I love the story of Ruth. There is a certain fairy tale feel to it. And, in spite of everything my hermeneutics professors ever taught me, I think there is an allegorical foreshadowing of the redemption Christ brings.
Still, if we are to read the story faithfully, we should recognize some disturbing aspects. See how vulnerable a single woman was…even among God’s people. Realize that Naomi counsels Ruth to take a desperate gamble on the kindness of one man. Her methods border on seduction, and it exposes her to real danger if Naomi is wrong about Boaz’s interest and character. Furthermore, like so many of the patriarchs, this marriage falls fully within the context of broken human relations–the woman needs the man for protection and provision.
Contrary to the polygamy and brokenness of so many Old Testament marriage arrangements, for the Christian marriage should be a sacramental relationship that, as Jesus says, looks back to how it was from the beginning. It is to be the image of Christ and his Church. If we stand on an internally consistent bible based view of marriage, the first thing we hear about marriage in Genesis is that the man “shall hold fast to his wife” and “they shall become one flesh.” This is the language of intimacy, not of pleasure (nor primarily reproduction–though that is the secondary role). Such intimacy literally substantiates the “very good” declaration of God. Marriage was created as a sacrament, God’s final gift of the world to mankind, and meant to serve as a means of understanding intimacy between God and man.
But the fall reduced sexuality to simple matters of pleasure and power. Woman desires her husband, but he rules over her. Sin erected a “dividing wall of hostility,” not just between God and man but within Man between men and women. This is why in Christ Paul says there is no male and female; it is in reference to the dividing wall that is destroyed by Christ. Christ restores the initial sacramental nature of marriage.
Moreover, if we look closely at what Paul says in Galatians 3:28 we may find that in destroying the dividing wall, Christ does something even more radical than simply restoring the intimacy of husband and wife as one flesh. He removes the almost universal requirement of marriage from women. He offers the possibility of men and women complete in Christ outside of marriage and apart from sexual relationships.
How can I say this? Look closely at the passage. The ESV has rendered Galatians 3:28 fairly well, but to capture Paul’s pattern I would translate the first part as follows: “There is no Jew and no Greek, there is no slave and no free, there is no male and female.” With each of the first two pairs Paul uses the word oude (meaning “and no”) to separate them. Yet with “male and female” he uses simple kai (“and”).
This shift in pattern from “and no” to simply “male and female” draws some attention to the last pair. It is the exact Greek phrase used in the Septuagint translation of Genesis 1:27, “male and female He created them.” It would seem that Paul is saying that the removal of dividing wall accomplished by Christ sets men and women on an entirely equal footing and in a body more complete than the one flesh of marriage. The sacrament of the Eucharist (communion) surpasses the sacrament of marriage. Men and women in the church partake of the body of Christ and are joined to him.
Marriage as a sacramental relationship, an intimate oneness, is again possible in Christ in a way not possible in the time between the fall and redemption. The Christian marriage is meant to draw its reality from how things were from the beginning–prior to the fall. Thus a man and wife can be naked and unashamed with each other. The beauty of their union is blessed of God and potentially blessed with children.
But there is a oneness clothed in the righteousness of Christ Jesus that transcends the human relation of marriage. The dividing wall has been removed to the extent that while we are free to marry, we are also free to be celibate and committed to Christ alone and his church. It is because the dividing wall is broken down that a man can commit to a life of celibacy. Furthermore, a woman…in a way that was so radical at the time as to draw special clarification from Paul…need not feel required to marry. (Remember the whole passage about women being free to remain virgins in I Corinthians 7.) Her personhood is no longer dependent upon marriage or childbearing, she is an heir with Christ Jesus.
This is what we ought to teach our daughters, what I strive to show mine…that they no more need a man than any man needs a woman, which may very well mean they need a husband as badly as I need their mother. But it also means that they really are free: free to be wives and mothers or scholars or doctors or nurses or teachers or CEOs.