“And when I passed by again, I saw that you were old enough for love. So, I wrapped my cloak around you to cover your nakedness and declared my marriage vows. I made a covenant with you… and you became mine.” (Ezekiel 16:8, NLT)
The entire narrative of the Bible is encapsulated in the story of two marriages: God the Father to the nation of Israel and Jesus Christ to the Church. From Genesis to Revelation, matrimonial imagery is woven throughout scripture. It lives in the declarations of the prophets, in the poetry of Solomon, in the description of the Rapture; even the Last Supper is awash with matrimonial language and ritual.
In the Old Testament, God pledged Himself to Israel, but she proved an unfaithful bride. In her idolatry and sin, she played the harlot. Israel sought other gods, refused to obey the law, and turned away from the God who promised to be her protector. God used Hosea’s life to illustrate the broken marriage of the Lord to His people. Under His direction, Hosea married a promiscuous woman, put her away by divorce for the adultery she committed, then restored their union and became her husband once more. In the same way, the Lord has given Israel a certificate of divorce and sent her away for her adultery, but He promises that their union will be restored through a new covenant.
This covenant is not with Israel herself but is of her house; it is the Church. As Israel is of the Old Jerusalem, so the Church is of the New. And God is no longer the groom; it is now Christ who pursues the bride, doing so in accordance with Hebrew custom.
In the Hebrew tradition, betrothal ceremonies were deeply ritualistic. Historically, a Jewish groom would travel from his father’s house to that of his prospective bride to initiate the betrothal. He presented a marriage contract, or “bride price”, to the intended bride and her father; if she accepted, she took a sip from a cup of wine the groom offered to her. After that, the groom would announce, “I am going to prepare a place for you,” and take leave of his betrothed for months or even years.
In this time of separation, the groom built a dwelling for his bride as an addition to the father’s home while the woman awaited his return in her hometown, her face covered by a veil to mark her as the betrothed. It was only through an intermediary that the bride and the groom could speak with each other. The engagement period was complete only when the father set his mark of approval upon the dwelling place; then, the groom would return to his bride, surrounded by a triumphant wedding party, and the bride, not having known the day or time he would return, would immediately leave her home and go to her husband. The groom would bring her to their dwelling for the consummation of the marriage, followed by seven days of feasting and celebration.
And this is just how Christ, the Bridegroom, pursues His Beloved. Jesus left His Father’s home to offer His own body as the bride price. He set this proposal before his followers, the first members of His Church, saying, “this is My blood of the covenant” and they drank from it. Then He declares, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3). During this engagement period, the Church is given an intermediary, the Holy Spirit, to communicate with the Bridegroom while they are separated. And it is for none but the Father to know the when the dwelling place is complete and the Bridegroom will return for the consummation. So we, the bride bought with the blood price, await the Bridegroom in eager expectation until the day He returns in glory to bring us home for the marriage celebration of the Lamb.
Israel will be present at this wedding, fulfilling the Lord’s promise of restoration. Just as Naomi, an Israelite, was restored to her lands through the marriage of Boaz to Ruth, a Gentile of Naomi’s house, so Israel is restored to the New Jerusalem through the marriage of Christ to the Redeemed Church.
Viewing Christ as the Bridegroom is essential to a life of true faith because so often we imagine that it is we who pursue God. We feel a sense of religiosity when we, of our own volition, attend church regularly for a few months or listen to Christian radio in the car. Outward demonstrations of faith supersede discipleship, trading the costly suffering of the cross for a religion we can put down when it becomes an inconvenience. But it is poisonous to a true relationship with Christ to forget that it was the Bridegroom who first loved us, pursued us, set a proposal of marriage before us while we were still sinners. Any lukewarm devotion to the vestiges of religion vanishes when we view ourselves as the Bride, eagerly searching the horizon for the return of the One whom her soul loves. Dogmatic sacraments are transformed to joyous worship as the bride makes herself ready for the impending celebration of her union with Christ.
So, Church, consider the covenant set before you, and rejoice always in the waiting for the return of the Bridegroom.
Hope McGovern is a sophomore concentrating in Engineering-Physics.