We’ve spent some time learning about God’s relationship with Israel and how God Himself describes that relationship as that of a husband and his wife. We also know that everything in the Bible is significant and even if we can’t initially see it, it has prophetic significance.
There is also a great deal of rich significance in Jewish culture and custom and over the next few programs, we’re going to learn about the Ancient Jewish Wedding because we’re continuing on our theme of marriage within the context of God and His people. Throughout all we learn about the ancient Jewish wedding, keep in mind all we’ve learned already about God’s relationship with Israel which He repeatedly describes as being a marriage relationship.
In the unfolding of the Ancient Jewish Wedding there are three main players.
The Father: This is reflected in God the Father
The Groom: This is reflected in the person of Jesus
The Bride: This is reflected in the church; the Bride of Christ
There are a number of important elements that make up the Ancient Jewish Wedding and we’ll look at each one and its significance to us as we make our way through this very beautiful tradition. As you read the descriptions of each element, you’ll begin to recognise some very important similarities that we Christians are already very aware of.
Ketubah (Betrothal/Wedding Contract)
When a young man wanted to marry a young woman, he would prepare a covenant which he would present to the young woman and her father in the young woman’s home. The covenant itself would present the groom’s willingness to provide for and protect the young woman and it would present the price he was willing to pay for her. It was very much like a purchase of sorts. Socially, males were considered more valuable in ancient times because they were physically more capable of working hard to earn a living with hard manual labor such as farming. However, while the bride price was a compensation for the woman’s family for the cost of raising her, it was so much more than that, it was very much an indication of just how valuable she was to the prospective groom. When the young man had his covenant ready, he would present it to the young woman and her father for acceptance.
What is the fulfilment of the Ketubah?
Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, came to the home of His intended Bride and presented His marriage covenant. The ‘New Covenant’ is what we call it, it contained all the benefits that would provide for His Bride. He would provide her a mansion, He would provide for her every need, He would ensure that all her sins would be washed away, He would sanctify and purify her, He would glorify her with a new body and eternal security, He would honour her and bless her with every spiritual blessing, and the price He would be willing to pay to secure her as His own Bride was His very life, which He would willingly offer, being tortured and crucified in order to secure His Bride for Himself. (Jer 31:31; Luke 22:20; Heb 9:15; 12:24)
If the bride price was acceptable to the father of the bride, meaning that the price was commensurate with her value, the young man would pour a glass of wine for the bride and if she willing drank it, it would indicate her acceptance of the proposal. It was at this point that the young couple were considered betrothed. Today, we would call this getting engaged, but in ancient days, the betrothal was a legally binding agreement. Today, if a couple become engaged, they can easily break up if they choose, but betrothal in ancient Jewish culture was considered to be as strong as the marriage relationship itself, the only difference being that physical union had not taken place. If separation was desired at some point, a legal divorce was required and even then, only for a just cause.
Here are a couple of examples from the Bible that reveal just how binding betrothals were in ancient days.
In Genesis 19:12-14, Lot was warned by the angels to leave the city, the angels asked him who was in his house and he said that his wife, sons, sons-in-law and his daughters were in his house, however, when the men of the city attempted to sexually assault his angelic guests, he offered them his virgin daughters instead. A reprehensible thing for a father to do, but the point is that his daughters were virgins, and yet he had sons-in-law. In other words, his daughters were betrothed, and that meant they were considered married yet without the physical union.
What about in Matthew 1:18-19, when Joseph discovered that his betrothed bride to be, Mary, was pregnant? He was heartbroken but he didn’t want to cause her more shame, so he was going to divorce her quietly. Again, they were bound legally in marriage, yet without the physical union having taken place.
What is the fulfilment of the acceptance?
Jesus, poured a cup of wine for the Bride to drink to seal the marriage contract in the same way He poured wine for His disciples to drink. His words described the significance of the cup as the bride price; ‘Then He took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, say, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”’ The disciples drank of the cup, thus accepting the contract. (Matt 26:28-29) This cup will be drunk during the Marriage Supper of the Lamb! (Rev 19:1-21; John 14:2-3; Matt 22:1-14, 25:1-46)
The bridegroom would then present gifts to the bride and their purpose was to show his appreciation of the bride and they also were intended to help her remember him during the imminent betrothal period when they wouldn’t see each other at all.
How is this fulfilled?
Jesus has given gifts to His betrothed also. He promised the gift of the Holy Spirit which would remind us of our Groom and all that He taught. (1 John 4:13) Jesus described this gift in John 14:26: ‘But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I’ve said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give you. I don’t give to you as the world gives. Don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid.’ He’s given us His Word which is the instrument of transformation, purification and preparation, readying us for His imminent return for us. He’s given us spiritual gifts to use during our preparation time to learn how to be His bride and the fruit of the Spirit that grows in us is demonstration of our preparedness. (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 4; Gal 5)
We’ll continue to look at some more of the elements of the Ancient Jewish Wedding next time on Foundations and how they’re fulfilled by Jesus.