In the last chapter we saw Avraham’s servant Eliezer conclude the shiddukhin (matchmaking) phase in two days. Then Rivkah traveled with him for a few weeks, to be united with her husband Yitzhak. This shows us that marriages can take place quickly. However, we also saw that a marriage can take many years, as in the case of Yaakov, Leah, and Rachel. As we will see in this chapter, the amount of time does not matter, so long as everything is done in the Spirit, and in the correct order.
After shiddukhin, the next phase of the ancient Hebrew marriage is the betrothal (engagement) phase, called erusin (אירוסין). In order to understand erusin well, first let us understand contract law. This will show us why, even though the traditions have changed over the centuries, there is still a basic sequence of events that must be followed.
The Three Elements of Contract Law
Apart from being a blessing, a marriage in Elohim is also a covenant, which is a type of contract in which all parties to the deal have duties and responsibilities to fulfill. Because a covenant is a type of contract, it is subject to the rules of contract law.
In contract law, any deal is considered to have at least three main elements. The first element is what is called the meeting of the minds. This is when the parties to the deal agree on a plan. (This can be any plan, such buying and selling a house, getting married, or any plan that requires all parties to do their part.)
The second element is an exchange of consideration. This is any exchange of anything valuable, from a token amount of money or service, up to the full amount of the contract. Regarding marriage, what we need to realize is that it is the exchange of consideration that ratifies the contract and makes it legally binding (rather than the consummation, or the fulfillment of the deal).
The exchange of consideration can be money, goods, or services (or any combination of the three).
In a small contract (such as buying groceries), usually one pays the full amount, and then immediately takes possession of the groceries. In legal terms, because one pays the full price at the time the consideration is exchanged, the consummation of the deal takes place immediately. However, with larger deals (such as buying a house or a piece of land), normally one does not take possession immediately, because there are inspections and legal papers to be filed (among many other things).
In the case of buying a house, it is normal to offer a token amount of consideration at the time the offer is made. This is often called earnest money because it indicates that the buyer is serious. If the seller accepts the earnest money (i.e., the consideration), the deal becomes legally binding, even though the buyer will not take possession of the house until later (after the full purchase price has been paid and all of the legal paperwork has been filed).
In the case of marriage, the meeting of the minds takes place when the heads of the houses agree, and the bride also approves of the deal. In the case of kings and even some rich families, these kinds of deals are arranged while the bride and groom are still children. However, before the bride gives her assent, no token of exchange will make the deal legally binding. It is only after the meeting of the minds that a token of exchange makes the deal lawfully binding.
The third element is called the consummation. This is when the promises of the contract are filled in full. We will talk about this in the next chapter.
The Sequence Is Important
The sequence is also important. First comes the meeting of the minds, then comes the exchange of consideration, and then comes the consummation (and in that order).
Any consideration that is exchanged before the meeting of the minds does not count as a lawful exchange of consideration. Further, if someone takes possession before there is a meeting of the minds and an exchange of consideration, it is unlawful. For example, with regard to marriage, if a man sleeps with a woman before they agree to marry, the act of sleeping together does not make them married. Rather, they are simply fornicating. (It is sex outside of wedlock.)
In contrast, if a man and a woman agree to get married and there is any exchange of consideration whatsoever (whether one shekel, or a covenantal meal, or sleeping together), no matter what the exchange of consideration is, it ratifies the agreement, and they are lawfully married in Yahweh’s eyes.
With regard to Scripture, in Genesis 24:22, Eliezer gave a nose ring and bracelets to Rivkah before he reached an agreement with Rivkah’s father Bethuel. Because he gave the nose ring and bracelets before the agreement was reached, they were simply gifts (mattan). They did not qualify as an exchange of consideration (i.e., mohar, or dowry). The fact that Eliezer gave gifts did not give him any claims to the bride. Rather, the gifts only put him in the family’s favor.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 24:22-24
22 So it was, when the camels had finished drinking, that the man took a golden nose ring weighing half a shekel, and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels of gold,
23 and said, “Whose daughter are you? Tell me, please, is there room in your father’s house for us to lodge?”
