Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ancient Jewish Weddings (And What That Has To Do With Christ)

Talking about eschatology is fun, I like it, it's all conjecture and all that really matters is that we know He's coming back, and He's coming back for us.

You all know the analogy of the onion: it's comprised of many layers, as you peel off the outer layer, here is another underneath. That's what this story is like.

A) There are four main characters: Abraham, his chief servant, Isaac and Rebekah.

B) There is the story of an ancient marriage, which had four main parts: The arrangements, which were made by the fathers; the year-long betrothal, which the bride and groom entered into if they each freely agreed to the marriage; the wedding ceremony, which was very short; and the celebration, which was a week long.

C) Theologians have long associated this story with God's redemption of believers: Abraham standing for God the Father sending his unnamed servant into the far country to take a bride for his son, though she doesn't yet know she has been chosen; the servant is like the Holy Spirit, to invite her to come, to woo and win her, bringing her back to the Father's house; Isaac is like Jesus, the sacrificial lamb Who is resurrected, ready to receive and claim His beloved for Himself; Rebekah is like the believer who chooses to leave her old life and enter, by faith, into communion with the Lord

For Abraham, part of imparting his God-given responsibility was finding a godly wife who would uphold godly principles instead of leading her family into idolatry and godless ways.

Genesis 24:24 "And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he had, 'Put your hand under my thigh, that I may make you swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and God of the earth, that you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac.'"

It was the custom at that time for the parents to arrange for the marriage of their children, as is still the custom in some eastern and near-eastern nations today. Most theologians believe the servant in this story was Eliezer, and possibly one of the two servants who had accompanied Abraham and Isaac to Mt. Moriah. He would have had a deep understanding of how important this commission was to Abraham.

Putting the hand under the thigh as an oath was an oriental custom recognizing that the loins were the source of life. Multiplying his seed to be a blessing to the whole earth was one of God's unconditional promises to Abraham. For the servant, it was a representation of being bound in the very deepest part of his life. This was a solemn vow concerning the covenant promises of God.

Abraham had begun the marriage process with what was called
[A] The shiddukin: or "the arrangement," where the father would choose the prospective mate for his child. Most often this process began early in the child's life. Often neither person knew who their father was making arrangements with until the time to agree had arrived. In the same way God the Father loved and foreknew from before the creation of the world those who would be redeemed to eternal life through union with Christ. Think of all the places in scripture where God says He has chosen us since before time.

The Biblical principle in this case is that a believer is not to marry someone who has not committed their life to the Lord Jesus Christ. There can be no fellowship of light with darkness, no harmony, no unity. Abraham refused to even entertain the idea, even though finding a godly wife was going to mean lots of risk, dangers and total reliance on God to bring her safely back to Isaac.

Genesis 24:22 "When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold ring weighing a half shekel,[a] and two bracelets for her arms weighing ten gold shekels..."

He was all ready to offer betrothal gifts to this young woman once she answered his critical question

Genesis 24:23-24 "...and said, 'Please tell me whose daughter you are. Is there room in your father’s house for us to spend the night?' She said to him, 'I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, whom she bore to Nahor.'"

Rebekah invited the servant to their home, assuring him of their warm and capable hospitality for his entire caravan.

Genesis 24:26-27 "The man bowed his head and worshiped the LORD and said, 'Blessed be the LORD, the God of my master Abraham, who has not forsaken his steadfast love and his faithfulness toward my master. As for me, the LORD has led me in the way to the house of my master’s kinsmen.'"

[B] Eyrusin: And here began the second stage of the marriage, the betrothal. From verse 22, rings were used as currency in the Middle East before there were coins, and were a sign of a person's wealth. The giving of a betrothal ring was first practiced in ancient times when the groom purchased his bride. The size of the ring showed the wealth of the family.

The ring itself was a symbol of unending love, since the ring has no beginning and no end. This is reminiscent of the Holy Spirit quickening in a believer's heart the call to belief, presenting the pure gold of the gospel, the unending love of God and of eternal life. Think about how the Bible talks about Jesus purchasing us with something far more valuable than even gold – His own life. Rebekah accepted these gifts as the servant worshiped God for the success of his mission.

1) Kinyan

Genesis 24:28-31a "Then the young woman ran and told her mother’s household about these things. Rebekah had a brother whose name was Laban. Laban ran out toward the man, to the spring. As soon as he saw the ring and the bracelets on his sister’s arms, and heard the words of Rebekah his sister, 'Thus the man spoke to me,' he went to the man. And behold, he was standing by the camels at the spring. He said, 'Come in, O blessed of the LORD.'"

