Feasts and Festivals - Betrothal and Wedding Ceremonies

By Janey Hames

For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. …  Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!”  (Revelation 19:7, 9)

Ani LDodi VDodi Li  - I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine is taken from the Song of Solomon and Jewish wedding rings are often inscribed with this beautiful sentiment. Ancient Jewish betrothal and marriage rituals point to the coming of the Messiah and the great celebration of the marriage supper of the Lamb.  You’d be hard put to find an occasion more joyous than that of a Jewish wedding.  Paul and I have been to several and they’re noisy, joyful events with lots of dancing and celebrating with good food and drink flowing, of course!

There are three distinct parts to the ancient Jewish wedding:

  • Shiddukhin (mutual commitment)
  • Erusin (engagement)
  • Nissuin (marriage)

Shiddukhin: A time of mutual commitment ..

The Lord God said, It is not good for the man to be alone.  I will make a helper suitable for him.”  (Genesis 2:18)

In ancient times, the marriage contract (Ketubah) protected the rights of the wife by specifying the grooms responsibilities in caring for her, and the amount of support that would be due to her in the event of a divorce. (a bit like a pre nuptial agreement)

At this time the bride’s father would give her a dowry often in the form of a circle of coins attached to a hat which demonstrated his great love and the value which he placed on her. You can see why the loss of the coin in the parable in Luke 15 would cause such distress - it clearly wasn’t just a fifty pence coin but pointed to something far greater in value!

The father of the groom often selected a bride for his son, as Abraham did for his son Isaac (Genesis 24:1-4).

The bride had some say in the matter too: Rebecca for example, was asked if she would agree to go back with Abrahams servant to marry Abrahams son, Isaac, and she gladly went (Genesis 24:57–59).

In the same way, we cannot be forced into a relationship with the Son but the offer is there to join in a covenant love relationship with Jesus!

Traditionally, in preparation for the betrothal ceremony, the bride and groom are separately immersed in water in a ritual called the mikveh, which is symbolic of spiritual cleansing. In Matthew 3:1317, we read that before He began His ministry, Jesus had already prepared Himself for His time of ‘mutual commitment’, by being immersed by John in the waters of mikveh at the Jordan River. This is one of the roots of Christian baptism.

As the Bride-to-be, we are also asked to be immersed.

Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  (Mark 16:16)

The groom rejoices by celebrating and dancing with his friends after immersing himself in the mikveh.  The water for this mikveh bath is fed by a spring, the living water which comes from a spring or river and flows into the mikveh. Just outside the old city walls of Jerusalem you can see the remains of dozens of these mikvehs; the site where 3,000 were able to be baptised in one day after Peter preached there!

Erusin:  The Betrothal

He who finds a wife, finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord.”  (Proverbs 18:22)

After the immersion, the couple join under the marriage canopy (huppah) - symbolic of a new household coming into being and establishing a binding contract.

Here, the groom would pay the bride price - which could be money or a valuable object. The bride and groom both drank from the cup of wine to seal their covenant vows. In this public ceremony under the huppah, the couple entered into the betrothal period, which typically lasted for about a year.  Although they were considered married, they did not live together or engage in sexual relations.

To annul this contract, the couple would need a religious divorce, which had to be initiated by the husband.

Matthew 1:18–25 is a great example of this.

So, during the erusin or betrothal time of Joseph and Mary, Joseph discovered that Mary was pregnant, and as you remember, he considered divorcing her, although he had not yet brought her home as his wife, but the angel appeared to him:

“… he had in mind to divorce her quietly.  But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”  (Matthew 1:19–20)

During the erusin period, the groom went away to prepare a place for his bride, and while the bride awaited his return she would focus on her own personal preparations,  such as beauty treatments, wedding garments, tending lamps etc.

Although the bride knew her groom would return after a year or so, she didn’t know the exact day or hour he would arriveHe could come even come earlier than she expected!  The father of the groom was the one who gave final approval for the groom to return to collect his bride.

For that reason, the bride had to keep her oil lamps ready, just in case the groom came in the night, sounding the shofar and leading the bridal procession back to the home he had been preparing for her.

In the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:113) Jesus likened the Kingdom of Heaven to this special period of betrothal, when the groom comes for his bride:

At midnight the cry rang out: Heres the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’  Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.”  (Matthew 25:6–7)

In Jewish weddings, two cups of wine are drunk during the wedding ceremony.  After the rabbi recites the betrothal blessings, the couple drink from the same cup.  Since wine is associated with the prayer of sanctification recited on Shabbat, and marriage is the sanctification of the bride and groom to each other, marriage is also called Holy - hence the phrase we all know “Holy Matrimony”!

 Nissuin:  The Marriage

The final step in Jewish wedding tradition is called nissuin, a word which means to take or to lift up.

At this time, the groom, with much noise, fanfare and romance, carries his bride home.  Once again, the bride and groom would enter the huppah, recite a blessing over the wine (a symbol of joy), and finalise their vows.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:3)

Now, they will consummate their marriage and live together as husband and wife, fully partaking of all the duties, privileges and joys of the covenant of marriage.

Likewise, our Messiah, Jesus, as the Bridegroom, has gone away to prepare a place for us.

The day of the return of the Messiah for His bride is approaching.

Although we know approximately the time of His return from the signs of the times, Peter 3:10 says the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 

As the Bride of Christ, men and women, followers of Jesus, we should be striving to live pure and holy lives in preparation for the marriage and the wedding feast of the Lamb, for when the Groom comes with the blast of the shofar to bring His bride home.

The Marriage Supper of the Lamb

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”  (Revelation 21: 1–2)

When Messiah returns for us, and so much we see in the world today indicates that this could be very soon, we will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb with Him and our joy will be beyond measure.

But there will be those who wont share in our joy or celebrate with us because they do not know Jesus!

Now is the time to reach out to them, while we are still in the erusin or betrothal period, before the Bridegroom comes.

Behold, I am coming soon!  My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. …  The Spirit and the bride say, Come!’  And let him who hears say, Come!’  Whoever is thirsty, let him come.”  (Revelation 22:12, 17)

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