24 So she said to him, “I am the daughter of Bethuel, Milcah’s son, whom she bore to Nahor.”
In contrast, by verses 50-51, Eliezer and Bethuel had reached an agreement. Eliezer then gave more gifts, which did qualify as an exchange of consideration. However, wonderfully, these gifts were not called mohar (dowry), because while technically there is a purchase, the main goal is to show respect, and thus to find favor with the bride’s family.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 24:50-53
50 Then Laban and Bethuel answered and said, “The thing comes from Yahweh; we cannot speak to you either bad or good.
51 Here is Rebekah before you; take her and go, and let her be your master’s son’s wife, as Yahweh has spoken.”
52 And it came to pass, when Abraham’s servant heard their words, that he worshiped Yahweh, bowing himself to the earth.
53 Then the servant brought out jewelry of silver, jewelry of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.
At this point there had been a meeting of the minds and an exchange of consideration (mohar). Now all that remained was to “ask at the bride’s mouth.” When the bride said yes (in verse 57), the betrothal was lawfully binding, and all that remained was to unite the bride and groom, so that the deal could be fully consummated. (The journey probably took about three weeks.)
B’reisheet (Genesis) 24:54-58
54 And he and the men who were with him ate and drank and stayed all night. Then they arose in the morning, and he said, “Send me away to my master.”
55 But her brother and her mother said, “Let the young woman stay with us a few days, at least ten; after that she may go.”
56 And he said to them, “Do not hinder me, since Yahweh has prospered my way; send me away so that I may go to my master.”
57 So they said, “We will call the young woman and ask at her mouth.”
58 Then they called Rebekah and said to her, “Will you go with this man?” And she said, “I will go.”
59 So they sent away Rebekah their sister and her nurse, and Abraham’s servant and his men.
When Rivkah saw Yitzhak, she dismounted from her camel, and then veiled herself, indicating modesty and submission toward her husband.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 24:64-67
64 Then Rivkah lifted her eyes, and when she saw Yitzhak she dismounted from her camel;
65 for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.
66 And the servant told Yitzhak all the things that he had done.
67 Then Yitzhak brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rivkah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Yitzhak was comforted after his mother’s death.
The marriage took place without either a written contract or a public ceremony. Further, almost no emphasis was placed on the exchange of consideration (which seemed more like the giving of gifts to gain favor, than payment). If we will consider this, what it shows us is that the quintessence of marriage is the agreement between the partners, and then the follow-through.
When Things Go Wrong
Sometimes it happens that a man promises to marry a woman, and he sleeps with her, but then later he says he is not married to her, because he decides he does not like the way the marriage turned out (which he will blame on her). This is effectively what the Pharisaic sect of Beit Hillel argued in Matthew 19:3, when they asked Yeshua if a man could divorce his wife “for just any reason.” (Beit Hillel is the dominant Orthodox Jewish belief today.)
Mattityahu (Matthew) 19:3
3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
However, Scripture teaches us that we are to honor our marital agreements, even when the marriage turns out much differently than we thought.
B’reisheet (Genesis) 29:25-29
25 So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”
26 And Laban said, “It must not be done so in our country, to give the younger before the firstborn.
27 Fulfill her week, and we will give you this one also for the service which you will serve with me still another seven years.”
28 Then Yaakov did so and fulfilled her week. So he gave him his daughter Rachel as wife also.
29 And Laban gave his maid Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as a maid.
(For more discussion of this topic, see “Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage”, in Covenant Relationships.)
The Role of Witnesses
However, if a betrothal is legally binding without a written contract and a ceremony, then why do we need a written contract and a ceremony? The reason is that Scripture tells us that every matter is to be established by two or three witnesses.
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 19:15
15 “One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”
When Avraham sent his servant Eliezer to find a bride for his son Yitzhak, the whole camp surely knew why he left. They also surely knew that when he returned, the young woman he would return with would be Yitzhak’s bride. Thus, there were no surprises. No one thought Yitzhak was living in sin when they later saw him living with Rivkah.
