The Jewish Wedding/The Marriage Supper of the Lamb
A 2007 Tuesday Night Study
How many of you know that it was Jewish men, inspired by the Spirit of God, who wrote nearly every word of our Bible? Are you aware that the stories we tell from the Word of God are mostly about Jewish people and that many of our traditions are based upon Jewish customs? Did you know that when God Himself gave Moses the “blueprints” for the Jewish Customs and the tabernacle, they were only prototypes of what Moses saw in Heaven? All the festivals that God established with His Chosen People point to deeper spiritual meanings for us as well. Like it or not, we Christians cannot even begin to understand our own faith without first understanding Judaism, because it is through it and them that God chose to bless the entire world with the Messiah — Savior — Yeshua — Jesus! Is it really so easy for us to forget that if we accept Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection from the dead that we are then by Grace GRAFTED into the family that God our Father chose for Himself–a covenant people that first began with the promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah by nothing short of a miracle of God? So tonight we are going to examine one festival, the Jewish Wedding, to discover what deeper spiritual meanings it holds, not only for the Jews but for all of us who declare, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!” We are going to explore why Jews celebrate a wedding the way they do and we are going to understand that it is not celebrated very differently then it was in Bible times. We are going to realize that the Marriage Ceremony that the Jews celebrate is a prophetic statement to the Church who is awaiting the return of Jesus her Redeemer and most Holy Bridegroom.
Let’s begin our journey by looking at the historical/Biblical background of the Jewish Wedding. Turn to Jeremiah 33:10-11. While all wedding ceremonies seem to be joyous events, when you are witness to the covenant vows between a man and woman and then you add to that all the family and friends, food, music and dancing it is difficult to find a more exuberant celebration. However, there are some unique lessons to be learned from the Biblical Jewish Wedding Ceremony, in particular. The ancient rituals associated with this custom are rich in spiritual truths that remind Israel of their covenant with God and His love for them. This God-appointed custom can be examined through the three parts spoken of in Jewish tradition.
The Shiddukhin (the Arrangement)
The Arrangement is the first step in the marriage process and is a verbal agreement of sorts. Sometimes the father would delegate this responsibility to a representative if he was unable to attend to the matter himself. This representative is known as a shadkhan or a marriage broker or matchmaker. It was common in Biblical times for a father to select a bride for his son, sometimes as early as infancy. Love was usually a secondary issue as most often marriages were arranged for political alliances or were about family connections. Turn to Genesis 24:1-4.
Now turn to Genesis 24:52, 53. The next step in the Arrangement period is the ketubah or written agreement. It is the marriage contract or prenuptial. This includes the provisions and conditions proposed for the marriage. In this document, the groom promises to support his wife-to-be, while the bride stipulates the contents of her dowry (financial status), and there are other promises made on both sides. Apparently, even though the marriage was arranged, the bride-to-be could decline or consent to the proposal. Read Genesis 24:5. So it was possible for her to hear the terms of the arrangement and decide to turn down the prospect.
Before the betrothal ceremony it was common for both bride and groom to separately take a ritual immersion in water, called a mikveh, which has always been symbolic of a spiritual cleansing. Many of the elements of the Jewish wedding ceremony were meant to point to the goal of all the Scriptures, namely Jesus the Messiah or Christ. Read Galatians 3:24. This ceremony, as opposed to any other cultural expression, is a detailed illustration of Jesus’ relationship with His followers. Understanding this will allow us to understand why there are so many references in the New Testament to the Wedding Ceremony.
The Arrangement starts with the selection of the bride–so, too, believers in Jesus have been chosen as Messiah’s Bride (read Ephesians 1:4). It is the father of the groom or sometimes a matchmaker who does the selection. Read 2 Cor. 11:1-2. We know that God our Father has chosen us before the foundation of the world, but Paul also made reference to himself as being the spiritual “matchmaker” in presenting these believers to their prospective Husband by the preaching of the Good News. But like any prospective bride, after hearing the terms of the arrangement, she has the option of turning down the proposal.
