeks ago, the #MeToo hashtag exploded on social media. Thousands of women and men used this tag to share their stories of sexual harassment and abuse. The sheer volume of these posts was sobering. #MeToo saddens us, but it should also motivate us to action. Men are not the only ones who harass and abuse, but because of their social position and physical strength men have a unique opportunity to combat these evils. Men should use whatever power they have to stand up for those who are vulnerable. Hannah Anderson makes this point in her excellent article in Christianity Today;
“For men who may not naturally understand the burden of female vulnerability, #metoo reveals how women’s experiences of the world differ from theirs—whether it’s in the boardroom or on a lonely stretch of highway. The solution isn’t to lock women away but rather to actively guard us while we navigate the world. Good men will use their strength to stand between us and those who would harm us—to reject or repent of “locker room talk,” to make sure we’re heard when we speak up, and to help stop those who prey upon us.”
This is the kind of person Boaz was – a man who used his resources to shield vulnerable women from harm. When men accept this God given calling, the women around them will have space to thrive. Our world needs more men like this. Our world needs more men like Boaz.