I am nominating Boaz the Israelite as the Patron Saint of International Women’s Day. That’s right, I’m nominating a man.
At a time when male power and privilege are regularly condemned in the headlines as a curse and a major culprit in #MeToo and #ChurchToo stories, what could be more timely than to recover the legacy of a powerful man who wielded his power and privilege to fight for women’s rights in a court of law?
The man I’m referring to is Boaz of the Old Testament book of Ruth. Boaz engaged the battle for women eons before the rise of feminism or talk of equal rights for women. The driving force behind his advocacy for women’s rights was a profound awareness that he lived before the face of God. That changed everything.
His success was all the more astonishing because not only did he raise subjects no one was thinking about, he battled solo on women’s behalf against the dominating forces of unquestioned patriarchy, male-centered cultural traditions, an all-male legal court, and long-established religious practices and legal interpretations.
Who knew we’ve had an ally like Boaz on the pages of our Bibles all along?! One might ask why Boaz isn’t regarded—along with Jesus—as a role-model in manhood discussions today.
Actually, biblical interpreters and pastors (God bless ’em) have done a pretty thorough job of obscuring the true significance of Boaz’s story by portraying him as the Prince Charming who “gets the girl” and rescues Ruth the Moabitess from her miserable plight of singleness.
I have actually heard single women yearningly say, “I’m waiting for my Boaz.” A true Boaz promises a whole lot more than they’re bargaining for.
Boaz was a powerhouse of a man. Against prevailing Jewish norms, he recognized the the widow Naomi’s property rights by announcing she was selling her land.
Bowing to pressure from Boaz, the nearest Kinsman-Redeemer agreed to purchase her property. He backed out, however, when Boaz threw in marriage to Naomi’s barren daughter-in-law Ruth as part of the deal. The gamble was too risky and could endanger his own estate.
Boaz’s male power and privilege are on magnificent display as a blessing, not a curse. According to the letter of Mosaic law—Kinsman-Redeemer and Levirate laws—both the nearest kinsman-redeemer and Boaz were legally exempt from responsibility. Without Boaz’s forceful interference, Naomi’s land would automatically default to the nearest relative without costing him a dime.
In all of this maneuvering, Boaz never sheds his male power and privilege. Instead, he employs it to empower Ruth initiatives on Naomi’s behalf. By empowering Ruth, Boaz played a magnificent role in God’s grand redemptive plan. The son born to Ruth and Boaz became the grandfather of King David and in so doing, established the line of Jesus the Messiah.
What kind of world would it be if men (and boys) followed Boaz’s example? What if men and boys embraced their power and privilege and resolved to employ it as an unstoppable force for good? How much good would come to women and girls globally?
You can be sure we’d have a whole lot more to celebrate on International Women’s Day!
Read more of this story in:
The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules and Finding God in the Margins (which builds on The Gospel of Ruth.) There’s more to learn from this earthshaking book, and the book of Ruth keeps on giving!