This chapter is difficult to put in perspective when we live in a time where laughing off advice from your mother-in-law is the storyline of sitcoms and being told to lie at a man’s feet would inspire a march against misogyny. There are plenty of studies written on the cultural norms related to the book of Ruth and the meaning behind Naomi’s advice and Ruth’s actions.
Less has been said about Boaz’ response. In light of current events, it is worth noting that he was presented an opportunity to behave less than honorably. He had all the power. As both a widow and a foreigner, who placed herself in a position of great vulnerability, Ruth could easily have become a victim. Her apparent youth compared to him (v. 10) and the fact that he noticed her in the field the very first day she was there suggest he found her attractive.
Yet he does not take advantage of her vulnerability. He advises her well to protect her from any accusations. He also doesn’t bypass established standards and ignore the rights of the nearer kinsman-redeemer. He follows the absolute letter of the law to ensure the best outcome for Ruth and Naomi and to honor God. He demonstrates a desire to follow God not only when others are watching, but even when they are not.
Desiring to earn God’s favor will never produce this level of obedience. Our very best efforts fall short when we act out of obligation, fear of consequences, or a desire for reward. Only overwhelming love based on the love that was first shown to us and the power of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives to will and to do good can create this kind of character. Everything else is merely hypocrisy, wearing a mask of righteousness in the hope of impressing others or God.
We are discovering that many men who rose to positions of respect wore only a mask of respectability. Their real character was far different. The reality is that many of us are also wearing a mask. We may be hiding different sins, but the result is the same. When we hide our sin behind a mask and refuse to acknowledge it and recognize the price Christ paid for our failures, we remain imprisoned by it. We gain freedom by admitting to ourselves our desperate need for forgiveness and grace and allowing God’s Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.