In the Biblical culture and Jewish society, betrothal or engagement was considered as binding as a marriage, since Jewish marriage was a two part process. The first part, engagement as we call it today, created a legal relationship without mutual obligations. In Hebrew called: kuddushin (sanctification) is far more binding than an engagement as we understand the term. Once kiddushin was complete the woman is legally the wife of the man. The relationship created by kiddushin can only be dissolved by death or divorce. However the spouses do not live together at the time of the kiddushin, and the mutual obligations created by the marital relationship do not take effect until the nisuin is complete, because the nisuin (elevation) finalizes the marriage process.
The betrothal process is to ensure that the couple is made accountable to the law that prohibits adultery which carries a death penalty, whilst at the same time, not making them “completely” married. In Hebrew and classical in rabbinic literature, betrothal is normally referred to as sanctification, on account of the bride becoming “sanctified” (dedicated) to the groom.
Betrothal was a signed and witnessed legal contract which was a promise given that a marriage would take place. A change of intention by one of the parties is a serious matter and may be referred to as a breach of promise, a civil disobedience which was subject in some instances to a fine or other penalty.
The betrothal period is also significant as being the time of preparation in which the woman fits herself with what she will need for her home, including her trousseau, while the man builds a home for her to enter in. When that work is complete, the marriage ceremony is held and the husband then brings his wife into his home where they begin their married life together. A bride price called mohar was paid to the bride’s father or guardian, and custom was for both the bride and her father to share in it, but later it was given to the bride.
Betrothal is seen as a time of preparation and anticipation, with both the man and the woman making themselves ready for setting up a home and beginning a new life. It could be a few months to almost a year or even more than that, and in all that period the couple was in effect married though not living together. What a contrast to what is prevalent today!
Betrothal was a sacred time of maintaining fidelity and faithfulness to the one you are espoused to, since you are already married to the person concerned, except for the act of physical consummation. Any misconduct during this period was viewed severely as breach of contract, which is why Joseph decided to put Mary away when she was found with child during this period. Such was the custom and practice in Biblical lands and in Jewish society!
The church is the bride of Christ, and we are the members of His bride, bought by His blood (the bride price), espoused to Him by our verbal assent our commitment to follow Him, sealed by the baptism in water, and marked as set apart for Him by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We have to make ready and prepare ourselves to meet our bridegroom, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, when He will come to claim us.
In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Apostle Paul writes most significantly these words: I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him (2 Cor 11:2 NIV). Paul was fo used on
Ministers of God and leaders need to be aware of and adhere to this orientation of the Apostle Paul – to be passionate and committed to presenting the church to the Lord, as a spotless and pure bride. We can’t use, abuse or misuse the church to fulfill our agendas, our dreams and our desires. The Church belongs to Christ, and we must fear to harm her in any way. We must be filled with godly zeal and jealousy to see that the Church turns to the Lord, honors Him and lives to please Him.
John the Baptist exemplifies the right attitude when he declares: The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:29-30 NIV). This is how those who work in the sphere and realm of the Church must be – turn the attention of the Church to her Beloved, and not seek to draw the attention of the people of God to themselves, but train them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind and all their strength.
Any one who elevates themself and captures the attention of the Church, drawing her idolizing to themselves is in danger of causing the Church to commit adultery!
Anyone who brings in worldly practices and distracts the Church with activities that promote self is dangerous causing the church to commit fornication!A
Anyone who does not lead the Church to purify and prepare herself, but is leading her to indulge in self promotion or self glorification and selfish gain is in danger of causing her to prostitute herself. We need to be like Hegai, the Chief Chamberline and Eunuch of King Ahaseurus, who faithfully prepare the virgins for King!
Apostle Paul warns the Church: You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. (Gal 5:13 NIV). He also admonishes the Church to Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. (Col 3:2 NIV). May we as His Church be faithful to our Bridegroom who bought us with His own life!
He also warns the leaders to Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 20:28 NIV). May we be leaders who faithfully espouse the Church over which we have charge to the King!
In Rev 19:7-8 we read: Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people).
May He find us ready when He comes for His bride!