The Manly Side of the Book of Ruth

Boaz’s response raises a huge issue for Christians. One of the biggest obstacles to a deepening walk with God is resistance to rethink our beliefs, to listen to others, to learn and to change. All through the Bible, God is repeatedly asking some of the people who walked with him the longest to be willing to be wrong and to learn and grow. Sometimes walking with God means learning truth that means rethinking your entire life. Abraham’s journey with God began in earnest when he was 75—an age when people have a right to be settled in their ways. Abraham had to change, and with each change he grew deeper in his faith.

Boaz openly violates cultural expectations in his interactions with Ruth. Instead of showcasing patriarchal standards of masculinity, Boaz subverts them. He bucks the system. He is not held captive to dominant definitions of masculinity. He is free of such expectations and big enough to do the right thing, even when it costs him. In his interactions with this foreign newcomer, Boaz accepts her influence and in doing so discovers room to grow.

Boaz was a man ahead of his time. In the workplace today, equal pay for women remains an unmet goal. Boaz went beyond equality. So Ruth’s take-home pay was as much as 15 to 30 times what a male harvester would pocket for a day of labor. Boaz pursued the spirit of God’s law—to seek justice for the poor and to feed them…

Boaz and the Power of Power

Boaz’s self-appointed advocacy for Naomi on Ruth’s behalf demonstrates how radically out of step he is with his culture. At the male-dominated seat of government, Boaz gives women legal voice. He assumes Naomi has property rights and insists that purchasing her land is an urgent matter. If that wasn’t surprise enough, he bends the law to require the kinsman redeemer to fulfill the levirate law too in lieu of a blood brother.

He also bends the law emphatically toward women’s rights—a concept unheard of in ancient times but a pressing contemporary global issue today. And Boaz, a heavyweight among Bethlehem leaders, proves unstoppable. Not only does he push through everything Ruth requested, he depletes his own estate to rescue Elimelech, just as he vowed he would. The fact that not one man attempts to oppose him signifies just how powerful Boaz was.

Boaz shows how male power and privilege can become a powerful force for good. He voluntarily makes extraordinary sacrifices beyond what the law requires. But that’s what hesed[iv] looks like.

His story also refutes the misguided adage that the rise of women comes at a cost for men. The rise of Ruth influenced Boaz to become a better man—one of the best men in all of Scripture.


[i] Tom Brokaw, “Welcome to the Century of Women,” April 29, 2013, http://leanin.org/discussions/welcome-to-the-century-of-women/. [CCJ note: this isn’t from the book Lean In.]

[ii] Hannah Rosin, The End of Men—and the Rise of Women (New York: Riverhead, 2012), 10.

[iii] Rosin, End of Men, 13.

[iv]Hesed is a costly, voluntary, stubborn brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has a right to ask or expect. God’s hesed is the bedrock of his people and the keyword in the book of Ruth. It is the brand of love at work in the actions of Ruth, Boaz and ultimately of Naomi too.

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Carolyn Custis James
Carolyn Custis James (BA Sociology, MA Biblical Studies) thinks deeply about what it means to be a female follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. As a cancer survivor, she is grateful to be alive and determined to address the issues that matter most. Carolyn is the author of Half the Church and Malestrom.

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