Ancient Jewish Marriage Customs
Parallel Our Lord's Wedding to the Church
In ancient Israel there was no dating (fornicating) or dancing (hugging set to music). A man simply bought his wife from the girl's father, who performed the ceremony (not a minister). Either the son himself chose his bride (Gen.29:15-30), or the father chose a bride for his son (Ju. 14:1-10; John 6:44), or the father's servant chose (Gen.24). "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you" (John 15:16). Choosing was based on "family background," "stock," or "pedigree" and learning (Yoma 71a).
The man approached the girl's father and older brothers. A betrothal contract (SHITRE ERUSIN or KETUBAH) was laid out and a "BRIDE-PRICE" (MOHAR -- Gen.31:14-16; Ex.22:17; Ruth 4:5; 1 Sam. 18:25; Gen.34:12; Judges 1:12; Joshua 15:16-17) was discussed. The KETUBAH states the bride price, the promises of the groom, and the rights of the bride. The groom promises to work for her, to honor, support and maintain her in truth, to provide food, clothing, and necessities, and to live together with her as husband and wife. A patriarchal marriage is a contract between the boy and the girl's father. The father gives the girl to the boy in a public ceremony, and transfers his liability to the boy. In Hebrew law, a female must be taken care of from cradle to grave. The Ketubah was the unalienable right of the bride and must be executed and signed prior to the wedding ceremony. As 2 Corinthians 1:20 says, "For all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him Amen."
The BRIDE PRICE was to compensate the father for the loss of his daughter. The BRIDE PRICE transferred guardianship of the female from father to husband. The minimum BRIDE PRICE was 50 pieces of silver (Deut.22:29). Maximum was seven years' wages (Gen. 29:18). The father was not allowed to touch the principal, but was entitled to the interest on the money for life. Laban violated this law (Gen.31:15). If the man was permanently injured, or died, or wrongly divorced his wife, the principal was the property of the woman. Otherwise she was not allowed to touch it. In that day and society, women were not able to support themselves and had to rely on either father or husband.
The contract terminated upon consummation and consummation was the proof of the marriage. The female was the object of the contract, not the contracting party. The father gives his daughter a dowry. In such marriages, the couple usually have children and become a father and mother to their children. The claims of the father supercede those of the mother. Children under Hebrew law belong to father. For instance, he has the right to life or death of the disrespectful child (Ex. 21:15-17). The woman doesn't own the children. Everything she owns is her property and everything he owns is half and half. A female cannot be required to work to support her family. She has the right to be taken care of till the day she dies. If husband dies or divorces, the female goes back to father or eldest brother. This is why firstborn gets a double portion. He has more responsibility as Patriarch.
If the PRICE was high enough and the father approved, the maiden was called in. The young man would set a CUP of WINE in front of a woman as the proposal (Luke 22:17-18; Mark 14:23-25; Matt.26:27-29). If she approved (Jer. 2:2-3), both she and the groom drank the wine as a toast. "Can you drink the CUP I am going to drink?" (Matt.20:22) James and John replied, "We can" (20:22). The price was so high that Christ asked the Father, "If thou be willing, remove this cup from me" (Luke 22:42). Later in the marriage ceremony, two CUPS of WINE are shared. The cup of joy is thus doubled. The cup of sacrifice is halved. Both bride and groom signed after the groom paid the BRIDE PRICE to her father. Christ paid with his life on PASSOVER. The cup of wine sealed the covenant. When she accepted, she was "BOUGHT with a PRICE" (1 Cor.6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
Incidentally, a "dowry" was given to the bride by her father. Rebekah was given a nurse and damsels (Gen.24:59-61) and Caleb gave his daughter a field with water springs (Judges 1:5). The bride might wait a whole year for his return (Life And Times 1:353f). This is called the BETROTHAL PERIOD (Deut.20:7; 22:23) -- a time to MAKE "HERSELF READY" (Rev.19:7; Ex.19:10-11; Esther 2:12). She is WASHED in the cloud and in the sea (1 Cor.10:2) and WASHED before betrothal (Ex.19:10) pictured by the DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD. "I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee ... and thou becamest Mine. Then WASHED I thee with water" (Ez.16:8-9). She has to have enough faith in his promise to PREPARE -- a dress, perfume, female attendants.
