This post is HUGE, but that is only because of how much the Bible has to say about the topic!
The Giving of Daughters by Fathers in Marriage
The term “arranged marriage” is an extremely taboo one in our culture. The idea of a pleading girl being forced to marry a fool of a man with a wart on his nose she can’t stand imposed on her by her chauvinistic, domineering father comes to mind for many. Perhaps that is why the custom is seen as barbaric, degrading to women and even unthinkable in our generation. It is contrasted with the much more appealing concept of a joyful girl skipping off on a romantic date with the guy she is infatuated with to be proposed to – and then from there everything is “happily ever after.” How could anyone question the superiority of the latter scenario? Maybe you don’t accept the dating model, but you still think anything is better than an arranged marriage or anything similar. I know I did for much of my life. The only times I even ever heard the term were in a negative context.
As you have probably heard me say many times before, as Christians we can’t just let the world’s view of how marriage should happen be shoved down our throats. We have to ask questions to see if the things we believe – things that were ingrained in our thinking from our youth – stand up to comparison with the Bible. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to consider anything different. Yes, some things can even seem ridiculous in our 21st century life. But what saith the scriptures? We should want to know if the Bible gives any guidelines on everything, but especially something as important as foundational as marriage. It is with this in mind that we should come to the table, not with a hardened heart.
What is God’s design for making of twain one flesh? What does the Bible teach?
For this study, we will be taking the whole-Bible approach, understanding that both Testaments are profitable (2 Timothy 3:16) to help us form a well-rounded understanding of getting married. There are actually many Scriptures that pertain to this topic, but we will not be covering them all for the sake of brevity (edit: as you can judge from the length of this article, even without covering all the Scriptures there still was a lot to talk about!). We’ll start at the beginning, all the way back in Genesis with the making of the first marriage.
I just want to say up front that I was even surprised at what I learned in this study. Some things I originally thought were the biblical way actually turned out not to be the case. I had to change my mindset and my preconceived notions and restructure my thinking around what God says in His Word. It is always humbling to have your eyes opened to the truth. So, that said, I hope this blesses you and that this study draws you closer to Him.
Adam & Eve
The Genesis account of the marriage of Adam and Eve reveals several interesting points.
It is said of Adam that he was the son of God (Luke 3:38). God, being his Father, made it his responsibility to secure a wife for his son.
And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. (Genesis 2:18-22)
From the beginning, it is the father of the son who secures his daughter-in-law for him. It is interesting to note that the Lord brought every beast to Adam first to show him that no animal could fulfill the position of help meet. This signifies that He valued Adam’s opinion and they both were involved in the process.
Also, there was no date. There was no courtship. There was no “trial period” to see if Adam and Eve were compatible. The Lord, as the father, was the one at work to orchestrate the match and He brought her unto the man. This is the first marriage – and it was done God’s way.
Let’s see if we find consistencies as we go along.
Isaac and Rebekah
Not much is detail is provided regarding the marriage of Abraham and Sarah – we learn only that Abraham and his brother Nahor took them wives. Sarah and Abraham shared the same father but not the same mother, so the marriage may have been intended for a long time by his father, we aren’t told for sure. But we are given a more detailed story when we come to Abraham finding a wife for his son, Isaac, the child of promise.
“And Abraham was old, and well stricken in age: and the LORD had blessed Abraham in all things. And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh: And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell: But thou shalt go unto my country, and to my kindred, and take a wife unto my son Isaac. And the servant said unto him, Peradventure the woman will not be willing to follow me unto this land: must I needs bring thy son again unto the land from whence thou camest? And Abraham said unto him, Beware thou that thou bring not my son thither again. The LORD God of heaven, which took me from my father’s house, and from the land of my kindred, and which spake unto me, and that sware unto me, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land; he shall send his angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife unto my son from thence. And if the woman will not be willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath: only bring not my son thither again. And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.” (Genesis 24:1-9)
A few key points:
- Abraham was old. This is the probable reason he did not see to things personally himself.
- Being unable to perform the work himself, he does not just choose anyone for the job. He appoints his most trusted, valuable servant to the task – the one who ruled over all that he had. So trusted was that servant that he was the lord of the household in the aged Abraham’s stead.
- If the woman did not want to leave her homeland in order to marry, she would not be considered and the search would be ended. Such an one would be disqualified. The woman had to consent to the marriage.
- The matter is so weighty that he requires his servant to swear by the Lord to follow his instructions regarding where to find Isaac’s wife. The act of putting the hand under the thigh signified something of utmost importance; Jacob required the same act of his son Joseph regarding where he was to be buried after his death.
The servant proceeds to carry out his master’s instructions. He took the matter so seriously that he even besought the Lord that He would reveal to him the right woman:
“And let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac; and thereby shall I know that thou hast shewed kindness unto my master.” (Genesis 24:13)
It is clear that, in this time, the right match for a man – the woman with whom he was to spend the rest of his earthly stay – was not a random decision. It was understood that it was none other than God Himself who had already appointed the exact lady! It is the role of the father, under ordinary circumstances, to seek out that woman and secure her for his son. Even when he is not able to do so himself, as we see in this case, he still authorizes someone to act on his behalf.
More on the securing part of the process is described in this account:
“And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking, that the man took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold; And said, Whose daughter art thou? tell me, I pray thee: is there room in thy father’s house for us to lodge in? And she said unto him, I am the daughter of Bethuel the son of Milcah, which she bare unto Nahor. She said moreover unto him, We have both straw and provender enough, and room to lodge in. And the man bowed down his head, and worshipped the LORD. And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of my master Abraham, who hath not left destitute my master of his mercy and his truth: I being in the way, the LORD led me to the house of my master’s brethren. And the damsel ran, and told them of her mother’s house these things.” (Genesis 24:22-28)
- He gives her valuable gifts of gold, which is likely as a token for intent of betrothal and perhaps payment for lodging
- He asks who her father is. This is critical, as he has to get in contact with her current earthly masculine authority before she can just take off with him.
- She runs back home to tell them what has happened. No elopement, no disappearing into the night with some guy – none of that.
“Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, The thing proceedeth from the LORD: we cannot speak unto thee bad or good. Behold, Rebekah is before thee, take her, and go, and let her be thy master’s son’s wife, as the LORD hath spoken. And it came to pass, that, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, he worshipped the LORD, bowing himself to the earth. And the servant brought forth jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and raiment, and gave them to Rebekah: he gave also to her brother and to her mother precious things.” (Genesis 24:50-53)
The next steps are:
- The father and her brother give their consent.
- The dowry payment is made – in this case silver, gold and clothing. It is given to everyone, including the bride-to-be.
Objection: “Well, they asked Rebekah’s opinion regarding whether or not she wanted to get married later on, so it wasn’t like an arranged marriage sort of thing.”
A closer reading of the text reveals that Rebekah’s opinion was asked, but not regarding whether or not she would be given in marriage.
“And her brother and her mother said, Let the damsel abide with us a few days, at the least ten; after that she shall go. And he said unto them, Hinder me not, seeing the LORD hath prospered my way; send me away that I may go to my master. And they said, We will call the damsel, and enquire at her mouth. And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go.” (Genesis 24:55-58)
They wanted the servant to return without Rebekah and then send her later on, but the servant did not want to do things that way, so they needed a third opinion and chose to ask when she wanted to go, not if she wanted to go at all. That was already decided earlier. Notice how her brother and her mother withstood her leaving so soon, but not her father. Had her father withstood, she would have had to obey him. But her brother and mother chose to ask her what she wanted to do when they did not agree with the servant.
Now, it is true that Abraham clearly stated that Rebekah would have to be willing… not just her father. So it appears that marriages are arranged in the Bible, but they aren’t forced if the daughter is unwilling to marry the man in question. She can refuse consent and that would be as far as that could go. So this teaches us that both the daughter and father need to be willing.
Objection: “The account of the marriage of Rebekah is only there to show an unusual miracle the Lord performed, not that fathers have the ability to give away their daughters. She was given away because they were just going with what they saw God wanted, so you can’t use this to make your point.”
The servant would not have bothered going to the father’s house at all, if that were the case. He already knew it was of the Lord, so why didn’t he just scoop her up and take off? Because he knew he couldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be right. Even though it was clear Rebekah was the one, her father was still in immediate authority over her and he would have to approve.
And, if this is the exception to the rule, we would find no other examples in the scriptures of fathers giving their daughters. This is clearly not the case, as we have seen and will continue to find.
“And Rebekah arose, and her damsels, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man: and the servant took Rebekah, and went his way. And Isaac came from the way of the well Lahairoi; for he dwelt in the south country. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field at the eventide: and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, the camels were coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a vail, and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all things that he had done. And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her: and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:61-67)
I have not heard it much observed what great faith Rebekah showed. She was willing to leave everything and follow a stranger to a strange land, having consented to marry a strange man before she ever met him, in order to place herself in subjection to both her father and the Lord. She could have very easily been unwilling to go through with things, but rather than dig her heels in, she yielded herself to the will of the Lord. Her submissive attitude in graciously serving others also was the sign to Abraham’s servant that she was chosen of God. In all things she trusted that God was faithful to bless her for her obedience. And He did. As a result, she was the one to bear Jacob, who begat the twelve patriarchs. What a heart for us ladies to emulate! And this may be a bit unrelated, but Rebekah also had a heart of modesty. Rather than try to “show off” her beauty to allure Isaac (after all, everything was leading up to this moment!), she does the opposite. She covers herself with a veil.
