In the Old Testament, God often refers to His relationship with His chosen people in terms of a marriage where He is the husband and His people are the wife (Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 31:32; Hosea 2:16). Jesus continues this metaphor in the New Testament (Matthew 9:15; 25:1–13). And Paul refers to Christ as the husband to the believing church in 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5:25–27. In Revelation 19:7 and 21:9, God gives John a vision of a wedding feast at the end of time. So to fully understand the metaphor God employs throughout the Bible, one should investigate Jewish wedding traditions.
What are some of the parallels between Jewish wedding traditions and our relationship to Christ?
The first thing to note is that there are two stages to a traditional Jewish wedding. The first stage is the kiddushin, or betrothal period, when the couple are set apart from others and become dedicated exclusively to one another (sanctification). This is a period of intention and preparation. The husband would offer a bride price to the woman's family to make his intentions known. When those intentions were agreed to and the bride price paid and accepted, he would then prepare a home for him and his wife to live in after the wedding ceremony. The woman would be collecting her dowry to bring into the marriage with her and as the date of the ceremony approached, held a tisch, or bridal reception. During the tisch, the bride would go into the mikvah, or ceremonial bath, to be cleansed and then receive henna ink designs on her body both for protection and beauty.
There are many parallels between this betrothal period of Jewish couples and our relationship with Christ. Much like the bride price, Jesus paid a price for His people with His life on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23). Him having paid this price, believers have been called out and set apart for Jesus (1 Peter 2:9–10). Furthermore, Jesus said He was preparing a place for His followers in His Father's house (John 14:2–3). Ephesians 5:26–27 and 1 Corinthians 6:11 tell us that Jesus' blood shed on the cross washes believers like the mikvah cleanses the Jewish bride. The Holy Spirit protects believers and marks them as belonging to Christ much like the henna ink applied to the bride during the tisch (John 14:17; 16:13–15; Ephesians 1:13–14).
The second stage of a traditional Jewish wedding is nissuin, or the marriage, when the bride and groom are committed to one another. It begins with a ketubah, or contract outlining the rights and responsibilities of the couple to each other, being signed and witnessed. Then the groom places a veil over the bride during the bedeken, or veiling ceremony. He then prepares the chuppah, or canopy, under which the ceremony will take place. When the bride arrives under the chuppah, she encircles the groom three times to remind the people of God's three-time promise to betroth His people to Himself forever in Hosea 2:19–20. The groom places a ring on the bride's finger stating, "Behold, by this ring you are consecrated to me as my wife according to the laws of Moses and Israel." Seven blessings (Sheva Brachot) are then recited reflecting themes of Jewish marriage and God's role in that. The ceremony ends with the breaking of glass. The couple then gets ten to twenty minutes of time alone together during the Yichud. Finally, there is a reception filled with dancing, eating, and entertaining the couple. During the reception two glasses of wine are poured into one for the couple to share representing their two lives blending together into one.
The second stage of Jewish weddings also has many parallels to the believer's relationship to Christ. The ketubah for believers is the new covenant. Christ then clothes us in "the garments of salvation… [and] the robe of righteousness" like the groom covers his bride with the veil during the bedeken (Isaiah 61:10). The chuppah represents the couple creating a new life and home together, but the four sides are open to the community, just like our life with Christ is supposed to be openly shared with those around us (Matthew 28:19–20; Acts 1:8). The wife receiving the ring as an outward symbol of her relationship to her husband is similar to the Christian receiving the Holy Spirit as a seal guaranteeing our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13–14). Similarly, the words spoken during the ring ceremony echo Christ's words that all believers belong to Him in John 17:9–10. The Seven Blessings are prayers glorifying God for His creation and work in the couple's life, just as we are called to glorify God for His work in and around us (Romans 15:4–6; 9–12). Finally in Revelation, we see a wedding reception like none on earth with feasting and singing and joy unbridled. Just as the bride and groom are to become one as symbolized in the glass of wine, so too are we to have the mind of Christ and be one as His church (1 Corinthians 2:16; Romans 12:5; 15:5–6; Ephesians 5:29–32).
There are many encouraging parallels to explore when looking at God's use of the marriage metaphor when describing His desired relationship with His people. An understanding of traditional Jewish wedding ceremonies only enhances our understanding of that metaphor and thereby builds our understanding of who God is and how He works with His people.
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