When the bride agrees, the groom or his family give additional GIFTS to the bride separate and distinct from the BRIDE PRICE (Gen.24:53; 34:12). Today this is usually a ring. Moses and Aaron (FRIENDS OF THE BRIDE) negotiated a bride price (10 plagues) with Pharaoh to purchase Israel. Pharaoh gave her a DOWRY as she left of "jewels of silver and jewels of gold" (Ex.3:22).
The Eternal came on the NIGHT MUCH OBSERVED and stole his bride. On PENTECOST, Christians were given the HOLY SPIRIT (John 14:26; 15:26-27; Acts 2:38; 2 Cor.1:21) -- a GIFT separate from CHRIST'S DEATH. The bride accepted the betrothal contract (OLD COVENANT) on PENTECOST (Jer.2:2; Hosea 2:19-20). The groom's proposal was, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession" (Ex.19:5). The bride responded, "We will do everything the Eternal has said" (Ex.19:7-8). The bridegroom SPREAD HIS SKIRT over the bride also to indicate the marital commitment (Ruth 3:9; Ez.16:8). Israel stood under the mount (Ex.19:17). Mount Sinai had become a CHUPAH (canopy). He promised to RETURN. During betrothal, you are legally married, but remain separate just as Christ does not yet physically dwell with Christians.
The woman was to always wear a veil from then on when she went out so other young men would realize she was "engaged." The contract was now a legal agreement between the two. You had to get a divorce from a rabbi after an engagement it was so serious. Luke 1:27 mentions that Mary and Joseph were "ESPOUSED" (BETROTHED). In those days if the bride ceased to be a virgin for any reason during the BETROTHAL PERIOD (between PENTECOST and TRUMPETS) she could be considered an adulterous woman and be given a bill of divorcement (Deut.24:1-4) or even be stoned to death (Deut.22).
The son would now go to "PREPARE A PLACE" (John 14:2-3; Song 1:4; Joel 2:16) (CHUPAH or CHEDER) for her -- stocked with seven days' supplies of food and water. The groom doesn't know the date of his own wedding, because his father had to give him permission after inspecting the room. Thus "No man knows except my father" (Mark 13:32). "Therefore, be ye also ready. For in such an hour as ye think not, the Son of Man cometh" (Matt.24:44). But she had her oil lamp ready in case he came late at night (Matt.25:1-13). She had to be ready to travel at a moment's notice.
Finally a messenger (one of the two witnesses for the wedding) would come and announce the SECOND COMING of the bridegroom with a shout (Josh.6:5; 1 Th.4:16). That shout "at midnight" would be, "BEHOLD, the BRIDEGROOM COMETH; GO YE OUT to MEET HIM" (Matt. 25:6). Music and blowing a shofar accompany the announcement. This is the FEAST OF TRUMPETS (also known as "the day that no man knows the day or hour of"). We must ATTEND this WEDDING if we want to be MARRIED to Christ! We must listen at the "last trump" (1 Cor. 15:52) and "at midnight" on Rosh Hashanah (Feast of Trumpets) every year for this shout.
He would wait outside and not enter HER HOUSE just as when Christ returns he won't actually land on EARTH. Instead the bride meets him in the air (1 Th. 4:13-17). (First he comes back FOR his bride, then he comes back WITH his bride [Zech.14:5]). She and her bridesmaids would be ready with their lamps. It was a joyful procession (Jer.7:34; 16:9; 25:10). She is carried in an APERION (chair on poles). Bride and groom both wear crowns. "The voice of joy, the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of them that shall say, praise the Lord of hosts for the Lord is good; for his mercy endureth forever" (Jer.33:11). There was literal truth to the Hebrew expression "TO TAKE" a wife (Gen.4:19; 12:19). Rebekah said "I WILL GO" (Gen.24:58) with Eliezer (Heb. "God's Help" -- Gen. 15:2).
