A Jewish 12 Step Program

Ecc 1:9 The thing that hath been, it [is that] which shall be; and that which is done [is] that which shall be done: and [there is] no new [thing] under the sun.

Moses was given examples and patterns in the Mount. It’s clear from study that we are only given a portion of the instructions he received.

Isa 8:18    Behold, I and the children whom the LORD hath given me [are] for signs and for wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, which dwelleth in mount Zion.

It sounds like their actions, traditions, and lifestyles are for signs, which in turn are for our instruction. 

Rom 9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom [pertaineth] the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service [of God], and the promises;   God gave the law, the service and the promises to Israel:

1Ch 28:11  Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch, and of the houses thereof, and of the treasuries thereof, and of the upper chambers thereof, and of the inner parlours thereof, and of the place of the mercy seat, 1Ch 28:12 And the pattern of all that he had by the spirit, of the courts of the house of the LORD, and of all the chambers round about, of the treasuries of the house of God, and of the treasuries of the dedicated things:

1Ch 28:13 Also for the courses of the priests and the Levites, and for all the work of the service of the house of the LORD, and for all the vessels of service in the house of the LORD. 1Ch 28:14 [He gave] of gold by weight for [things] of gold, for all instruments of all manner of service; [silver also] for all instruments of silver by weight, for all instruments of every kind of service:

While is it clear from these scriptures that temple service by the priests were divine and from God, much of our understanding of how these services were accomplished does not come from the Bible.  The courses of the priests alone were incredibly detailed, as were the daily temple lotteries to determine assignments. So much detail was required in the Temple service, yet the scriptures don’t give us a step by step description.  We know few particulars about the mixing of incense, the continual fires, the detailed clothing, the inner workings of the sacrificial operations, or how to manage the exhaustive cleaning which must have been accomplished several times daily. These instructions and specifics came through oral tradition, which in turn was later written in the Talmud.

While we would never desire to add to or take away from God’s word, and we make it clear His word is complete and perfect without our drawing on outside sources, it does help those of us 2000 years removed to understand what the everyday Jew knew about customs and traditions.

We speculate that God, who instituted the covenant of marriage, gave Moses some essential details about the process which were not penned down in the Old Testament.  Yet among the Jews the traditions of the ancient wedding are long standing.  With a little research, we can find the fine points in the oral and written customs. How do they stack up with thus sayeth the Lord? 

Let’s examine the Jewish rituals and test whether those things are in agreement with scripture, in order to paint a more complete picture for our understanding.  As long as the tradition does no harm or contradicts scripture…

Having set those ground rules, let’s look at marriage in the days before Christ.

Marriage today is pretty easy for a man.  In our society, he puts on the clothing his bride has approved, meets with his friends and shows up, hopefully, on time at the Church.  The responsibility for every minute detail, every step, every nuance, fine-tuning, adjusting and re-adjusting until the event is complete falls to the Bride.  She organizes particulars, correcting and compromising to make the day a shining memorial to her many months of planning. 

But historically, the brunt of the work and details fell upon men. 

Before the law and traditions were established, we can see the example of Abraham, (Genesis 24:2-4; 15:2) sending his steward, Eliezer, to seek a wife for Issac.  In this picture, Abraham is a type of God; Eliezer represents the Holy Spirit, Issac is a picture of Christ and Rebekah, the bride. 

By the time of Christ, the steps for the marriage and wedding had been well established. For fathers, finding a future son or daughter-in- law was the side business at the time of the big feasts.

When not involved in worship, fathers with age appropriate children would gather in Jerusalem at the marketplace.  It was their opportunity to meet others and begin to negotiate marriages--which were then handled by legal contracts between fathers. Each was trying to trade up – to improve the family’s lot by marriage.

The Ancient Jewish Wedding

God ordained and established marriage and its divine sanctity in Genesis when He brought Adam and Eve together to become one flesh (Genesis 2:21-24).

The law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ. The wedding customs, service, and particulars God gave to the Jewish people also teach us much about Christ and the church.

Rom 3:2 Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
Rom 9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom [pertaineth] the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service [of God], and the promises;
Col 2:16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath [days]: Col 2:17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body [is] of Christ.