During the Arrangement period, a price is specified through the contract. I stated that this contract lists the conditions and provisions for the upcoming wedding, for both the bride and the bridegroom. In Bible times, part of the bride’s dowry might include a headband of coins that was worn during the ceremony. Since it represented a part of the contract, the loss of any of these coins would be cause for great worry. Read Luke 15:8-10. In the spiritual world, our contract is none other than the New Covenant itself. The Groom, Jesus, promised to pay a proper price (His very own life) for His Beloved, while the Bride (the church of born-again believers) promises to pay her dowry with her own yielded life. Read 1 Cor. 6:20. The ritual immersion in water that symbolized spiritual cleansing is exactly the picture of our water baptism today that takes place as soon as we’ve agreed to enter into the agreement with our Bridegroom.
The Eyrusin (the Betrothal)
After the ritual immersion in water, the couple would appear under the huppah or canopy in a public ceremony to express their intention of becoming betrothed. While eyrusin means “betrothal”, a secondary word often associated with this period is kiddushin (sanctification or set-apart — Westerners use the word holy. This second term more specifically describes what the betrothal period is all about, that is, setting oneself aside for another for the covenant of marriage. Meeting under the huppah, exchanging items of value and sharing a cup of wine sealed the betrothal vows. After the ceremony, the couple was considered to be fully entered into the agreement of betrothal, which lasted for 1 year. During this time the couple is considered married in every sense of the word except they could not cohabit nor have sexual relations for the 1 year time period. Today we do not take the state of engagement as seriously as the Jews do the betrothal period. The betrothal was so binding that the couple would actually need a religious divorce or a get in order to annul the contract. Read Deut. 24:1-4. The option of a get was not available to the wife, only to the husband, as a wife had no say in any divorce proceeding. And a woman was still considered to be in adultery if she broke any one of her betrothal vows regardless of the fact that the couple had yet to physically consummate the marriage.
During this 1-year period both bride and groom had many responsibilities to attend to. The groom was to provide a new dwelling place for his wife. This usually meant that he would add onto his father’s house for his bride and hopefully for their children. The bride had her own tasks to attend such as sewing beautiful clothing for the occasion. She was also to consecrate herself in the true spirit of the betrothal time. Both parties were to use the year for introspection and contemplation, readying themselves for this most holy covenant of marriage.
One of the last acts of Jesus while still in His earthly body was to bless the cup that represented the New Covenant. He then stated that He would not taste another cup with His disciples until a later time in the Kingdom of God. Read Matt. 26.27-29. How beautiful is the symbolism here that Jesus shared with his disciples — knowing that at some point they would come to understand the meaning and how it related to them.
According to the lessons of the eyrusin (the set apart or sanctification period), there should be no theological debate concerning eternal security of the believer. Since both parties have agreed to partake of the betrothal blessings under the huppah, they are as good as married. No they cannot live together but the promise is so sure that it would take a religious divorce , a get, to nullify the contract. In addition, the get is an option only available to the husband. The lesson is clear from the Jewish wedding: true believers are eternally secure in Messiah’s covenant, because we cannot break it and He says He never will. Read John 10:28. It is an incredible blessing to know that those who believe in Jesus as Messiah/Christ have entered with Him into the engagement period according to the Jewish understanding as defined by the “set apart” or “sanctified” period.
Since believers in Jesus have consented to the conditions of being “set apart”, they then enter fully into the betrothal period. This is the period of time between the solemn first cup of the sanctification ceremony and the full marriage as symbolized in the second cup. During this time both parties have a lot of things to do, the most pressing one being preparing a place for the bride to live. Read John 14:1-3. Jesus has taken His first vows with His New Covenant Bride; that is, Jew and Gentile who call upon His Name. And He is now fulfilling His responsibility of preparing a special home for His Wife-to-be.
