ANCIENT HEBREW BETROTHAL AND MARRIAGE CUSTOMS
AND THE FALL FEASTS
– Jill Curry
An understanding of the betrothal and marriage customs in biblical times sheds amazing light on Jesus’ wedding parables and end-time teachings, and also on the book of Revelation. The Bible culminates in the marriage feast of the Lamb for which the Bride has made herself ready (Rev 19:7), and a place that the Groom has prepared for her – the New Jerusalem, where they will receive their inheritance (the nations of the earth) and the Lamb will reign from the throne of God as the King of kings.
In biblical times, the father of the groom arranged the marriage for his son, although the bride and groom did have a say in the matter. When the son was old enough, the father and son went to the house of the bride and knocked. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me" (Rev 3:20).If the bride was willing to open the door, they entered in, and the negotiations for the bride price and terms of the marriage were worked out over a meal. When they were finalised, a scribe was called in and the contract was written onto a scroll in a document called a ‘ketubah’. This was signed (or sealed, considering most people could not write) with seven signatures – the bride, the groom, the two fathers, the scribe (or later, rabbi) and two witnesses (Rev 11). Once it was sealed, only the groom had the right to open the seals (Rev 5:5). The bride and groom drank a final cup of wine to seal their agreement, and this cup was kept aside and not used again until the wedding ceremony, which could be a year or more away. From the sealing of the ketubah, the bride was considered ‘m’kudeshet’, meaning consecrated or holy, because she had been set apart for her husband-to-be.
The bridegroom paid the bride price (at least 30 shekels of silver - Lev 27:4) and then went away to prepare a place for His bride, which was normally an addition to his father’s house. “In my Father’s house are many dwelling places…I go to prepare a place for you…I will come again and receive you to me, that where I am, you may be also” (Jn 14:2-3). The bride’s responsibility was then to make herself ready for her wedding. The groom sent his betrothed gifts, as the means by which she could prepare herself. Paul says, “You were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise as a pledge [down payment] of our inheritance” (Eph 1:13-14).
At this point, the friends and relatives were informed that there would be a wedding and they had to express their intention to come, even without knowing the exact date. Only the father could decide when the house was ready to receive the bride, so if the groom were asked the wedding date, he would reply, “But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mk 13:32).However, the Feast of Trumpets was known as the feast of which no man knew the day or the hour, since it is the only festival to fall on a new moon. It relied on two priests in Jerusalem to witness the crescent moon and announce the holiday. This could happen within a 2-3 day period, and could also be affected by cloud cover. While Israel was in exile, smoke signals were sent via the hilltops all the way to Babylon to announce the arrival of the holy day. This also took time, and one had to be watching to see it, and be ready to celebrate.
When the new house was nearly ready, the groom would let word out that the time was near, so that the bridesmaids could buy enough oil for at least two weeks to watch for the groom’s arrival. The second invitation was sent out for the wedding guests. Jesus spoke to them..., saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He sent out his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding feast, and they were unwilling to come” (Matt 22:1-3). Since the invited guests were too busy to come, he then sent his servants to the highways and byways so his wedding quota would be full.
The bridesmaids had to light the way for the groom. Jesus’ parable of the wise and foolish virgins in Matt 25:1-13 vividly teaches the need for them to be prepared with sufficient oil in their lamps to fulfil their responsibility: v13 “Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour”. The bridegroom could arrive any time from 6pm to midnight.
The groom was accompanied to the bride’s house by his groomsmen, who were male virgin friends (Rev 7:4-8, 14:1-5). They were to guard him and announce his coming with shofars (Rev 8-11). Here we see the prophetic meaning of the Feast of Trumpets. When they arrived, they would snatch her away (or she would be ‘caught up’). “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thess 4:16-17).
Before dawn on the wedding day, the bridesmaids would take the bride to a mikvah (ritual bath), where she would wash herself and then be anointed with fragrant oil. This ancient custom, which continued into Christianity as baptism, represents a separation from the old life as a single woman to a new one as a married woman. It also symbolizes a change of authority from that of her father to that of her husband.
On this day, the guests and relatives would all arrive. The groom was dressed in white with a wreath of fresh myrtle and roses including thorns on his head – a crown of thorns. The bride was also dressed in white and adorned with a crown of flowers or a circlet (tiara) of gold, shaped into a silhouette of the city of Jerusalem, on her head. On Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), it is also traditional to wear white to symbolise purity and remember God’s promise to make our sins white as snow (Is 1:18).
As the groom entered, he was greeted with “Baruch haba b’shem Adonai” – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord (Matt 23:39). Jesus said He will return to Jerusalem when this greeting is said! “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!’” Matt 23:39. This Messianic welcome is also said at the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) in the synagogues.
The couple stood under a red-domed chuppah (canopy) – the blood covering (Heb kippur). The groom pronounced the bride pure and holy and set apart for him alone. This is Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement (Zech 12:10) – when Israel looks upon Him who was pierced for her transgressions.
The couple spoke seven blessings over one another and vowed eternal love and faithfulness. Only the bride and groom drank the cup which had been kept from the betrothal celebration. They then smashed it underfoot, so no one else could ever drink from this covenant cup again. At the end of the ceremony, the groom wrapped his bride in his tallit and covered her under his wings under God’s name. They were considered king and queen for a week of celebrations.
All the Feasts of the Lord are rehearsals for the fulfilment of God’s purposes to redeem humankind and restore what was lost in the Garden of Eden. The autumn Feasts are dressed in ancient wedding garments and customs, which beautifully describe God’s ultimate purpose to restore His Bride to holiness and cleanse the earth for King Yeshua’s return to live and reign in partnership with His bride in the New Jerusalem and receive His inheritance as King of all the nations.
References: See Resources – Page 39 A teaching DVD with most of this material called, 'Passover and the Biblical Betrothal and Marriage Customs', is available from www.giftsfortheking.com.au