With Valentines Day approaching, romance is in the air. Romance leads to love and —sometimes—love leads to weddings. Who doesn’t love a wedding?
Yet, in at least two ways, Biblical weddings were even more elaborate—some might even say better—than modern nuptials.
The betrothal was a serious affair for the bride and groom, but also for their families.
Today, engaged couples sometimes move in together as a ‘trial’ marriage. Even for those not living together, cold feet results in little more than a returned engagement ring, cancelled reservations and, of course, heartbreak for the jilted party.
The betrothal of Biblical Israel was quite the opposite. After a solemn ceremony which involved sharing a cup of wine and gifts given to the bride, a contract was drawn up and a legally binding period of engagement began. During this time, the groom went home to prepare a place for his bride and their future children. The bride’s responsibility was to keep herself pure for her husband and await his return with anticipation and joy.
Only a formal decree of divorce could stop the marriage, bringing shame and even financial repercussions on both families. A betrothal was so binding that if the groom died during the betrothal period, the bride was considered a widow.
Weddings in ancient Israel were week-long parties for the entire community.
The wedding started with the blowing of the shofar and the friends of the bridegroom announcing to the waiting bride: “Your bridegroom comes!”
The groom and his friends carried the bride in a litter from her parent’s house to the one he had prepared for her. She was dressed in her finest clothes, and flowers and nuts were strewn in the path. Singing, playing of instruments, and no doubt a good deal of joking and innuendo took place along the way.
Everyone gathered in the bridegroom’s house as his parents gave a blessing on the couple and express their good wishes. On that first evening, the bride and groom disappeared to consummate their union.
The next day, the husband and wife rejoined the party and the rejoicing continue for seven days!
People ate a great deal and drank even more. Gifts were given to the attendants and to the new couple. Young men competed in games of skill and the women danced in the vineyards, probably attempting to catch the eye of their own future groom.
Weddings were joyful events that heralded the creation of a new family in the community.