For those who think you need to love a man to marry him, I want to point out to you how it wasn’t until after they married that Isaac loved Rebekah. This echoes the theme of marriage having been intended to be based on rational decisions rather than emotions. Love and pleasant feelings come as a result of a good match having been made and the deal being sealed. Feelings aren’t first (not that love, in the Christian sense of the word, is that kind of fluttery feeling anyway). As foreign as it sounds, it is backwards to love someone before you marry them. That is why we ladies often end up with so many broken hearts – you love him before he’s yours, but he isn’t tied to you so he can move on whenever he wants. God’s way is always best. That isn’t to say you can’t see and appreciate qualities in someone before you marry them; rather, that ought to be the case, as it should be among all Christian brothers and sisters, but I think it speaks here of romantic love.
Jacob and Rachael
We next come to the account of Jacob and Rachael. There was more of an unusual circumstance, with Isaac being nearly blind and the days of mourning for him at hand. To add to that pressing of time, Esau was ready to kill Jacob for taking the blessing. Regardless, Isaac still took it upon himself to send Jacob off to where he was told to get his wife:
“And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him, Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padanaram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother’s father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother’s brother.” (Genesis 28:1,2)
So it was under his father’s direction that Jacob went to find a wife. Before Jacob ever met any of Laban’s daughters, Isaac already planned things out. This is a point that bears emphasis: it is biblical for a marriage to be arranged before either of the couple ever meets each other. Isaac decided it was time for Jacob to get married whether or not he was familiar with the woman. What mattered to Isaac was where she came from and who her father was. He did give Jacob some wiggle-room, as far as which daughter to choose out of the two (ironically he ended up with both), but the family of the bride was already decided on.
“And it came to pass, when Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, that Jacob went near, and rolled the stone from the well’s mouth, and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. And Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted up his voice, and wept. And Jacob told Rachel that he was her father’s brother, and that he was Rebekah’s son: and she ran and told her father. And it came to pass, when Laban heard the tidings of Jacob his sister’s son, that he ran to meet him, and embraced him, and kissed him, and brought him to his house. And he told Laban all these things. And Laban said to him, Surely thou art my bone and my flesh. And he abode with him the space of a month. And Laban said unto Jacob, Because thou art my brother, shouldest thou therefore serve me for nought? tell me, what shall thy wages be? And Laban had two daughters: the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah was tender eyed; but Rachel was beautiful and well favoured. And Jacob loved Rachel; and said, I will serve thee seven years for Rachel thy younger daughter. And Laban said, It is better that I give her to thee, than that I should give her to another man: abide with me. And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.” (Genesis 29:10-20)
As with Rebekah, there is no running off with the man. Both immediately ran to their fathers and informs him of the visitor. In fact, she ran TO her father rather than AWAY from him. As Isaac is unable to negotiate, Jacob has to be the one to do what his father would ordinarily do (though still under his direction) – requesting Rachel of Laban and agreeing on a bride price, in this case it was in the form of a service rather than physical goods. He couldn’t just snatch her and leave as soon as the idea struck him. And there is a good reason for that! Easy come, easy go. You don’t truly appreciate what you don’t invest in. Women nowadays can get caught up in a relationship with someone on a whim, and just like that the man walks out or runs off with some other lady. But put a substantial sum or years of work up front and you’ll see how serious he really is. Wealth can be used instead (if available) as it represents labor (you have to work to get it). If he’s a flake he’ll show his true colors when you put him to the test. We think that is extreme now! We think that is laughable to ask so much. How will a girl ever get married with such demanding standards placed on her suitor? Rachel didn’t have to ask that question, and she was able to marry a man who was worth his salt. Think about it though: if a guy doesn’t think you’re worth it to stick around 7 years, he certainly won’t stick around for the rest of your life in a marriage. Why would you want someone who wouldn’t commit to the high standard of love and patience for you in respect to labor or money? We need to get out of such a desperate mindset, ladies, and start trusting the Lord and being patient that His timing and his way are right.
I want to point out a contrast. Rebekah, though beautiful, concealed her beauty upon meeting Isaac. And it is written that Isaac loved his wife Rebekah after their marriage. We see something different with Jacob’s marriage. Rachel was beautiful, but no mention is made of her making an effort to hide her beauty on meeting him. Could this have played a part in why Jacob loved Rachel before their marriage? If so, was that a good thing? Her unattractive sister Leah was initially overlooked and later even hated of Jacob. Ironically she ended up being his first wife. I always feel sorry for Leah, because she wanted desperately to be loved, but wasn’t because she wasn’t pretty. God saw her affliction though and gave her children first, and many of them. One thing is certain, and that is that the marriage to follow was certainly a turbulent one. Though it may be argued that the reason for that was strictly polygamy, there may be more to things than meets the eye, so to speak. I think we need to look at more of the Scriptures to know what to make of this account on that point.
Let’s look at Jacob’s wedding:
“And Jacob said unto Laban, Give me my wife, for my days are fulfilled, that I may go in unto her. And Laban gathered together all the men of the place, and made a feast. And it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter, and brought her to him; and he went in unto her. And Laban gave unto his daughter Leah Zilpah his maid for an handmaid. And it came to pass, that in the morning, behold, it was Leah: and he said to Laban, What is this thou hast done unto me? did not I serve with thee for Rachel? wherefore then hast thou beguiled me? And Laban said, It must not be so done in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn. Fulfil her week, and we will give thee this also for the service which thou shalt serve with me yet seven other years. And Jacob did so, and fulfilled her week: and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.” (Genesis 29:21-28)
John Gill offers insight into the meaning of “week:”
“Not Rachel’s week, or a week of years of servitude for her, but Leah’s week, or the week of seven days of feasting for her marriage; for a marriage feast used to be kept seven days, according to the Jewish writers, and as it seems from ( Judges 14:17 ) ; and the Targum of Jerusalem fully expresses this sense,“fulfil the week of the days of the feast of Leah;”
The marriage of Jacob didn’t take place until 7 years after Rachel’s betrothal (though technically the whole period was the dowry payment as he was labouring for his future wife). What consummates a marriage is not what you would find at your typical wedding: a man in robe leading a woman in white and a man in a tux through a pre-staged series of Q and A’s, flowers, rings, etc. There is a 7 day long feast, with the evening of the first day being the evening of intimacy. That is the deed Jacob requested to be done in order for Rachel to be given to him (that I may go in unto her). We will talk more about how this is what finalizes marriage later.
Shechem & Dinah
We now come to an interesting passage specifically in relation to one father negotiating with another to betroth a daughter, though the marriage fell through prematurely. I want to make a very critical point here, in respect to an argument many have put forth, which is betrothal was not just a Jewish custom relegated to that people. As you will see, this practice extended to the pagan nations outside of the Israelites – and it was standard operating procedure, the universal practice.
“And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife. And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out unto Jacob to commune with him. And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard it: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done. And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife. And make ye marriages with us, and give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein. And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give. Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.” (Genesis 34:1-12)
This is the second time the word “dowry” is found in the Bible. What is dowry?
1. The money, goods or estate which a woman brings to her husband in marriage; the portion given with a wife.
2. The reward paid for a wife.
3. A gift; a fortune, given.
Dowry is a gift, as we read in the passage above. Depending on the context, it may be the bride price itself paid for the wife, or something else. Leah said, “God hath endued me with a good dowry; now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons:” (Gen 30:20). In the case of Leah, it was not her bride price she spoke of, but what she was bringing forth – her sons. Jacob served 7 years for her as well as for Rachael, so that was the reward paid for her.
To come back to the question of should love come before marriage: we find here, in this case of “folly in Israel,” these things:
- The young man being attracted first by physical appearance (saw her)
- The young man leaving with the girl without her father’s involvement (took her)
- Fornication happening (lay with her)
- Damaging the girl’s reputation and purity (defiled her)
And then notice again how it is said that he loved her before they were married. In what way did he love Dinah? Did he really have her best interest at heart? Charity seeketh not her own. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
After all that rigamarole, Shechem decides he wants to marry her (which should have happened before everything else, but situations like this do happen when a daughter is off gallivanting around “to see the daughters of the land” out from under the authority and protection of her father). Now what our culture would tell Shechem to do at this point is maybe drop on one knee with a diamond ring and some flowers and then swoop by their folks to announce the wedding. But that isn’t what the man – and a gentile to boot – does. He goes to his own father and requests of him to get Dinah for him to wife! Why didn’t he just up and marry her on his own? Because even though he had wrongly done what he did in taking the damsel who was not his and defiling her, (but again, she was not in a position of subjection to headship) he did love her, let the reader judge the sense. And of course the right thing to do would be to marry her, now that she was no longer a virgin – not just walk off. And he knew he could not be married to her unless her father gave her to him. And that would take some negotiation.
