A number of customs and steps were involved in finalizing a marriage during ancient times. The first step was to agree on a price to be given to the father of the girl, with payment being compensation for the loss of a worker. The sum was mutually agreed upon (Gen. 34:12; Exo. 22:16-17), and the dowry could consist of services instead of money. For example, Jacob agreed to work for seven years for Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). The giving and receiving of money may have been accompanied by a written agreement. After this agreement was made, the couple was considered betrothed.
PARENTS’ CONTRACTS FOR THEIR CHILDREN
During Old Testament times, parents chose mates for their sons. The primary reason for this was that the bride became part of the extended family. Sometimes the parents consulted with their children to see if they approved of the choice of mates being made for them. For example, Rebekah was asked if she wanted to marry Isaac (Gen. 24:58). Hagar selected a wife for Ishmael (Gen. 21:21); Abraham went to great lengths to choose a good wife for Isaac (Gen. 24): Laban arranged for his daughters’ marriages (Gen. 29). It is recorded that Samson demanded that a certain girl be acquired for him and, although his parents protested because the woman was not an Israelite, they completed the marriage contract per his request (Judges 14:1-4).
The parents’ consent was required under the Mosaic Law (Exo. 22:16-17). Although romance before marriage was not unknown (Gen. 34—Shechem and Dinah), it played a minor role in the life of teenagers of that era. They did not marry the person they loved; they loved the mate they married. Love began at marriage. When Isaac married Rebekah, the Bible records that “she became his wife, and he loved her” (Gen. 24:67).
PRESENTS WERE GIVEN TO PARENTS TO SECURE THEIR FAVOR
In Genesis 24:53, when Laban and Bethuel agreed to give Rebecca to Isaac, one may read of the gifts given by the servant of Abraham to Rebecca, her mother and brother. Shechem bartered with Jacob and his sons for Diana and he was willing to promise whatever her father might demand (Gen. 34:11-12). Deuteronomy 22:29 tells the required price to be paid to the father of a girl who had been raped, and of course the marriage was considered permanent. King Saul, envious of David’s power over and acceptance by the people, demanded 100 foreskins of the Philistines as dowry for Michal (1 Sam. 18:25), thinking to make him die by the sword. Hosea 3:2 tells how much dowry Hosea paid for Gomer.
The length of the betrothal or engagement varied. Sometimes the couple was married the same day. Usually, however, a period of time elapsed between the betrothal and the marriage ceremony. During this time the young man prepared a place in his father’s house for his bride, while the bride prepared herself for married life. After the marriage, the groom was exempt one year from military duty. “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deut. 24:5).
When Jacob had finished working the seven years for Rachael, he demanded his wife and Laban made a feast (Gen. 29:21-22). The account of Samson’s marriage to the woman of Timnath, a city of the Philistines, shows that their feasts lasted seven days (Judges 14:1-18). Esther’s marriage to Ahasuerus in Esther 2:17-18 was celebrated with a great feast. Not only was there food and drink for such an occasion, but Matthew 22:11-12 shows that guests were expected to wear certain “wedding garments.”
THE MARRIAGE WAS ATTESTED BY WITNESSES
As a part of the wedding ceremony, witnesses were called confirm the right of each partner to make such a covenant (Ruth 4:9-11). Even today at least two witnesses will sign the documents which attest to the legal and moral value of the marriage. One may read in Isaiah 8:1-3 that the witnesses were supposed to be faithful—trusted by the ones who had called them.
The Parable of the Ten Virgins gives a brief glimpse into traditional wedding day activities (Matt. 25:1-13). Usually the groom and his friends, dressed in their finest clothes, went to the home of the bride. Together the couple went back to the groom’s house, while friends sang and danced their way back to his house. Once at the groom’s house, the couple was ushered into a bridal chamber. The marriage was consummated through sexual union as the guests waited outside. Once that fact was announced and the tokens of her virginity were given to her father and mother (Deut. 22:13-21), the wedding festivities continued, with guests dropping by for the feast. As with the marriage of Samson to the woman of Timnath, the wedding festivities usually lasted a week.
A herald preceded the bridegroom (Matt. 25:6). The analogy seen in (Isaiah 61:10) shows that both bride and groom were often bedecked with ornaments and jewels. Bride’s maids were given to the bride for her possession (Gen. 24:59, 61; Gen. 29:24, 29).
Wives were obtained by various means. Jacob actually purchased his two wives by hard labor (Gen. 29:20; Gen. 29:26-30; Hosea 12:12). Boaz purchased Ruth (Ruth 4:10). Hosea purchased his wife (Hosea 3:2). However, some wives were taken by kidnapping (Judges 21:21-23), while others were given by kings (1 Sam. 17:25; 1 Sam. 18:17, 21). Daughters were sometimes given as rewards for valor (Judges 1:12; 1 Sam. 17:25; 1 Sam. 18:27), while other wives were taken by edict (Esther 2:2-4; Esther 2:8-14). David was able to require his wife again because he had given one hundred Philistine foreskins for her (2 Sam. 3:14).
