Fathom Mag

Boys will be Boaz.

We need more boys raised with a legacy of protection and faith.

Published on:
September 11, 2017
Read time:
8 min.
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For the past few weeks, my social media feed has been awash in wave after wave of stories of women suffering heinous sexual exploitation.

African refugee women are fleeing their country to break free of sexual violence in their own homes, only to be raped by immigration workers or sold into slavery in countries where they’re seeking asylum.

A pop star who previously beat charges of creating child pornography is now accused of keeping aspiring teenage girl singers trapped in his own home as sexual slaves.

Two major news outlets in the same week reported from my own city of Silicon Valley that numerous women in the high tech industry are being sexually harassed and propositioned by men with which they were trying to do business.

And in private, friends are sharing horrifying stories of children still in single digits committing sexual abuse against one another after being exposed to pornography.

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As a Christian, each of these decimations of the imago dei piles anger on fury. As a mother, the battle to keep my fears for my daughters, subsumed in my trust in God’s sovereignty and care, rages on with no sign of waning. Moms without a foundation of faith have an even harder time knowing how to best guide their children toward adulthood in the midst of such a hyper-sexualized culture.

Can the culture be both villain and savior? 

Several weeks ago, a single mom named Jody Allard, who is herself a survivor of sexual assault, wrote to lament her inability to persuade her teenage sons of the realities of sexual violence, and their accountability to speak out and work against it. She pronounced their resistance to her arguments as evidence that the outside world had seeped into them, in spite of all her efforts to keep it at bay.

We are, all of us, far worse than merely “unsafe.”

Jody Allard believes that the impetus for her sons’ thinking is externally driven by culture, with the solution also externally imposed. She is disheartened that her efforts are failing, and resigning herself to the fallout. Consequently, in Allard’s mind, even her own sons, while loved, felt fundamentally unsafe to her.

The reactions to Allard’s piece were familiar, predictable even. She drew swift censure, particularly from conservative circles. She was blasted as plagued by paranoia bordering on mental instability, and even chastised for irresponsible mothering.

But I understood Allard’s angst. I’ve walked with many women through the aftermath of sexual assault and abuse. I’m a Silicon Valley veteran with my own collection of sexual harassment stories. Memories like the ones Allard, myself, and other women have of our experiences are hard to shake. When the penalty for the sins against us remain unpaid and justice has not been served, the instinct to do everything within our power to protect others from either perpetrating or suffering the same kind of harm is overwhelming.

Yet my empathy for Jody Allard isn’t driven primarily by the experiences we share, but by the differences in the way we diagnose their root causes. And our different prognoses for the future.

Allard sees humanity, especially as influenced by culture, as “unsafe.” But the Christian worldview disagrees—the problem with Allard’s diagnosis is not that it’s too dark, but that it’s not dark enough. We are, all of us, far worse than merely “unsafe.” We are capable of sheer evil. But just as Christians believe the human problem is far greater, we believe just as strongly that an answer for our problem exists, one with power to not just make safe, but to make us truly good.

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Sexual Assault: A Problem That Crosses Centuries

Few characters in the Old Testament exemplify this hope better than Boaz.

Boaz grew up in a culture that makes the darkness of our own seem light. No chapter of the Bible better captures the totality of the spiritual darkness of life in Boaz’s home town at that time than Judges 19.

In this chapter, a Levite and his Bethlehemite concubine are traveling to their home in Ephraim and decide to rest for the night in a region of Bethlehem called Gibeah, rather than in a foreign city. They sit in the main square hoping to be offered a place to stay, but no offer comes. Finally, a man stops, and when he learns that the Levite lives in his former home town, he offers him a place for the night, with an ominous warning about not staying in the open square. We soon learn why.

Sexual assault and brutality is not new to our age.

In a plot twist worthy of the infamous medieval history drama on HBO that shall be neither named nor linked, a lust-fuelled mob surrounds the house, demanding that the Levite be delivered over to them so they can sexually violate him. The Levite’s host counters by offering up the man’s concubine and his own virgin daughter instead. When the mob refuses to disperse, the Levite throws his concubine outside, where she is set upon by the mob and brutalized all night until dawn.

They raped her and abused her all night until morning. At daybreak they let her go. —Judges 19:25

As the sun rises, she is let go and collapses at the front door of the house where her master is staying. Her husband’s response at finding her unconscious in the doorway is to command her to get up. When she doesn’t respond, he throws her battered body onto the back of his donkey and takes her home, where he cuts her to pieces and sends them throughout the entire country of Israel, a piece to each tribe.

Sexual assault and brutality is not new to our age.

Boaz: Old Testament Counter Cultural

Given the poisonous atmosphere in which Boaz was raised and was living we’d likely expect the same thing Allrad expects for her sons. We would expect Boaz to grow into a manhood that mimics the culture in which he was living. But when we are introduced to Boaz in Ruth 2, we meet someone altogether different.

