by Bill Risk


One of the most profound and evocative illustrations in Scripture is the depiction of the Church as the bride of Jesus the Messiah. When we approach this illustration from a modern perspective, viewing it through the grid of Twentieth Century American marriage and courtship customs, we miss much of the richness and depth of this picture. To truly appreciate what it must have meant to Jesus' disciples when He taught them about His Kingdom using marriage metaphors, or to Paul's readers when he described Christ as the husband of the Church, we need to discover what marriage and courtship were like in First Century Israel. When we compare what we discover to the calling out of the Church by the Lord Jesus, we find an amazing parallel, in which virtually every aspect of the ancient Jewish tradition is fulfilled.

Why is this important? Apart from the general insight that such a study gives us into Scripture and into our relationship with the Lord, we see that our God is a God who pays meticulous attention to detail, who fulfills according to what He has established, who was willing to pay an inconceivably high price to secure a Bride for His Son, and who will not fail to send His Son back to reclaim His Beloved.

Jewish marriages were generally arranged by the fathers of the bride and groom, typically at the initiation of the father of the groom.
"In all periods of Jewish history, almost all marriages were arranged by the young couple's respective fathers, who were obligated to see to it that their children be married. Thus, Jeremiah, for example, charged the exiles in Babylon, `Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men.' (Jer. 29:6)" (1)

Genesis 34:3-6---And he (Shechem) was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying "Get me this young girl for a wife."...Then Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak to him."
"Marriage was arranged by the parents; a mother could play a role (Gen. 21:21; 27:24), but a father could act alone (38:6)." (2)
Genesis 21:21---And he (Ishmael) lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Genesis 27:46-28:1---And Rebekah said to Isaac, "I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me? So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, "You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan..."

Genesis 38:6---Now Judah took a wife for Er his first-born, and her name was Tamar.

"During the biblical era, sons and daughters alike were completely under the authority of their parents...The match would be made between the heads of families---the fathers, the father of the son taking the primary initiative." (3)
The parents could employ a trusted agent to find the bride,
Genesis 24:2-4---And Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of this household, who had charge of all that he owned, "Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you shall go to my country and to my relatives and take a wife for my son Isaac."
Though it was not essential, the bride's consent was at times asked for. (4)
Genesis 24:5---And the servant said to him, "Suppose the woman will not be willing to follow me to this land; should I take your son back to the land from where you came?"

Genesis 24:58---Then they called Rebekah and said to her, "Will you go with this man?" And she said, "I will go."
Romance could be (but was not necessarily) a factor in the match
Genesis 29:20---So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Judges 14:1-2---Then Samson went down to Timnah and saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines. So he came back and told his father and mother, "I saw a woman in Timnah, one of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife."

1 Samuel 18:20---Now Michal, Saul's daughter, loved David. When they told Saul, the thing was agreeable to him.

Parallels To The Church:

The LORD is regarded as the bridegroom of Israel in the Old Testament, Jesus as the bridegroom of the church in the New.
Isaiah 54:5-6---"For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the LORD of hosts; And your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, who is called the God of all the earth. For the LORD has called you, like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, even like a wife of one's youth when she is rejected," says your God.

Hosea 2:19--- "And I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice, in loving-kindness and in compassion, And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD."

Mark 2:19-20---And Jesus said to them, "While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bride do not fast, do they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day."

Eph. 5:23---For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.

2 Cor. 11:2 --- For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

Rev. 19:7-9--- "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said to me, "Write, `Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."
The bride is chosen by the Bridegroom through the initiative of His Father
John 15:16---You did not choose Me, but I chose you...

John 5:30---I can do nothing on My own initiative...I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
The Holy Spirit now acts as the agent of the Father to find the bride
1 Cor. 2:10---...for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.

Galatians 4:6---...God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts...

1 Peter 1:12---It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven---things into which angels long to look.

Romans 8:16---The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God...
We respond to His petition and accept Him in love

1 Peter 1:8---and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory

In Genesis 34, appealing to Jacob to allow him to marry his daughter Dinah, Shechem, prince of the land of the Hivites, says:
"If I find favor in your sight, then I will give whatever you say to me. Ask me ever so much bridal payment and gift, and I will give according as you say to me; but give me the girl in marriage."
The word used for "bridal payment" is mohar.

The word used for "gift" is mattan.
Mohar was a payment from the groom to the bride's father. In contrast, mattan, was the offering of a gift or gifts to the bride.

