I have had a number of discussions with people about how a man and woman are to come into the covenant of marriage, and just recently, I was blessed to witness a couple, who from a very early age (pre-teen) knew that they were to be together. This particular couple, without any influence from me, but because of the way that they were raised, decided to take a very Scriptural approach to their joining together in covenant with each other. The process that they went through is very similar to my own view. Allow me to summarize the process of this covenant relationship.
Allow me to first lay out some assumptions and provide the Scriptural basis for these assumptions… most of these assumptions come from two stories in Genesis that are very close to each other – the choosing of a bride for Isaac and the marriage of Jacob to Leah and Rachel. The latter of which is where a number of the traditions currently practiced in Jewish weddings are found. Please review Genesis 24, 28:1-5 and 29:1-30.
What is Biblical Marriage?
Most of the time, when the topic of Biblical marriage is brought up, the primary thought process goes to the picture of a very young girl being “sold” by her father to a middle aged man. This primarily comes from the Hollywood depictions of Middle Eastern arranged marriages and should not be associated with the topic of a Biblical marriage. In every example found in Scripture, the bride has a choice and either agrees or disagrees. This is even the case with Jacob and Leah, for while Laban gave Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel, Leah did not say anything to Jacob to identify herself prior to the consummation.
These steps are meant to be very generic and do not describe the intimate detail as every situation is different, but there is an aspect of all of these steps that can still be accounted for and carried out today.
The first step of this process is the identification and recognition of the bride. The father of the groom, the groom himself or his representative identifies the bride most suitable for the groom.
The second step of this process is the bride’s acceptance of the proposal. This is typically celebrated by a feast of up to 7 days and the bestowing of gifts upon the bride and her family – although this is not the dowry. At this point, the bride and groom have been identified and are considered betrothed and for all intents and purposes are married. But there is still much to be done.
At the end of the acceptance feast (the 2nd step in the process), the groom departs and begins to prepare for having a family to care for and begins to separate himself from his Father’s house so that his own house can be established (Gen 2:24 Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.). This is not yet the third step, but is part of the process as the man, the groom, will have to show that he is capable of supporting his bride and soon-thereafter children.
The third step of this process is what we call today, the exchanging of vows. In a Hebraic concept, this is the establishment and agreement to the marriage certificate. This certificate however is not from a government, but is the established agreement between the groom and his bride – this is the covenant. A covenant is an agreement, verbal, written or both, in which one party establishes the guidelines or foundation of the relationship and the other agrees to be bound to those guidelines. This is not a mutual agreement; this is one side establishing the criteria and expectations and the other side agreeing to it without modification or negotiation. This agreement, whether verbal or written, is often referred to as the Ketubah. When the Ketubah has been established and agreed to, there is an additional celebration..
Assuming the bride has agreed to the Ketubah, the groom moves on to the fourth step which requires the fullness of the step in between step 2 and step 3 – the preparing of a place for his bride. As most married men know, while we can prepare a place, that place will never be completed, as it is an ever changing environment with the wife, then children and all of the other changes that life brings.
So we come to the fourth step. The man by this point has shown his worthiness and built a home to bring his wife into. The fourth step is the announcement that everything is prepared and ready for the man and woman to finally come together. This is a day of joy and proclamation.
The fifth step is not completed by the groom or the bride, but rather is the final inspection and approval of the father. Not the father of the bride, but the father of the groom. It is this final inspection where the father of the groom determines the acceptable work of his son and whether he is ready to support his wife and family outside of the his family estate. This is not excommunication from the family, but is the father, the patriarch, saying that his son is ready and is no longer under his direct provision and covering.
The sixth step is ceremony of the groom and the bride confirming the covenant made in step 3. In this ceremony, the groom builds a temporary structure, like a sukkah, where, traditionally, a prayer shawl or tallit is used as the covering of the structure. The groom stands in the sukkah and awaits his wife. When his wife is delivered to him, the groom steps out of his structure, receives her and takes her himself under the tallit and into his sukkah. Here, in view of all who are gathered, both repeat the Ketubah. This allows all who are present as witnesses to be counted on in the future if a question about the Ketubah and their agreement ever arises. After the ceremony and initial celebration with all who are present, the groom takes his wife to his home and fulfills the traditional bridal week, a period of seven days where the husband and wife consecrate the covenant and bind themselves together in covenant making them one flesh.
There is one last step, a seventh step, which is completed at the end of the bridal week, on the eighth day after the ceremony of the groom and the bride confirming the covenant, the husband makes a final declaration of his acceptance of his wife. Remember that there is only one reason why a man might Scripturally put away his wife (Deut 24:1-4) and that is for fornication or having been told she was a virgin and is not. It is my understanding that at this point, once the man has accepted her and confirmed the covenant, the latter of these can no longer be enforced, nor should it have come to the completion of the bridal week.