The wedding ceremony consisted of 10 to 14 steps, depending upon which historian one consults and where they decide to break their paragraphs. Twelve steps make for a catchy title.

1. The selection of the bride.

The bride was usually chosen by the father of the bridegroom (as the elect were chosen by God.) (John 15:16)

Consider how different than our practices today: Rebekah consented to marry Isaac before she ever met him. Today, we become the bride of Christ even though we have never seen Him. 1st Peter 1:8, Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see [him] not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:

2. A bride price was established.

A price would have to be paid for the bride.  Jesus, being our bridegroom, paid the ultimate high price for His bride, the Elect. Jesus considered the price He had to pay for His bride before His death as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Christ was agreeing to the terms in the garden.  The bride price was His life.

3. The bride and groom are betrothed to each other.

Betrothal is similar to our engagement in the marriage process, except this process legally binds the bride and the groom together in a marriage contract; they will not yet physically live together.   This is how the Angel referred to Mary as Joseph’s wife, even before they had come together as we understand it.

In the Old Testament, God betrothed Himself to Israel at Mount Sinai (Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:19-20).

4. That which is written – the Marriage Contract.

All the details and promises are spelled out in a contract form.  It declares clearly the bride price, the groom’s promises and the rights of the bride. The groom would promise to work for her, to honor, support, and maintain her in truth, to provide food, clothing and necessities, and to live together with her as husband and wife. The Jews considered the contract the unalienable right of the bride. The contract must be executed and signed prior to the wedding ceremony.

The Bible is the believer's contract. All the promises that God provided for his children in Christ are legally ours, as we see in 2 Corinthians 1:20, For all the promises of God in him [are] yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us.

Jer 2:2 Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus saith the LORD; I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after me in the wilderness, in a land [that was] not sown.

5. The bride gives her consent.  God betrothed Himself to Israel at Mount Sinai as stated in Jeremiah 2:2.

Israel consented to the marriage proposal from God and said, "I do."

Exd 24:3 And Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD, and all the judgments: and all the people answered with one voice, and said, All the words which the LORD hath said will we do.

6. Gifts were given to the bride and the "cup of the covenant" was shared between the bride and the groom.

The rite of betrothal is completed when the groom gives something of value to the bride and she accepts it. Most often today a ring is used. When the groom places the ring on the bride's finger, the rite of betrothal is completed. This completed rite is known in Hebrew as kiddushin, meaning "sanctification."

The gifts to the bride represent love, commitment, and loyalty. The gift God gives is the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26-27; Acts 2:38; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22). When Christ ascended to Heaven, He gave gifts to men (Ephesians 4:7-8). These gifts included righteousness (Romans 5:17-18), eternal life (Romans 6:23), grace (Romans 5:12, 14-15), faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and other spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1, 4) as well as the gifts of helps and administration (1 Corinthians 12:28).

At this time the cup of the covenant is shared and sealed between the bride and the groom with the drinking of wine. In doing so, the couple drinks from a common cup. The cup is first given to the groom to sip, and then is given to the bride. This cup, known as the cup of the covenant, is spoken of in Jeremiah 31:31-33, as it is written:

Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which My covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put My law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people (Jeremiah 31:31-33).  

Christ, in Luke 22:20.   Mat 26:29  But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.



 7. The bride had a mikvah (full water immersion), a ritual cleansing.

Mikvah is a Hebrew word meaning "pool" or "body of water." Mikvah is a ceremonial act of purification by the immersion in water. It indicates a separation from a former way to a new way. In marriage, it represents leaving an old life for a new life with your spouse (Genesis 2:23-24; Ephesians 5:31). According to the Jews, immersing in the mikvah constituted spiritual rebirth. The Jews believed a mikvah had the power to change a person completely.

Concerning the marriage to Israel at Mount Sinai, God said in Ezekiel 16:8-9, as it is written, "...I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee... and thou becamest Mine. Then washed I thee with water...."

8. The bridegroom departed, going back to his father's house to make ready.

At this point, the bridegroom leaves for his father's house to prepare the bridal chamber for his bride. It was understood to be the man's duty to go to be with his father, build a house, (or add a room to the family home – a bridal chamber) and prepare for the eventual wedding. Before he goes, however, he makes a statement to the bride. "I go to prepare a place for you; if I go, I will return again unto you." This is the same statement Christ made in John:  

Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if [it were] not [so], I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, [there] ye may be also.  (John 14:1-3).