Both he and his father, Hamor, set off to talk to Jacob. It isn’t going to be an easy nut to crack, as Dinah’s brothers are infuriated at hearing what happened. It is Shechem’s father who takes the position of arbitrator. He is the one to inform them of the longing of Shechem’s soul on the behalf of his son. Again, we see the father-to-father discussion taking place (known in this place and others as “communing”), with the brothers being included (and, in this case, offered the incentive of marriages to Hamor’s people). As with the case of Rebekah, brothers can be included in matters of a sister’s betrothal, so they obviously have a special place. There is communion. There is logic and reasoning things out. There is order. How lacking these are in the average marriage scenario today! And notice how there is no direct discussion between Shechem and Dinah on this matter. In fact, notice this:
“And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister: And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach unto us: But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we be, that every male of you be circumcised; Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone.” (Genesis 34:15-17)
Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to be having trouble finding the spot where Dinah is involved in the negotiations here. As I read it, if they don’t come to an agreement, Dinah is leaving Shechem whether she wants to or not. This isn’t a conversation between Shechem and Dinah or even Jacob and Dinah. Dinah is not the one calling the shots here. In this case, there isn’t even any talk of, Let’s ask Dinah what she wants to do (though perhaps that would have come later, if an agreement had been made between the two parties). Her father and her brothers are in complete charge of the first reply of yes or no. They have to get through them first before there is even a possibility of taking her. This means that if a girl wants to marry a man her father and brothers disapprove of, according to the current of the Word of God on this matter, she doesn’t get to. This idea of a mean, evil father stopping the sweet, loving daughter from “following her heart” and doing what she wants to do to be with who she wants to be is the world’s way of mocking God’s plan for marriage. The ridicule can be seen in the scenarios portrayed by Hellywood and pop culture. The father is always made to look like the bad guy who doesn’t care about his daughter’s feelings. In reality, I think it’s safe to say that most of the time the daughter is putting herself out from under authority into dangerous situations and the father is trying to prevent her from getting harmed. But because she is lovesick and rebellious and society pressures the father to back off, she usually gets her way, a la feminism. But to continue on with the narrative.
Shechem knows at this point he has to pull out all the stops, as he really isn’t looked upon in a favourable light to say the least. They have every reason to believe Shechem is a selfish, cold-hearted whoremonger who has brought a bad name on their sister. He asks for Jacob to look on him with grace. A young man must have the good graces of a father in order to be given his daughter. To show how much he truly values Dinah, he offers them as much dowry as they could ask for. Again, this is a heathen man, not a Jew, but he already knows what the norm is for taking a wife. It was common practice. Now, it should be noted that Shechem was most likely a wealthy man. He was a prince, not some commoner. So he knew he could probably pay whatever was requested, hence he made a big offer. This does a couple of things. It proves he is very well equipped to take care of his wife and expresses the greatness of his fervor for her. Not all who would seek the hand of a maid have the resources to do that, but of course that doesn’t mean they can never get married. Jacob was probably pretty tight on funds himself.
(We are told later how they used his desperate position to trick him. And the story ends in death and destruction – all because one girl left her home to pal around with pagans, but that is the subject of another study.)
Some may hold Shechem as a scoundrel for his unchivalrous conduct toward Dinah and deserving of what followed, but the Bible says of him that he was more honourable than all his house (Genesis 34:19) because he was true to his word. He also was doing the right thing by seeking to redeem her, but sin does have consequences.
I can’t help but rabbit trail a bit here. Some people may read these stories of betrothal and marriage and think they sound like dusty old ancient history that is on a totally different plane. Well, let me show you otherwise. Maybe some young lady you know went off with her girlfriends to college. She was the daughter of a respected family, maybe the daughter of a notable Christian man or pastor. It’s not too long before she meets some guy miles away from home and they end up fornicating. And the uproar that ensues when her family gets wind of what happened!
But WHAT DID THEY EXPECT?! No accountability + no protection = SIN.
Take away the daughter from her parents – especially her father – and she is a sitting duck for any man looking to have a “good time.”
And this kind of thing happened long before the advent of the 21st century. Our modern practice of getting married entirely bypasses the negotiation & betrothal process that was instituted to protect women and ensure the father was properly respected.
We read that Judah, after taking a wife of the daughters of Canaan (which he likely did without his father’s oversight in rebellion, as marriage to the Canaanites by Israelites was forbidden) took a wife for his son Er. (Genesis 38:6) He also went on to betroth her two more times to his other sons after each one died for their wickedness.
Q. What about the young man who is fatherless? How shall he get a wife, seeing there is none to get one for him?
Moses was such a man, who was raised in Pharaoh’s house after being separated from his parents. Having left his adopted family (he was fleeing from Pharaoh, who was trying to kill him) and being a sojourner in a strange land, the woman’s father could not talk with Moses’s father, and gave her to him regardless. Because Moses dwelt with him, he likely served him in exchange for his bride.
“And Moses was content to dwell with the man: and he gave Moses Zipporah his daughter.” (Exodus 2:21)
Next let’s look at this passage later on in the same book:
“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do. If she please not her master, who hath betrothed her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed: to sell her unto a strange nation he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her. And if he have betrothed her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters. If he take him another wife; her food, her raiment, and her duty of marriage, shall he not diminish. And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out free without money.” (Exodus 21:7-11)
This is an example of a father who is unable to care for his daughter. To ensure her protection and provision, he betroths her to a master as a servant, to eventually be his wife. She will serve for money as an handmaid and continue in his house in that state until the marriage. But if the man changes his mind about her being his wife, he’s done her wrong, because betrothal is just as binding as marriage. She was sold to him to that end; she is his. This example was given to show what happens when a man has second thoughts after betrothal. He can betroth her to someone else, but only to a fellow Israelite (let her be redeemed). But how can he do this lawfully, when betrothal is as binding as marriage? Jesus said that Moses suffered them to put away their wives, for the hardness of their hearts, when their wives did not please them. This would seem to be the case here. And I think this is set forth under that same umbrella, not to teach us such a practice of putting away the betrothed is of God, but to other ends, which is that in the longsuffering of God to allow such a thing, some things were not allowed to protect the welfare of the vulnerable girl. Though it may be written to another purpose, we can glean other details about how betrothal worked out in daily life in different situations. I think we can see several profitable things here, such as
- That it may be expedient for a man to betroth his daughter if he is in poverty and can find a better state for her
- That a betrothed daughter may work for that man, her husband, prior to her formal marriage so she can have food, raiment and eventually the duty of marriage
- That she was already bought before she went to work for his house – the authority has been transferred and she is now his
- That a man may betroth a daughter for his son, and that she will be as a daughter to him until married to him
- That she, at least in this case, was bought with marriage as the final purpose, whether to the master or his son
- That menservants and maidservents had separate spheres and were discouraged from co-working
Admittedly there are some other concepts interwoven in the text that are subjects for other studies, but we can see the father receiving a price in exchange for letting another man betroth his daughter. The study of maids and servitude probably deserves an entirely separate post, so to keep to the point I’ll continue.
Alright, so we come now to another example of the bride price.
“And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.” (Exodus 22:16,17)
It isn’t right for fornication to happen, when two people come together outside of marriage. But God says if that does happen, that they need to become husband and wife, and the father needs to be paid the dowry he is owed. In fact, a dowry is demanded even in the case where a father will NOT give his daughter to that man, but that man has defiled his daughter so he needs compensation for that damage nonetheless.
One quick point: notice the term “the dowry of virgins.” It does not add “the dowry of virgins of Israel.” ALL virgins, Jewish or Gentile, have a dowry to be paid to their fathers when they are given in marriage. It’s not just a strictly Jewish practice. In fact, the prevalence of betrothal in other cultures current and historical is a testament to this.
Numbers 30 conveys the importance of the power a father has over his daughter.
“If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth. If a woman also vow a vow unto the LORD, and bind herself by a bond, being in her father’s house in her youth; And her father hear her vow, and her bond wherewith she hath bound her soul, and her father shall hold his peace at her: then all her vows shall stand, and every bond wherewith she hath bound her soul shall stand. But if her father disallow her in the day that he heareth; not any of her vows, or of her bonds wherewith she hath bound her soul, shall stand: and the LORD shall forgive her, because her father disallowed her.”
Because a woman in her father’s house (assumed in the passage) is under her father’s authority, God forgives the breaking of her vow if her father, which is over her, says otherwise. To disallow in the Bible means “to set at naught.” He has the right to even come between her and the Lord in such a case! This is a special and beautiful thing. It goes to show how important God sees a father’s authority.
The head of the woman is the man. (1 Corinthians 11:3), and the father is the authority over his daughter. Don’t despise his authority over you. That authority is not transferred until you are married to an husband, not to yourself when you turn 18 as the world says. Such a concept is unscriptural and deceiving. It leads girls to think that suddenly their father has no more authority over them just because they are declared by the legal system of the world that when they reach a certain number of years they are “adults” who must then fend for themselves and make their own choices (um, chapter and verse?). But it is something we are told all our lives and so we grow up believing it, if you don’t come from a godly home anyway.