The differences between the mohar and the mattan are summarized in the quotation below. Perhaps most significant among them is that the mohar was an obligation of the law, while the mattan was an expression of the heart, and that the mohar was paid to the father, while the mattan was a gift to the bride.
"Originally mohar and mattan were both paid in cash, yet were clearly distinct from each other. The former was given to the father, the latter to the bride; the former was legal and compulsory, the latter social and voluntary; the former expressed the commercial side of marriage, the latter the romantic." (5)
Scripture also speaks of gifts given to the bride by her father. These are termed shiluhim, (literally, "parting gifts"), (6) and carry the same idea as the traditional dowry. These gifts were intended to help equip the bride for her new life. Although mohar is translated as "dowry" in the three Old Testament passages where the word appears (Genesis 34:12, Exodus 22:16-17, 1 Samuel 18:25), mohar, given by the groom (or his father) to the father of the bride, was distinctly different from shiluhim, given to the bride by her father:
"In Israel the bride's father not only received a mohar from the bridegroom; he also (sometimes, at least) gave her a dowry. Rebekah's nurse and maids and the maids given by Laban to Leah and Rachel may have been thought of as such a Mitgift. (7) When Othneil had won the hand of Achsah by smiting Kiriath-sepher, `she incited him to ask from her father a field'---and then proceeded to do the asking herself. Caleb gave her accordingly `Upper Gulloth and Lower Gulloth.' (8) When Solomon married the Egyptian princess, her father captured Gezer, burned it, slaughtered its inhabitants, `and gave it'---what was left of it!--- `a silluhim to his daughter, Solomon's wife.'" (9, 10)


Significance and purpose of the mohar:
The mohar is based on the Ancient Near Eastern principle of compensation:

"The most satisfactory explanation of the mohar is to be found in the essential purpose and significance of gifts among the ancient Semites. Here the principle of compensation finds its earliest expression...The gift does not necessarily involve the idea of equivalence except in a very general way. It is simply an object of value presented in order to enhance the prestige of the giver, to express and confirm the social bond between him and the recipient, and to put the latter under an obligation to him...."

"For the Israelites, as for many other peoples, the significance of the gift was not exhausted by such considerations as these. The gift established a bond not merely by creating good will or a sense of obligation but by actually conveying something of the life of the giver to the recipient...From this point of view a gift serves to establish something comparable to a blood-covenant between giver and recipient, and the bond is made complete when there is a fair exchange and compensation."

"A marriage is not merely an incidental transaction between the two families; it creates and cements a relationship of alliance between them. One family gives a very precious possession, a daughter; the other, `to put things on an equal footing' gives a valuable present. The mohar thus establishes the prestige of the husband and his family, gives him authority over his wife, makes the contract binding on both parties, and creates and alliance between the two families." (11)

"The bride price is high as a means of compensating the family for the financial liability of raising a daughter as well as being an expression of the young man's love for his hoped-for bride." (12)
Value of the mohar:
Although not explicitly stated, it is believed that the Bible prescribed a minimum mohar of 50 shekels:
"In the remote past, there probably was no standard at all, but in Biblical days we already note a minimum mohar. For seduction, the law prescribes a fine equal in sum to the mohar of virgins (Exodus 22:15-16). Now, what was that sum? The rabbis say rape and seduction are equal offenses, and if the Bible prescribes a fine of fifty shekels for rape (Deuteronomy 22:29), then seduction must also be fined the same amount. In other words, the sum equal to the mohar of virgins is fifty shekels. The rabbis' logic is evident as it is compelling. Rape and seduction represent theft of virginity; mohar, the price of virginity. It is by the same logic, probably, that the Bible prescribes a fine of a hundred shekels, double the price of virginity, for the husband who falsely denies his bride's virginity, as double penalty for the thief is not uncommon in the ancient law. Our conclusion is, therefore, that the Bible knew of a minimum mohar of fifty shekels." (13)

However, it was not uncommon for the mohar to be paid by other means.

Genesis 24:53, where Eliezar gives "precious things" to Laban, who is acting in place of Rebekah's father.

Genesis 29, where Jacob works seven years for Rachel

Genesis 34:12, where Shechem will pay any mohar for Dinah

Joshua 15:16-17, where Othniel captures Kiriath-sepher to obtain Achsah, daughter of Caleb, as his wife

1 Samuel 17:25, where the act of slaying Goliath is thought to be sufficient mohar to win the king's daughter.

1 Samuel 18:25, where Saul demands a hundred foreskins of the Philistines from David as mohar for his daughter.

Hosea 3:3, where Hosea pays a mohar of fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and half of barley.