Likewise, the bride has immersed herself in water (a symbol for moral cleansing); she is consecrating herself by her pure lifestyle and is preparing holy garments for the upcoming second cup of full marriage. Read Ephesians 5:25-27. So the last 2000 years have been the betrothal period between the Messiah and His Bride. As with any anxious bride, the wait has been difficult at times. But the Bridegroom is ready to return. Believers in Jesus the Messiah, the Christ need to ask themselves if they are keeping their garments clean and keeping their betrothal promises.
The Marriage doesn’t begin when all the family and friends gather at the church with the happy couple. The Jewish Wedding Ceremony is know as Nissuim. This is based on the Hebrew verb nasa and literally means “to carry”. Nissuin was quite a graphic description, as the bride would be waiting for the groom to carry her away to their new home. There is a unique element to the biblical Jewish Wedding that no other culture has: a bride who took her betrothal period seriously, would be (with excited anticipation) expecting her groom, along with the whole wedding party, to come at the end of the one-year betrothal period. But the catch was that the time of the groom’s arrival was a surprise. No one knew the exact hour of his arrival because it was the father of the groom who would give the final approval for the marriage to begin. The bride and her bridal party would therefore be anxiously watching and waiting for the exact moment, even late into the evening. The bridal party was to keep their oil lamps burning just in case the wedding was to begin. There was a custom that allowed a member of the groom’s party to lead the way from the groom;s house to the home of the bride, and to shout, “Behold, the bridegroom comes!” and follow up the shout with a blast from the shofar. This ram’s horn was used to proclaim Jewish holy days and special events. At the sound of the shofar, the groom would lead a procession through the streets of the village to the house of the bride. The groomsmen would then carry (nissuin) the bride back to the groom’s house where a huppah was once again set up. And again the couple would say a blessing over a cup of wine (a symbol of joy). This cup was clearly distinguished from the cup that was sipped the year before by a tradition called “seven blessings“. This second huppah ceremony served as the finalization of the earlier promises and vows. What was promised before in the betrothal period is now consummated in the marriage ceremony. The couple is now free for the first time to live together as husband and wife. Read Genesis 24:66-67.
The pinnacle of this joyful celebration was the Marriage Supper. This was seven full days of food, music, dance, and celebration for all the wedding guests. Afterward, the new husband was free to bring his wife to their home and to live together in the full covenant of marriage.
And so Nissuin or the Marriage Ceremony completes the spiritual picture for the believer in Christ Jesus. Read 1 Thess. 4:16-18. Remember I explained that the Groom could not go get his bride until his father said so? Jesus told His disciples that no man knew the day nor hour, but only the Father. Isn’t it wonderful how God chooses to show Himself to us in these lovely ways? Think about the word nissuin (to carry) for a moment. Jesus, our Groom, will carry all of us who have accepted His New Covenant to our new home which He has prepared for us in His Father’s house! We Westerners call this “the Rapture of the Church”. As the Betrothed of Jesus we, His Church of blood-bought, born-again believers, are anxiously awaiting the blast of the shofar that signals the start of the second part of the huppah tradition.
When the Marriage Ceremony is complete, there will be the most jubilant Wedding Feast ever thrown! At the end of the Wedding Feast, the Messiah will return to Jerusalem with his Bride and establish His one-thousand year earthly reign. Read Rev. 20:4. The Wedding Party will continue in Jerusalem, as the rest of the resurrected believers from every age will join in the festivities. What a blessed reception that will be! Though there is much theological debate about the timing of the Marriage events, one thing is certain: everyone should choose to RSVP (soon) to the Father’s invitation. Let’s read what John had to say about the redeemed multitude in Rev. 19:7-9.
The Redeemed from all of history will dwell with our God for all eternity. The Jewish Wedding Ceremony is God’s appointed custom to remind believers in Jesus of the great things to come in Messiah’s kingdom. All people need to answer the question of whether or not they trust in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus for their salvation. Only believers in Jesus have been invited to this Jewish Wedding Ceremony. May the Groom come soon to begin the celebration! Amen.
All the information found in this study are from “God’s Appointed Customs” by Rabbi Barney Kasdan–a Messianic Jew with many degrees in both Judaism and Christian Theology.