Observances, Ceremonies and Customs-Part 4

We are going to take a look at marriage, with several areas and stages. In Gen 2.23, we learn the concept of “Ish and Ishah”, the man Adam and the woman Chava, and this relates to Eph 5.22-33 and the Messiah and his bride. We learn that this verse in Gen 2.23 relates to status. In Gen 2.24 the word “cleave” means a strong, emotional attachment (Gen 34.3; 2 Kings 18.6; Ruth 1.14) or extreme physical closeness. There are two phases to a marriage, the betrothal and the full marriage. Marriage was conveying the concept of man becoming whole again, restored to the “one flesh” status that he had when created when a man finds a wife (Gen 2.20-23). The word for one is “echad” and it is a plural unity. This becomes very interesting when you consider Eph 5 and that we are a part of Yeshua. We have entered into the betrothal stage, through a contract (the Torah). At the consummation of the marriage, we enter into a fullness (On Yom Teruah, Rosh Ha Shannah), and Yeshua will come into a fullness to us.

The phrase “taking a wife can mean the physical taking of a wife to her husband’s home and the actual act of marriage. Isaac brought Rebekah into his mother’s tent “and took her” and she became his wife (Gen 24.67). There was no ceremony, minister, music or any of the things we attach to a marriage today. In fact, there is no marriage ceremony in the Scriptures. Jacob took Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah and there was a physical transfer to each other and they cohabited. That was it. In some Christian circles in the past, all the couple had to do was say “We are married” and it was done. This was based in part on what the Scriptures had to say about what it took for a marriage. Obtaining a civil certificate of marriage like today is only about 100 years old, and this only has to do with civil rights in that state. Some feel that you can still have a valid marriage without the state sanction.

An “alien” female who was captured in war was given a 30 day mourning period before her captor can cohabit with her, becoming his wife (Deut 21.13). This doesn’t fit well in our society, but the physical transfer, the “taking” and cohabitation was a form (or at least recognized as) of marriage. The brother of a man who died without children is instructed to marry the wife of the deceased, called a Levirate marriage (Deut 25.5-10), but the marriage of a man to his bother’s widow was forbidden as a general rule (Lev 18.16, 20.21). The brother could avoid this obligation by a ceremony called Halizah (removing the shoe). In the case of Ruth, this was not a levirate marriage, but related to the Goel. However, the story of Tamar and her succeeding husbands, including Judah, was a case of levirate marriage (Gen 38) Marriage was established only by cohabitation (Talmud, Kedushin 14a).

The first stage is called the “Erusin” or betrothal (Exo 22.16; Deut 20.7, 22.23). A betrothed woman was considered married and usually lived at her father’s house until she was transferred into her husband’s house. The word erusin comes from the word “erushah” which means a “desired woman” once a man desires her. The “setting apart to him” is called the “kedushin” and this is like when things are set apart for holy use in the Temple, it is forbidden for all men for use. They become a dedicated item and set apart. This is the same meaning for a woman. The Talmud in Kedushin 2b says there are three methods of betrothal. There is a financial consideration to the woman, or a written betrothal called the Shitre Erusin, and cohabitation. An “erushah” is a virgin betrothed to a man (Deut 22.23). Even when cohabitation was used to establish a state of betrothal, the early rabbi’s prohibited further contacts until the full marriage (2nd stage) because she had things to do and needed a guaranteed amount of time. In some cases she needed to even learn how to apply make-up, ointments and she may have been very inexperienced in making a home. She also wanted to accumulate jewelry if she could for later.

In the first century, it was not seen as a bad thing that the man cohabited with her because they were considered married, even at betrothal. That is why Joseph was considering a divorce from Mary, and they were on the first stage of betrothal. By the third century, cohabitation was discouraged (Kedushin 12b), but that was not the case in the time of Yeshua and the New Testament. A man was under no obligation to support his betrothed bride unless he delayed the wedding beyond one year, and that had to be a part of the agreement if there was one. A betrothal could only be dissolved by divorce or death. The home of the bride’s parents was the site of the betrothal, if possible. The marriage and the taking of the bride was followed by a banquet. Witnesses where required for every stage. Eventually, a ceremony developed by the third century, but for thousands of years there was no ceremony. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

The Scriptures reveal little about any ceremonial aspect with marriage, except there was a supper. Most people today put a lot of emphasis on a ceremony and “vows” but there is no instruction in the Scriptures about any ceremony or any responsibility to have one. Anciently, there was no ceremony, priest, prophet or minister officiating. There were no legal documents required by the government to sign. The legal responsibility went no further than the couple, and the parents if there were any. The state or national governments had no jurisdiction over a marriage. In regard to any ceremonial aspects of marriage, the scholars today, and even orthodox Jewish authorities, say that the Scriptures don’t reveal much about any ceremony or requirements. Each generation set it’s own standards and they have differed from time to time, and from place to place, over the years. Some of the changes to the customs over the last 2000 years are quite foreign to the Scriptures, and that is why marriage is so misunderstood today.

The primary legal basis for marriage in the Scriptures is that it was a covenant, or contract, entered into by the couple and the parents. This was an agreement between a man and a woman to live with each other in close, intimate circumstances which includes sexual relations. This was usually a covenant between the parents of the couple and it had nothing to do with how the couple felt about one another. Sometimes they never knew each other or had even met until they were married (Isaac and Rebekah, Messiah and his bride). If there were no parents, the agreement was between the couple. This could be written or verbal. The marriage of the Lord with Israel was like any marriage covenant at the time (Exo 20 to 23). The Torah was the covenant with certain conditions. The marriage was sealed and made official after the bride agreed to it, and a sacrifice was made and the blood sprinkled upon the documents (Exo 24.3-8). We know that the Lord kept his side of the agreements with Israel, but Israel violated the covenant. The study of how all plays out is what is behind the Scriptures and best left for another time.

There was no such thing as “dating” and like we have said before, they may be meeting for the first time on the day the marriage is consummated. Sometimes an agent for the parents did the agreements (Gen 24). Brides were usually very young and betrothed by 12 years old. Then they are given time to learn, mature and get ready. The groom was to prepare a home and learn a trade for support. The parents would provide for a wedding supper, depending on their finances, and the betrothal was open ended. He was not responsible to support his betrothed for at least the first year. The bride and groom can serve a “notice of intent” to have the marriage consummated, or what is known as a wedding date. Betrothed widows needed less time (on month) to get it all together and they had previous contracts/covenants dealing with there case and provisions. This is what Paul had in mind in 1 Tim 5.9-16. Laws od support only go back to 200 BC.

By the middle ages, the interval was totally eliminated and everything is contained in the two stages because the communities were very unsettled and uprooted at times, so there was no need. Frequent looting of property, confiscation and persecution made it had for parents to commit to financial responsibilities. You paid taxes for being a Jew. Richard the Lion Heart expelled all Jews from England and took all their property, holdings and belongings. In Part 5 we will pick up here and continue to talk about marriage and we will begin with the betrothal of Mary and Joseph in Matt 1.18-21 and bring out a more concepts.

Posted in Articles, Idioms, Phrases and Concepts, The Tanach, Understanding the New Testament

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