When he is first introduced in the narrative of Ruth, Boaz is called a ‘ish g ibbor chayil , a “mighty man of strength.” “Mighty men” are usually violent warriors - the Nephilim who dominated the earth before the flood (Genesis 6:4), Nimrod (Genesis 10:9), Joshua’s armies (Joshua 1:14; 6:2), Gideon (Judges 6:12) and Jephthah (Judges 11:1). David’s mighty men are gibborim .

English translators don’t quite know what to do with this description of Boaz. He doesn’t fight anybody but instead seems to spend his days reviewing the laborers on his extensive lands. The KJV gets closest to the Hebrew with its “might man of wealth,” but the NKJV has “a man of great wealth,” the NIV has “a man of standing,” the ESV goes for “a worthy man,” and the NASB puts “a man of great wealth” in the text while acknowledging in the margin that the phrase could mean “mighty, valiant man.”

Those translations miss the opportunity to let the Bible upend our preconceptions of heroism and heroes.

Boaz proves himself a mighty man by using his authority to protect Ruth from molestation and to provide food and a future for widows. Those who are slow to anger are mightier than the gibbor who captures a city, Solomon says (Proverbs 16:32), and a wise man is mightier than the mighty (Proverbs 21:22). Scripture acknowledges that warriors can be mighty men, but it also teaches us to see opportunities for heroism in unlikely places.

By her daring nighttime approach to the ”ish gibbor chayil, Boaz, Ruth proves herself to be a “woman of strength” ( ‘ishshah chayil ; 3:11). Her actions too are heroic. Naomi takes care of her, but in the end the relationship is reverse and it’s Ruth who redeems Naomi. Ruth is a perfect match for Boaz, a mighty gleaner married to a mighty-man farmer.

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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