Foundations of Love
By Joy Brown
Good news! As a believer, you are chosen by God the Father to be wed to His Son Jesus Christ. You’re loved so deeply that on the Cross of Calvary He accomplished everything necessary to make you His bride. You’re chosen and cherished!
The Bible is God’s love letter to His bride, we who form the church. Using Paul’s language, we are “promised . . . to one husband, to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2). As you go through this study, we hope you’ll be amazed to see how many of Jesus’s teachings, and many other passages of the Bible, are “wedding talk.” Using the marriage of a man and a woman as a symbol, God beautifully illustrates what it means for us to be in an intimate relationship with Christ.
The significance of what chosen and cherished means will be revealed throughout this book. In chapters 2–10, I encourage you to take time to do the Bible study activities, “Love-Letter Bouquets,” scattered throughout each chapter as they will reinforce and enhance the beautiful truths waiting to unfold. You will also find “Reflections” questions that are designed to stimulate further thinking on the chapter’s topics. A special prayer ends each chapter accompanied by a highlighted “Insights” element that provides a story, poem, or interesting facts to spur further thought.
This first chapter is foundational to an understanding of what it means to be the bride of Christ and the key to the rest of this study. While you may find later chapters more meaningful than others—depending on your life experiences—we believe studying them in succession (unless led by the Holy Spirit to do otherwise) will build a beneficial bridge of understanding. Also, bear in mind that the customs we refer to in the study span the entire Bible. It is possible that at different times and places throughout biblical history they differed. However, we are confident that most biblical scholars would concur with the general premises upon which we have based this book.
As these words are being written—and as you will later read them—the authors are continuing to lift prayers to God for you. We pray that before this study is complete, you’ll recognize how much and how intimately you’re loved by Jesus Christ—the blessed Bridegroom. May God bless you as you begin to make your wedding plans for eternity!
Before we study specific aspects of the wedding customs of biblical times in depth, it is important to have a general overview and definition of the several elements involved in the marriage process. What follows in this chapter is such an overview and will serve as the foundation for the remaining chapters in the book. (Here I would like to acknowledge Zola Levitt, a Jewish believer and teacher, whose little book, A Christian Love Story, provided an introduction and valuable insights into this chapter.)
The betrothal, somewhat similar to our period of engagement, involved a serious commitment. In fact, a betrothed couple was legally married, accepting the liabilities and the assets of the other person. However, they could not consummate the marriage or be in each other’s presence until after the wedding.
The betrothed bride was expected to remain faithful to her bridegroom. If she did not, the bridegroom had three choices. He could marry her anyway, have her stoned to death, or break the betrothal through a documentation of divorce.
When Joseph found out that Mary was expecting, he assumed she’d been unfaithful. He loved her too much to have her killed, yet being a man of integrity, he could not proceed with the marriage. He decided to break the betrothal privately. Then, an angel appeared to him, assuring him that the child within her was conceived of the Holy Spirit. (See Matthew 1:18–20).
Several steps were involved in betrothal. The next few chapters of this book examine these steps and how they relate to our lives today. Each one has a beautiful spiritual counterpart that will bless and inspire us.
Choosing the Bride
The father of the bridegroom usually had responsibility for the first step in the betrothal process, which was initiating the selection of a suitable bride. (He may have listened to his son’s preferences, but he was not obligated to follow them). The father would accompany his son to the home of the prospective bride and meet with her family.
God the Father has chosen you to be spiritually wed to His Son, Jesus: “One of the seven angels . . . said to me, ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb’”(Revelation 21:9).
Before we get into the other aspects of the biblical marriage, let it be noted that when we refer to the “bride of Christ,” “our Bridegroom,” and similar terms, we apply them to those who have in faith come into relationship with Him. As with any proposal, for a couple to become engaged the proposal has to be accepted. Our sincere prayer is that if you have never done so, this study will be the catalyst that brings you into relationship with Him. (See chapter 4, “Accepting God’s Proposal,” on page 53. Also see the conclusion, “A Wedding Invitation,” starting on page 127.)
The bridegroom and his father went to the potential bride’s home and presented a marriage contract to her and her father, to be read before at least two witnesses. The contract, or covenant, contained the promises and provisions concerning what the groom would do for his bride as her husband: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).
The bridegroom paid the bride’s father to marry his daughter. If the bridegroom was poor and couldn’t pay with money, he could pay through acts of service (as when Jacob worked for Laban to marry Rachel—see Genesis 29:14–30).
