In Scripture we find many hints and comparisons about the relationship between God and his people as a Bridegroom and His Bride. This is a relationship we should be familiar with. One of the problems we have in our western culture is to interpret the Scripture in light of our own tradition or experience. I think it might help if we look at Scripture and the relationship through a Jewish perspective. I will try to guide us through this with the understanding that I have, knowing that I see through a glass darkly, as Paul explains.
For some time I have believed that believers in Yeshua as Messiah are preparing for the Millenium. I see the interest in the Jewishness of Scripture and faith as evidence of this. If, indeed, we are to rule and reign with Yeshua it would seem to me that we should know something about that which we are to rule and reign over. The search for our “Jewish Roots” is a part of this process. If we are to lead others then we need to capture the essence of the Feasts and celebrations. This precipitates a search into the practice and understanding of the Scriptures and their application from a Jewish mindset. Before the Millennial reign of Yeshua there is described a “catching away” and a “marriage supper of the Lamb”. These events are a must. If we don’t attend the marriage supper then the events that take place afterward become moot.
I will preface my main point with a statement gleaned from much study and prayer concerning the role of the “church” in these times.
(The return of the Church to her Jewish Roots is no less than a preparation of the Bride to meet the Bridegroom.)
I am speaking of the Church Universal as originally intended. It must include all who recognize Yeshua as Messiah. Not all of these are surrounded by brick and mortar… We, as Gentile believers, do not supplant the Jews, we are merely grafted in to the nurturing root and become part of their heritage, including salvation from our sins.
Isaiah 61:10 tells us that being a Bride and Bridegroom is something to be desired.
Isaiah 62:5, God will rejoice over His people as a bridegroom over his bride. (Jerusalem the City, and Israel the Nation, is representative of the people who inhabit them).
Jeremiah 2:32, the people of Israel are compared to a maiden and a bride.
Jeremiah 7:34,16:9, 25:10, 33:11. All these Scriptures equate mirth and gladness with the voice of the bridegroom and the bride.
Joel 2:16, here we see the “Day of the Lord” is so awesome that it disrupts the nuptials…
Matthew 22:2, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34, Yeshua compares Himself with a bridegroom.
Matthew 25:10, Kingdom of Heaven compared with ten bridesmaids.
John 2:9, the wedding in Cana of Galilee, Yeshua’s first miracle exalts the bridegroom.
John 3:29, Yochanan the Immerser calls Yeshua the Bridegroom.
Revelation 21:2, the new Yerusalayim is prepared like a bride.
Revelation 21:9-10, the New Yerusalayim is described as the Bride, Wife of the Lamb.
There is a lot concerning the Bride and Bridegroom. The Church plays a rather significant role in this unfolding drama. To help us understand some of what this means for us, I want to look at the process of becoming a bride and bridegroom.
There are two steps in the Jewish marriage. There is the betrothal and the nuptials. We hear these terms but don’t always appreciate the distinction between them. It is time to look a little closer.
1. Betrothal, Kiddushin
2. Nuptials, Chuppah
1. Betrothal – the betrothal is a “formal acquisition” or a “taking”. It of is not an engagement in our sense of a promise to be married at a later date, but an integral step in the marriage process. Betrothal is a sanctification of the bride and groom. From the time of betrothal the couple is- considered to be married even though they have not cohabited. Each are “set apart” and are now forbidden to others. The betrothal allows the bride to prepare for the transition from single life to married life.
Until the Twentieth Century the betrothal could last up to a year. From then till now it is the preliminary portion of the wedding ceremony. In early times the betrothal was accompanied with a sum of money paid to the bride. Today it is done with a ring. The bridegroom offered the payment to the bride to acquire her, and her acceptance of the payment indicated her consent to the marriage contract.
When a man acquires or takes a wife, he chooses one woman, with her consent, and makes her his lifelong partner. Once she consents, she is sanctified, that is set apart, and is forbidden to another. The exclusivity is derived from the idea of property ownership, however, in this case the property must give permission. A husband does not own his wife as he would a field but she is set apart and may not belong to another, much the same as property dedicated to the temple. The wife is permitted to her husband and no other. In marriage there is no transfer of ownership, no person owns another, instead the woman receives a new status as “eshet ish” (a married woman). It is not a consequence of her betrothal, it is the very essence of her betrothal.
