Question: Marriage Customs in Bible times
Answer: In Bible times there was a type of engagement for about a year where the couple did not sleep together, but in other ways they got to know each other better. At the end of this time if they felt they were meant to be together they would officially marry. This was usually an agreed upon arrangement by the parents.
We see an example of this in Joseph and Mary. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” (Matthew 1:18-19) The betrothal period was considered as binding as a marriage.
“The act of betrothal was celebrated by a feast, and among the more modern Jews it is the custom in some parts for the bridegroom to place a ring on the bride’s finger.The ring was regarded among the Hebrews as a token of fidelity (Gen. 41:42), and of adoption into a family (Luke 15:22).
“Marriage ceremonies. Before the time of Moses, when the proposal was accepted, the marriage price paid, and the gifts distributed, the bridegroom was at liberty to remove at once the bride to his own home (Gen. 24:63-67). This was an unusual case, because of the bride being secured at a distance, while the bridegroom remained at home. Usually the marriage took place at the home of the bride’s parents, and was celebrated by a feast, to which friends and neighbors were invited and which lasted seven days (Gen. 29:22, 27).
“The word ‘wedding’ does not occur in the A.V. of the Old Testament; but it is probable that some ratification of the espousal with an oath took place (see Prov. 2:17; Ezek. 16:8; Mal. 2:14), and that a blessing was pronounced (Gen. 24:60; Ruth 4:11, 12). But the essence of the ceremony consisted in the removal of the bride from her father’s house to that of the bridegroom or his father. There seems, indeed, to be a literal truth in the Hebrew expression ‘to take’ a wife (Num. 12:1; 1 Chron. 2:21) for the ceremony appears to have mainly consisted in the taking.
“After putting on a festive dress, placing a handsome turban on his head (Isa. 61:10, A.V. ‘Ornaments’) and a nuptial crown (Cant. 3:11), the bridegroom set forth from his house, attended by his groomsmen (A.V. ‘companions,’ Judge 14:11; ‘children of the bride-chamber,’ Matt. 9:15), preceded by a band of musicians or singers (Gen. 31:27; Jer. 7:34; 16; Macc. 9:39), and accompanied by persons bearing flambeaus (2 Esdr. 10:2; Matt. 25:7; comp. Jer. 25:10; Rev. 18:23, ‘the light of a candle’).
“Having reached the house of the bride, who with her maidens anxiously expected his arrival (Matt. 25:6), he conducted the whole party back to his own or his father’s house, with every demonstration of gladness (Psa. 45:15). On their way back they were joined by a party of maidens, friends of the bride and bridegroom, who were in waiting to catch the procession as it passed (Matt. 25:6). The inhabitants of the place pressed out into the streets to watch the procession (Cant. 3:11). At the house a feast was prepared, to which all the friends and neighbors were invited (Gen. 29:22; Matt. 22:1-10; Luke 14:8; John 2:2), and the festivities were protracted for seven, or even fourteen days (Judg. 14:12, Tob. 8:19)
“The guests were provided by the host with fitting robes (Matt. 22:11), and the feast was enlivened with riddles (Judg. 14:12) and other amusements. The bridegroom now entered into direct communication with the bride, and the joy of the friend was ‘fulfilled’ at hearing the voice of the bridegroom (John 3:29) conversing with her, which he regarded as a satisfactory testimony of the success of his share in the work.
“The last act in the ceremonial was the conducting of the bride to the bridal chamber, (Judg. 15:1; Joel 2:16), where a canopy .was prepared (Psa. 19:5; Joel 2:16). The bride was still completely veiled, so that the deception practiced on Jacob (Gen. 29:23) was very possible. A newly married man was exempt from military service, or from any public business which might draw him away from his home, for the space of a year (Deut. 24:5). A similar privilege was granted to him who was betrothed (Deut. 20:7). (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press)
I think a Christian could see how the Jewish ceremonies picture our betrothal and marriage to Christ our bridegroom. “For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2) We look forward to His return for us at any moment. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Then we will be taken to His Father’s home where we will have a huge feast, and the wedding will be consummated. “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, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:2-3) Then begins eternal bliss for believers of all ages for all eternity!
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 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.’ And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matthew 26:26-30)
Thanks for the question,
Gary T. Panell
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