Covenants, Blood and Jewish Wedding Customs

jewish wedding covenant

(The following is an excerpt from a longer talk on sexual purity.)

Human sexuality and our understanding of it has become corrupted since the Fall. If the Church isn’t salt and light on the issue of sexuality, the only voice left is the world’s. Apart from God, the world’s way leads to corruption, confusion and brokenness. By studying God’s original design for sexuality, we can better see how His straight line contrasts to our own crooked upbringing and ideas about these bodies we’ve been given.

Sexuality is a gift from God; however, it is an area of our lives that can cause many problems.  Many people have been wounded and shamed by their sexual experiences and, as a result, continue to struggle with their sexuality even after coming to know the Lord.

The Lord desires for us to be whole in every area of life, including this most intimate aspect of our humanity.  As we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He is faithful to heal, deliver, and restore us so that we can properly understand this gift from God.

In the Beginning…

In Genesis 1, God creates the world in seven days. Genesis 2 recapitulates the creation account, showing us additional color. God creates all plants and animals to reproduce after their own kind. The world is perfect. No death, no disease, no decay; no sin, no sickness, no suffering. Adam is walking in all the fullness of God, spiritually united with the Father. God shows all the animals to Adam, which Adam names. As Adam finishes, God completes the illustration by stating there is no suitable “kind” for man. Woman is brought forth—not from another lump of clay—but from man who was full of the glory of God. (Not because man was lonely. Not because he had “needs”.)

“For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, Hebrews 13:4).

Two individuals, man and woman; one flesh, united spiritually with God and perfect in every way.

This is how it was in the beginning.

But, free will…

Covenants, Blood and Jewish Wedding Customs

Fast-forward: Adam and Eve eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their eyes are opened to their nakedness and they hide themselves from each other and from God. Of course, our omnipresent God knew where they were physically. I have heard pastors explain that God’s question, “Where are you?” is an invitation for confession. Indeed, maybe things would have been different had Adam and Eve ran to the Father instead of away from Him. Eve was deceived (1 Tim. 2:14) but it was Adam that committed treason by listening to his wife’s voice over the Lord’s. However, I believe there was more to that moment. I believe our Father felt the separation; the cutting of the spiritual cord between He and the first couple. And though He foreknew the Fall would happen, I believe our Father experienced sadness from that separation, if Jesus’ despair on the cross is any indication. (Mt 27:46, Mk 15:34)

The result: spiritual death from sin and separation between God and humanity. An innocent animal is sacrificed, its skin used to cover their nakedness (Gen 3:21) and the first couple is ejected from the garden and away from the Tree of [Everlasting] Life. (Of course, Jesus restores us to that everlasting life, the life that was lost in the garden (John 3:16,36), but that is a different talk…)

Humanity sprawls out into the world and immediately corruption sets in. All sorts of depravity ensues and then the flood—a global reset—and it’s here where we see the first major covenant between God and man. Though scholars will argue about the full number of covenants* in the Bible, most will agree there are about five major covenants:

The Noahic Covenant (Genesis 9); A covenant between God and Noah, post-flood, where God reaffirms humanity’s dominion and promises never again to destroy the earth with water.

The Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12, 15); God promises Abraham land, descendants more numerous than the stars and blessing extending through Abraham to all the nations of the earth.

The Mosaic Covenant (Exodus 19, 24); Established with the Israelites at Mt. Sinai after they were led out of Egypt. God gives the Law, a code of conduct for a holy nation of priests and an instrument for illustrating life with God (blessings) and life apart from God (curses). The Law also foreshadows the need for sacrifice for atonement.

The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7); God promises the future king of Israel will come through the line of David.

The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Luke 22:14-23); On the night of the Last Supper, Jesus makes this covenant with the apostles for removal of sins, renewing of hearts and reunion with God.

Over and over, throughout the Word, we see our God is a covenantal God. Yes, He is love and mercy, yes, absolutely, but He is also just and holy and righteous. We see promises and agreements declared and then we see fulfillment of those promises. Blessings and curses are born out of covenants honored and covenants broken.