Objection: “God told the daughters of Zelophehad that they were allowed to marry whoever they thought best in their tribe in Numbers 36:6, so doesn’t that undo what you are saying?”
It is true that their father did not give his daughters in marriage in this case, but the reason for that is found several chapters earlier:
“Then came the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph: and these are the names of his daughters; Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah. And they stood before Moses, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, saying, Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not in the company of them that gathered themselves together against the LORD in the company of Korah; but died in his own sin, and had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he hath no son? Give unto us therefore a possession among the brethren of our father.” (Numbers 27:1-4)
Zelophehad couldn’t give his daughters in marriage… because he was dead! God made a special exception for them in this case. It was impossible for their father to do his duty in that situation. This is exception is also found in the New Testament for fatherless widows – they are at liberty to be married “to whom they will” – only in the Lord.
We come now to the book of Deuteronomy:
“And what man is there that hath betrothed a wife, and hath not taken her? let him go and return unto his house, lest he die in the battle, and another man take her.” (Deuteronomy 20:7)
It is clear that betrothal is not the same as taking a wife (marriage). There is a period of time between the two events, as with the modern practice of engagement. We find more information here on what it means to take a wife after she has been betrothed:
“If any man take a wife, and go in unto her, and hate her, 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: 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: And the damsel’s father shall say unto the elders, I gave my daughter unto this man to wife, and he hateth her; 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.” (Deuteronomy 22:17-18)
But betrothal is very different than what we know of as “engagement.” Betrothal happens when negotiation and the payment of the dowry take place. Betrothal is a stage that is just as binding as marriage; it seals the deal. Unfaithfulness at this point is the equivalent of adultery because, according to the Scriptures, she now belongs to the man she has been betrothed to. There is no walking away from it as easily as with an engagement.
If a damsel that is a virgin be betrothed unto an husband, and a man find her in the city, and lie with her; Then ye shall bring them both out unto the gate of that city, and ye shall stone them with stones that they die; the damsel, because she cried not, being in the city; and the man, because he hath humbled his neighbour’s wife: so thou shalt put away evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24)
The betrothed lady is considered the wife of another man, even though the marriage has not been consummated by intimacy. In other word, being a wife starts at betrothal, not marriage. That is when she belongs to him, when the price is paid up front. There is no trial period, no test-drive phase before a “serious, lifelong commitment” that we can find in the Word of God. To God, betrothal is the commitment. Marriage intimacy is the consummation.
We are also given the case where the damsel is not betrothed to the man who is intimate with her:
“If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed, and lay hold on her, and lie with her, and they be found; Then the man that lay with her shall give unto the damsel’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife; because he hath humbled her, he may not put her away all his days.” (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29)
I have heard a lot of backlash on these verses from mostly feminist groups using it to say that the Bible is barbaric and anti-women, forcing a girl to marry her rapist. If they would bother to read the text in detail they would see that in these two verses it is a case of mutual consent, not rape, because she did not cry as she was supposed to. A true rapist (one forcing relations against the damsel’s will) was condemned to death in the two previous verses, as God compares it to when a man slays another man with evil intent. This, however, is a case where consenting fornication is discovered. Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house after being forced by Amnon; she did not marry him (2 Sam 13:20).
Now, that aside, God says the young man is to give the father a set price and she will be his wife. There is no need to take her because that already happened out of order. Intimacy is what consummates marriage, but the price is required because that man took what was not his (stealing). A betrothal never happened but he needs to be fined for his act against another man, so I don’t think the fifty shekels is an official bride price in this case. It seems to be more of a punishment, but still doubtless reflects the importance of respecting the dowry in hindsight.
“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.” (Deuteronomy 24:5)
I want to briefly touch on this point, that a newly married couple in the Bible had a year to themselves. That year allows a time of bonding and comfort to prepare the couple for the life ahead of them. Any work or warfare interferes with that time. It seems God thinks that this is pretty important, to set forth this verse. And it may not be too much of a stretch to believe this year is what was spoken of when Jesus told a parable in which a man asked to be excused from work because he had married a wife (Luke 14:20).
Caleb, of whom it is said that he had another spirit in him than the murmuring Israelites, gave his daughter to the man who was able to overtake a city.
“And Caleb said, He that smiteth Kirjathsepher, and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife. And Othniel the son of Kenaz, the brother of Caleb, took it: and he gave him Achsah his daughter to wife.” (Joshua 15:16,17)
It is the father who figures things out, not the daughter, when it comes to marriage. In laying down the standards for the man she will marry, Caleb ensures that his daughter will be blessed by an husband who is capable to care for her. The bride price was, in this case, a service to the father in the form of conquering a challenge significant to him.
Samson & The Philistine Woman
We next come to the account of Samson taking his first wife.
“And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines. And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife. Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well. But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel. Then went Samson down, and his father and his mother, to Timnath, and came to the vineyards of Timnath: and, behold, a young lion roared against him. And the Spirit of the LORD came mightily upon him, and he rent him as he would have rent a kid, and he had nothing in his hand: but he told not his father or his mother what he had done. And he went down, and talked with the woman; and she pleased Samson well.” (Judges 14:1-7)
Again, we see the father is the one charged (in this case, by his own son) with the task of getting that woman for Samson. Now this scenario is a bit different from the previous ones we have looked at (of Isaac & Jacob), where the father played the deciding role in what kind of a woman his son would marry. Likewise there was some initial resistance by his parents based on the background this woman was coming from. That was not what they would have picked out. Ordinarily that would have caused things to go to a screeching halt, but they did end up going along with him on it because there was the Lord’s bigger plan at work.
Samson does not follow our culture’s customary practice of trying to win her affections by showing her with compliments and gifts, or even impressing her with his abilities (which he very well could have done, being so strong!). It is not about him trying to get her attention or measure up to her standards. He already decided she was the one he wanted. It was her pleasing him, not the other way around. This may be a good time to bring up how backwards this picture is of having the man groveling directly at the foot of the lady, waiting around on pins and needles wondering when she is going to make some kind of executive decision in his favour. We don’t find that in the Bible, (though the world thinks it makes for a good romance). It puts her in total control even above her own father’s authority, and that is not how God intended these things to work. 99% of the time she ends up basing her decision on her emotions anyway, which is not a wise thing to do.
“So his father went down unto the woman: and Samson made there a feast; for so used the young men to do.” (Judges 14:10)
Here is another 7 day marriage feast. In this case we find it is celebrated by Gentiles as well, not just Jews (for those who would allege that such a custom was only Jewish).
“And it came to pass, when they saw him, that they brought thirty companions to be with him. And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: if ye can certainly declare it me within the seven days of the feast, and find it out, then I will give you thirty sheets and thirty change of garments: But if ye cannot declare it me, then shall ye give me thirty sheets and thirty change of garments. And they said unto him, Put forth thy riddle, that we may hear it. And he said unto them, Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness. And they could not in three days expound the riddle. And it came to pass on the seventh day, that they said unto Samson’s wife, Entice thy husband, that he may declare unto us the riddle, lest we burn thee and thy father’s house with fire: have ye called us to take that we have? is it not so? And Samson’s wife wept before him, and said, Thou dost but hate me, and lovest me not: thou hast put forth a riddle unto the children of my people, and hast not told it me. And he said unto her, Behold, I have not told it my father nor my mother, and shall I tell it thee? And she wept before him the seven days, while their feast lasted: and it came to pass on the seventh day, that he told her, because she lay sore upon him: and she told the riddle to the children of her people. And the men of the city said unto him on the seventh day before the sun went down, What is sweeter than honey? and what is stronger than a lion? And he said unto them, If ye had not plowed with my heifer, ye had not found out my riddle. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon him, and he went down to Ashkelon, and slew thirty men of them, and took their spoil, and gave change of garments unto them which expounded the riddle. And his anger was kindled, and he went up to his father’s house. But Samson’s wife was given to his companion, whom he had used as his friend.” (Judges 14:16-20)
There are many parallels between Samson’s betrothal story and Shechem’s. In each account the initiate was taken by the son, after he saw someone he took a fancy to. Shechem saw Dinah; Samson saw this Philistine lady, and that is what kicked things off for them in both cases. Each returned to their father with the same request: get me that woman! Interestingly enough both “love stories” don’t end happily for other people and the fellow in question. They both end up actually losing their women they wanted so much. Could that be because they didn’t start off doing things God’s way, because it wasn’t the father who was taking initiative to find the wife for his son? It’s something to think on, maybe something that serves as a warning even for us ladies when we want to have things our own way rather than God’s and bypass His order. Esau seems to be a likeminded fellow, who put himself in charge of finding the wife he deemed good. (He ended up with multiple wives and an unhappy family.)