A marriage ceremony serves a similar purpose. It makes a public proclamation of the marriage, so there are many witnesses. In fact, the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai can be seen as a public wedding ceremony (and we will talk about that in more detail later).
Shemote (Exodus) 19:7-8
7 So Moshe came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which Yahweh commanded him.
8 Then all the people answered together and said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do.” So Moshe brought back the words of the people to Yahweh.
The written Torah also serves as a ketubah (a written marriage contract), so that both that generation and future generations (who were not present at Mount Sinai) have a witness of the marriage as well.
The Ketubah: The Marriage Contract
In the context of contract law, not only does the Torah serve as a public witness of Elohim’s betrothal to Israel, but it also establishes the terms and conditions of the deal. Anyone who wants to be taken in marriage can read what is written in the Torah (i.e., the ketubah).
In the same way, a normal ketubah would often record what the husband promised to bring to the marriage, including any mohar (dowry). It would also inventory any assets the bride was supposed to bring to her husband’s estate. (If the bride’s family was rich this inventory could include silver or gold, livestock, businesses, lands, etc.)
For a poor groom, the Torah set the minimum mohar at 50 shekels of silver (although if the groom was rich, the number could be much higher). Depending on the era we are talking about, 50 shekels was about 200 days’ wages for the average unskilled laborer (a shekel being worth nominally 4 denarii, or 4 day’s wages).
Devarim (Deuteronomy) 22:28-29
28 “If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out,
29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.”
We must be careful to note that Deuteronomy 22:28-29 is not speaking about resisted violent rape, because the text stipulates that the couple is “found out.” Instead, the context is more that of seduction (or date rape), because ultimately the young virgin did not tell her father about the loss of her virginity (but instead she consented to the relationship). In other words, one way or another she consented to lose her virginity outside of marriage, and the relationship was discovered later. The judgment for this is that the man who seduced her should pay her father the standard mohar of 50 shekels of silver (or 200 days’ wages), and he will be married to the woman he seduced, and he can never divorce her.
However, the father can also refuse this marriage, because marriage is a merger of families, and a father has the right to refuse to merge his family with a family that produced a seducer. For example, in Exodus 22:16-17, if a father utterly refuses to marry his daughter to a man who enticed her, the enticer must still pay the standard minimum bride price of 200 days’ wages, because he stole his daughter’s virginity.
Shemote (Exodus) 22:16-17
16 “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife.
17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.”
Asking at the Bride’s Mouth After Sinai
By Yeshua’s time, the marriage traditions had changed. Once the fathers (or their representatives) had agreed to the deal, the bride was normally given some time to consider the proposal. According to tradition, after a set period of time, the groom and his father would go to visit the bride’s house, where they would call out, and knock on the door. If the bride approved of the deal, she would open the door, and the groom and his father would enter the bride’s house, and they would share a covenantal meal together.
Hitgalut (Revelation) 3:20
20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”
This meal served as an exchange of consideration, and it made the marriage lawfully binding in Yahweh’s eyes.
Next there would be a public betrothal ceremony, to announce the marriage. This was usually held before witnesses. This was still in the erusin phase (and it was different than the wedding feast, which we will talk about in the next chapter).
Public Betrothal in Erusin
Before their public betrothal ceremony, the bride and groom immerse themselves (separately). This should be done in living water (i.e., a spring, or another body of water that is somehow connected to a spring, such as a spring-fed river, or a spring-fed lake, or even the ocean). This is why Israel passed through the Reed (Red) Sea before coming to the marriage at Mount Sinai, is that it served as a type of immersion.
Shemote (Exodus) 14:21-22
21 Then Moshe stretched out his hand over the sea; and Yahweh caused the sea to go back by a strong east wind all that night, and made the sea into dry land, and the waters were divided.
22 So the children of Israel went into the midst of the sea on the dry ground, and the waters were a wall to them on their right hand and on their left.
