HONORED, Precious, Loved: On Boaz and the heresy of friendzoned entitlement

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Part 1: Honored

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine…you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you.” (Isaiah 43: 4)

I spent a good ten minutes the other day in the Green Bean just snickering to myself at my laptop. The reason was not entirely new. Buzzfeed usually has that sort of effect, with its humorous quips and videos. Hidden in the sarcasm and wit, though, is also often deep insight. That was very much the case with this particular article that I was reading, titled, “23 Times Feminists Had The Perfect Comeback.”

While the scathing burns were on point and I had a good laugh, it was also a very sobering moment for me. We have come a long way when it comes to addressing the way women are viewed and treated. Whether it’s what I see on social media, what I’m learning in class or how my own perceptions of feminism have changed, I personally can see a shift in the conversation. Feminism as a term and in practice doesn’t have quite the same level of stigma attached to it as it perhaps did before, as people are being educated on what feminism actually entails.

There is still a very long a way to go, though. This article alone contains a whole exhibit of evidence proving that, while there have been gains and improvements, there’s still much to change and do to before how women are viewed and treated can be considered equal to the way men are viewed and treated.

The Christian Church is not innocent in this tale. Put the topics of Christianity and women together in a conversation, and the first verses that most often come up are “wives, submit … in everything to [your] husbands” (Ephesians 5:22) and “do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet” (1 Timothy 2:12). Many men (and women) have considered this undeniable proof that the Bible too commands that women ought to know their place. From there, many have inferred that if women ought to submit, then men ought to dominate. Exacerbated by socially constructed ideas of what “makes a man” in a patriarchal society, the measurement of masculinity thus becomes the measure of which a man can exert control and power over women’s affections, bodies and lives. This is ultimately how too many men have justified much of the wrong they have done to women, whether in the name of entitlement, or even in the name of knowing what’s best, because men have the responsibility of leading with “Christ-like leadership.”

There is one problem: a whole lot of men that the Bible considers honorable did not treat or “lead” women in this fashion. Even more importantly, Christ did not treat women this way.

So how did Christ treat women, and how does he call men to treat women in response?

The first answer is that Christ treated women with honor. Thus, if mankind is charged with being like Him, men who call themselves Christians ought to honor women as Christ honored them.

An example of this is Boaz. Who is this Boaz? Why is he considered honorable, and how does he treat women? I suggest you pull out a Book of Ruth and follow along.

Here’s our first example of a biblical male providing a model for how to treat women. Back in the BC (or BCE, if you wish) days, Boaz was a wealthy landowner of Israel, and, according to scripture, a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1). He was Jewish, male, rich and a prince of the people — he pretty much had everything going for him. Yet he, out of all people, took notice of Ruth. In contrast to Boaz, Ruth pretty much had nothing going for her. Being a recently widowed and childless woman meant she had no husband or sons to support her in a very patriarchal society. This meant that from the moment of her husband’s death, she essentially had no social standing and automatically fell into poverty. Furthermore, she was also caring for her mother-in-law, and, to top all of that off, she was a newly arrived foreigner to Israel, and thus carried the stigma of not being a non-Jewish immigrant.

Because of people like Ruth, according to Jewish law, farmers were commanded by God to leave the leftovers of their harvest for the poor and foreigners to gather for themselves. This, according to the Lord, was considered as a measure of justice, and it is exactly was Boaz did. Boaz, however, not only allowed Ruth to glean and gather from his fields throughout the various grain harvests, but he also invited her to eat and rest with him and the rest of his workers and made sure that she had more than enough for herself and her family. What’s more, he even looked out for her, instructing that she stay with the rest of the women in the fields and warning his men to not harass or assault her.

It would have been easy for him to then press her into compensating him or paying him back, considering the power he held in contrast to the lack of power she had, economically and socially. But instead, he simply gave unconditionally. Moreover, he expressed that he admired for her courage to leave her native land and for her loyalty and compassion for her mother-in-law. Ultimately, though she wasn’t a native Jew, he blessed her in the Lord’s name, essentially naming her as one of their own.

Later on, their relationship does progress. But it only begins when Ruth initiates. She ultimately is the one who actually proposes to him, by coming to him and asking him to take her in and redeem her broken family line by marrying her. Boaz is genuinely startled, but replies,

“May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.” (Ruth 3:10)

Let’s just focus on that little bit right there. Boaz thanks Ruth for her last kindness of pursuing him romantically, which is “greater than the first.” This must mean that she gifted him with another act of kindness beforehand. However, from the beginning of this account, he has been doing all the giving towards her. She has done absolutely nothing for him as of yet…except simply be herself.

Is it too much to infer that he might have actually considered her a gift in herself? That he admired her, honored her and was thankful for her simply for the woman she was and not for what she could do for him?

Just food for thought.

Boaz finishes his response to Ruth’s proposal by saying,

“Do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer… as the Lord lives, I will redeem you.” (Ruth 3:11-13)

And indeed, he does, though not without shenanigans at first. Because of the laws of the day, Ruth actually had a piece of land that belonged to her deceased native Israeli husband that was attached to her name. Another man originally wanted to buy that piece of land for himself. But when he found out that he would have to marry Ruth for it, in order to help carry on her and her deceased husband’s name, he immediately bailed. After all, he didn’t care to jeopardize his own land and inheritance for the sake of some foreign woman.

Boaz, on the other hand, apparently couldn’t care less (land schmand, whatever). What mattered was Ruth. So when the other guy backpedaled the hell out of the deal, he swept right in. He married Ruth, thereby giving her and her mother-in-law a new home. He restored her broken family line by starting a family with her, so that she would have children to defend and care for her. In a beautiful reflection of what Christ ended up doing for the Church, with this marriage, Boaz not only named Ruth as one of their own, but he ultimately ended up giving her his own name, protection, heart and life.

(Fun fact: their lineage together actually eventually ends up leading to Jesus Christ Himself.)

We tend to attribute the more brutish or backwards characteristics of mankind to the so called archaic times. Yet, Boaz was majorly honoring Ruth in the BC era, without feeling entitled to receive anything back. Instead, his focus was on lifting her up instead of lifting himself up.

On the other hand, here we are, in 2015 CE with men, including “Christian” ones, bragging about their conquests of female bodies and complaining about being friendzoned.

Somebody needs to reread their Bible, or actually read it for the first time, because what I’m reading so far seems to show that if anyone wants to at least be biblical in the way they treat women, they are going to need to honor women. If anyone wants to be like Christ, though, Boaz is merely the starting point.

(Tune in next week for Part 2: Precious, on Hosea)