RULES ABOUT WHO COULD MARRY
Wives among the Israelites were required to be Israelites because foreign nations would turn their hearts away from God (Exod. 34:14-16; Deut. 7:3-4; 1 Chro. 23:22; Ezra 9:1-2; Ezra 9:12; Neh. 10:30; Neh. 13:26-27; Mal. 2:11). Not only was this a requirement under Judaism, but marriages among Christians must be to Christians as well (2 Cor. 6:14; 1 Cor. 7:39). Note that nothing “in the Lord” can be outside the church.
Celibacy was apparently deplored by Hebrews and Jews alike (Isa. 4:1) unless a person like Paul had taken a vow to serve the Lord unhindered (1 Cor. 9:5). Obligation for marriage was secondary or inferior to a person’s duty to God (Deut. 13:6-10; Matt. 19:29; Luke 14:26).
Jesus’ first miracle occurred in Cana in Galilee, where He and His disciples were attending a wedding (John 2:1-11). By this, our Lord gave His blessing and sanction to the institution of marriage.
In the New Testament, marriage is not binding after the death of the mate (Rom. 7:2-3; 1 Cor. 7:39), nor will there be any marriage after the resurrection (Matt. 22:29-30; Mark 12:24-25).
Under the Law of Moses, when could a father bring a lawsuit against the daughter’s husband?
Keep in mind this law implies that when the girl was taken to be a man’s wife that the girl’s parents had to be given the tokens of her virginity . Notice too that the proof was on a cloth. If she is proved to have been a virgin when she came to him, the man had to keep her as his wife and pay a fine for slandering her name. The details seem gross, but this is surely part of OT Law.
13 If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her,
14 And give occasions of speech against her, and bring up an evil name upon her, and say, I took this woman, and when I came to her, I found her not a maid:
15 Then shall the father of the damsel, and her mother, take and bring forth the tokens of the damsel’s virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate:
16 And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her;
17 And, lo, he hath given occasions of speech against her, saying, I found not thy daughter a maid; and yet these are the tokens of my daughter’s virginity. And they shall spread the cloth before the elders of the city.
18 And the elders of that city shall take that man and chastise him;
19 And they shall amerce him in an hundred shekels of silver, and give them unto the father of the damsel, because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel: and she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days.
20 But if this thing be true, and the tokens of virginity be not found for the damsel:
21 Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father’s house, and the men of her city shall stone her with stones that she die: because she hath wrought folly in Israel, to play the whore in her father’s house: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.
LATER JEWISH CUSTOMS: Weddings in Palestine
From Peloubet’s Select Notes, 1910, p.284
Jarchi, the Jewish Rabbi, says, It was the custom, in the land of Ishmael, to take the bride from her father’s house to her husband’s, in the night, and to carry before her about ten staves. Upon the top of each staff was the form of a brazen dish; and in the midst of it, pieces of garments, oil, and pitch, which they set on fire. Holding these in one hand they carry, in the other, vessels full of oil, with which they replenish from time to time their else useless lamps. In the utterly dark streets of an Asiatic city every one who goes forth at night is expected, and in modern Jerusalem is strictly required by the authorities, to carry a light. – Prof. Broadus.
When the wedding day arrived the bride put on white robes, often richly embroidered, decked herself with jewels, fastened the indispensable bridal girdle about her waist, covered herself with a veil, and placed a garland on her head. The bridegroom, arrayed in his best attire, set out from his home for the house of the bride’s parents, attended by friends, accompanied by musicians and singers; and, if the procession moved at night, by persons bearing torches. – Trumbull’s Studies in Oriental Social Life.
The marriage usually took place in the evening, so that those coming from a distance might not fail to arrive, and those who were occupied during the day might have liberty to attend. During the evening, as he sat among his friends, the bridegroom, as the chief person concerned, signified his desire to move homewards. Upon this the wedding procession was formed. Lanterns and torches were lit to guide him and his companions through the dark silent streets. Those who were waiting to see the procession pass raised the peculiar Oriental cry of marriage festivity, and thus, as the cry was taken up, the fact of his approach was known along the path in front of him. …Owing to the stillness of the air, and the slow pace of the illuminated procession, the cry might be heard half an hour before the arrival of the bridegroom. – Hastings’ Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels.
Another feature was the scattering of flowers and nuts; all who met the procession were expected to join it or to salute it. – Hastings’ one volume Bible Dictionary
Those peculiar shrill, quavering cries of joy, called Zugaret, are heard throughout the East on occasions of special rejoicing.
5 thoughts on “HEBREW MARRIAGE CUSTOMS”
Very informative about ancient customs. In my culture parents still arrange the marriages of their children.
I wonder at times if that is not best as long as families do not arrange marriages with the hopes of money rather than the best interest of the child.
The parents arrange the marriages not for money. They do it for the best interest of their children.
See if you can find a way to blog and article about your family and your country. I think that would be a wonderful thing to read.
Thank you Beth for the idea. Sheen.