Defeating Tribalism

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing…, whose name was Boaz…So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. —Ruth 2:1, 8

Our world is tribal. We like to think we are global, accepting one another, and moving towards a common unity, but watch the news. Our world is broken and we can find many of the fractures around the tribes vying for our allegiance. Political parties, the issue of racial inequality, educational groups, financial status’, ethnic heritages, and generational descriptions are just some of the tribes promoting fear, hate, and mistrust. These tribes point out what makes us different and rarely highlight what we have in common. Instead of using diversity to strengthen society, they use differences to stir discontent and create targets. As long as there are humans, there will be tribes.

One of the things I love about Ruth’s story is that it shows us how to defeat tribalism.

…a man of standing…whose name was Boaz

Ruth did not know that she was harvesting grain in Boaz’s field. She also did not know that he was a “man of standing.” It is a difficult phrase. It means three things:

  1. Boaz had courage.
  2. Boaz used his influence to help others.
  3. Boaz had integrity.

Here is how he met Ruth. He comes to check on his employees to discover an immigrant—one he did not hire—gathering grain from from his field. She was working alongside his hired employees as if she belonged there. She had asked permission and it had been granted by the field manager, but Boaz is just discovering it. To Ruth’s credit, she was not looking for pity. She was engaged in hard labor to feed herself and her mother-in-law. 

Boaz could have shamed her, shooed her away, mistreated her or even assaulted her. No one would have cared because she was a female immigrant without legal status or protection working in his field, digging into his profits, without his permission. But because he was a man of standing who loved the Lord, he pushed back against the normal tendencies of tribalism, fear, mistrust, and indignation over perceived wrongs. Instead, he extended equality and generosity to someone who was different and uninvited. 

“Don’t go glean in another field and don’t go away from here.”

He did not do this blindly. He had heard of Ruth’s sacrifices to care for Naomi. He had seen with his own eyes her work ethic and disdain for pity. He combined his heart to follow God with the information he had about Ruth and he let his tribal walls fall down. 

The same must happen today if we are going to see violence, racism, prejudice, inequality, and fear of differences dissipate in our communities. Boaz lived in an era of dysfunctional political leadership and poor morals. It is said that during his time everyone did what was right in their own eyes. Each had their own tribe. Their own set of values. Their own preferences. Their own filters. It was a tumultuous, dark season in ancient Israel’s history. Yet, we find this man of standing being different. 

We can be different in our tumultuous time. We can combine our desire to follow God with intelligent, non-biased information and extend grace to someone we might initially mistrust or fear. And in the process, our own tribal walls will fall. To not do this would mean we value our fears over our hopes. That we value self-preservation over loving-kindness. That we value the darkness of our world over the Light that has entered our world. 

Here is a song for your journey. It has helped me much in my own: Fear Is A Liar by Zach Williams.

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