“But it came to pass within a while after, in the time of wheat harvest, that Samson visited his wife with a kid; and he said, I will go in to my wife into the chamber. But her father would not suffer him to go in. And her father said, I verily thought that thou hadst utterly hated her; therefore I gave her to thy companion: is not her younger sister fairer than she? take her, I pray thee, instead of her. And Samson said concerning them, Now shall I be more blameless than the Philistines, though I do them a displeasure. And Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took firebrands, and turned tail to tail, and put a firebrand in the midst between two tails. And when he had set the brands on fire, he let them go into the standing corn of the Philistines, and burnt up both the shocks, and also the standing corn, with the vineyards and olives. Then the Philistines said, Who hath done this? And they answered, Samson, the son in law of the Timnite, because he had taken his wife, and given her to his companion. And the Philistines came up, and burnt her and her father with fire.”
This marriage apparently had not been consummated by intimacy, but the woman was still his wife that had been given to him. (Even if it had, she was still rightfully his wife because she had been betrothed.) She belonged to him, and at that point it was not for her father to give her again to someone else, but that is what he did. Both of them ended up being killed over this situation. (We see Samson brought a “peace offering” to his wife – even though she had previously wronged him, he had left in anger.)
Object.: “Why was the woman burnt too for her father’s sin, considering she was just obeying him in letting her give her to another man and it wasn’t her decision?”
First of all, this woman was a part of the problem to start with. She was manipulating her husband and grating on his nerves during their entire marriage feast because she was doing what other people were telling her to do. Yes, they threatened her life and her father’s life, so she was afraid. But rather than telling her husband what was going on and trusting him to take care of her, she decided to act on what she thought would be best. She acted independently. The fear of man bringeth a snare (Proverbs 29:25).
And she probably thought Samson wouldn’t be able to do anything to help her. As a woman, if you are ever in danger you should never try to take things into your own hands or listen to threats. You should go to your authority right away because it is his responsibility to protect you. Trust him! She didn’t know Samson, as strong as he was, could have slayed all of those men if he had been aware of what they were up to. Instead, he ended up leaving in anger and not coming back for a while. He never would have left if she had not wheedled the information out of him and then betrayed his secret! It’s too bad things ended how they did, but that marriage was definitely not off to a good start. How could he trust such a wife? Take heed, lady, never to pressure your father or husband to tell you something he does not want to. He has his reasons, sometimes you don’t always understand why, but you need to trust his judgment – you would want him to trust you! Manipulation in all its forms is of the devil, even if you think you are in the right. Once confidence is broken it can take years to be regained.
This brings us to her next error: women who are still tied to their fathers after their marriage. Once you get married, sister, you are no longer a daughter first, but a wife first. Your number one duty is to your husband and nothing should come between that. But this woman kept looking back repeatedly. Her father had no authority to give her to another man anymore, because she was a married wife. She needed to withstand doing such a thing, but instead she allowed him to give her to another man and so became an adulterous. Even today, marriages are harmed because the wife is not looking to her husband for direction, but still to her father. It is not wrong in the least to have a positive relationship with your father after you are married, but it is wrong to look to him for your headship rather than your new head – your husband. No man can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24). The Romans had a custom to spin a woman around blindfolded after she left her father’s house in an effort to stop her from finding the way back to it again. There is a level of separation that must happen, even if it is painful, when a father gives away his daughter.
That is why even the unbelieving, pagan Philistines understood that the father along with his daughter were to blame and condemned both to death by fire. And Samson did not interfere.
Boaz & Ruth
Now we come to the book of Ruth. By now you should be starting to get the general pattern of betrothal. I know feminists hate the term “bride price” because it means the woman is being purchased, but here we have it in no uncertain terms:
“And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place: ye are witnesses this day.” (Ruth 4:9,10)
How politically incorrect! With a hunch that modern versions would love to change the monetary verbiage, I decided to look up Ruth 4:10 on the Biblehub website. And, surprise, surprise, the majority of them – including the more popular versions like the NIV, NLT, NASB, and NET – have it changed to “I have acquired” or similarly “take.” The ISV removes any kind of taking/purchasing language altogether and just says “I will marry her…” It is deceptive! Purchase and acquire have two different meanings! You can acquire something for free, such as experience or your grandmother’s heirloom tea set. You can’t purchase something without money! Why the cover-up? to change the holy Word of God in order to cater to the rotten ideologies of the feminists who helped write them and who won’t accept the Bible how it truly is, that’s why! They will have to answer to God for pushing our culture away from God’s ways and towards the world by such crafty dealings.
Now, how could Boaz purchase Ruth if she had no father or husband? Boaz purchased Ruth from Naomi because Naomi was a widow in every sense of the word. Ruth had no kind of masculine protection, but she decided to place herself under what protection she could from her mother-in-law. That was the closest she had to an authority figure and Boaz honoured Naomi’s position in that case. If Naomi was not a widow herself the payment would have been given to Ruth’s father-in-law. See?
David & Michal
David, the man after God’s own heart, had to earn his wife, too.
As king, Saul had actually severed the ties between David and his father, forbidding him to go to his house. So he ended up in a similar situation to Jacob: there is no father to negotiate for him and arrange things, so he has to meet his future father-in-law’s requirements directly in order to prove himself worthy (well, maybe not in Saul’s mind).
And Saul said to David, Behold my elder daughter Merab, her will I give thee to wife: only be thou valiant for me, and fight the LORD’S battles. For Saul said, Let not mine hand be upon him, but let the hand of the Philistines be upon him. And David said unto Saul, Who am I? and what is my life, or my father’s family in Israel, that I should be son in law to the king? But it came to pass at the time when Merab Saul’s daughter should have been given to David, that she was given unto Adriel the Meholathite to wife. And Michal Saul’s daughter loved David: and they told Saul, and the thing pleased him. And Saul said, I will give him her, that she may be a snare to him, and that the hand of the Philistines may be against him. Wherefore Saul said to David, Thou shalt this day be my son in law in the one of the twain. And Saul commanded his servants, saying, Commune with David secretly, and say, Behold, the king hath delight in thee, and all his servants love thee: now therefore be the king’s son in law. And Saul’s servants spake those words in the ears of David. And David said, Seemeth it to you a light thing to be a king’s son in law, seeing that I am a poor man, and lightly esteemed? And the servants of Saul told him, saying, On this manner spake David. And Saul said, Thus shall ye say to David, The king desireth not any dowry, but an hundred foreskins of the Philistines, to be avenged of the king’s enemies. But Saul thought to make David fall by the hand of the Philistines. And when his servants told David these words, it pleased David well to be the king’s son in law: and the days were not expired. Wherefore David arose and went, he and his men, and slew of the Philistines two hundred men; and David brought their foreskins, and they gave them in full tale to the king, that he might be the king’s son in law. And Saul gave him Michal his daughter to wife. (1 Samuel 18:17-27)
This is another example of “labour favours” being used instead of the dowry. Like Caleb’s dowry, Saul’s was more along the lines of military acts than simple daily life work. Saul was using the seemingly ordinary practice as a trap, but the Lord blessed David and was with him. Saul was probably surprised at the double payment, but kept up his end of the bargain.
Object: “This proves that betrothal doesn’t value women or care about their feelings at all! It becomes only what the father wants.”
Yes, you could say Saul was using his daughter’s love for David to his own advantage, irrespective of her best interest, and that was not right. But that does not mean that his prerogative to give – or withhold – his daughter to or from David was wrong. And Michal loved David so he didn’t do so against her will. Abuse can happen in any situation where there is authority and privilege. And God has instituted “checks and balances” to help protect daughters against that. God lets their opinion on things hold some level of weight too. But because there are some limitations on daughters, (and that is the way it is with parents and children, I might add) it doesn’t mean authority is bad. I am just pointing this out to those who might see betrothal as putting women in an exploitative position. Yes, mankind is fallen and imperfect and even in a good design he can pollute the situation with evil. That is his nature. We could argue until we are blue in the face over whether or not betrothal is more unfair to women than dating or courtship because it puts more of an emphasis on the fathers arranging things rather than having the daughter spearhead the situation. But really, it isn’t about whether or not we think betrothal is a good model, is it? It’s not about how we think things should be. It’s about what God thinks. If betrothal is the biblical model for the making of marriages, if that is how really God wants it, it is only harming yourself to resist. Don’t you believe God knows best? Or do you know better than God, the very One who created marriage and families? Ultimately it comes down to pride. Can you put aside your feelings, your judgments and your preconceived ideas about a subject in humility when you learn the truth, or is your heart stubborn? I pray that isn’t the case for you, sister. I pray your heart is soft and you have ears to hear, that you want to do things His way even if it doesn’t fully make sense to you. And it is that childlike faith that truly pleases Him, and where there is peace. Feminists can gnash their teeth and kick and scream now all they want, but they will only make their lives more miserable here trying to do things their own way. When it is all over they all will have to give an account to God for it, and for how they mislead others.
And again, to balance matters, this power of betrothal fathers have does not seem to be unchecked. If a daughter truly does not want to marry the man, it appears from Scripture that the father should regard her wishes and not force her. This is good, because it prevents Christian women being betrothed to unbelieving men by unbelieving fathers. In that case, she would stay with her father unless he gave her to someone she was willing to marry. But that’s generally in his best interest anyway, as we will discover later on.
