We live in a rushed culture of fast food, minute managers, and instant messaging. Compulsive impatience is rampant. I blame the microwave. What used to take an hour to cook we can now have in less than five minutes. It eats away at our skill for handling postponed gratification. Food is among mankind’s strongest desires, and now we no longer have to wait for it. Is it any wonder that such a culture considers wedding ceremonies to be long affairs? And yet, compared to the weddings we read about in Scripture, ours seem to be microwave events.
For starters, our social convention of dating to find a prospective mate is unknown in Scripture. Indeed, dating is a phenomenon that was unknown in most societies as recently as a hundred years ago. For the greatest portion of human history, the choice of marriage partners was a parental right and obligation. Father and mother found a partner for their child and made all the arrangements. Barbaric? Unfeeling? Unromantic? Impractical? I think the reader doth protest too much! A simple look at the current divorce rates in Western culture should cause us to place a critical eye on our dating institutions and the result of leaving the choice of mates in the hands of children! As unromantic or impractical as it may seem, arranged marriages have for millennia had much better success rates than our current methods.
Forget whirlwind romances for a moment and consider the care and time parents used to take in finding the right mate for their children. Most of us in the microwave society have a hard time planning for our children’s college education! But parents in the centuries before us carefully considered the character and nature of their children and looked diligently for an appropriate life partner. (If you still think this to be an unenlightened way for a couple to find themselves before the altar, consider that God the Father chose us in Christ before the foundations of the world. Like it or not, we as the church are part of a prearranged marriage. The Father has chosen and we have no rights to date around and pick our own lord!)
When a suitable partner was found, the negotiations would begin. The parents of the bridegroom would offer gifts to the bride to be and her family. If the proposed union was agreeable to both sets of parents (and the bride as well), an espousal contract was drawn up. This was not the ketubbah, which would come later, but it held as much weight at law. An actual betrothal ceremony, similar to the wedding, was then conducted, usually a year before the wedding proper. Once a betrothal was made, it required a bill of divorcement to get out of it. During the time of espousal, the bride and groom may have supervised visitations. Both spent their time in preparation—he in making a house ready, she in making her wedding garments.
The bride knew she would be married. She just didn’t know exactly when. So she must always be ready and lived in expectancy of her bridegroom coming and carrying her away to her new home. And at last, the day would come. The bridegroom would venture out to the bride’s home and stop somewhat short. Then he with his company would call out for her to come. She would don her wedding vestments and venture out to meet him, accompanied by her maids. In merry procession, the bridal party would make their way to the bridegroom’s home where the feast had been prepared. The couple was officially wed and the bride was presented with the ketubbah, the marriage contract that specified for her the husband’s legal obligations to her. For an entire week, bridegroom and bride would feast with their families and friends to celebrate their union. And you thought a Catholic wedding was long!
It was to a wedding feast that Jesus first took His disciples and there chose to begin His miraculous ministry. Marriage was a matter of discourse in His public preaching and teaching. Indeed, He used the theme of marriage in parables to teach us about His sure and impending return. One of these parables, the king preparing a marriage for his son, was spoken to the public at large. Another, the parable of the ten virgins, was part of His answer to the disciples’ question about His coming and the end of the world. The bride isn’t mentioned in either of these parables, for in application the guests take her place in the parable of the king and the ten maids in the parable of the virgins and their lamps. Let us go up to the wedding feasts and see what the Lord would have us know about being His bride. [