The Bible and Marriage Part 4
An Old Testament Perspective
As we have said earlier, nearly every culture in history has had some kind of formal wedding ceremony. It has always involved some sort of covenant or contract and has never been just choosing to live together and the accompanying consummation of sexual intercourse.
I. Old Testament Marriage During the Time of Abraham and Isaac
During the time of Abraham and Isaac the marriage customs were designed to maintain the social standing and to perpetuate the nomadic group to which a couple belonged. The mindset of the people in those days was not as individualistic as we are today. The group to which one belonged was extremely important.
The marriage contracts were arranged by the father or the oldest male kin to benefit the individual family and to make sure that the children would be brought up in such a way that they were a credit to the group as a whole. Marriage with non-nomadic groups was usually discouraged, as was marriage outside the kinship group. In that culture betrothals could be made while the couple were still children. Girls usually were married by the time they reached puberty. However, boys often waited until they recieved their inheritance or they had earned enough to establish their own household and support a family.
We see in Genesis 24:34-50 that the actual negotiations that lead to Rebekah becoming the wife of Isaac were carried out by her brother Laban and her father Bethuel. Rebekah had no direct role in the process, although she was consulted before she departed from her family home to create a new one with Isaac (24:57-59). Laban, no doubt wanted the servant negotiating for Isaac's family to stay a little while longer in order that Laban might possibly get more gifts from him in the bargaining for his sister. However, Rebekah was willing to leave with the servant without any further delay or expense. This showed that Rebekah had switched loyalties and was now more concerned with the wealth of her new household.
II. Old Testament Marriage in the Time of Malachi
By the time we get to the last book in the Old Testament, Malachi, marriage is seen as a holy covenant before God (Malachi 2:14). God's people in this time signed a written agreement at the time of marriage to seal the covenant. The marriage ceremony was seen as a public demonstration of the couple's commitment to the covenant relationship. The ceremony itself wasn't the important thing. It was the public commitment before God and men.
III. The Traditional Jewish Wedding
The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony included the ketubah, or contract. This was read in the original Aramaic language. In this contract, the husband accepted certain responsibilities such as provisions for food, shelter and clothing for his wife. He also promised to care for her emotional needs. The ketubah was extremely important to the wedding. In fact the ceremony was not considered complete until the contract was signed by the groom and presented to his bride. So the wedding was more than a physical and emotional union. It was a moral and legal commitment as well.
The ketubah had to be signed by two witnesses as well as the husband. It was considered a legally binding agreement. Further, Jewish couples were forbidden to live together without this covenant arrangement. This was so important for the Jews because the marriage ceremony was seen as being symbolic of the relationship between God and His people Israel.
With this article we are getting closer to defining what constitutes marriage in God's eyes. We need to make our biblical picture complete by next looking at the New Testament perspective on marriage. But from our look at the Old Testament, it is clear that it isn't something to be taken lightly. I hope that these articles will help Christians who are married to recommit themselves to be good husbands or wives who are faithful to their spouses, and will see their relationship as a commitment to God as well as to each other. May God give us the strength to remain faithful to our convenants.