Significance and purpose of the mattan:
"Social usage in antiquity required the groom to give presents to his bride at betrothal, which were technically termed Mattan, voluntary gifts. No Biblical legislation is connected with this, for it was not considered a legal obligation, though definitely recorded in the Bible." (14)
Value of the mattan
Since the giving of the mattan was prescribed by custom rather than by law, the value could vary greatly depending on the prosperity of the groom.

Some Biblical examples:
Genesis 24, where Eliezer gives "articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments," to Rebekah.

Genesis 29, where some commentators believe Jacob's tears upon meeting Rachel were because he had no mattan to offer her. (15)

Genesis 34, where Shechem offers any mattan for Dinah.

"It is evident in these instances that mattan comprised not merely the random engagement gifts, later known as Siblonot, but was really institutionalized and had official recognition in the marriage ceremony. It did not affect the legality of a marriage, nor was a definite standard prescribed as to amount or kind of mattan." (16)


Significance and purpose of the shiluhim:
"Among ancient peoples, dowry is commonly conceived as a daughter's share of inheritance in her father's possession. The sons succeed their father; the daughters leave him. In lieu of succession, therefore, the daughters on leaving receive their share of inheritance. This is probably the conception of Shiluhim, sending the girl away from the parental estate, a settlement on her in lieu of inheritance."

"Next to the idea of succession and in the course of time superseding it, is the thought that dowry is a parental obligation in the interest of attracting suitors to the girls....One may seriously doubt, however, whether this particular conception of dowry is not altogether post-Biblical, for in Biblical days the position of the Jewish woman was such that bribes and baits were not offered to suitors but taken from them. The conception of dowry as an inducement to marriage is post-Biblical, and the duty upon the father to give dowry in that interest is one imposed on him by late tannatic legislation."
Value of the shiluhim:
"The records of antiquity often refer to the custom of the bride's father giving dowry to his daughter at her marriage. Early Babylonian records call it Seriqtum; the later Babylonian writers denominate it by the term Nudunu, a term that has gone over into the rabbinnic writings, where it is called Nedunya. Instances of dowry are not uncommon in the Bible. Sarah has a slave, Hagar; Rachel and Leah have Bilha and Zilpa as their slaves, given to them as part of the dowry. Caleb gives his daughter a field and springs of water as Berakah, blessing, that is, a marriage gift with parental blessing, or rather, with parental care for her future comfort. Pharaoh gives his daughter, the wife of Solomon, the city of Gezer as a wedding gift, which he calls Shiluhim, a `send off.' Papyrus G devotes a special clause to the enumeration of the dowry; the Book of Tobit speaks of a very liberal dowry, half of the father-in-laws's possessions; and Sirach denounces men who marry for the lust of a large dowry." (17)

Parallels To The Church :


The Father offers a bride-price of great value, indicative of the value He places on the bride:
The mohar was required by the law:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3,4)
The mohar was paid: are not your own. For you have been bought with a price..." (1 Cor. 6:20)

..knowing that your were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. (1 Peter 1:18)

"And they sang a new song, saying, `Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals: for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation." (Rev. 5:9
The high price of the mohar indicates the value the Father placed on the bride:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

"How much did our Bridegroom pay? We all realize that our Lord went to the cross for us and that this was painful, humiliating and so insulting to the Son of God. But do we fully appreciate how much it cost Him?

After all, it could be argued that Jesus was a strong, young man, able to walk 75 miles from Galilee to Jerusalem. No one would want to be crucified, but He suffered only six hours. People with cancer did slow, lingering deaths; some of us are born with handicaps we must bear a lifetime. Did Jesus really pay that much?

To find the real value of something, we must ask the purchaser. To people who are very rich, a Cadillac or a fur coat is a small expenditure. To the poor, those things are extremely expensive. Jesus himself commented on how much He was paying in the following verses:
And He came out, and went, as He was wont, to the Mount of Olives; and His disciples also followed Him.

And when He was at the place, He said unto them, Pray that ye enter not into temptation.

And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed.

Saying, Father, if Thou are willing, remove this cup from Me: nevertheless not My will, but Thine, be done. (Luke 22:39-42)...

Jesus held a private conversation with His Father, saying `If Thou be willing, remove this cup from Me.' This must also have happened from time to time in the old Jewish wedding custom. Many a bridegroom probably returned to his father after learning the price for a particular bride and asked his advice on whether he should pay it. `Do you realize how much they want for her?' must have been a question repeated often in the old tradition. The Jewish bridegroom was wise enough to know that his father's judgments in these matters were trustworthy, and he would consult his father about the amount to be paid...