The groom would take her and all of her friends and bridesmaids to his father's house where all the wedding guests would celebrate the "marriage supper" (Rev.19:9; Luke 14:24) which took place in the evening (Matt.25:1-13; Luke 12:35-38). At a traditional Jewish wedding, everybody says to the groom, "BLESSED is he who COMES in the NAME of the LORD" (Matt.23:37; Gen.24:31). He comes first to the canopy (HUPPAH symbolizing Mt. Sinai above the Israelites) and waits for her (Deut.33:2). Two close "FRIENDS of the BRIDEGROOM" (John 3:28-29; Ex.19:17 -- Elijah & Moses) functioned as the two witnesses required for the Jewish wedding.
The KETUBAH had to be signed by both but Moses broke the two tablets rather than sign. One assisted the bride, the other assisted the groom. During the ceremony, known as KEDUSHIN, the same CONTRACT is brought forth called a KETUBAH. This marriage CONTRACT was witnessed by the friends of the bridegroom and turned over to the parents of the bride. It contained the promises that the groom pledged to his wife. For instance, "Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession" (Ex.19:5). The bride responds, "We will do everything the Eternal has said" (Ex.19:7-8). This will be the Ketubah (NEW COVENANT) -- the same exact contract as the betrothal agreement (OLD COVENANT) which is now read aloud and signed.
In many Sephardic communities, the groom traditionally wears a TALLIT under the chuppah (wedding canopy). This is also the custom in German Jewish communities. At Jewish wedding ceremonies, a TALLIT is also often used as a CHUPPAH or wedding canopy. It should be "white raiment" (Rev. 3:19) with a "thread of blue" and four tassels on the FOUR CORNERS. In Christ's parable, one of the wedding guests did not have on a WEDDING GARMENT(Matthew 22:1-14). This was not acceptable to our Lord. Therefore, during the Feast of Trumpets and Day of Atonement, both WEDDING ceremonies, we must wear PRAYER SHAWLS or TALLITS. Jesus must have worn one himself as the story of the woman who touched the hem of his garment suggests (Luke 8:43, 44). Other people, too, were healed by touching the BORDERS or TASSELS of his clothes [Mark 6:56]. The CORNERS of the prayer shawl are often called WINGS, since they formed WINGS when the arms were held out. The same word used in Numbers 15:38 for CORNER is used in Malachi 4:2 for WINGS. With this understanding in mind, an ancient Jew wearing the prayer shawl could be said to be dwelling in the secret place of the Most High and under His WINGS (Ps. 91:1-4).The lady with the issue knew that if Jesus were the promised Messiah, there would be healing in His WINGS (fringes). That this was the opinion of many other people is revealed by the crowd who sought his healing powers, "that they might only touch the HEM of his garment: and as many as touched were made perfectly whole" (Matt. 14:36). "But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his WINGS" (Malachi 4:2).
The phrases "till death do us part" or "as long as we both shall live" should not be part of an OATH because one spouse may commit fraud, be unfaithful ("no other gods besides me" -- Ex.20:3) or turn to evil. "I will betroth thee unto me FOREVER" (Hos.2:19) should be balanced by God giving Israel "a BILL of DIVORCE" (Jer.3:8; Isa.50:1). When this happened, Israel received the "money" promised her in the KETUVAH in case of divorce, namely immumerable descendants, fruitfulness, kings, fatness of the earth, etcetera. But God stayed married to Judah so that Jesus wouldn't be born out of wedlock. When he was crucified, that marriage was also dissolved (Rom.7). Jesus is now free to marry again.
God chides Israelites for not being faithful to "the wife of your marriage COVENANT" (Mal.2:14). God says, "I passed by, and ... saw that you were old enough for love.... I gave you my solemn OATH and entered into a COVENANT with you ... and you became mine" (Ezek.16:8; Ez.16:59 to 17:1). Proverbs 2:17 warns of a woman "who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the COVENANT she made BEFORE GOD." (See also Tobit 7:12-15) Apparently NOT ALL VOWS should be avoided (Matt.5:34).