(*“A covenant is an agreement between two parties. There are two basic types of covenants: conditional and unconditional. A conditional or bilateral covenant is an agreement that is binding on both parties for its fulfillment. Both parties agree to fulfill certain conditions. If either party fails to meet their responsibilities, the covenant is broken and neither party has to fulfill the expectations of the covenant. An unconditional or unilateral covenant is an agreement between two parties, but only one of the two parties has to do something. Nothing is required of the other party.” (Got Questions.))

Of these five major covenants, we see blood being applied in three: the Abrahamic (animal sacrifice and circumcision), Mosaic (animal sacrifice and sprinkling of blood for the yearly atonement of sin) and New Covenant (the shedding of Jesus’ blood for the atonement of our sin.) Blood covenants are considered the ultimate form of contract.

A cutting a traditional blood covenant between two parties often looked like this:

  • Exchange coats; Says the identity and authority of the person or group entering this covenant is exchanged with each participant. Says I’m no longer my own; all I am, everything I represent, now belongs to you.
  • Exchange weapon belts; Your enemies are now my enemies and my enemies are now your enemies; your friends are now my friends and my friends are now your friends. Says all my strength now belongs to you. I will serve you if you ever need me and you will serve me if I ever need you.
  • Exchange vows in the walk of blood; An animal—usually a bull, goat, or lamb—is sacrificed by cutting the animal in half. The halves are laid open with a pool of blood between them. The covenant-makers walk in a figure-eight between the halves and meet in the middle in the pool of blood. The figure-eight represents a never-ending relationship. We meet face-to-face and pronounce the blessings and the curses of the covenant. [Modern symbol: Exchanging vows.]
  • Exchange names; Each participant takes the others name to himself. If a person’s name represents their individuality, exchanging names demonstrates the death of being an “individual” onto oneself and the union of the two individuals or groups. [Modern symbol: Wife takes husband’s name or the names are shared between spouses.]
  • Exchange blood; While standing in the pool of sacrificial blood face-to-face, an incision is made in the palms or the wrists of each participant. The two participants now either shake hands or put their bleeding wrists together so that the blood intermingles. Two bloods, two lives, have been joined into one blood, one life. [Modern symbol: We’ll talk about this in a moment when we discuss Jewish wedding customs.]
  • The mark of the covenant; While still sharing blood, a dark substance (like charcoal) is rubbed into the wounds so a dark scar will form once healed. This clearly identifies the blood covenant partners to the world as being in covenant. [Modern symbol: Wedding rings.]
  • The covenant meal; A shared meal—usually consisting of bread and wine—signifying the covenant partners have become one. We break one loaf of bread and we each place a piece of that bread into our covenant partner’s mouth, demonstrating that a part of us has gone into the other. Drinking wine from a common cup indicates our blood has gone into each other. Since life is in the blood, we are demonstrating that we have taken the other’s life into ourselves. [Modern symbol: Bride and groom feeding each other cake.]

The Jewish Wedding Covenant

“That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)

Another form of biblical covenant—Jewish marriage—had three steps:

Contract; Legal marriage by signing a written contract [ketubah, k’too-bah] between the groom and the father of the bride. Once signed, the couple were as legally married as they could be, even if they never complete the next two stages. Divorce required a formal letter called a “get” to loose both parties from the marriage bond. This is the situation Joseph found himself in when he discovered Mary was pregnant.

“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph [ketubah], before they came together [before consummation] she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. And Joseph her husband, being a righteous man and not wanting to disgrace her, planned to divorce her away secretly. [get]” (Matthew 1:18–19)

Joseph and Mary’s father had signed a ketubah and they were legally married. Mary was in a vulnerable position at the mercy of her husband: She was pregnant before the chuppah (the formal second-stage consummation ceremony) and had no “virginity cloth”. (Deuteronomy 22:15,17)

“Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason, the holy Child shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:34–35)

Joseph was a “righteous man”: He did not want to disgrace Mary even though he believed she was an adulterer. He was going to divorce her secretly by merely handing her the “get” (divorce paper) without publicly accusing her of adultery. Such an accusation would have allowed Joseph to avoid paying the Jewish bride price of 50 shekels* and keep her dowry (assets that accompanied Mary into marriage.) Without publicly accusing her, however, Joseph would be required to return the bridal dowry and pay the 50-shekel bride price to her father.

