The following is quite long, but I wanted to include it on my blog as a record. This is an article I wrote for our ladies' ministry newsletter. It really is worth the read, so take it in small chunks if you need to!
For several weeks I had the joy of doing a study on ancient Jewish wedding traditions, and how they correlate with our Saviour betrothing himself to us through his provision of salvation on the cross. The fall months theme for The Pulse (you will need to create an account on the site) was "traditions" and this fit right in with it. I thoroughly enjoyed the study, and I hope it will provoke you to dig deeper into this topic... or possibly to do one of your own!
As women, we all have a passionate desire to be loved and accepted. At times we strive in our relationships with parents, husbands, siblings and children. We seek to be “good enough” in their eyes so they will return our affection. To love and to be loved is one of the most critical needs a human has. Everyone has the desire to live her life for a purpose and have a positive effect on the people in her life. The problem arises when we begin to look in the wrong places for that affirmation of who we are and what we are to become.
To truly know the purpose we were created for, we must become intimately acquainted with the One who created us. The Bible says in Colossians Chapter 1 that Jesus is the one who created us, and that He is the head of the body which is the church. In digging a little more into that verse, I pondered, “What does it really mean to be the church?” What I discovered both excited and amazed me!
As the church, we are referred to as many things in the Bible. We are “the Beloved”, “the friend”,” the body”, and “the bride”, just to name a few. In studying these out, “the bride” began to jump out of the pages at me. What does it mean to be the bride of Christ? I remember hearing a long time ago of a study portraying a traditional Jewish betrothal and wedding as being a direct picture of Jesus Christ and His redemption of us, His bride. That sent me on a study that has renewed my relationship with my Groom, and deepened my understanding of His passionate love for me!
To begin to fully understand more of these parallels, I had to gain a better understanding of the Jewish betrothal and wedding traditions. Jesus was a Jewish man, and as such is a Jewish Savior! He betrothed himself to us in beauty, law and love! Most of the traditions that I will look at are from ancient times, but there are devout Jews who still practice many of these traditions today.
In an ancient Jewish betrothal, the prospective groom would defer to his father for the choice of his bride. Some men were betrothed at a very young age and some even before their birth. The young man showed great love and trust in his father as he accepted the choice that was made for him. The next thing that happened in securing the bride was establishing a “bride price.” This is different from a dowry as we know it today, as this price was set by the girl’s father, and was usually very costly to establish her worth. The groom-to-be had to agree to pay this “bride price” before the betrothal was legally binding, and it might cost him everything he had. Silver, gold, livestock, and food goods were often the “currency” used to pay the “bride price.” In very poor families, sometimes their most prized possession would be sold to secure the money that was required. This often was the family torah which was their copy of God’s word.
Now that the bride price was set and he was committed to pay it, the next event was the official proposal! The whole family was involved, and unlike our engagements which are often filled with surprise and suspense, this event had a specific date and was well known in advance! The groom would prepare a beautiful document called a “ketubah” which declared all of his promises to this young woman. He would promise to love her, provide for her, protect and keep her. This was done in writing for her to read over and over as a declaration of his commitment to her. He would go to her home and knock on the door. In Jewish culture, a woman was highly regarded and she would never be forced to marry a man she did not want to, so at this moment she could either accept or reject him by opening the door, or not!
If she rejected him, he left...but if she opened the door great ceremony and celebration occurred! This was the date that they were officially considered married, and every legal event started now. She would have prepared an elaborate meal that they shared in. His father poured a “betrothal cup” for the bride, and she drank of it to symbolize her complete acceptance of the proposal. The groom often gave her gifts to show his love for her. Sometimes he would provide her actual wedding garment, and the most symbolic gift was a simple gold band that she wore on her right index finger. It was placed where she would see it every day doing any and all of her chores and routines.
After the meal had ended and the gifts were given, the groom took his leave! This began the betrothal period in which they would neither see nor speak with each other! For a period of several months or up to two years, their only communication would be through an appointed liaison. They both had many things that needed to be accomplished before the day of the wedding ceremony. He stated to her his intention to build her a home in his father’s house, and when it is done, he would surely come for her. Thinking of the many months that must pass, she took hope in knowing her time would be very busy while she waited for her groom’s return.
