Friday, September 28, 2018

Weddings in Ancient Israel (And What They Say to Us, the Bride of Christ)


I blog extensively on topics from the Hebrew scriptures that have a vital impact on Christians today, and this is one that has proven central.

There are two distinct steps to a Jewish wedding. While today, both typically take place on the same day under the chuppah, or wedding canopy, this was not the case in ancient Israel. Understanding ancient wedding practices brings new depth to many passages in the Bible.


The Betrothal 

When a young man desired to marry a young woman in ancient Israel, he would prepare a contract or covenant to present to the young woman and her father at the young woman’s home. The contract showed his willingness to provide for the young woman and described the terms under which he would propose marriage. The most important part of the contract was the bride price, the price that the young man was willing to pay to marry the young woman…. 
If the bride price was agreeable to the young woman’s father, the young man would pour a glass of wine for the young woman. If the young woman drank the wine, it would indicate her acceptance of the proposal.
Ketubah ( Jewish wedding contract), c. 1740
Brooklyn Museum
This description may be a little dry, but it leads us to a beautiful picture. Jesus at the Last Supper, offering the New Covenant to His disciples:
“For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." (Matt 26:28)
Jesus's phrase here reflects a bridegroom offering the covenant of marriage with the Betrothal Cup, and also disclosing the bride price—His own life on the cross. When the disciples drank from the cup, they ratified the covenant. 

Blessing cup and unleavened bread set for Jewish Passover Seder supper. Jesus' last supper was a Passover Seder (Luke 22:8).
Once the bride sipped from the Betrothal Cup, the covenant between them was sealed. This happened in a ritual called Kiddushin (קידושין)--sanctification, because afterwards the bride was set apart to her husband. (The word is related to kadosh (קדוש)--consecrated, holy.)

The betrothal was legally binding. She was “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20). From that point, the bride would go about veiled to signal she was formally off the market.

Then what? The betrothal period would typically last a year or two. The bride and groom would not see each other again until the wedding, when they would drink the next ritual cup, the Wedding Cup, together. That’s why Jesus said,

“But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.” (Matt 26:29)

He was anticipating drinking the Wedding Cup with His bride at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:9).



A 1960s Jewish groom partakes of the Wedding Cup under a chuppah, at historic Yad Mordechai kibbutz in Israel. The chuppah as we know it probably came into use around the 16th century. 


Next, the bridegroom would present the bride with special gifts. The purpose of these gifts was to show the bridegroom’s appreciation of the bride. They were also intended to help her to remember him during the long betrothal period.


It fascinates me to look at the way Jesus' actions during the four Spring Feasts, which were given in the Mosaic Law, map to the steps of this ancient betrothal process. 



  • Passover Seder (“Last Supper”): Jesus established the marriage covenant with His Bride and sealed it with wine--our Betrothal Cup (Luke 22:20). The Bridegroom promised to go away to prepare a place (John 14:2-3). 
  • Passover Sacrifice: Jesus paid the Bride Price. (1 Cor 6:20
  • Shavuot / Pentecost: This is the point where the Bridegroom bestowed a precious gift on the Bride--the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38
  • Period of separation and preparation: On the Hebrew calendar, the seven Feasts of the Lord show up in spring and fall clusters. Nearly four months separate Pentecost / Shavuot from the first fall feast, the Feast of Trumpets. Observant Jews celebrated this one a little over two weeks ago. 


The Separation

They both had preparations to make during this prolonged period of separation. But the groom’s job was bigger.
…The bridegroom would prepare a wedding chamber for the honeymoon. This chamber was typically built in the bridegroom’s father’s house or on his father’s property. The wedding chamber had to be a beautiful place to bring the bride. The bride and groom were to spend seven days there.
The wedding chamber had to be built to the groom’s father’s specifications. The young man could go for his bride only when his father approved. If the bridegroom was asked when the wedding was to be, he might well say “it is not for me to know, only my father knows.”



So now it’s clear why Jesus said:

In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:2-3)

And:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only. (Matt 24:36)

Once their new home was ready, the groom would come “like a thief in the night” to “steal away” his bride.

Get out!

No, it’s for real. A number of phrases in the New Testament take on a deeper resonance as you learn about ancient Jewish wedding traditions. (There’s a much more detailed explanation of it here.)


The Bride Gets Glam


I touched on the groom’s laborious preparations during their time of separation. How is the bride supposed to prepare?

  • Partake of a Mikveh, a ritual cleansing bath in “living” (running) water. 
  • Prepare to be “snatched”! Invest in lovely raiment and cosmetics. Have her belongings ready to grab when she hears the shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) that tells her her bridegroom is coming for her at last. Keep her lamp in trim! 



Jewish wedding gown, 19th century Morocco.
Photo credit: Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme via Wikimedia Commons
Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water [NOTE: the Mikveh!] with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Eph 5:25-27)

Those who follow Jesus are the beautiful bride He bought with a price. And such a price! But, to quote the ditty from Frozen, we’re “a bit of a fixer-upper”! Only He can make us worth such an astonishing price. Only He can “present us to Himself… without spot or wrinkle or any such thing.”


But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, [Note again the reference to the wedding process:)]… Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless… (2 Pet 3:10,14 )
For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. (Rev 19:7-8) 
Do you see yet again the picture of the spotless and blameless bride, making eager preparation for her long-awaited Bridegroom?

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I stepped away from a marketing career that spanned continents to write what I love: stories of reckless faith that showcase God's hand in history. I'm so excited to work with the all-star team at Mountain Brook Ink to launch my debut novel, The Plum Blooms in Winter, on December 1! Inspired by a remarkable true story from World War II's pivotal Doolittle Raid, The Plum Blooms in Winter is an American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis Contest winner. The novel follows a captured American pilot and a bereaved Japanese prostitute who targets him for ritual revenge. Please also feel free to check out my blog, Five Stones and a Sling, which hovers in the region where history meets Bible prophecy meets current events. It's rich ground--we live in a day when prophecies are leaping from the Bible's pages into the headlines!

I live outside Phoenix with my husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as my Chief Military Research Officer. We share our home with two mostly-grown-up kids and a small platoon of housecats. When I'm not writing, you'll find me rollerblading--yes, I know that makes me a throwback 😊--or catching a moonrise, or dreaming of my next trip. Next up: Wales, then Israel.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for "taking apart" this beautiful ritual. I love when the symbolism/comparison between Jewish tradition and Jesus's actions are pointed out. How blessed we are to have received Jesus's gift.

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  2. Thank you for sharing the importance of each ritual and the role they play for the Bride of Christ.

    ReplyDelete