The Critical Element Of Integrity.
Book of Ruth.
Few Biblical books feature an epic female character, but the Book of Ruth revolves around two – Naomi, a Jewess, and Ruth, a Moabitess. The Book is full of unexpected anxious surprises; where the apparent circumstantial hopelessness of differing situations was transmuted by God’s redemptive faithfulness, eventually focusing us on the interplay between the compassionate need of a deprived alien and the patrilineal responsibility of a well-positioned confederate, with an extraordinarily propitious outcome for a destitute widow, her marginalised family and insignificant town, and ultimately, the nation of Israel. Bereft of her husband, Elimelech, and her two sons, and without any male grandchild in an Israeli patriarchal society, Naomi is in a crisis. Under such a despondent predicament, she sent her two widowed daughters-in-laws away to safeguard their own re-marriageable futures (Ruth 1:11-13; C.f., Deut 25:5-10). Here, we see Ruth in her outstanding disposition coming through, as she exercised her continuing kinship allegiance by choosing to care sacrificially for her elderly mother-in-law, as they returned to Israel (Ruth 1:14-17).
Boaz was a close relative of Elimelech, a person of hayil (i.e., wealth, power, class, character; Ruth 2:1, 19-20), and someone who would qualify legally as a possible kinsman-redeemer for Ruth (c.f., Deut 25:5-10). As Ruth gleans in his field, Boaz discovered her background, and immediately he encouraged her to remain within his property for her own safety and to protect her dignity; as it was not uncommon for such women to be preyed upon in other fields. To his servant in charge of the reapers and others of his household, he also left instructions that no one should insult or touch her. Ruth was entirely circumspect, grateful for the security and consideration accorded her while she collected her daily rations to feed Naomi and herself. Boaz treated Ruth respectfully, with reciprocal integrity (Ruth 2:2-16, 21-23).
The word integrity comes from the Latin integritas, meaning wholeness, soundness, untouched, and entire. Its general sense refers to moral probity and a self-unity, and when phrased in terms of a behavioural criteria, it is indicative of a regular pattern of one’s behaviour that is consistent with one’s espoused values – by practicing what one preaches; it included the treatment of others with care, as evident by helping those in need and being sensitive to others’ needs; and where one’s public justification are based on moral convictions. And like most observable behavioural traits, others usually objectively vouch for its efficacy in the subject, as aptly illustrated in the Book of Ruth. Pride would subjectively justify one’s own integrity.
The plot thickens, as Naomi boldly conspired with Ruth to test Boaz’s affections for her (Ruth 2:17-23; Ruth 3:1-5). Who knows what could happen, where a wrong move could potentially lead to sin and the mutual destruction of their reputations. After dinner, an inebriated Boaz dosed off, and Ruth, in her coiffured and perfumed vulnerable self, crept up and settled at his exposed feet (the Hebrew regel translated as ‘foot’ is a euphemism for sexual overtones when used in the context of the two feet, viz., raglayim; Ruth 3:4-7). Not long after, Boaz felt the chill of the cold air and woke up, to find Ruth near him. What subsequently transpired between them proved their individual hayil (Ruth 3:11). Ruth identified herself and instantly stated her intention for her behaviour, in reality, it was a marriage proposal (Ruth 3:9; c.f., Ezekiel 16:8-14). Right away, Boaz accepted her request and reassured her that her hayil, innocence and vulnerability, as was known by everyone who had heard about her, will be protected (Ruth 3:10-13). The following day, Boaz sought to establish the intent of a closer kinsman-redeemer to Naomi, who had a prior claim on Ruth. When the particular relative declined to fulfil his role, Boaz accepted his responsibility, and took Ruth as his wife to carry on the lineage of Abimelech (Ruth 3:12-13; Ruth 4:1-17).
The principal characters of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz knew exactly their respective roles and responsibilities, and each handled them with truthfulness and honour in their dealings with each other and with others. This appears to be a far cry from the overindulgences and injustices so prevalent during the era of the Judges that framed this episode of the Book of Ruth, where individual expectations of entitlement, personal power and control had permeated the society, not unlike the present day. Although the story charted an unfortunate demise of a family, and despite its despair and pain, it confronted us with a remarkable testimony of Ruth and Boaz’s self-control, self-sacrifice, and personal integrity.