(*Of course, the value of precious metals fluctuates over the centuries as economies rise and fall. The Code of Hammurabi (circa 1800 BC) sets the value of unskilled labor at approximately ten shekels per year of work. Later, records within the Persian Empire (539-333 BC) give ranges from a minimum of two shekels per month for unskilled labor, to as high as seven to ten shekels per month in some records. Either way you slice it, 50 shekels of silver was a lot of money. (Reddit.com))

Consummation; (chuppah) at the bride’s home with a “virginity cloth” up to seven years or more after the contract was signed. This seven-year span we see twice in the account of Jacob, Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29).

The yichud [yee-hoo’d] (togetherness or seclusion) refers to the ancient Jewish custom of leaving the bride and groom alone after the wedding ceremony to consummate their marriage in a designated private room. (Wikipedia.) Two witnesses—one for the bride, one for the groom—would be stationed outside the wedding chamber to await the positive cry of the groom. (This is what John the Baptist was referring to when he told his disciples, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full.” (John 3:29).) The blood in the man’s semen mixes with the blood from the virgin bride’s broken hymen and two flesh become one in blood covenant. The chuppah began as the virginity cloth referred to in Deuteronomy 22 and has evolved over time to be symbolized by a cloth canopy over the bridal bed and finally, to the modern-day chuppah canopy Jewish couples get married under.

Celebration; Wedding feast at the groom’s or bride’s father’s home. The woman leaves the covering of her father’s house to join her husband in the place he went away to prepare. (Matthew 22:1-14, Matthew 25:1-13)

You see, when 1 Corinthians 7:1 says, “It is not good for a man to touch a woman,” it means “with romantic intention.” When we say, “You may now kiss the bride” at the wedding altar, it implies you haven’t yet.

Sexuality is way bigger than just doing what feels good and making sure the parts fit. Physical, covenantal oneness is a type that points us to spiritual oneness, the same spiritual oneness our Lord prayed for in the garden of Gethsemane on the night He was betrayed (John 17). That same spiritual oneness was made possible by the shedding of His blood. It was His death on the cross that tore the veil between God and man and paves the way for two to become one.*

(*The Old Testament priests entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of bulls and goats every year, a shadow pointing to the ultimate sacrifice to come. When Christ died (the spotless Lamb slain before the foundation of the world), the temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies was rent in two from top to bottom, torn by the invisible hands of God (Mt 27:51), and Christ—as our High Priest—entered the Most Holy Place once and for all by His own blood” (Heb 9:7, 24).  The veil that separated man from God was removed by the shedding of Christ’s own blood, allowing us to have confidence to enter into the Most Holy Place and “draw near to God” (Heb 10:19, 22).)

Therefore, all sexual needs are to be met only within the context of marriage (Proverbs 5:15-23).

(To be continued…)

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References

Brett A. Berger, Brett. December 05, 2019. Theology Thursday: What Are the Biblical Covenants? Grand Canyon University. Retrieved from https://www.gcu.edu/blog/theology-ministry/theology-thursday-what-are-biblical-covenants.

Covenant Kingdom. The Blood Covenant – Why is it Important to Understand? Retrieved from https://www.the-covenant-kingdom.com/blood-covenant-steps.html.

Got Questions. What is the Abrahamic Covenant? Retrieved from https://www.gotquestions.org/Abrahamic-covenant.html.

Quora. What is the big picture of the Abrahamic covenant (the ritual and all)? Retrieved from https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-big-picture-of-the-Abrahamic-covenant-the-ritual-and-all.

Reddit.com. (Deuteronomy 22:28-29) How much is 50 shekels of silver to 2017 USD? Retrieved from https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAChristian/comments/7ljzgf/deuteronomy_222829_how_much_is_50_shekels_of/

Wikipedia.org. Jewish wedding. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_wedding.

Wolf, Herbert. Pentateuch. Moody Publishers. 1991. p. 213-214

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