The marriage COVENANT is a REPLICA of the Sinai OLD COVENANT (Jer.31:32; Hos.2:16). Following the ceremony, the bride and groom entered the CHUPAH or CHEDER (bridal chamber) and "the DOOR was SHUT" (Matt.25:10). Before the party could begin, the friend of the groom stood near the door of the bridal chamber, waiting to hear from the groom that consummation had taken place. He was the one who initially took the blood-stained linen of this wedding night kept by the bride's parents to prove her virginity (Deut.22:13-21). The "FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM, who standeth (at the door) and heareth him (say he consummated sex) rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice; this my joy, therefore, is fulfilled" (John 3:29). Then the friend announces to the assembled guests that consummation has taken place (on the first night -- Gen.29:23) and then the guests start to celebrate. On the wedding day, the bridegroom is seen as a king and the bride as a queen. During the consummation of the marriage, Messiah will be crowned king over all the earth and his bride will rule with him (Isa.62:3-7).
The honeymoon lasted SEVEN DAYS (Gen.29:27; Judges 14:12; Dan.9:24-27) inside this room during which the bride is hidden. The Song of Solomon illustrates the love between God and Israel (Mishnah Taanit 4:8). After the seven days she comes out with her veil removed. Then the WEDDING FEAST or MARRIAGE SUPPER begins. Only invited guests of the father of the groom will be present (Rev.19:7-16; 20:4; Luke 12:35-38; Matt.8:11). Unbelievers will attend a separate banquet where birds will eat their flesh (Rev.19:17-18). Isaiah 26:20-21 says, "Come, my people, enter thou into thy (bridal) CHAMBERS (cheder), and shut thy doors about thee; HIDE THYSELF as it were for a moment (SEVEN YEARS -- the "DAYS OF AWE"), until the indignation is overpast. For, behold, the Eternal cometh out of his place (bridal chamber?) to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity" (Ps.27:5; Joel 2:1-11; Zeph.1:14-17). "In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his CHAMBER" (chuppah) (Ps.19:4-5). "Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints" (Jude 14)."Let the bridegroom go forth from his CHAMBER, and the bride out of her CLOSET" (Joel 2:16). Outside, joyous celebrations lasted a week until the two emerged from the CHEDER or CHUPPAH with the bride unveiled for the first time to begin the actual wedding feast or"marriage supper" (Joel 2:16; Luke 12:35-37; Rev. 19:6-18). Weddings were held at night anciently.
ATONEMENT pictures this time when Israel will be in Great Tribulation surrounded by enemies and then repent and turn to God and he will fight for her (Zech.12:8-14; 13:1; 9:16-17 Joel 2:12-32; 3:16-21). "And I will pour out on the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on me whom they have pierced and they shall mourn as one who mourneth for his only son and shall be in bitterness for him as one that is in bitterness for his first born" (Zech.12:10; John 19:37; Rev.1:7; Isa.53). This is the fulfillment of YOM KIPPUR.
It is easy to see how a week-long celebration could run out of wine, as in the wedding at Cana (John 2:3). Riddles (Judges 14:12-14), love songs (Ps.78:63; Isa.5:1; Ez.33:32) and a joyous spirit marked the feast (Matt.9:15; Mark 2:19; Luke 5:34). TABERNACLES pictures the wedding feast by the wedding party and invited guests for seven days with joy. Then the couple moves into their own home (Israel travels to the Promised Land) to start a family typified by the LAST GREAT DAY. Hearing the gospel message is a wedding proposal.
"The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king (God), which made a MARRIAGE for his son (Yeshua), And sent forth his servants (Christians) to call them that were bidden to the WEDDING (proclaim them in their seasons): and they would not come ("The feasts are abolished"). Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage (annual feast days typify a marriage). But they made light of it ("The festivals are abolished"), and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers (Jews in 70 A.D.), and burned up their city. Then saith he to his servants, The WEDDING is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the MARRIAGE. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the WEDDING was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a WEDDING garment (tallit): And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a WEDDING garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matt. 22:1-14; cp. Luke 14:15-24). The bride is bought with a bride price on Passover. Betrothed on Pentecost --legally married but don't live together. Second coming of the bridegroom on Trumpets to steal his bride away pre-trib. Honeymoon till Day of Atonement when he returns and marries a second bride post-trib. (Matt. 24:29-31).