We get some inkling of how high a price the purchaser was paying in this case from this passage---but we're to learn more further on.

In this case the Bridegroom's Father's will is very clear:
And there appeared an angel unto Him from heaven, strengthening Him (v. 43).

And now we see the verse that expresses most plainly of all what the purchaser thought of the price:
And being in an agony He prayed more earnestly: and His sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground (v. 44). (19)


The Bridegroom offers a the bride gifts:
Eternal life:

"My sheep hear My voice and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand." (John 10:27-28)

"Father, the hour has come; glorify Thy Son, that the Son may glorify Thee, even as Thou gavest Him authority over all mankind, that to all who Thou hast given Him, He may give eternal life." (John 17:1-2)


"Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful." (John 14:27)


"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their midst." (Matt. 18:19-20)

"And whatever you ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it." (John 14:32)


The Father of the bride provides gifts to the bride:

"...the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable." (Romans 11:29)

"You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask of the Father in My name, He may give to you." (John 15:16)

The Spirit and spiritual gifts

"And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, who the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you." (John 14:16-17)

"Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware...there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit." (1 Cor. 12:1,4)

"Now He who established us with you in Christ and anointed us is God, who also sealed us and gave us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge." (2 Cor. 1:21-22)


"And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will obey the LORD your God. (Deut. 28:2 )

"Blessings are on the head of the righteous...." (Prov. 10:6 )

"A faithful man will abound with blessings..." (Prov. 28:20 )

Jewish marriages were legally formalized by a written marriage contract, called a ketubah (pl. ketubot), that stated the bride price, the promises of the groom, and the rights of the bride.
"The word `ketubah' literally means a written instrument, and hence the reason for its application to the marriage deed." (20)

"There are three interested parties to a marriage contract, the husband, the wife, and the State. In modern days, the State's interest is so paramount that it completely overshadows the other two. The State binds and the State releases the bond. It not only sets the standards for marriage relations, but it also effects the union itself. As it issues a decree of divorce, so it validates a marriage. Modern marriages, therefore, have no need and practically no room for a marriage deed, or a written marriage contract.

The more ancient systems of law, while recognizing the State's share in a marriage bond, permit the center of the romantic circle to be occupied by the bride and the groom or their guardians. Ancient law is more true to the conception---valid even in modern terminology---that marriage is a voluntary transaction between two parties, a male and a female. Jewish law, for instance, does not recognize a decree of divorce of any court without the act of divorcing carried out by the husband. It is the husband who divorces, not the court. Equally, it is the husband who marries, not the court. Therefore, for many centuries, Jewish marriages were negotiated by means of marriage deeds. The deed...sets down the terms of the marriage contract. The practice of writing a marriage deed still obtains among Jews today, but its importance in the marriage has been lessened by the influence of the statutory marriage of modern law, that is, the marriage whose foundation is social legislation or statue rather than contract. Still, the Ketubah is with us today as a survival of an ancient institution, and submits itself readily to a historical and analytical examination." (21)
The Antiquity of the Ketubah
"Exodus 21:10 notes the husband's obligation to provide his wife with her food, her clothing, and her conjugal rights. There is no reference to a marriage contract in the Old Testament. But the apocryphal Tobit (7:14) includes a reference to the inscribing of such a contract." (22)

Exodus 21:10-11---"If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights. And if he will not do these three things for her, then she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money."

Tobit 7:12-16---Raguel called for his daughter Sarah, took her by the hand and gave her to Tobias with these words, `I entrust her to you; the law and the ruling recorded in the Book of Moses assign her to you as your wife. Take her; take her home to your father's house with a good conscience. The God of heaven grant you a good journey in peace.' Then he turned to her mother and asked her to fetch him writing paper. He drew up the marriage contract, how he gave his daughter as bride to Tobias according to the ordinance in the Law of Moses."

"In the second century A.D. Rabbi Meir made the provision of a brit (`writ') by the husband obligatory (Ket. 5:1). The Jewish husband was held responsible for his wife's medical treatment, for the support of her daughters until they were married, for the provision of an inheritance for her sons, and for giving her a respectable funeral (Ket. 4.11-12).