A lawful marriage required an act of kinyan: that the bride be given -- and that she accept -- something of nominal value from the groom. Laban understood that Rebekah had just accepted, however tacitly, a proposal from the servant, so he ran out to invite him into their home to wash his feet, be fed and hopefully describe a little more fully what he proposed, while the camels and the rest of his company were taken care of. In the east you never talk business until after you've eaten.

So it was very unusual for the servant to refuse food until he had delivered the story of his mission. He left nothing out, but was forthright and candid. He began by talking about the glories of Abraham, telling about all his wealth, flocks, herds, silver and gold, servants, camels and donkeys.

Genesis 24:35 "'The LORD has greatly blessed my master, and he has become great. He has given him flocks and herds, silver and gold, male servants and female servants, camels and donkeys.'"

Why? Verse 36 "To him he has given all he has." Because this would be the inheritance of Isaac, Rebekah's future husband.

2) Ketuvah At the time of betrothal, a ketuvah, a written notice of intentions, would be presented to the bride and her father by the groom and his father. This ketuvah clearly defined the agreed upon conditions of the covenant being entered. Specifically it detailed the bride price and the other conditions of the marriage.

The ketuvah was much more than the marriage license we acquire today to authorize our legal unions. This contract was initiated by the groom obligating him to his bride. The legal document detailed the groom’s responsibilities to his wife including his promise to serve, support and sustain his bride and denying himself for her good. In a culture that predominately viewed women as property, the document accompanied a monetary obligation in the case of a divorce as well. The ketuvah elevated the woman to a valued companion in life emphasizing the protection of the wife and her welfare in the Jewish community.

Today the contracts are still written in Aramaic and elaborately decorated on high quality parchment. The ketuvah is signed by the groom and two witnesses and preserved by the bride. Tradition held that the bride remained in her father’s house for one year until the wedding, but they were considered man and wife at the signing of the contract. The bride had no conditions or obligations in the contract, but received and held her husband’s commitment as a gift. She only need remain pure until the designated marriage feast at which time the groom would arrive to gather his bride to himself.

The bride at this point had a choice to make. She could accept the ketuvah, or she could walk away. The servant presented his case:

Genesis 24:49 "'Now then, if you are going to show steadfast love and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, that I may turn to the right hand or to the left.'"

Here again is that swirl of currents, God's sovereign will and humankind's genuine free will: God had chosen Rebekah for Isaac, and yet Rebekah was also presented with a choice to make.

As the servant related his story, Rebekah was given an opportunity to observe him closely: a man of integrity, a man of faith and serious intent, his words could be trusted and God was blessing him with clear guidance and success. In the same way the Bible states that once you and I are presented with the Gospel, we have a choice to make: to accept Jesus' offer of salvation from the penalty of sin, to be joined with Him in eternal life, love and be loved by Him forever in heaven, or to reject Him and remain under God's wrath over sin. The Holy Spirit is at work, enlivening your heart to the winsomeness of Christ, and at the same time you are given the choice to make.

More next week.......

If this post got you to thinking, please leave a comment and join the conversation


  1. Truly wonderful story, it has been around for years. As I'm not good at typing I will be brief.

    Are you wanting to start a discussion on election? hmmmm,,,,,well here's an analogy
    Ezk 37:3-5 3And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered, O Lord GOD, thou knowest.

    4Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.

    5Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live

    This could be seen as a picture of redemption/salvation maybe????

    You didn't have to put that free will term in there ya know,,,,lol I'd put one of those smiley face things here if I knew how,,:)

  2. Hi Dutch, sorry this took so long to get back to you.

    No,was not really thinking about starting a conversation about free will versus election, but it would be interesting! I see them as both existing, as incomprehensible as that may seem to our finite mind. "Free will" is a disputable phrase, and probably I need a better one that is more narrowly defined. Plenty of scientists (both from the "hard" science realm and the "social" science realm) are now changing their thinking on exactly how "free" free will is. Much more of a deterministic paradigm seems to be emerging from research into human behavior and the more sophisticated devices we now have to monitor brain activity, and the calculation of "nature" and "nurture" factors.

    Thanks for commenting, grace and peace to you

  3. Hey Joanne, well I love interesting debate, but a theologian I'm not, no seminary schooling, just me and my bible. I have read a lot of books on the christian religion, but have found they are so diverse in theology one eventually has to choose sides.
    I think one is ethier a Calvinist or a Arminian, their really is no other camp to pitch ones tent. JMHO.
    I just wonder how one who believes in free will (disputable phrase) LOL, gets around
    Ro 9:16 So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.
    I know some say this refers to a nation, but the verse says not of him, it doesn't say not of them.

    It seems to me Gods sovereign will is reveiled all through the bible, but man had to interject free will into the mix.
    Grace and Peace to you too!! :)


Thank you for sharing your thoughts