While she was not building a physical home, her tasks were numerous! She must learn all there was to know about becoming a wife. Her mother and extended family did all they could to teach her what she would need to know. She also had to make swaddling bands – ornate embroidered cloths that would be used during the ceremony to tie their hands together in great symbolism. Her wedding gown needed to be decorated and elaborately finished, as no bride wants to be boring or simple on her wedding day! The other thing she needed to do was a ceremonial cleansing called a “mikveh”. This was done with her mother in an outdoor spring-fed pool, and great attention was paid to every detail of cleansing herself. Over and over again she submerged herself repeatedly into the water, each time curling up to a small ball under the water. As she emerged, she stretched out in a great picture of transformation that symbolized her change from a single girl to a married woman.
Alas the months of waiting have passed! Over and over she has read and re-read her ketubah – reminding herself of his love and promises to her. All of this waiting may have caused her to become weary, but the gold ring she wore was a hard and tangible reminder of his promises. Her heart and mind were comforted with the thought that “He will come for me”. She knew from her mother and older friends that he could not come until their home was ready. Her groom must be working long into each night building their home, furniture, acquiring their dishes for cooking and tools needed to make a living. She rested in knowing that his father would make sure he did a good job... but the waiting! Finally a day came when their trusted liaison made a subtle statement, something like “the house is looking very good!” And she knew... the time was coming close! She made sure everything was ready, every night setting out the dress and preparing herself... it may be tonight! True to tradition, he never told her the actual day he would come for her- he wanted to steal her from her home with great surprise!
And finally the night came... she was awakened from her sleep with a blow of the horn and heard his friend shout through the night air “Behold the Bridegroom cometh!” He was here! She speedily donned her dress and ran to meet him! They went to the home he had prepared for her, and for up to seven days, they were only with each other. What a union and reunion! All of the months of waiting had been worth it as she prepared for him and he made the home ready. This is the beginning of their life together, and they have great joy and expectation for their futures.
As you read this, I am sure there were many things that you recognized as exactly what Christ did for us and promised to do in the future! Jesus in full Jewish tradition betrothed himself to us. God the Father chose us from the foundation of the earth (Eph 1:13), and Jesus accepted that choice for himself (John 5:30). He then bought us with a price, his own life, and he paid it willingly. (Heb 12:2) When he “proposed” to us, he presented us with all of his promises in the Word of God, our ketubah! Jesus stood at the door and knocked (Rev 3:20), and we opened the door of our hearts when we accepted him as our saviour. Every time we take communion, we remember him and his promises to us, and drink the cup of betrothal as a picture of our commitment to wait for him and look for his appearing. Then he promised to go and prepare a place for us, and come again to receive us to himself! (John 14:1-3)
While we remain here during our betrothal period, we need to read our ketubah over and over. We need to keep fresh in our minds and hearts all of the promises of our ketubah so we keep hope and remain faithful to our betrothed! Our mikveh is spiritual cleansing that occurs as we allow the Word of God to work in us and change our hearts and minds. We must submerge ourselves over and over, each time surfacing closer and closer to the image of Christ as a new person. (II Cor 5:17) Also as we wait for our Groom, we are to be looking for him! We have the hope of his blessed return (Titus 2:3); we are to be undistracted (II Peter 3:17) and we are to be ready (Mark 13:35-36).
I hope this look into some of the traditions of an ancient Jewish wedding blessed you as much as it did me. There are many other parallels that I encourage you to look into for yourselves. We are charged to study to show ourselves approved (II TIm 2:15) and this is a great study to dig deeper into. The great love Jesus Christ has for us, his church and bride, is rich and deep. You can only draw closer to Him as you learn more about it, and fall in love with Him in a fresh and lasting way. No matter how great your relationship with the Savior is now, truly ... the best is yet to come!
Behold... the Bridegroom Cometh!!!