Three complete marriage and four fragmentary contracts in Aramaic from the fifth century B.C. have been found at the Jewish garrison at Elephantine in Egypt." (23)

The Earliest Known Ketubah

"During the period following the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem, a number of Jews emigrated to Egypt and established a Jewish colony there. A collection of Aramaic papyri discovered at Aswan and Elephantine, Egypt in 1905, reveals interesting facts on the lives of these Jews. Among the papyri is the first known text of a Jewish marriage contract from about 440 B.C.E. An abbreviated translation of the test is given herewith.
On...[date]...of the King, said As-hor the son of Teos, builder to the king, to Mahseia, an Aramaean of Seyne belonging to the quarter of Warizath, saying: I came to thy house that thou give me thy daughter Miphtahya to wife. She is my wife and I am her husband from this day and forever. I have given thee as a marriage settlement for they daughter Miphtahya the sum of five shekels royal standard; it is accepted by thee and thy heart is content therewith. I have delivered unto the hand of thy daughter Miphtahya as money for an outfit 1 karash 2 shekels...1 woolen robe, new, striped, dyed on both sides...There is accepted by me and my heart is content therewith 1 couch of reeds with 4 supports of stone...1 cosmetic box of ivory, new. If tomorrow or any other day, As-hor shall die having no issue whether male or female by Miphtahya his wife, Miphtahya shall have full right over the house of As-hor and his goods and chattels and all that he has on the face of the earth without exception. If tomorrow or any other day, Miphtahya shall stand up in the congregation and say: I divorce As-hor my husband, the price of divorce shall be on her head; she shall return to the scales and she shall weigh for As-hor the sum of five shekels (6?) and two d., and all which I have delivered unto her she shall give back, both string and thread, in one day at one time, and she shall go away withersoever she will and no suit or process shall ensue. And if he shall rise up against Miphtahya to drive her away from the house of As-hor and his goods and his chattels, he shall pay the sum of 20 kebhes and this deed shall be annulled, and I shall have not power to say: I have another wife than Miphtahya and other children than the children which Miphtahya shall bear to me. If I shall say I have children and a wife other than Miphtahya and her children, I shall pay to Miphtahya the sum of 20 kebhes royal standard, and I shall have no power to take away my goods and my chattels from Miphtahya. And if I shall have removed them from her...[erasure]...I will pay Miphtahya the sum of 20 kebhes royal standard. Nathan the son of Ananiah has written this deed at the dictation of As-hor, and the witnesses thereto are Penuliah the son of Jezaniah, Jezaniah the son of Uriah, Menaichem the son of Saccur: Witnesses." (24)

In medieval times, the ketubot were elaborately "illuminated". The figure below shows an example of a ketubah from 1793, formalizing the marriage of Abraham Hayyim ben Ephraim Modligiani to Rosa bat Menahem Modigilani. The medium is vellum. The micrography surrounding the text consists of the entire Book of Ruth, the coat of arms is apparently that of the Modigliani family. (25) This style is apparently becoming popular again among modern Jews.

Parallels to the Church:

Recall that the ketubah is the written specification of the bride price, the promises of the Groom, and the rights of the bride. In the Old Testament, Israel is viewed as the bride of Yahweh, and the ketubah is the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament), specifically, the Mosaic Covenant (Ex. 19:5) as amplified throughout the Old Testament writings. In the New Testament, the church is identified as the bride of Christ, for which the ketubah is the New Covenant alluded to in Jeremiah, and revealed in the work of Christ in 2 Corinthians, Hebrews and elsewhere.
Jeremiah 31:31-33--- "`Behold, days are coming,' declares the LORD, `when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD., "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people."

Hebrews 8:6-13--- But now He (Christ) has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,

"Behold, days are coming, says the Lord,
When I will effect a new covenant
With the house of Israel and with the house of Judah;
Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers
On the day when I took them by the hand
To lead them out of the land of Egypt;
For they did not continue in my covenant,
And I did not care for them, says the Lord.
"for this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
After those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
And I will write them upon their hearts.
And I will be their god,
And they shall be my people.
"and they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen,
And everyone his brother, saying, `know the Lord,'
For all shall know me,
From the least to the greatest of them.
"for I will be merciful to their iniquities,
And I will remember their sins no more."
When He said, "A new covenant ," He has made the first obsolete.

But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
2 Corinthians 3:5-6--- "And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

Click here for full size version, 160k

[Above] Ketubah. Rome, 1793. Bridegroom: Abraham Hayyim ben Ephraim Modigliani. Bride: Rosa bat Menahem Modigliani. On vellum. Micrography surrounding the text consists of the entire Book of Ruth. The coat of arms above the text is apparently that of the Modigliani family (ancestors of the famous painter?). (Source: The Yale University Judaica Collection Exhibition).