This is how I view a Scriptural marriage. This process can happen in any period of time, however, in holding to a Scriptural timeline, these steps correspond to all of the feasts of The Creator (in order, with the exception of the weekly Shabbat) that can be found in Leviticus 23.
The Feasts of The Creator and The Marriage Covenant
To help with the correlations, I will now present the seven Shabbathons* and their relationship to the process above, as I understand them:
* Note – A Shabbathon is similar to a Sabbath, however they are not days of rest like the weekly Sabbath, but rather a time designated by The Creator that is set apart for a remembrance of an event which all still have a greater fulfillment to be accomplished.
- Pesach – Passover – While this day is not a Shabbathon, it is the day that relates to the identification of the bride.
- Chag haMatzot – Feast of Unleavened Breads – There are two days that are set apart during this Feast. The first day of this 7 day remembrance is a celebration of the choosing of the bride from among all the others. The last day of this 7 day remembrance is a feast of departing where it is recognized that the bride is entering the covering of her husband and departing her current surroundings. During this week of celebration there is also a day in which gifts are given (The First Fruits offering).
- Shavuot – Pentecost – According to The Creator’s timeline, this day is set-apart and is 50 days after the day of First Fruits. This day is the day of the Ketubah. A day when the groom and bride are brought together and the obligations of the covenant are declared and agreed to.
- Yom Teruah – The Day of Shouting – The groom’s announcement of his completion of the preparation tasks. On The Creator’s calendar, this day is set apart and is typically called The Feast of Trumpets (although Blowing or Shouting is a more appropriate translation).
- Yom haKippurim** – The Day of Coverings – The covering of the groom is inspected and the bride is prepared, dressed in white and awaits her groom.
- Sukkot – The Feast of Tabernacles – This is the bridal week as the feast begins with a set-apart day of celebration memorialized by dwelling in tents or sukkahs.
- Shemini Atzeret – The Eighth Day – This set apart day is associated with the completion and consecration of the marriage covenant after the bridal week has been completed. The husband and wife now emerge from their dwelling as one flesh bound together in flesh and spirit.
**Note: Yom haKippurim is also a Shabbat, but is outside the scope of this particular discussion. For further information about Yom haKippurim, please see my additional thoughts captured in the article: Personal Application of Yom haKippurim.
The above list denotes how I view the set-apart days of The Creator and their relationship to how a man takes a bride and how she then binds herself to him through the marriage covenant.
As the above list denotes how these are related to the marriage process, allow me to also point out the feasts where Israel is commanded to present themselves before The Creator. Pesach and Chag haMatzot, Shavuot and Sukkot are the only times where all of Israel is commanded to gather together in one single place, where The Creator has placed His Name. The other days, Yom Teruah, Yom haKippurim and Shemini Atzeret are days of gathering among the local community. These times and places of gatherings are also related to the marriage process.
- Pesach – The identification of the bride is not defined explicitly as a feast where we are all to gather, in fact, this is a very personal feast that is to be held in the home. This day is not set apart as a day of gathering; however, the Pesach offering had to be offered where The Creator placed His Name, so the day following Pesach and this private meeting is the first day of….
- Chag haMatzot – This is the public identification of the bride and from this point on, the couple is considered married. This is a proclamation for all around to see. As the groom and bride will be separated for a time, everyone present will know that there is a betrothal/marriage covenant in process and they were all gathered in one place to be witnesses of the covenant.
- Shavuot – The Ketubah is agreed to in the presence of all and all are witnesses to the covenant. These are the same witnesses as who were there at the identification of the bride.
- Yom Teruah – This is a local community gathering and does not require witnesses as there is no formal piece of the covenant being accomplished.
- Yom haKippurim – This is a local community gathering as the house/covering is inspected and the bride is prepared.
- Sukkot – This is the completion of the public aspect of the covenant and requires the same witnesses as the identification and the Ketubah, thus all are gathered together in one place.
- Shemini Atzeret – When the husband and wife emerge from their sukkah and declare the consecration and completion of the marriage process, they do so for all to see; however it is not necessary for all who were witnesses previously to be present. Thus this feast does not necessarily merit a gathering of all in one location; however, the completion of Sukkot would denote that all were still gathered in one location.
Every aspect of this was alluded to in the book of Exodus and it is these same allusions that Paul is referring to when he writes to the Colossians and says that the festivals are a shadow of things to come.
Col 2:16 Let no one therefore judge you in eating or in drinking, or in respect of a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths –
Col 2:17 which are a shadow of what is to come – but the Body of the Messiah.
I hope you see, as I do, that Biblical Marriage is still for us yesterday, today and forever.