Later on, in 1 Samuel 25, we are given an account of how David took another wife, Abigail, after her evil husband Nabal died. In this situation David sent his servants to tell the widowed Abigail that they were sent to take her for him. No discussion with either father or husband was possible, so this is one of the rare cases where the son directly takes the wife for himself with no dowry or negotiation. He also took a third wife:
“And when David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, Blessed be the LORD, that hath pleaded the cause of my reproach from the hand of Nabal, and hath kept his servant from evil: for the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head. And David sent and communed with Abigail, to take her to him to wife. And when the servants of David were come to Abigail to Carmel, they spake unto her, saying, David sent us unto thee, to take thee to him to wife. And she arose, and bowed herself on her face to the earth, and said, Behold, let thine handmaid be a servant to wash the feet of the servants of my lord. And Abigail hasted, and arose, and rode upon an ass, with five damsels of hers that went after her; and she went after the messengers of David, and became his wife. David also took Ahinoam of Jezreel; and they were also both of them his wives. But Saul had given Michal his daughter, David’s wife, to Phalti the son of Laish, which was of Gallim.” (1 Samuel 25:43, 44)
Like the wife of Samson, Michal was given again in marriage by her father after David was exiled by Saul. This is interesting because it signifies that after the death of her husband, Michal didn’t suddenly “become her own person.” That headship in this case went right back to her father. Yes, David was not technically dead, but to be banished by the king was, to Michal, nearly equal to having a dead husband in Saul’s eyes. He was basically reducing his daughter to a widow, but perhaps out of kindness to her decided to give her another husband. This is not possible in the case where a woman is widowed but her father has died, as was the case with Abigail, which alone warrants the bypassing of the regular practice of dowry and negotiation. That situation is the only one when a woman truly has no authority figure until she remarries. There is another example of kingship complicating marriage customs in 1 Kings 11:9, where Pharaoh actually gave his wife’s sister to another man, acting in place of her father. Again, that is not the norm, but possibly he was the closest male figure to his sister-in-law in that situation.
There’s a humorous little parable found a book ahead that plays on the themes of betrothal, alluding to how one father communes with another in the marriage process:
“And Jehoash the king of Israel sent to Amaziah king of Judah, saying, The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife: and there passed by a wild beast that was in Lebanon, and trode down the thistle.” (2 Kings 14:9)
And it did happen that fathers gave their daughters to men of a lower social status.
“And Sheshan gave his daughter to Jarha his servant to wife; and she bare him Attai.” (1 Chronicles 2:35)
I think it safe to say that he must have been very impressed with his servant’s character.
Of the strange woman, we read that she is one
“Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead.” (Proverbs 2:17, 18)
The Bible says is the practice of harlots and adulterous women to abandon their fathers. Forsaking your father to have things your way and do what you want is the way to death! You are moving out of your father’s protection and not considering his wishes or honouring him. Just because you may be joining yourself to some other man does not mean God is pleased. The virtuous virgin does the opposite: she sticks by her father unless he sees fit to find her a suitable mate. She is focused on building him up and being the best that she can be for him.
It appears money and labour are not the only ways to betroth a wife. Gifts of value can be given, as in the case of Rebekah, who was given jewels of silver and gold. We see in the following passage that in addition to silver, food measured for its value was given:
“Then said the LORD unto me, Go yet, love a woman beloved of her friend, yet an adulteress, according to the love of the LORD toward the children of Israel, who look to other gods, and love flagons of wine. So I bought her to me for fifteen pieces of silver, and for an homer of barley, and an half homer of barley: And I said unto her, Thou shalt abide for me many days; thou shalt not play the harlot, and thou shalt not be for another man: so will I also be for thee.” (Hosea 3:1, 2)h
The New Testament on Betrothal
The idea that daughters can choose their own spouses and give themselves away to whomsoever they wish is loved by the world, but goes against the teachings of the Word of God from cover to cover. I know I am going to get a lot of flack for upholding the idea that a father is the only one who has the right to authorize a marriage (meaning a girl can’t marry without the approval of her father, though she has the right to not authorize a marriage), but I didn’t make it up – God did. Let me drive it home: it is treacherous for a daughter to leave her father to marry the man of her own choice. She is to be faithful to him until he finds a fit mate for her, and if he doesn’t for whatever reason, that doesn’t change things. That is his decision.
Now we come to verses in the New Testament pertaining to the giving of daughters. If this were but an “irrelevant Old Testament custom,” surely we would hear otherwise, wouldn’t we? There certainly would be no such language of fathers doing such a thing now that those boring, dusty old Jewish books of the law are done away with, wouldn’t there? (Please read The Valid Old Testament if you have this mindset.)
It is true that the word “betrothed” is not mentioned in the New Testament. But the word “espoused” is found in both, and is synonymous with betrothal. This is proven by the following verse:
“And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul’s son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” (2 Samuel 3:14)
In 1 Samuel, we already read the account of David’s taking of Michal and her dowry payment. Espoused is the word used to describe what happened.
Mary & Joseph
That in mind, let’s read this fairly well-known passage:
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” (Matthew 1:18-20)
And what do you know, the same term, the same practice, the same expectations. This verse helps to shed some light on several aspects of betrothal. First, notice how Mary, the mother of our Lord, was espoused. (If it’s good enough for Mary, shouldn’t it be good enough for us women?) I can say with nearly all certainty that communion had happened between Joseph’s father and Mary’s father and with total certainty her dowry had been paid. The only thing that had not been done was to have their feast and know one another carnally. But even though the marriage had not been consummated in such a way, he is still referred to as her husband and she referred to as his wife. That is how tight the knot of espousal is, unlike our modern practice of engagement. That is why Joseph could have chosen to caused her to get in serious trouble for – as was supposed – being intimate with another man, but decided to put her away (divorce). It would have been on par with adultery! The transaction was done; the agreement was made. It was complete betrayal to back out at that point.
The Beautiful Allegory of Betrothal in Christ
We have traced this topic throughout the entire Old Testament and have been able to flesh out a pretty clear picture of how getting married was done (and still is, in some places of the world). In fact, we’ve learned that it had quite a lot of verses pertaining to the subject and there was a lot of ground to cover.
Now we come to the pinnacle – the climax, as it were – of betrothal in the Bible. All of this has been leading up to actually the greatest and most important theme in the entire Bible! And it is found in the dispensation of grace as well as in the law; rather it blossoms into the most beautiful doctrine in the New Testament, as is consistent with doctrine of a moral nature.
I think many of us are aware that the husband/wife relationship is a depiction of Christ and His Church. But did you know that betrothal is a picture of how the Church was united to Christ to begin with?
Now before we get into this, think back to the very first portion of Scripture we looked at in relation to this subject. God the Father brought his son Adam (a type of Christ; Romans 5:14) his bride. That first couple uniting was actually a depiction of the betrothal of Christ and His Church.
Are you paying attention? This is where things get really interesting. The last Adam, Christ Himself, (1 Corinthians 15:45) is God’s Son. The Father so loved the world, which had fallen to sin and the devil in the disobedience of Adam and Eve. He chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy (Ephesians 1:4). That was His plan. It wasn’t because there was anything in us worthy of being loved, but because the Lord is pitiful toward us (James 5:11) and full of mercy (Psalms 145:8). He looked down on our misery and wickedness and depraved condition, our lives but a continual state of iniquity with a fiery hell at the end, and had compassion on us. It brings tears to my eyes to think of the grace of our Lord in not leaving us to that fate, of what manner of love he bestowed on us. Now we love Him because He first loved us.
But our evil father was the devil (1 John 3:8) and we were servants of sin (John 8:34, Romans 6:16). We were all in bondage to sin, obeying it as our master. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). For us to be delivered from sin and free to become one with Christ, death was the payment. Christ’s death was our bride price. No silver or gold or corruptible things could redeem us (1 Peter 1:8). Only the precious blood of our holy Saviour could do that (Colossians 1:14). Redemption means to be purchased.
The Lord Jesus Christ did what His Father desired Him to do. God sent Him to this earth to pay the bride price. In total subjection to God, (John 5:30) Christ lived a sinless life and died the dowry-death because it was His Father’s will – not His own. (Mark 14:36). It was God’s plan, not His own; it was even God’s love (John 3:16), the same love He manifested on earth, having compassion on multitudes. At the cross, Jesus remitted the most priceless, valuable, precious payment ever made – His own blood and life – while we were yet without strength and ungodly (Romans 5:6), more than worthless.
And now, it is up to the world to choose what they will do with this Christ of God. Will they take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord, following Him to death and beyond? Will man accept this offer of holy, eternal union with the Saviour of their souls? The door is open; the way has been paved. Will we, like Rebekah, be content to say, “I will go?” As it is in a betrothal of a maid to a man, so it is with the betrothal of sinners to their Saviour. Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely. The invitation is ours. Those that come savingly will show themselves to be the true bride of the lamb.