Betrothal (kiddushin, or erusin) was a much more formal concept in Jewish antiquity than our modern state of engagement. A betrothed couple was, for all legal purposes, considered to be married. For example, men who were betrothed, even if not actually married, were subject to the one year exemption from military service (Deut. 21:7). The only respect in which this was not true was sexual---consummation of the marriage before the actual nuptials was forbidden.

As was pointed out previously, although it was not essential, the bride's consent was often asked for (Gen. 24:58). At some point in Jewish history, the tradition of the "cup of acceptance" was established. Once the terms of the ketubah had been specified and the father of the bride had agreed to them, the prospective bridegroom would pour a cup of wine for the prospective bride. The wine would be blessed with the ritual prayer: "Blessed art Thou, Eternal our God, Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has given us the fruit of the vine, Amen." (26) If she agreed to the match, she would drink from the cup, indicating her acceptance. (27) In this manner, the covenant was sealed, and the couple was considered to be betrothed. The betrothal period typically lasted one full year, commencing with the sealing of the covenant and ending with the nuptials themselves.

For the groom, the betrothal period was one of preparation. The groom would depart, returning to his father's house to prepare the bridal chamber (the huppah). Sometimes this would require actually adding on a room to the father's house. After the addition was complete, it would have to decorated appropriately to be suitable for the bride. The groom's father was the one to decide when the bridal chamber was ready for the bride.
"We should appreciate that this was a complex undertaking for the bridegroom. He would actually build a separate building on his father's property, or decorate a room in his father's house. The bridal chamber had to be beautiful---one doesn't honeymoon just anywhere; and it had to be stocked with provisions since the bride and groom were going to remain inside for seven days. This construction project would take the better part of a year, ordinarily, and the father of the groom would be the judge of when it was finished. (We can see the logic there---obviously, if it were up to the young man, he would just throw up some kind of modest structure and go get the girl!) But the father of the groom, who had been through this previously and was less excited, would be the final judge on when the chamber was ready and when the young man would go to claim his bride. (28)
The betrothal was, for the bride, a time of purification and anticipation.
The time of the betrothal was typically one year, adequate time to demonstrate the purity of the bride by showing that she was not pregnant.

The bride needed to undergo a ritual Mikveh, or purifying bath. In fact, even now, Orthodox Jewish brides (especially in Israel) are required to obtain a certificate indicating that they have had a Mikveh. (29)

The bride wore a veil whenever she stepped out of her house to indicate that she was "out of circulation", i.e., set apart for marriage to a particular man. (30)

"When the young bride leaves her house, she wears a veil to let other young men know she is `spoken for'. She is no longer available because she has been bought with a price.

She is set apart and consecrated to her bridegroom. She will resist any other offers as she waits for her one true love who has bought and paid for her.

The young bride belongs to the one who paid the bride price for her. She is his and his alone. In Hebrew, she is called a me `kudeshet, meaning one who is betrothed, sanctified, dedicated to another." (31)

The bride anticipated the return of the groom, the exact time of which she did not know, and which could occur at any time. Her experience during this time must have included some doubt and anxiety that the groom might not return for her.

The bride would ensure every night before retiring that she had an oil lamp prepared, in case her groom returned for her at night (cf. the Parable of the Ten Virgins, Matt. 25). Since grooms often returned at midnight to surprise the bride, and since the journey back to the nuptial chambers through the dark streets of a Israelite village could be hazardous, the bride would continually have an oil lamp ready, in preparation for the return of the groom.

Parallels To The Church:

The Cup Of Acceptance
The New Covenant was initially sealed when the disciples shared a cup of wine with Jesus at Passover. This symbolism is perpetuated in the sacrament of communion.
Matthew 26:27-29--- "And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, `Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's kingdom.' "
During our "betrothal," Christ is engaged in preparing a place to which to bring us, His bride.
John 14:1-3--- "Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."

The church has waited anxiously for the return of the Groom for nearly 2000 years, and, perhaps, wondered if He was really coming back. Yet here is His promise to return for the bride for which He paid such a high price.
The Groom's Father is the one who decides when He can return for His bride
Mark 13:32--- "But of that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone."
During this time, the bride is set apart for the Groom, to demonstrate her purity and prepare for His return.
2 Cor. 11:2--- For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin.

2 Tim. 2:2--- Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

1 Pet. 1:15-16---...but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."
The bride is purified by washing
1 Cor. 6:11--- And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.

Eph. 5:25-27--- ...just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.

Titus 3:5--- He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit...