The groom and bride would then stand under a chuppah (an Israelite bridal canopy), and the groom would publicly promise or give the mohar (dowry) to his bride. This served as a further exchange of consideration. Then the ketubah would be signed, formalizing the deal.
In some periods there were three copies of the ketubah. One was for the father of the bride, one was for the married couple, and one copy was sealed and given to the local judicial court. At this point the groom and bride were both lawfully and legally married, even though the wedding feast, the consummation, and cohabitation would not come until later.
After the ketubah was signed, the groom would go back to his father’s house and prepare a place where he and his bride would dwell.
Yochanan (John) 14:2-4
2 “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.
4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.”
Separation in Erusin
Until the marriage, the bride had the job of keeping herself pure, and of learning what her husband (and his father) liked. This is the same as Israel has the job of learning what Yeshua and His Father like, by reading their words, and doing all that Scripture says.
Because such a high value was placed on the bride being a virgin, normally the groom and bride were kept separated during erusin (or, if they did see each other, they were heavily chaperoned). Communication was normally carried out through the groom’s friend. This is just as we are separated from our Groom Yeshua, yet we can communicate with Him through His Spirit. (Note: in Aramaic, the Spirit is a feminine, Rukha.)
Yochanan (John) 16:13
13 “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.”
A bride would also prepare her wedding garments, which in our case are our righteous actions and works for Yeshua.
Hitgalut (Revelation) 19:7-8
7 Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.”
8 And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
To prepare our wedding garments, we do all the things our Groom asks us to do, such as fulfilling His Great Commission, and establishing His unified kingdom.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 22:10-14
10 “So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.
11 But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment.
12 So he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless.
13 Then the king said to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
14 “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
There are many Messianics and Ephraimites who want to stay independent, who are not helping the sect of the Nazarenes to establish Yeshua’s unified kingdom according to the fivefold ministry. That is, they are not preparing their wedding garments by doing the good works that Yeshua wants us to do. In that day, when the King asks them why they have not done these good works (i.e., why they do not have a wedding garment), they will be speechless, because His word tells us clearly what to do, and we have had plenty of time to do them. (A word to the wise is sufficient.)
Adultery and Divorce During Erusin
After the marriage is both lawfully and legally binding, a certificate of divorce was required to annul the covenant.
As we saw in “Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage”, in Covenant Relationships, Yeshua tells us that the only lawful reason to divorce one’s bride is active physical adultery.
Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:32
32 “But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.”
Perhaps because it indicated purity and chastity, a lot of emphasis was placed on the bride being a virgin. If a bride committed adultery, or was not a virgin, it was considered a breach of contract. Not only could the groom put her away, but he could also keep the bride price, and anything the ketubah said she was supposed to bring to the marriage. He could further technically ask to have her stoned to death (although Yahweh does not prefer this).
That is also why, after it became known that Miriam was not a virgin, her husband Yosef, being a righteous (or “just”) man, thought to put her away secretly, rather than make a public example of her (by stoning).
Mattityahu (Matthew) 1:19
19 Then Yosef her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.
Death by stoning would technically be justified because adultery is a death-penalty offense in Torah.
Vayiqra (Leviticus) 20:10
10 “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death.”
However, putting an adulteress away quietly was also considered righteous or “just”, because Yahweh prefers mercy and compassion over judgment.
Yaakov (James) 2:13
13 For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
In fact, Yahweh also divorced Ephraim, rather than have her killed.
Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 3:8
8 “Then I saw that for all the causes for which backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I had put her away and given her a certificate of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear, but went and played the harlot also.”
(For a more complete discussion, see “Yahweh’s Heart in Marriage”, in Covenant Relationships.)
As we have seen, marriage can take a short time, or a long time. However, no matter how much time it takes, if everyone follows the Spirit’s lead, everything should go well. Then, normally after several months (or up to a year), the couple will enter the third phase of the wedding, called nissuin (נישואין). As we will see, there is a difference between how nissuin was conducted in Avraham’s time and how it was conducted in Yeshua’s time, and we will talk about this next.