The Wedding Rituals of the Old Testament and Christianity
- Grady McMurtry
- January 01, 2023
In order to understand the wedding ritual contained within the New Year celebration, Rosh Ha’Shanah, we must familiarize ourselves with the wedding customs of the Jews prior to Jesus’ time.
As in any culture built upon the belief in a strong family unit, the primary desire of every Jewish man was to be married, to have children, and to assume the responsibilities of an adult within his community. Between the ages of thirteen, his Bar Mitzvah, and his 20th birthday he was expected to marry. Unlike our culture there was no dating period and no adolescence. Unlike today, no one was considered to be a teenager. One simply went from being a child to an adult.
Two methods were typically used to match up a husband and wife. First, the parents could arrange by the use of a contract the marriage at the birth of their children. Second, sometime after his 13th birthday a young man might be attracted to a specific young lady, or his parents might choose an acceptable bride for him.
One of three things would then happen. The father would make the arrangements, as Samson’s father did. Read Judges 14:1-10. The father would have an agent make the arrangements, as Abraham did. Read Genesis 24:1-10. (This method of swearing an oath is where the term “testament” comes from.) Or, the young man could make the arrangements for himself, as Jacob did. Read Genesis 29:15-30.
It is the last method that is most important to us, so we must take an in depth look at the details of this method.
A young man would go to the home of the young lady to ask her to be his wife. He took with him three things:
A considerable sum of money with which to pay the price for the bride
A betrothal contract (called a Shitre Erusin)
A skin of wine and a glass
The young man would approach the father and any brothers older than the young lady in question. The betrothal contract would be laid out and the bride price would be negotiated.
Once the price was settled upon, the young man would pour a glass of wine and the young lady would be called into the meeting. If she agreed to accept the young man as her husband, she would drink the glass of wine. By drinking the wine, she committed herself to him and agreed that the betrothal contract was now a legally binding marriage contract between the two of them.
Immediately they were referred to as husband and wife even though no marriage ceremony had occurred. While betrothed they were husband and wife, but they would only be considered fully married later following their marriage service and the weeklong period of seclusion that followed the service.
While it may offend some modern sensibilities, the blood-stained bed sheet would be publicly displayed by the bride’s father in order to prove her virginity prior to marriage. This was a cultural necessity to prove that they were keepers of God’s Laws.
This is all the more important for us when we remember the lifelong ridicule that followed Mary and Joseph as they were betrothed and she was already pregnant with Jesus. Joseph was much tempted to set her aside as having broken her contract with him. Yet they remained absolutely faithful to the instruction of God. What remarkable people they were!
After volunteering herself to be the chosen vessel to bring the supernatural Christ child into the world, God rewarded them with a large natural family. Jesus had four half-brothers: James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Jesus also had half-sisters although we are not told exactly how many. Read Matt. 13:55-56.
Once the young lady had drunk the wine, the young man would make a statement that he was going back to his father’s house to prepare a place for her. The place he would prepare was the Chadar (chamber) also called the Chupah (the honeymoon bed). From the time the betrothal contract was ratified the young woman was set aside, consecrated for her husband.
She had been bought with a price and was legally united with him. She would then spend the time from the start of the betrothal period to their marriage ceremony preparing herself to be a wife, learning how to please her husband.
During this time of the betrothal the young man would prepare the Chadar, a room equipped with all the necessities for their first week of marriage. The room had to have enough food, water, and all the other comforts for them to live one week entirely sequestered after the wedding.
If the young man was asked when the wedding date was to be, he responded, “No man knows except my father.” The father of the groom had to be satisfied that everything had been done in preparation for the blessed event before he would give permission for the young man to get his bride. Read Mark 13:32.
Once he was given permission to get his bride, he would pick two close friends who would go with him and function as witnesses during the ceremony. One witness would assist the bride, helping to get her to the ceremony while the other served as the best man. He helped the groom and performed one special task after the couple went into the Chadar following the wedding ceremony.
The wedding ceremony is called the Kedushin. During this ceremony, a second contract, called a Ketubah, replaced the first one. This contract was witnessed to by the two witnesses and presented to the bride’s parents. The Ketubah contained the promises made by the groom to his bride.
For the wedding day, the wedding couple are treated as a queen and king, with every effort made to make them comfortable. During their processional crowns mounted on poles were held above their heads by attendants who walked behind them.
After the ceremony, the couple would enter the wedding chamber, where the groom presented his gifts to his bride. They would stay in the Chadar for seven days while the best man stayed by the door of the chamber. The wedding guests remained nearby waiting for the announcement that the marriage contract had been fulfilled.
When the groom signaled to the best man that the marriage had been consummated the best man would in turn make the announcement to the crowd of guests. Once the announcement that the marriage has been consummated was made, the guests started a weeklong celebration that ended when the couple left the Chadar and participated in the wedding feast (The Feast of Tabernacles). Read Joel 2:15-16 and Luke 12:35-37. (Note that the wedding feast occurs seven days after the wedding ceremony.)
John the Baptist in his role as the best man used wedding terminology when describing his relationship to Jesus. Read John 3:28-29.
Woven throughout Scripture God uses wedding terminology to describe Jesus, Messiah, and His bride, the church. Jesus used wedding terminology at the Passover Feast, where He gave us the cup of wine for communion, and made the speech given by a bridegroom leaving to build a Chadar. Read John 14:2-4.
The communion cup, the third cup of the Passover Seder, was given by Jesus to seal His betrothal contract with His bride, us. Paul recognized this analogy and stated that Jesus had paid the bride price by the shedding of His own blood for all our sins. Read I Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23.
One of the two witnesses chosen by the bridegroom and specified to assist the bridegroom is John the Baptist. He uses the terminology of the one chosen to guard the door of the Chadar and announce the consummation of the marriage to the Bride of Christ. He was after all a close relative of Jesus. Read John 3:28-29.
The other witness, the second friend of the bridegroom who attends to the bride, could well be Moses who led Israel (a type of the bride) to meet the Father at Mount Sinai. Indeed, Jeremiah hints at the concept of Israel becoming betrothed to God at Mount Sinai. Read Jeremiah 2:2.
The marriage couple are described for us in Messianic passages found in Isaiah. Read Isaiah 61:10 and 62:5. Once the wedding consummation takes place, the couple returns to the wedding chamber.
During Passover, the Shir Ha’Shirim, the Song of Songs, is read after the completion of the Seder. This would be on the night of the 15th day of Nisan, the day after Passover. [Jesus had to celebrate the Seder one day early because His body had to be in the Tomb on the 15th.]
At Passover Jesus paid the bride price and read the Song of Songs describing the intimate relationship of Jesus and His Bride.