In the Jewish tradition, the engagement process was very different than we are accustomed to in our culture. Fathers would get together and agree that a daughter would marry their son, sometimes before they were even old enough to walk. And, so it was that the children would grow up and play together as any young child would. When the daughter reached the right age of marriage, the families would get together and announce their decisions (again – sometimes arranged years in advance). This was called a ‘betrothal’ of the groom and his bride (Mary and Joseph went through this process).The father would announce his decision and a cup of wine would be given first to the groom and then to the bride to drink. This was the symbol of agreement both the bride and groom would do in the presence of the family. If the bride to be did not drink the cup given to her from her future hubby, the engagement process could not continue.
Supposing in most circumstances the bride did drink the cup given to her, the bride’s father would say something to the effect of, “You are both betrothed and are married by this agreement. You are married in all ways except ways that would lead to the baring of children.” The father and his new son would embrace and then the son would say something to the effect of, “I will go and build a house for you and I. When I have be given my father’s approval, I will come and get you and we will be married in all ways.” She would consent to his building a house and the preparations would begin.
The son’s father played an important role in all of this. He would watch over the son’s building of the house so that it would be secure and safe for a new family. He would evaluate the son’s work until the work was complete. When the father saw that the son’s work was complete, he would say something to the effect of, “Your house is built and your work is done. You may now go and get your bride.”
What would the bride be doing during this time? She would be learning the cooking and the cleaning and how to raise a family. She would also light a lamp each night and place it on her window in expectation of her husband arriving to receive her into his house. When the son would arrive to the woman’s house, he would see the lamp lit from her window and know she had been waiting for him.
The groom and bride would then be married publicly before the community. After the ceremony, the bride and groom would enter their new house and ‘know one another.’ This had to be done in order to ‘seal the deal.’ When all had been accomplished, both the bride and her groom would exit the house and show her virginity sheet she had laid out on the bed to the town. Seeing this, they would rejoice the festivities would begin (sometimes lasting up to 7 days!)
I just want to draw out a couple of points I have wrestled with through my study of a Jewish wedding:
1. We are the brides of Christ and He is our Bridegroom. He said in His Word that He had to leave in order to prepare a place for us. And, if He goes, He will come back for us so we will be with Him for eternity. I never quite understood the importance of that passage until I learned about Jewish weddings. This was Jesus’ betrothal speech to His bride.
2. Jesus, being the bridegroom, cannot come to receive us unto Himself until He has been given His Father’s approval. In this expectancy we, as the brides of Christ, must light a lamp and place it at the windows of our home every night. This shows that we are expectantly waiting for Him to come and to receive us as His bride. I have to be honest and say I have not done this nearly enough in my own life. I need to be more expectant of Christ’s return for me. I am sure I am not alone in this.
3. As we come into the presence of God, the blood of Jesus will be upon us. When the Father looks at us, He will see the blood of His son and announce that we are His. If the blood of Jesus is not see upon us, we will not be received as Christ’s. The blood is important because it represents the covenant of Jesus’ death and resurrection and our acceptance of His sacrificial act for us. His blood is what makes us visually pure (a virgin) to the Father’s eyes.
4. When all is said and done, we are going to party. The marriage supper of Jesus and us is going to be amazing. It will last for eternity (not just 7 days).
5. I left one thought out until the end of this post. The bride must drink the cup to ceremonially agree that she will become one with the bridegroom. So often there are discussions as to predestination and free will. I will answer this question in this way: The Father chose us before we were born. It was a ‘prearranged marriage’ between His Son and us. The bride still needed to drink the cup given to her from the bridegroom though. She had to agree that it was of her best interest to do so. She needed to agree that all other options for her were pointless. She had to do it though in her time. I look at the issue of predestination and free will in that light.
So what is the challenge? If you are ‘betrothed’ to the bridegroom, symbolically light a lamp and place it at the window of your heart each night until He returns to receive us as His own. If you have been given the cup to drink, take it and know that all other choices fail in comparison to the bridegroom’s love for us. God bless.