A Jewish Wedding
J. R. Charlesworth, Barnstaple
Eastern custom has always been very different from our own European culture. Here a gentleman lifts his hat upon entering a home; in Israel he would remove his shoes. Similarly a typical Hebrew wedding has little in common with our usual marriage arrangements.
A young Israelite, wishing to obtain a life-partner, employs a matrimonial agent who approaches a suitable Jewess; in olden times the young man's parents would have handled the matter, Gen. 21. 21; 24. 2-4; 28. 1; 34. 4; Jud. 14. 2. With much flowery language, the agent gives the girl and her family a glowing testimony of the man who has commissioned him. He also presents diamonds, pearls and other gifts from the hopeful bachelor. Seldom does the young lady see her future husband before the engagement is announced (cf. 1 Pet. 1.8). Everything is negotiated by the agent (cf. the work of the Holy Spirit to-day, on behalf of the Son of God, as outlined in John 16. 13-15).
The engagement, or betrothal, is legally binding, Deut. 22. 23-27, and will be followed within the year by the complementary wedding ceremony. It was during the period of her betrothal that Mary received a visit from Gabriel, Matt. 1. 18; Luke 1. 26-27. The bridegroom buys a white wedding dress as his first gift to his new fiancee. She works patiently on it with needle and thread to make it as exquisite as possible by the wedding day (cf. Rev. 19. 7-8). On that anticipated occasion the bride prepares herself hours before the groom is due to arrive. She will bedeck herself with the best jewellery available, Isa. 61. 10, put on her veil (cf. Gen. 24. 65), and wait all day, talking to her bridesmaids about the future. The actual marriage is likely to take place at night, Matt. 25. 6, when the bridegroom, attended by his friends (cf. John 3. 29), and a musical group, visits the bride's home and escorts her, with her parents' blessing, in procession to his own house. Upon arrival, the bride takes off her veil and her husband puts it on his right shoulder, signifying that he is now responsible for her and will support her (cf. Isa. 9. 6).
Many are invited to the wedding supper. The groom's parents prepare this feast. The Lord, in Matthew 22, speaks of a custom whereby invitations took the form of parcels containing wedding garments. Each guest at the bridal feast wore the garment as a sort of overall. So it cost one nothing to attend a wedding; one's own clothing was not conspicuous. Rich and poor looked alike. Of course the close relatives and intimate friends had a "higher" place at table than the more distant relations and acquaintances. When the supper was ready, servants ran through the darkness to the houses of invited neighbours, Matt. 22. 3, who immediately donned the wedding overall and joined the procession, Psa. 45. 15. The singing, dancing, and other celebrations, begun that night, continued for some days, Gen. 29. 27; Jud. 14. 12-20; John 2. 10. No one was allowed to enjoy the festivities unless he proved by the special garment that he had been invited, Matt. 22. 12. Only believers, to whom the "robe of righteousness" is given, have the authority to be in the Lord's household, John 1. 12 r.v. Having "the garments of salvation", we "adorn the doctrine of God" and have "put on Christ", Gal. 3. 27; Titus 2. 10 (cf. Rom. 13. 14).
Among Christians, who marry "in the Lord", 1 Cor. 7. 39; 2 Cor. 6. 14, divorce should never need to be contemplated. In fact a young believer, who seeks the Lord's guidance concerning a "help-meet", should never have to endure the sorrow of a broken engagement but should discover that "thou preparest a table" in advance. So it would be with a young Israelite couple. They would look forward to a life-time together. The bridegroom always gives his wife a token of his lasting affection (cf. Est. 2. 9); instead of a ring he may give her a silver necklace (cf. Luke 15. 8). The bride or her people would also receive a dowry which could take the form of service, Gen. 29. 18; 34. 12; 1 Sam. 18. 25. Paul said of the Corinthian believers that he wished to present them as a chaste virgin to Christ. Doubtless he used this simile to impress upon the carnally minded the obligatory inner purity and singleness of purpose expected of them in view of the great love wherewith the Lord loved them, 2 Cor. 11. 1-3. They were to continue in "the simplicity that is in Christ" for they were His property, 1 Cor. 6. 19-20, and bore His Name, Acts 11. 26. A bride shares in the honours that her husband earns, and she is the recipient of his constant love. In return she will be submissive to his authority, Eph. 5.22-23. A bride will know the mind of her beloved and will act accordingly: do I know "the mind of Christ" and act only to His glory?
Thou glorious Bridegroom of our hearts, Thy present smile a heaven imparts;
Oh, lift the veil, if veil there be, Let every saint Thy beauties see!
A New Testament Wedding Feast. Significantly, the Lord Jesus made a wedding feast the occasion for His first miracle, John 2. 11. From the earthly life of the Saviour, the apostle John was guided by the Holy Spirit to select just seven miracles to be incorporated into the fourth Gospel that "ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God", 20. 31. This series of episodes commenced with the wedding in Cana of Galilee. The setting is strictly Jewish. The whole narrative, 2. 1-11, is full of interest, establishing, as it does, the sanctity of wedlock in the eyes of the Lord.
How the Lord came to be invited to this wedding is not known. It may be that His mother (presumably by now a widow) had received an early invitation, and, when the great day approached, Jesus accompanied her to Cana. As the story begins, the wedding procession is over and all the invited guests, "the children of the bridechamber", Mart. 9. 15, are enjoying the festivities. When a wedding procession or funeral march moved through the streets, it was customary for passers-by to join those following; (cf. Luke 7. 12, "much people of the city was with her"). Such folk normally left to go their own way once the public procession ended; but it is possible that Jesus (being acknowledged as a rabbi) and His disciples remained as last-minute guests. Such invitations were not infrequent.
In most parts of Israel, friends of the bridegroom would lead the procession. Such special friends would expect certain privileges during the festivities afterwards. In Galilee, where morality and common decency were generally of a higher standard than elsewhere, this practice did not obtain, however, because such groomsmen would be likely to behave with impropriety. Thus John, writing with first hand knowledge of the Galilean way of life, makes no reference to a "friend of the bridegroom" at Cana. In the next chapter, however, he does quote the phrase as spoken by John the Baptist at Aenon, south of the borders of Galilee, John 3. 29. Such strokes of authenticity are worthy of note.
Because of the many guests, six large water pots were provided for purification. Each could hold at least ten gallons and might have been capable of holding as much as twenty-five gallons. The water was used for washing one's hands before and after meals and also for the cups and plates used by those partaking. Ceremonial purification constituted one of the main features of Rabbinical legalism. At this marriage feast much of the water had been used by the time the wine ran out; the reception was nearing its end. Events such as the pronouncement of the bridal blessing and the emptying of the bridal cup would have taken place much earlier in the proceedings. Now all was joviality and merriment; until the wine failed. Perhaps the shortage was caused by the presence of visitors whose late call to attend had allowed no opportunity for getting in extra provisions. Whatever the incidental details may have been, obedience to the word of the Master transformed a shortage into an abundance. How thankful everyone must have been that, early or late, the invitation to attend had been extended to Jesus. As then, so now. In His graciousness, the Lord will always come when "called" to a marriage. Let all who contemplate getting engaged, all who intend to be married, and all who have entered into holy matrimony, listen attentively to Mary's words, "Whatever he saith unto you, do". Those full, rich words, spoken to the servants, form the best advice that anyone can follow. The tragic sorrow of a broken home can be avoided in no better way.