Boaz was a wealthy landowner with a large staff of both men and women who tended his fields. When Ruth arrives, they were in the process of harvesting. Fields of tall, uncut wheat were the perfect environment for women to be assaulted by male harvesters unobserved. Women with husbands or fathers to watch over them were guaranteed some measure of protection. Widowed or foreign women were not.

When Boaz learned that a woman who is both a widow and a foreigner has found her way into his fields, he spoke to her in a manner that was every bit as direct and commanding as the Levite to his concubine. But his words are about her protection and provision, as are his actions.

Boaz believes in and follows Rahab’s God, the one who was her refuge, and the one who calls his people to emulate him.

He provides for her physical needs in both word and deed—offering her water, inviting her to eat with him and his servants. He goes above and beyond God’s laws permitting the poor to glean from his fields, ensuring she will be bringing home grain that will feed her and Naomi for weeks, not just days.

Every action is a symbolic gesture of hospitality and care his servants could hardly have missed. But he verbalizes his instructions about her as well. There could be no misunderstanding—Boaz expects his people to treat Ruth with the same care and respect he himself has shown.

It’s not hard to imagine the scene as Ruth collapses at Boaz’s feet in gratitude and wonder at Boaz’s kindness and the reason for it. And Boaz’s answer moves me to tears every time I read it.

“May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” —Ruth 3:10–11

With unselfconscious irony, Boaz is simultaneously asking God to bless Ruth and being the active agent of that blessing and protection in real time. 

Boaz’s blessing over Ruth for her sacrifice and faith is profound. It’s obvious from his words that he remembers God’s laws to protect sojourners from bigotry and mistreatment, and wants to follow them, a desire notably countercultural on its merits. But there’s likely a very specific reason Ruth’s story moves him so deeply, and prompts him to act toward her in the way that he does.

Ruth isn’t the first woman Boaz has known who has left her native land to seek refuge in Israel’s God and in Israel’s people.

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A Legacy of Protection and Faith

Several decades before Boaz and Ruth meet, Joshua sent two Israelite spies across the border of Canaan into a region called Jericho to get the lay of the land as they prepared to invade it. The spies found lodging with a Canaanite woman named Rahab who sold herself as prostitute to support her family, but who had come to have faith in the God of Israel.

When the two men found their way to her house, she appealed to them in the name of the Lord to save her family and herself when they take the land she knew God had given to them. The men vow to her that if she protected them, they would in turn rescue her and her family.

When the time came for Israel to invade Jericho, the two spies made good on their vow and moved Rahab and all of her family out to safety. After that day she remained in the land of Israel, eventually marrying a nobleman and giving birth to a son.

That son was Boaz.

In the aftermath of the Levite’s concubine’s horrific death and dismemberment, the people of Israel responded with the ancient equivalent of “never forget.”

Everyone who saw it said, “Nothing like this has ever happened or has been seen since the day the Israelites came out of the land of Egypt until now. Think it over, discuss it, and speak up!” —Judges 19:30

It seems possible, maybe even likely, that Rahab did just that. If so, surely she talked with her son about the concubine’s story in the context of her own—what it felt like to be a woman so mistreated by men, how she came to have faith in the true God of Israel, and how her God sent men who were also faithful to him, and to their vow to her, how they became to her and her relatives first a refuge, then a family—the family into which he’d been born.

Boaz’s words to Ruth show that he remembers his mother’s story, but the foundation and power for his actions prove more than knowledge. Boaz believes in and follows Rahab’s God, the one who was her refuge, and the one who calls his people to emulate him.

God’s purposes for his people were not thwarted by the culture in which Boaz lived.

Boaz owed his very life to the sovereignty of God in granting a foreign woman faith to leave her native land to follow the one true God, protected and provided for by faithful men who were a refuge for her as God was for all of them. In honoring Ruth’s sacrificial faith, he was honoring his mother’s as well.

In asking God to reward Ruth, he was standing as the living embodiment of the reward God had given Rahab, one that wouldn’t terminate with him, nor with Ruth, but continue through both of them to their grandson David, and their greatest descendant, Jesus.

Replicating Boaz

God’s purposes for his people were not thwarted by the culture in which Boaz lived. The opposite was true—God’s purposes for Boaz and his descendants were accomplished in the middle of that culture, by people who stood against the culture by standing on the solid rock of the unchanging law and word of God.

This is the faithfulness we are right to expect from God today. And integral to that plan are men who know God as a God of protection and refuge, and who give themselves over to being a refuge and protector of women.

Ultimately, they model Jesus, who gave himself up bodily to the point of death, to establish a kingdom where all of us, women and men, would have eternal life. They model Jesus instead of our culture.

In her piece, Jody Allard laments there aren’t men safe enough, good enough, for her sons to emulate, or for her to trust. I pray someone introduces her to the story of Boaz, and most of all to the story of his descendant, Jesus, the man who is not just safe, but who is the embodiment of refuge, and salvation.

Rachael Starke
Rachael Starke has lived and worked in Silicon Valley for over eighteen years. She writes about the intersection of the gospel with technology, gender, food, and everything else. You can connect with her on TwitterLinkedIn, or her blog.
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Cover image by Matt Hawthorne.

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