Hebr. 10:25--- ...let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

1 Pet. 3:21--- And corresponding to that, baptism now saves you---not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience---through the resurrection of Jesus Christ...
The bride is not to be distracted by other suitors:

False teachers
2 Pet. 3:17---You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard lest, being carried away by the error of unprincipled men, you fall from your own steadfastness...

2 John 7-11---For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Watch yourselves, that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. Any who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

The World and The Things In It
1 John 2:15---Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
The bride anticipates and prepares for the return of the Groom:
Matt. 24:42-44--- "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you be ready too; for the Son of Man coming at an hour when you do not think He will."

When the father of the groom deemed that the bridal chamber was ready, he would give his approval for the groom to claim his bride. The arrival of the groom at the bride's house signaled his intention of "taking her to wife." The formal process of consummating the marriage in the "taking" of the bride was referred to as nissuin, which literally means "taking". (32)

Typically, this "abduction" would occur in the middle of the night.
"The big moment had arrived and the bridegroom was more then ready, we can be sure. He and his young men would set out in the night, making every attempt to completely surprise the bride.

And that's the romantic part---all Jewish brides were `stolen'. The Jews had a special understanding of a woman's heart. What a thrill for her, to be `abducted' and carried off into the night, not by a stranger but by one who loved her so much that he had paid a high price for her." (33)
Thus, the groom and his attendants would make their way by torch light through the dark streets of the town to the house of the bride. Although abduction was considered romantic, completely surprising the bride by bursting into her house in the middle of the night was not, so upon arrival at the house of the bride, the groom's party would announce their arrival with a shout---"Behold, the bridegroom cometh!"---and, possibly, the blowing of the shofar, the traditional "trumpet" made from a ram's horn. (34)
Matthew 25:5,6---Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him."
Having claimed the bride, the party would return to the bridal chamber where the nuptials themselves would begin.

The bride and groom proceeded back to the groom's house in a celebratory procession. One description of such a procession is found in the apocryphal book of First Maccabees:

"They looked out and there they saw the bridegroom, in the middle of a bustling crowd and a train of baggage, coming to meet the bridal party, escorted by his friends and kinsmen fully armed to the sound of drums and instruments of music." (35)

Passages of Scripture also allude to this practice:
Jeremiah 7:34--- "Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride..."
The bride and bridegroom would be elaborately clothed. They would act and be treated like a king and a queen, (36) even being adorned with crowns.
Song of Solomon. 3:11--- "Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and gaze on King Solomon with the crown with which his mother has crowned him on the day of his wedding, and on the day of his gladness of heart."

Isaiah 61:10---For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Jeremiah 2:32--- "Can a virgin forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?"
The bride imagery in Ezekiel is also indicative of the preparation and adornment of the bride:
Ezekiel 16:8-14--- "Then I passed by you and saw you, and behold, you were at the time for love; so I spread My skirt over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a covenant with you so that you became Mine," declares the Lord GOD. "Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. I also clothed you with embroidered cloth, and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands, and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey, and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you," declares the Lord GOD.
The bride and groom would return to the house of the groom's father, where the huppah had been prepared. The tradition of the huppah is one which has changed and evolved significantly over time, and is still in use in a modern form in contemporary Jewish weddings. Today, the huppah is a canopy under which the bride and groom stand during the wedding ceremony. This form of the huppah appears to have evolved in medieval times. (38) A quaint tradition exists that the poles holding up the corners of the huppah canopy are made from trees planted on behalf of the bride and groom by their parents when they were children; cedar for the groom, pine for the bride. (39) However, the huppah was originally the place to which the groom would take the bride to symbolize her coming under his authority and protection, and in order to have privacy for the consummation of their marriage:
"It is evident from the Bible itself that the huppah was a tent or a room belonging to the bridegroom. Psalms 19.6 speaks of `the bridegroom coming forth from his huppah,' and so too in Joel 2.16: `Let the bridegroom come forth from his chamber and the bride from her huppah.' The room or huppah had to be his (and then theirs) because until she came under his protection or into his premises, she was still arusah, betrothed, and not yet nesuah, the very word meaning `taken by him.'...Generally, the conclusion is that not until they are in the huppah in privacy, so that sexual relationship may be possible, is she actually `acquired' to him as wife." (40)
It is interesting to note that the only other use of the term huppah in the Bible, apart from the two cited above, is in Isaiah 4:5, in a passage describing the Millennial kingdom:
" In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel. And it will come about that he who is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy ---everyone who is recorded for life in Jerusalem. When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the bloodshed of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning, then the LORD will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy (huppah)."

