09 February 2008

Being prepared for the Bridegroom

The storms last Tuesday night were not entirely unexpected. The meteorologists could read the signs and see that trouble was headed our way. Prudent people heed warnings and prepare themselves for bad weather and rainy days. I have been doing some thinking about what I know and yet ignore. It reminds me of the admonition in Matthew 25 about keeping ready. It also reminds me that I said I would post something about marriage from my Biblical Backgrounds class. It was good for me to review my notes!

Marriage and family were a very big deal. It was through marriage and having children that your life had meaning. Children were a sign of God's blessings upon you. Women were saved by childbirth (I Timothy 2:15). For women, the idea of being barren was the ultimate horror and a sign of God's removal of blessing from your life. Think about how Hannah prayed so hard for child and how she kept her promise to God if He would give her one (I Samuel 1). Now, never having children of my own, I can tell you that knowing these things stings a bit. We still see unmarried women and childlessness as a sign of something woefully wrong. However, in the context of that day's culture, the significance of being childless was vastly different than today. For this reason I want to start with some family background.

It was tradition that the oldest male would inherit the largest part of his parent's estate. This was because it was his duty to provide for his parents in their old age. So it wasn't just about having kids, it was about producing a male heir. Think of Sarah's despair and jealousy of Hagar. Imagine how she feared she might be treated by the son of her handmaiden had he been Abraham's only child. It makes me feel a bit of empathy for her in treating Hagar so shamefully.

For a man, having a son was important because through him the family name was preserved. Sons stayed home bringing their wives to live with them. A good marriage increased family size, wealth and status. Having girls was cause for celebration as well, but remember, women leave their homes and go to live with their husband's family. This didn't necessarily mean they all lived in the same tent or house, but they did live in the same area or compound. Keeping a large family insured survival. A man's name and legacy were in his progeny. For this reason if his wife was unfaithful to him and caught having an affair, she was put to death. If the husband was caught having an affair with an unmarried woman, she became a part of his family. (Leviticus 20, Deuteronomy 22).

Marriages were arranged by parents and sometimes brokered with the help of others. Love wasn't entirely out of the equation, it just wasn't the primary reason for picking someone for your child. Because marriage was a covenant and covenants were not to be broken, just announcing the intent to marry or the betrothal was more serious than the wedding. Vows or a ceremony occurred at betrothal and betrothal could only be broken by divorce. The bride's family had to be compensated for the labor they would lose when losing her and a dowry had to be paid to the bride's father. This isn't as awful as it sounds. Her father was supposed to keep the money in trust for her in case she was widowed and without children to see to her survival. (Although dad could spend the interest it earned.) In the case of the suitor's inability to pay, he could work for the right to marry the daughter. Jacob, Rachel and Leah would be an example of this in Genesis 29.

With everything settled and the betrothal made, the bridegroom went to prepare a place for he and his bride to live. The bride-to-be began making the clothes for the wedding and her family began stockpiling for the wedding festivities. Betrothal lasted about a year, but there wasn't a set date. The bride could not procrastinate in her preparations because she didn't know when her bridegroom would come to claim her and there was much to be done.

The only real wealth most women could accumulate was what they could make with their hands. Weaving fine cloth and making fine clothes were her portable wealth. It took a woman approximately 120 hours to make a tunic. She had to gather the wool, clean it, card it, spin it on a drop spindle and then weave it. If she wanted a design in the fabric, she had to dye some of the wool. She didn't have 120 hours to sit and work on something until it was finished. She had to find time to make it in between the rest of her chores. The average person could only afford to have one tunic and one cloak. Doesn't this give Matthew 5:40 and Luke 6:29 seem a bit more meaningful to you knowing that? They didn't have Wal*Mart or Target to go purchase clothing from, although trading was possible you still had to make the item(s) to trade.

The friends of the groom and the friends of the bride watched the two of them make progress toward their big day. The covenant had already been made in the betrothal, so the wedding itself might not have been a religious ceremony. Remember, it was mostly a celebration of a vow previously made and ready to be completed. Finished with the home for his bride, one evening the bridegroom would start a procession to come and fetch her. He would be accompanied by his friends and family as he would start out and the numbers increased as they headed to her home. Meanwhile, one of her friends would run to warn her that her groom was coming for her, while others were keeping watch and would light their oil lamps and come join the procession. There was little chance for a false alarm because you dressed up for your wedding. The bridegroom would be hard to miss in his attire- adorned with jewels and garlands.

The bride would be bathed, dressed and readied by her companions. For approximately a year, her parents had been stockpiling dates, honey, wine and food for a week's worth of celebration and festivities. As word spread that the groom was coming, the bride's parent's household would be making ready. The procession through the streets was lit by the oil lamps of the guests as the two entered and sat under a canopy and the feast began. There would be singing and laughter and much rejoicing.

As I heard this lecture, this verse came to me: Luke 12:40 "You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect." We are the bride of Christ. We are to be ready for Him as He comes to claim us. Read Matthew 24-25 and think about your readiness to receive your groom.

Revelation 19:7 "Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready."

Hosea 2:19-20
19 "And I will betroth you to me forever; yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in lovingkindness and in compassion, 20 And I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. Then you will know the LORD.

Isaiah 62:5 For {as} a young man marries a virgin, {so} your sons will marry you; and {as} the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, {so} your God will rejoice over you.

Revelation 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

Isaiah 61:10 I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

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