A wife may not be taken by force. It is always with the free consent of the woman. There must be two acceptable witnesses to validate the betrothal. A couple may not live together and later say they are betrothed if there were no witnesses to the actual bertrothal. You cannot cohabit and later justify it to the community. At the same time any betrothal made under duress is invalid. The witnesses assure that the woman has the freedom to select as she desires. In order to create a new status with a lifelong binding relationship, one must give wholehearted, clear-headed, unflinching consent.
Marriage does not give the husband possessive rights over the wife. The independence of the human personality is sacred. Children are not servants of the parents. Wives are not the servants of husbands nor the husbands of wives. The Torah speaks of woman’s rights, it says nothing of man’s rights, only his obligations. The wife cannot, even remotely, be considered the property of her husband. He never has the power of compulsion over his wife. However, he does not bear responsibility for his wife’s crimes or sins. He has no right to interfere with her life unless it involves starkly immoral displays or irrational behaviour. Therefore, the particular heinousness of adultery is not that it is an invasion of the husband’s private property, it is a sin against God that threatens the whole of family and society. Judaism holds that the holiness of marriage is the relationship, not the contract.
2. Nuptials – Once a couple has made a firm commitment and the preparations for their life together are done, they are ready for the conclusion of their marriage ceremony. This last stage is the public service. The couple will stand under the Chuppah or Canopy while the officiant recites the blessings of the marriage. The bride and groom retire to a private room for a short time, 8-9 minutes while two witnesses wait outside the door. The witnesses can then testify that the bride and bridegroom have symbolically cohabited. As the bride and groom emerge, the celebration officially begins. It is now time for the first meal shared as husband and wife. This is a banquet with the wedding guests invited. This custom dates back to Jacob. Laban invited all the local people to a banquet after the wedding of Jacob to Leah. Thus a precedent had been set. There are prayers and blessings and toasts and wine. This is a time to celebrate and not to think of the toil that is to come in making a home and raising children. The nuptials may be lavish or quite simple. The one thing that must be a part of all ceremonies large or small is joy. This is a time of rejoicing and laughter.
There is much more to be said about marriage and the aspect of divorce, which I will not cover here. What I would like to do now is draw some parallels.
If we are to be the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, we must first be betrothed. This is done by our total, free consent, without duress, either intellectually or emotionally. John 6:44 tells us, “No one can come to me unless the Father – the one who sent me draws him.” The offer of betrothal has been made to us. The ring of eternal life is held out to us, and we must accept if we are to be a part of the Bride. According to the Jewish tradition, this must be done in front of witnesses. Just as a marriage betrothal in secret is invalid, so an acceptance of Yeshua is validated by at least two witnesses and of totally free choice. Anything less is mere religion and there is no life in it. Some say they accepted Yeshua as Messiah in their private prayer time or at some place of isolated seeking. This is acceptable if it is validated by telling before at least two witnesses that it happened, wherever this is possible. This is not a private contract between just you and God. This is a covenant and others with the same covenant relationship should know.
Once betrothed, we are in status and have certain rights and God has certain obligations which He has bound Himself to. Remember, this is a covenant and is entered into freely by both parties. A contract may be enacted under pressure and still be valid, not so a covenant. Such is the nature of betrothal. Once recognizing Yeshua as Messiah we may answer His offer of marriage and become betrothed. From that time on we are sanctified and may belong to no other. Idolatry then becomes adultery and is shameful. However, if we keep ourselves pure and wait for the Bridegroom to come for us we will enter the Chuppah along with the marriage supper and then begin to live as husband and wife. Our position will change, become exalted, and we will have the rights granted to our station. Paul said we see through a glass darkly, then face to face. (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Resource material used:
Tanakh, a New Translation of the Holy Scriptures According to the Traditional Hebrew Text. The Jewish Publication Society, 1985.
The Jewish New Testament, by David H. Stern. Jewish New Testament Publications, 1989.
How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, by Blu Greenberg. Simon & Schuster, 1983.
Everyman’s Talmud, by A. Cohen. Schocken Books, 1975.
The Jewish Way in Love & Marriage, by Maurice Lamm. Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982.
(Reprinted from Tishrei Vol 4 No 3, Kingdom of Heaven, Summer 1996)