#11 The Hebrew Marriage

By Dr. Stephen R. Phinney

I cannot tell you how much fun it is to explore the laws, customs, and manners of a Hebrew marriage. It is probably one of my most favorite things to do! 

As we learned earlier, the engagement period for the Hebrews was for one full year. When the year had passed and the room (normally an addition onto the father of the groom’s house) was finished, the groom would come for his bride – typically in the middle of the night. Neither the bride, nor her parents, were privy to either the day or the hour. She had to be ready at all times. The groom would announce to his father that he had finished his work; the father would inspect the work, give the approval, and off the son would go to get his bride. The parents of the groom would stay behind to prepare for the arrival of their son and his bride.

The groom would approach the home of the bride and call her out. The father of the bride had to submit to the hour and grant his daughter the rite of passage to her husband. The bride would come to the door dressed in her wedding attire and veil. At this point, the veil was taken off and laid on the shoulder of the bridegroom, and this declaration made: “The government shall be upon his shoulder” (remembering that, in Hebrew tradition, a patriarch’s authority was the same as government). The groom now accepted the responsibility of his new little kingdom.

A procession would set out from the bride’s home to the place the groom had prepared for their new little kingdom. The pathway to their new home would be lit with oil lamps held by wedding guests. In the story told by Jesus, the bride and groom were later than expected, so the oil in the lamps began to run low. Only those members who had brought a reserve flask of oil were able to refill their lamps and welcome the bride and groom (Matt. 25:1-13). There was singing and music along the way (Jeremiah 16:9) and sometimes, the bride herself would join in the dancing because of her excitement of the hour.  

Jesus the Bridegroom

Matthew 25:1 - "Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.” The coming of Christ (to receive His people to Himself) is often represented by the likeness of a marriage, with the Church representing His spouse or bride. The marriage relationship is the most tender, firm, and endearing of any known on earth; and on this account, it rightfully represents the union of believers to Christ (Matt. 9:15; John 3:29; Rev. 19:7; 21:9; Eph. 5:25-32). 

Ten virgins - These virgins, without question, represent the Church. Virgin is the name given because it is pure and holy (2 Cor. 11:2; Lam. 1:15; 2:13). These virgins took their lamps and went forth to meet the bridegroom. The lamps used on such occasions were actually torches. They were made by winding rags around pieces of iron or pottery, sometimes hollowed to contain oil, and fastened to handles of wood. These torches were dipped in oil and gave out a lot of light. Marriage ceremonies in the East were conducted with great ritual and seriousness. Friends attended for both the bride and bridegroom. The betrothed were escorted in a seat carried on poles by four or more persons. After the marriage ceremony, there was a feast for seven days. This feast was celebrated in the father of the bride’s house. At the end of that time, the bridegroom escorted the bride, with great pageantry and splendor, to the home he had prepared for her during the engagement.  


As mentioned earlier, the bridegroom came for his bride at the most unexpected time of day, usually late at night (Jer. 7:34; 25:10; 33:11). The primary reason for this was as soon as the bridegroom finished the addition onto his father’s house, he came for his bride. In modern times, we would call this rude and selfish. In the days and times of God, it was by law; when the work was finished, the groom would come for his bride immediately.

Critical Note: All their gear was ready, from the day the bride's father gave his daughter in betrothal to the day the groom came to get her, because they didn’t know when the groom would be finished with the preparations of the household. It is noteworthy to mention that the groom did not associate with the bride during the time of engagement. Both parties spent this time preparing for the marriage. Compare this to our relationship with Christ: After He “proposed” to us, He left, we mourn and fast, and then He returns: “And Jesus said to them, ‘The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast’ ” (Matthew 9:15).  

Many friends and relations attended them. In addition to those who went with the couple from the house of the bride, another company came out from the house of the bridegroom to meet and welcome them. These were probably female friends and relatives of the bridegroom. These were known as the virgins mentioned in this parable.

The Wedding Feast 

Once the bride and groom arrived at his house, they would enter under a canopy (symbolizing the covering or authority of the groom’s father). There, they had a wedding feast with eating, drinking, and celebrating, which took a great deal of time. No, the groom didn’t take her to the marriage bed – that typically didn’t happen for seven days. Once the ceremony was on its way, at the groom’s father’s house, a contract was prepared on a sheet of papyrus (a manuscript written on material made from the papyrus plant). The document was dated with the year, month, and day of the agreement. This document was signed by the fathers, the bride, the groom, and a specially chosen host of witnesses. The terms of the deed were extraordinary as to the dowry required on both sides, together with the clauses of requirements and payment for the privilege of the groom beholding the bride. In the case of Christ, that payment was by blood – His blood. Since the Abba Father is our Father as well, He paid the cost by giving up His only Son for the price of marriage. 

Once the document was signed, the actual dowry was recited to include the specified sum and the rights of the children (which may, after the present time, come from the marriage). The payment was to benefit the mother of the bride directly. The father of the groom further proclaimed the eldest son birthed from the marriage to be the heir of all parental property, present and future.

After the signing and reading of the contract, a small and intimate ceremony occurred for joining the two in holy matrimony. Traditionally, the ceremony was attended by both parents, two witnesses (one from each family), and the bride and groom. After the “I do’s” were officially stated, it was time for the consummation of the marriage.

The guests were there to witness the consummation of the marriage (Gen. 29:22-23); the groom would come out of the bed chambers and show the blood-stained bed coverings, demonstrating the bride had been a virgin (Duet. 22:13-21). At that point the party was over, at least in most cases. The Hebrew people were known for celebrating beyond the seven day mark.  

In the case of Christ and the Church, the “I do” will be a special point in the ceremony for God, the Father. Jehovah will finally be reunited with Israel and His earthly bride, the elect Church (Isa. 54:5; 62:4-5; Hos. 2:19; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17). 

Next: Christ Consummates His Marriage

Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible, © Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.