Christ purchased His bride with His own sacrificial blood. “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood”(Acts 20:28).
The Cup of Acceptance
The bridegroom poured a cup of wine and drank half of it. If the bride accepted his proposal, she drank the rest of the cup. From that time on, whenever the bride was out in public, she wore a veil to show that she was “set apart” for her bridegroom.
Each time we partake of communion, we are confirming that we have drunk Jesus’s cup of acceptance: “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:27–28).
Once both sides had accepted the provisions of the covenant, the bridegroom gave special gifts, such as jewelry, spices, oils, or even money to his bride. These gifts were to help her prepare for the wedding.
Jesus has given His bride the gifts of the Spirit to help us prepare for our wedding: “But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that” (1 Corinthians 7:7).
Preparing the Bridal Chamber
Once the proposal had been accepted, the bridegroom returned to his father’s house, allowing time for him and his bride-to-be to prepare separately for their future life together. Essentially, he left his bride-to-be with a promise (whether spoken or not) that echoes Jesus’s words, “I am going to prepare a place for you. And . . . I will come back and take you to be with me”(John 14:2–3).
Jesus gave His bride this beautiful promise in John 14:1–4. Please read and reread those words with great expectation.
The Day and Hour
The father of the groom supervised the progress of the bridal chamber, and he was the sole judge of when the project was finished. And, remember, this was no simple task for the groom. As Levitt writes, “The bridal chamber had to be beautiful—one doesn’t honeymoon just anywhere; and it had to be stocked with provisions since the bride and groom were going to remain inside for seven days.” Once the preparations were finished (usually around a year after the betrothal), the groom’s father would give the OK for his son to go and get his bride for the wedding ceremony.
Likewise, only God knows when Jesus will come for His bride: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36).
The Watchful Bride
Although the bride didn’t know when her bridegroom would come, she watched for signs to see how the work on the bridal chamber was progressing. She remained in a constant state of readiness.
In the same way, the bride of Christ must live expectantly for the day when our Bridegroom will come to take us home with Him: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your LORD will come” (Matthew 24:42).
The Wedding Garments
As the bride discerned the time of her groom’s return was near, she prepared her garments, making certain they were fresh and clean. Then she either laid them beside her or hung them in such a way that they would not get wrinkled. She made sure they were ready for the surprise wedding.
We too are to keep ourselves pure for that day. “‘His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints)” (Revelation 19:7–8). Further, the apostle John sees the wedding of the Lamb at the end of time as “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (21:2).
When the bridegroom’s father gave the command (usually around midnight), the bridegroom gathered his friends. They marched through the streets carrying oil lamps, blowing the shofar, a ram’s horn trumpet, and shouting, “The bridegroom comes!” When they arrived at the bride’s home, the bridegroom waited eagerly in the street for her to come out to meet him. Accompanied by her family and friends, they proceeded to the place of the wedding.
One day we, too, will hear a shout, the sound of a trumpet, and our Bridegroom will come for us. We must remain ready to meet Him: “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’” (Matthew 25:6)
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the couple once again shared a cup of wine from a common cup. We can prepare here on earth for the day we will share the experience of the common cup in His presence. The night before His death, Jesus gave us words to help us prepare for that day: “I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom”(Matthew 26:29).
After the ceremony, the couple entered the bridal chamber, usually for seven days. The purpose of this time was to get to know each other intimately and grow in understanding of each other.
The best man waited outside the door of the chamber. The groom informed him when the marriage had been consummated, and the waiting guests rejoiced for the couple had now entered into blood covenant with each other: “The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29).
This physical custom points to a spiritual truth. One day we will come to know our Bridegroom intimately and only then will we be able to fathom His wondrous love for us.
The Marriage Supper
At the end of the seven days, the couple emerged from the bridal chamber. A great feast was given to celebrate the marriage of the bridegroom to his bride.
All that happens in our lives on earth is preparing us for the day we see our Bridegroom face-to-face, go to live in the home He has prepared for us, and experience the depths of His love:
I Am My Beloved’s
As you can see, the wedding customs of biblical times are filled with beautiful imagery correlating to our lives as the bride of Christ. The imagery may seem unusual or unfamiliar at times, but don’t be thrown off by it. As you study each chapter, the corresponding truths for today’s living will become clear.
“And they lived happily ever after” is more than the closing line of a fairy tale. It is a reality for those who enter into covenant relationship with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. “My beloved is mine and I am his” (Song of Songs 2:16 NKJV).
PRAYER & PRAISE JOURNAL