Did the Apostles and disciples understand the symbolism when Christ made statements like this?

9. The bride was consecrated and set apart for a period of time while the bridegroom was away building the house.    

From the time of the separation, until the return of the bridegroom, tradition says nine months to a year was about the average time.  It took this long for some young men to take on a task of this magnitude.  He could be as young as fourteen, and not yet skilled with tools and carpentry.  But it was primarily his responsibility to complete the task successfully.

Before the bridegroom could go and get the bride, the groom's father had to be satisfied with the son’s preparation work. Only then could he give permission to the son to go and get the bride. In other words, while the bridegroom was working on the bridal chamber, it was the father who at some time would declare the bridal chamber complete and send him to retrieve his bride. This reference of Christ in Mark 13:32-37 should be familiar: No man knows the day or the hour, but the Father.

Since it was the Father whose final approval of the chambers set the timing of the wedding, "only the Father knew" when the Groom would return to get his bride.   

Often the bride and groom lived in the same community, and as the work on the bride chamber neared completion, word would reach the bride.  Careful to watch the signs and the seasons, she then would anticipate the arrival of the groom and begin to make ready.  The excitement level would indicate to all it was no longer a matter of months or weeks, but now days. 

Tradition says most weddings took place on Tuesdays, because the Sanhedrin court would meet on Thursday.  The reasoning being if a man found his bride less than he expected in the way of purity, he would be able to immediately seek recourse from the high court. 

The bride knows the groom can now return at any time.  The custom is to come around midnight, so the bride would gather her female attendants – her bridal virgins, to keep her company and wait with her until the groom came for her.  They watched from sundown to after midnight nightly, so naturally, they required lamps and oil for the waiting in dark of night. 

Christ referred to this in Mark 13:32-37 and Matthew 25:1-13. While waiting for her bridegroom to come, the bride had to have thought to herself, "Is he really coming back for me? Will he keep his word?"  The Apostle addressed this concern for God’s children in 2 Peter 3:1-13.

10. The bridegroom would return with a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom comes" and the sound of the ram's horn (shofar) would be blown.

The bridegroom comes with his wedding party.  As he got close to the awaiting Bride, the friend of the groom would run ahead and shout the pending arrival (Matthew 25:6) and blow the shofar (trumpet) (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

John the Baptist called himself the friend of the bridegroom and fulfilled the role tradition and scripture had for him. (John 3:29)

Upon hearing the shout and the trumpet, the father of the bride would come out to meet the coming party, verifying for himself the groom is the correct man, and then disappear into the darkness, so as not to witness his daughter stolen from his home. 

11. He would abduct his bride, usually in the middle of the night, to go to the bridal chamber where the marriage would be consummated.

After the father has departed, the groom continues the procession, takes the Bride and leads the entire cloud of witnesses in the opposite direction toward the bridal chamber.  The bride and groom will go to the wedding chamber, where the marriage will be consummated. This is the full marriage.  They will stay in that wedding chamber for seven days, or a week. At the end of the seven days, the bride and groom will come out from the wedding chamber. Joel 2:16.

12. Finally, there would be a marriage supper for all the guests invited by the father of the bride.

When the bride and the groom go into the wedding chamber, the friend of the groom stood outside the door, awaiting his last official act.  The assembled guests awaited the announcement of consummation of the marriage, made by the friend as soon as word was relayed to him by the groom. John the Baptist referred to this in John 3:29. At this signal, great rejoicing broke forth. The marriage was consummated on the first night (Genesis 29:23). The linen from this night was preserved as proof of the bride's virginity (Deuteronomy 22:13-21).

On the wedding day, the bridegroom is seen as a king and the bride as a queen.

The first recorded miracle of Jesus took place at a wedding.  If we examine closely the scriptures, we can see the importance of the actions and statements Jesus made while in His earthly ministry.  All was done with a purpose.  God give us the ability to see the rich threads of patterns throughout His written word.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son…