Boaz Brotherhood

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Session 1: A Man Who Knows His Worth

A man of standing (2:1). The Hebrew phrase (gibbôr ḥayil) is often rendered “mighty man of valor” (cf. Josh. 6:2; 2 Kings 5:1), but sometimes it simply refers to a person of ability (1 Kings 11:28) or of wealth (2 Kings 15:20).26 The connection with wealth suggests that the “man of valor” was wealthy enough to leave his place of livelihood, having his own weapons of war to serve as necessary when there was not a standing army. Even though there is no evidence of military conflict or turmoil in the book of Ruth, Boaz’s description as a gibbôr ḥayil may be significant since the events are placed within the context of the chaos and anarchy of Judges (Ruth 1:1), when there was occasional need to call people for military duty (cf. Judg. 3:31; 4:10; 7:1, 23).
a man of substance Hebrew ’ish gibor ḥayil. In biblical narrative about early Israel, the term gibor ḥayil applies mostly to military men such as the chieftain Gideon (Judg. 6:11) or to young David before he becomes king of Israel (1 Sam. 16:18). Gibor, related to gebher, male, usually designates a male hero; ḥayil is related to ḥayal, “warrior.” Used as a collective noun, it means “soldiers” (2 Chron. 17:16–17, 2 Chron. 25:6). The term is also used outside of military contexts. In 1 Chron. 12:29, Zadok is called gibor ḥayil. Most likely, this expression in such a late biblical text indicates that Zadok was a person of significance, either in economic or social terms, as is the case in Ruth. The Targum translates the term into Aramaic to mean “strong in Torah.” (Compare Avot de-Rabbi Natan 2.5, which states that “there are no mighty men other than mighty in Torah.”) This Rabbinic understanding of gibor ḥayil, like its usage in Ruth and Chronicles, reflects the evolution of the term: power is not only, or primarily, vested in military might but also in other qualities like wealth and righteousness. A feminine version of the term is ’eshet ḥayil. Boaz uses it to describe Ruth in 3:11. In its most familiar setting, Prov. 31:1–31, ’eshet ḥayil—often translated as a “woman of valor”—refers to a generous and prosperous woman whose virtues Proverbs extols. These examples support the definition of gibor ḥayil as referring to economic and social worth in late biblical texts such as Ruth. This understanding is confirmed later in the story when Boaz displays social and economic clout, not military prowess (see comment at 4:1–2).1
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