Today I am angry. I am angry at the politicians who are meant to look after the most vulnerable in society who are taking money away from them and giving it to the super-rich. This is nothing new, but everything in me screams, ‘This should not be.‘ When I rant this at him, my husband shrugs, “This is a Conservative government: they do whatever benefits the rich. That’s just what they do.” The government before them weren’t very much better either.
I feel powerless.
I write letters, like I’m supposed to, and just get spin back. It feels like I am just one person and I can’t change the course of history.
The only thing I can do is to be savvy within it; use whatever power I have. Play like they do: trickery, shortcuts, manipulation.
Again, I find myself as Naomi.
Ruth was bringing home food, but Naomi wanted a husband for her so Ruth would have security. Boaz, though generous enough, had not shown any signs of proposing.
Naomi was tired of waiting. She wanted a shortcut and she decided to make it happen.
She tells Ruth to dress seductively, to creep into a public place where she was not allowed, to lie next to Boaz when he was asleep after eating (and drinking) and propose to him. It was an audacious and risky plan and put Ruth in a very vulnerable position. What if she was found there by other men? What if Boaz rejected her as a harlot? What if he took advantage of her?
And we think we know exactly how the story will end. We know, because it is the story we hear every week – the man shows no interest in getting married until his girlfriend gets pregnant and he’s forced to reconsider his responsibilities. We know, because we have heard it before in the story of Tamar (Gen 38).
Tamar is left as a widow when her first husband, Er dies. As a widow in a patriarchal society she would have no standing or financial security, but there was a law designed to protect widows by obliging the nearest relative of the deceased husband to marry the widow and give them children. Then any children born of the new husband would be in the name of the deceased husband, to honour him.
Onan goes halfway to fulfilling his obligation. He marries Tamar but refuses to give her children; sleeping with her but spilling his semen on the ground so that she wouldn’t get pregnant. God is not impressed by his attempts to cheat and deprive Tamar, so Onan dies too. Judah, father of Onan and Er, grudgingly says that Tamar can marry his third son, Shelah, but only when he is older. But he reneges on his promise and Tamar, having waited so long for Shelah, decides to take matters into her own hands.
She tricks Judah himself into sleeping with her by disguising herself as a prostitute. She becomes pregnant. When Judah discovers she’s pregnant he initially wants her killed for her immorality but his hypocrisy is exposed when he realises it is he who has made her pregnant. Guiltily, he admits that he hadn’t done right by Tamar, and declares her to be more righteous than him.
The man who refuses to commit is tricked into doing what is right through the power of sex. It is all-too familiar, as much today as it was then.
One of the twins born to Tamar from her frustrated trickery of Judah is the great-great-great-great Grandfather of Boaz and our hearts sink as we envisage history repeating itself. We imagine the scene: Boaz using the alcohol as an excuse, Ruth with angry desperation saying it was too late and she was pregnant; the resentment on both sides.
But this doesn’t happen. Boaz doesn’t take advantage of her, nor does he dismiss her for being a harlot.
He responds with humble gratitude that she has chosen him. He explains that the reason he didn’t propose was that there was a closer relative who was ‘first in line’ to marry Ruth and he wanted to do the right thing.
And then before she gets seen by the other men, he sends her back to Naomi with full hands and a hopeful heart. He doesn’t manipulate Ruth or shortcut God’s law.
Boaz changes history. He goes against the grain of his wider family, who had a history of treating God’s law very lightly. He goes against the grain of his society, which was ignoring God, everyone just doing as they saw fit. He goes against the grain of his culture, which was to treat women as objects to be used and taken advantage of. He honours God and he honours Ruth.
I like to predict things. I research, I analyse. I study people and patterns of behaviour and I protect myself from disappointment by anticipating the worst in people. We accept the sinful patterns of our family or wider society because, well, that’s just always what happens; you have to be realistic. I see the trajectory of politics and society and I laugh a hollow laugh because I saw it coming but felt powerless to change it.
And then, every so often, people surprise me. God surprises me.
The righteous actions of just one person has the power to completely reverse the poison of several generations of sin. One person really can change the direction of history.
Sometimes the most unexpectedly powerful thing you can do is to be a person of integrity.
And sometimes the vulnerable can plead to just one person, ‘spread the corner of your garment over me’ and find that it is God himself who cloaks them with protection.
Over to you:
- What things give you hope when you feel powerless to change the system?
Do read the relevant passage and join in with your responses to (and questions of) the passage in the comments.
- Thurs 21 Feb – Ruth 1
- Thurs 7 Mar – Last-minute God – Ruth 1, part 2
- Thurs 14 Mar – Skivers, tax-avoiders and the generosity of God – Ruth 2
- Thurs 21 Mar – Ruth 3
- Thurs 28 Mar – Ruth 4 and overview
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