The bride and groom would enter the huppah, where they would spend a week in privacy together. It is to this practice that Laban probably referred when he instructed Jacob, with regard to Leah, to "complete her week" (Gen. 29:27). Meanwhile, the guests would be enjoying a sumptuous feast, while waiting for the bride and groom to rejoin them in public celebration. Various sources mention different durations for the feast:
"The wedding feast might last a day (Gen. 29:22), a week (Judg. 14:12), or according to the Apocrypha even two weeks (Tob. 8:20, 10:7)." (41)
Following the feast, the couple would live together as one.

Parallels To The Church:

At a time determined by the Father and unknown to the bride, the Groom will return to "take" the bride, and his arrival will be announced by a shout and the sound of a trumpet.

1 Thess. 4:16-18--- For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Luke 17:34-36--- "I tell you, on that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken, and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding at the same place; one will be taken, and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left. "

The bride and the groom will be adorned with suitable raiment and will wear crowns.
Rev. 14:14--- And I looked, and behold a white cloud, and sitting on the cloud was one like a son of man, having a golden crown on His head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.

Rev. 2:10---Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

2 Tim. the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

James 1:12---Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.

1 Pet. 5:4---And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Rev. 19:8---And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
The Groom takes the bride to a special place that He has prepared in His Father's house
John 14:1-3---"Let not your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for 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 to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
A great marriage feast is held to celebrate
Rev. 19:6-9---And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude and as the sound of many waters and as the sound of mighty peals of thunder, saying, "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God, the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready." And it was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. And he said to me, "Write, `Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.'" And he said to me, "These are the true words of God."
The bride and groom dwell in unity ever after
1 Thess. 4:17---Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Rev. 21:3---And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.


1. Mendell Lewittes, Jewish Marriage: Rabbinic Tradition, Legend, and Custom (Northvale:
Jason Aronson, Inc., 1994), 19.

2. Edwin Yamauchi, "Cultural Aspects of Marriage in the Ancient World," Bibliotheca
, (July-September 1978), 242.

3. Galen Peterson, The Everlasting Tradition, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publishers, 1995), 132.

4. Yamauchi, 243.

5. Louis M. Epstein, The Jewish Marriage Contract, (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary
of America, 1927), 78-79.

6. Yamauchi, 245.

7. Genesis 24:59-61; 29:24, 29.

8. Joshua 15:18f.; Judges 1:14f.

9. 1 Kings 9:16

10. Millar Burrows, The Basis of Israelite Marriage, (New Haven, CT: American Oriental
Society, 1938), 41.

11. Ibid., 11,13.

12. Richard Booker, Here Comes The Bride: Jewish Wedding Customs And The Messiah,
(Houston: Sounds of the Trumpet, 1995), 4-5.

13. Epstein, 60.

14. Ibid., 78.

15. Ibid., 78.

16. Ibid., 78.

17. Ibid., 90-91.

18. Ibid., 90-91.

19. Zola Levitt, A Christian Love Story, (Dallas, TX: Great Impressions Printing, 1978), p.

20. Ibid., 4

21. Epstein, 1-2.

22. Yamauchi, 246.

23. 23. Ibid., 246.

24. Philip and Hanna Goodman, The Jewish Marriage Anthology, (Philadelphia, The
Jewish Publication Society of America, 1965), 92-93.

25. Judaica Illustration, Ketubah from 1793.

26. Neil and Jamie Lash, Ancient Jewish Wedding Customs, (Ft. Lauderdale, FL: Love
Song To The Messiah), Tape T-102.

27. Booker, 5.

28. Levitt, 3.

29. Lash

30. Levitt, 4.

31. Booker, p. 7

32. M. Mielziner, The Jewish Law of Marriage and Divorce in Ancient And Modern Times,
(Cincinnati, OH: Bloch, 1884), 83.

33. Levitt, p. 4.

34. Booker, p. 9

35. 1 Maccabees 9:39, New English Bible.

36. Ralph Gower, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times, (Chicago, IL: Moody
Press, 1987), 66.

37. For an excellent discussion of the history of the huppah, see "The Huppah" by
Solomon B. Freehof, in Philip and Hanna Goodman, The Jewish Marriage Anthology,
(Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 1965), 93-99.

38. Eliezer Segal, "The Huppah: From Eden To Today."

39. Hayyim Schneid, Marriage, (Philadephia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1973). 38.

40. Ibid., 96.

41. Yamauchi, 247. (Bill Risk's Web site)

Originated March 1996. Revised May 15, 1996.