In the making of this marriage of all marriages, God acted in place of both fathers, as our natural father (the devil) was cast out of his position of authority over us for his abuse of the elect (John 12:31), and we freed from his cruel taskmasters of sin (our old master he sold us under; Romans 7:14, Hebrews 2:15) and the law (our old husband now dead; Romans 7:2-6), we received the adoption of sons of God (Galatians 4:5). As we were an espoused bride, He gave us to Christ (John 6:37) and gave Christ to us (verse 32, 3:16) which thing is a great mystery (Ephesians 5:32). The price for our soul was paid to God of His own Son’s heart’s-blood. And as gifts of espousals are given to the bride, so God gave us the gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23) and our calling (Romans 11:29) through Jesus Christ our Lord. The church and Christ both have one father, wherefore he is not ashamed to call them brethren (Hebrews 2:11, 12) even to the point of being made like one of them (Hebrews 2:16, 17, 1 Timothy 3:16) and we one with Him. And Christ one day will ultimately and finally destroy our old father the devil (Hebrews 2:14). Now our new master is Christ; we are His servants by the Spirit of which He hath made us to partake (Hebrews 6:5). While we are in this world, we are espoused to Christ – He is our beloved, and we are His, and one day we will be unified in heaven in all fullness. That is why we live, think, hope, feel and perceive differently than the world.
At that day we shall say with Solomon’s espoused wife,
“Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.” (Song 1:4)
The bride is now His daughter-in-law, and we have become children of God, adopted of him (hence Christ is called our brother)! We are betrothed to Him, but our marriage is yet to come. It will take place once the trumpet sounds and we are united with Him in heaven – at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9). We will be arrayed in fine linen, which is the good works of the saints, presented to Him by God. The marriage supper or wedding is actually alluded to several times in Scripture and by Christ Himself (see the parable in Matthew 22) as an aspect of regular life. It is a feast where new wine plays an important part and there are guests invited.
Further New Testament Teachings
In our rankly feminist culture, women shudder at the thought of being given by their father in marriage. They want to call the shots when it comes to living their lives and deciding their futures. This is because they do not view themselves as daughters belonging to their fathers, but as independent entities who belong to no one but themselves.
As Christians, we should not cringe at the thought of belonging to someone. All believers are purchased by Jesus Christ. We are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10) and we are not our own.
“What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20)
God made it so children belong to their parents. Wives belong to their husbands. Servants belong to their masters. As long as you are unmarried, sister, you belong to your father. He begat you. He raised you from before you could speak or walk. He cared for you and provided for you. You are his own flesh and blood.
Let’s read out of 1 Corinthians, written to a gentile church:
“But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.” (1 Corinthians 7:36-38)
What do you know, the same exact concept is being reiterated. And not only is it reiterated, it is very clearly expounded on in more detail (which is one of the strongest cases for a practice that is moral in nature in the Bible, read Moral Law Vs. Ceremonial Law).
I won’t go into the whole discussion right now on whether it is better to to remain unmarried or not, but rather focus on a few key points in these verses:
- The subject is the virgin who is entering circumstances which would be more favourable to marriage than remaining with her father. Notice how it does not say “let her catch a man.” “Let him do what he will” puts the responsibility in the father’s lap. He is the one who decides to let them marry. It is what HE wills first, not what THEY will. He calls the shots.
- The father has the right to steadfastly refuse to give his daughter away and to keep her for his own house… and he “doeth well.” This is a pleasing thing in the Lord’s eyes.
- The father makes the choice as to whether or not he will give his daughter in marriage at all – it is up to him to decide what’s best under the circumstances.
- Observe how the tone of this passage is directed to the man (the father), not to the virgin when it comes to deciding on marriage or not.
Are you getting how profound this is? By having the father be the one to make the decisions on if and whom she may marry, you remove the problems associated with both dating and modern courtship! The father can make a much more rational decision than the daughter, blinded by starry eyes, inexperience and hormones, as to the compatibility and long-term results of the marriage. And what father is there who does not want the absolute best for his daughter, to see her happy for years to come? and who else is better fit to protect her from the rogues and churlish men of the world who would butter her up with smooth words and gifts, only to treat her worse than a dog after the wedding is over? Who else has a better understanding of her character, her shortcomings, her passions, her goals and aspirations? It’s time we daughters put away the independent feminist spirit and take the step of trusting our fathers’ judgments, knowing that they love us and that they are capable of following the Lord’s leading when it comes to giving us in marriage. (That said, we’ve seen a girl still can choose to reject to be married and choose to stay where she is if she wants if its against her will.)
“For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2)
As you may know, Corinth was not a Jewish church. It was a gentile one. Yet Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, does not go into much detail regarding what it means to be espoused. They say sometimes you can learn more about a verse by what it doesn’t say than what it does say. Concepts like a father presenting his espoused daughter to her husband were universal practice and knowledge. It is actually a very intricate illustration. Paul in this verse and others (see 1 Corinthians 4:5, Philemon 1:10) likens himself to a father, who has begotten the bride of Christ. He is paid a dowry of the Lord for the work in raising them up (1 Corinthians 3:8, 1 Timothy 4:8)) and bringing these people to Christ.
Quest. “What role does physical attraction and chemistry play in the relationship?”
Obviously the world believes what they call “chemistry” is very important to a successful marriage. Generally that works out to be nothing more than sensual appeal to their physical characteristics and how your heart flutters when you see that person’s face or figure (emotional), which is obviously not founded on the Word of God, but on what man thinks and feels. I have seen some professing Christians who have followed the world’s prescription exactly for finding and liking a spouse and based their marriages on the very same principles, just sprinkled a bit of scripture on top. I have also heard it said among Christians that it is okay for physical attraction to play some role in the relationship as long as it is not the primary driving force behind the interest. They try to moderate the world’s ravenous appetite for carnality a bit and mix it with some more spiritual motives.
I believe we should give as much weight to the role of physical attraction in a relationship as the Bible does. We ought to search whether these things are so.
Beauty isn’t often mentioned with regards to marriage in the Bible, but when it is, I read that Rebekah was fair to look upon, yet that did not seem to play any deciding role in her relationship with Isaac whatsoever, and she actually concealed her beauty on meeting him. It may have been otherwise for Jacob and the fair Rachel, but that relationship was pretty rocky, as was touched on earlier.
I believe the truly godly who seek after God’s heart in this matter will see things as God does, hence their being godly in the first place. God does not look at the outward appearance like men do, of such things as stature and a fair countenance. God looks at the heart. And the heart is where a blossoming, fruitful, lasting marriage resides. Beauty is here and gone. Any part of your marriage that is based on physical beauty is likely going to be gone much sooner than you think, for both parties. The way I see it, the things that should matter to me should be the things that matter to God. If God doesn’t put weight into it I shouldn’t either. I discuss this in more detail in my post on the Vain & Prideful Pursuit of Beauty.
Obj. “What about ‘the way of a man and a maid?’ Surely the Bible contains this because there is some direct interaction involved for the man to win the girl’s affections.”
The passage mentioned is this:
“There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.” (Proverbs 30:18, 19)
The way of a man with a maid is not set forth as a positive example for us to follow, but as a teaching tool and a warning.
I think it is interesting that Bunyan paraphrases this as “the way of wantons with the maid” in his A Discourse of the Building, Nature, Excellency, and Government of the House of God:
“And since sin is, of things the worst of all,
And watcheth like a serpent on a wall,
Or flyeth like an eagle in the air,
Or runs as desperate ships, void of all care,
Or, (as great Solomon hath wisely said)
Is as the way of wantons with a maid,
Who tick, and toy, and with a tempting giggle
Provoke to lust, and by degrees, so wriggle
Them into their affections, that they go
The way to death, so do themselves undo:”
The way of a man with a maid without the protection of a father usually ends up being flirtatious enticements that lure her into sin and going off the right path, or at best into a marriage that is worse than death. It’s playing with fire to entertain them. Men of such a character will mess with your mind. They’ll play with you, flatter you, tease you, use wit, humour, sensitivity, empathy and all manner of designs to woo the silly bird into a trap. It’s a game designed to amuse. And that is the thing the passage is warning of. You can run amuck from it easily, far more easily than you think. Let the reader observe this and lay it to heart.
Obj. “But why then does that Scripture say, ‘Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing,’ if it is the son’s father doing the finding rather than the husband-to-be?”
As we have seen that the overwhelming pattern for making a godly marriage in the Bible is the betrothal process, I believe this verse ought to be taken in light of all the other Scriptures and not set solely as the basis for making marriages. To take a verse and build an entire doctrine around it without weighing the rest of what the Word of God has to say on the matter is how heresies are born. So to say that because the verse speaks of one finding a wife would mean in most cases it is up to the son to take the initiative to me would contradict the basic pattern laid out in the Bible.
It would appear that not all instances of the word “finding” rely on one to actively, independently seek or follow after in order to find (though sometimes they do, as in Proverbs 21:21, Matthew 7:8, Matthew 12:43, John 1:43, 45 to name a few). Deuteronomy 22:25 would imply to me that a man happens upon the maid rather than searched for her. Other texts of note are Proverbs 16:20,17:20, and 19:8; Jeremiah 10:18, Acts 19:2. Sometimes find can mean to discover with surprise, as one that findeth great spoil unexpectedly (Psalm 119:162), to happen upon. “We have found the Messiah.” So it stands to reason that finding is not the same as seeking, and could be interpreted as discover, which would be consistent with the father initiating the process. The son can then find his wife to be her who was appointed by his father, within that compass of his father’s prerogative to help find him a suitable mate.
The only time I find a reference to a man actively seeking a wife is where it is being discouraged in 1 Corinthians 7:27 for the present distress. And there it implies the man was formerly married (loosed from a wife) and therefore his father is not available.
Final Thoughts on the Bride Price
Understanding that a daughter belongs to and is the possession of her father, we can see why the bride price would be required of a husband. The bride price (or “dowry”) is now almost unheard of today, but for thousands of years it was upheld as the just and biblical thing to do.
See, when another man takes to himself that daughter to wife without providing compensation of some sort to her father, he is stealing. That woman was not his by right. It is a transgression of the command, “Thou shalt not steal.” By paying the dowry to the father, that shows the suitor honours the authority of the father and is upright in his ways. The father accepting the dowry is a token of his blessing on the marriage.
The bride price is a testimony to the value of daughters. The bride price is not designed as a way for fathers to make money selling their daughters. No doubt the dowry can be and likely has been abused in this way, along with many other things, but that was not its purpose. Both men know, if they are godly, that the price of a virtuous woman is far above rubies. The dowry is a symbolic representation of how precious she is to the family she is a part of. It also marks the transfer of authority and the change from being a daughter to being a wife.
Isn’t it ironic that those who scorn the idea of a bride price claim to value women more? The fact that the bride price is nearly extinct goes to show how our society does not view daughters as valuable treasures. Fathers just let their daughters take off with whoever, hardly expecting to even be asked permission. But they wouldn’t stand by and watch a pet they loved just walk out the door with someone, not even their close friend! It wouldn’t matter if that friend said, “Can I have your dog?” The answer would probably be, “I love my dog! If you take my dog I am going to be very sad. He is my companion, sleeps on my lap and keeps the house safe from burglars at night. You will need to compensate me for this loss and we will need to be in agreement.” (Lest you think this a strange comparison, Nathan used the similitude of a cherished lamb when relating to David the relationship of Bathsheba to her husband Uriah.) He would be enraged at his 15 year old girl taking off with some man like that. But have some barely familiar young man say, “Can I marry your daughter?” and just like that, his own flesh and blood, his very own child, goes away with no respects paid to him for the years of labor and countless cares of parenthood that were put into her development. If she were any younger than 18 years old he would be broken-hearted and feel truly wronged! And yet somehow this is seen as normal in our culture. (Maybe the father is afraid of World War III with his feminist daughter if he says no.) I am not saying this to slight fathers or raise my voice against the men of our generation. I am talking to you, lady, who thinks the dowry a degrading custom, and who would throw a fit at the thought of the father having a major role in your future. I am saying this to illustrate how backwards we are, and that it is our lost and wicked society that does not see women as treasures.
The dowry proves that the man was capable of providing for his wife. It also compensates the father for taking away such a valuable treasure from him. For those who had no money, a service of labour is used instead, as was the case for Jacob working 7 years for Leah and then another 7 for Rachel. It could even be conquering a city, as we read in the case of Caleb and Othniel.
In Summary: The Steps of Marriage, God’s Way
By now you should have a much better understanding on the process of getting married biblically. To recap, here is an outline of the steps involved:
Parental Interest -> Negotiation (Communion) -> Bride price/betrothal (now husband & wife) -> Marriage Feast -> Marriage Consummation (intimacy)
We saw from this study especially how the betrothal stage is not anything equivalent to our modern practice of engagement. In fact, the world’s method of marriage differs entirely from the Bible’s from beginning to end. As always, God’s way is actually much simpler, safer and puts fathers in their rightful place of authority over the situation from the beginning while still ensuring checks and balances to prevent ungodly marriages. The world’s model offers nothing but emotional chaos and is unfair to families as a whole.
The world’s model is:
Attraction from Couple -> Expression (Question 1: “Will you go out with me?”) -> Dating -> Engagement (Question 2: “Will you marry me”) -> Ceremony/Party -> Honeymoon
- Attraction is initiated usually by the son, though I find in many cases it is really the daughter flirtatiously manipulating his emotions until he caves in.
- Expression refers to the son directly coming out and asking the daughter if she has a mutual interest
- Dating is the test-drive period, which is nearly identical to courtship, where the couple tries to decide if they like each other enough to proceed to
- Engagement which is the stage where the relationship can be dissolved at any point without the need for divorce. The only difference between the dating stage (or courtship, really) and engagement stage are that the son again comes out and asks the daughter directly to marry her and the couple, independent of any outside decisions, announces they intend to get officially married. Most physical gestures of affection at this stage are looked upon by the majority of society as acceptable.
- Ceremony/Party is commonly called a wedding but is really little more than a ritualistic excuse to have a wild time drinking and dancing before the
- Honeymoon, where they drop a substantial amount of money to visit an exotic place for a week or so and be intimate
Why should we, as Christians, follow along with such a starkly contrasting and flawed system? Yes, you would be different and probably considered “wacko” for doing otherwise, but we worry too much about what the world thinks and being different is not always bad (in fact, in most cases it is good because of living in our wicked society).
Objection: “This may all sound well and good in theory, but what about the practical application in everyday life? Surely you aren’t going to insist on fathers orchestrating the future of their children, much less a young man actually paying a father for his daughter in today’s society. I mean, get with the program! It’s not the old days anymore. We live in a new era and times are too different to hold on to the past.”
If it’s really God’s way, there will be practical application, and that way will be best, and always will be, regardless of changing times or man’s schemes to reinvent God’s design. If the Bible truly teaches something maybe we’ve forgotten in our post-Christian world, shouldn’t we as the people of God want to seek the old paths and keep those things alive among us? shouldn’t we desire to reclaim that which was lost? shouldn’t we want to uphold that in our daily life, regardless of how strange the world thinks we are? It requires laying down your pride. It requires being willing to be counted strange, to embrace something foreign and commit to doing things according to the rule and Word of God. The world’s ways don’t work, and so-called Christianity’s pathetic attempts to mimic them have only caused us to land up in the same sinking ship of relationship disasters. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. God’s ways are not man’s ways. When we begin to step out in faith to submit to and accept them, God will bless us, and we will experience the fruit of obedience in our lives and relationships. The “new era” we live in is an era of atheistic thinking and unprecedented numbers of failed marriages. As with homeschool, modesty, sacred music or just about any topic that is unconventional Bible truth, it can be uncomfortable to accept it at first, but the superiority of God’s design and the spiritual benefits to be reaped thereby far outweigh the initial discomfort in the long run.
Shouldn’t Love Come Before Marriage?
What about loving that person for who they are before you are espoused to one another? Isn’t that godly and biblical? Christ loved us, His Church, before marriage, did He not?
When did Jesus first love us, His redeemed people? Yes, Jesus Christ our Saviour loved us before we loved him. But when did He first love us? Was it before His Father espoused us to Him? Of course not. Our Lord Jesus Christ simply followed the plan of God the Father; He acted out of total submission to Him from start to finish. It would have been acting outside of God’s will for Him to love us before God espoused us. Even now the Church is not married, and though we have not seen Christ, we love Him. But we, His Church, are just as good as married in God’s sight to His Son, because we are His espoused. The dowry was paid. Therefore are we His wife, though not yet married.
When were we espoused to Christ? Was it the day we turned to God in true repentance? No. We were espoused to Him before the beginning of the world; before we ever knew it. We were chosen and purchased before we ever were aware. Therefore the love we find for Him comes in this stage of betrothal, not before.
Why did Christ Jesus love us before we loved Him? Did Jesus Christ love us for who we are as people, for some good thing in us? No. There is nothing good in us for Christ to love before we are saved. We were unworthy of any morsel of His love. It is not for our sakes. Yet our love abounds one toward another the more we know Him, and as we bring forth fruit, He is further pleased. There is no positive precept or example in the Bible of a man and woman loving each other intimately in a spiritual way for who they are before betrothal.
What Can be Given as a Bride Price?
- Valuables such as gold, jewels, etc. (Abraham’s servant)
- Labor (Jacob)
- Conquering a challenge (Caleb, David)
It is interesting that there isn’t an exact price defined. This puts it in the control of the father of the girl. He can ask a price that possibly seems high if he sees fit. If that is the case there can be some reckoning or communing to see if the two parties can come to an agreement. Maybe he does not want the suitor to have her, so he can make the price higher than what he knows that man can pay. This can ensure she marries someone who is of similar social status. Or he might be willing to come down on his expectations so they can marry. He might not ask very much if the man is poor, or he may ask for work or something else if he doesn’t have money – poor people are not shut out, God ensured other ways. If he doesn’t bend and the price is too high for the other family to pay, that is obviously the father’s way of shutting the door and the girl must obey him. It is never lawful for her to marry someone against his will.
Cover to cover, betrothal is taught as the way to go. This has been a lengthy study (even without touching on the whole historical aspect or diving in to all of the possible objections) but I hope it has caused you to think about this subject in a new light. My goal has been simply to present the evidence as found in the Word of God. Honestly, you have read for yourself how so much was written about the topic in the Scriptures that there really wasn’t any need to pull in other sources. I hope it has been a blessing to you!