If you have already begun or completed your study of the doctrine of Christ in The Doctrine of Christ Study Guide, you will appreciate and understand the amazing parallels between the New and Everlasting Covenant and the ancient Hebrew marriage customs. I invite you to ponder and understand the beauty of this Covenant that was given “even that which was from the beginning” (Moses 5:1-15; D&C 22:1; 49:8-14; 101:38-39; 66:2: 1:10-24; 76:101: 133:57: 45:1-14). When we understand the parallels between the Covenant and the Jewish marriage, the scriptures come alive with beautiful imagery.
When we see the scriptures through the lens of the marriage covenant something extraordinary begins to happen. Suddenly, we understand that the Covenant describes an intimate, loving and fruitful relationship. This is the covenantal relationship that is offered to each of us (the Bride) by the Bridegroom, who invites us to take His name upon us and to share eternal life.
The following article is not mine. It is derived from a series of articles written by Larry Barkdull in 2012 as a contributor to LDS Magazine (then Meridian Magazine). In it Brother Barkdull does a magnificent job of teaching the Hebrew marriage custom.
I am sharing this because it is so rich in symbolism. So rich that it is characteristic of an available reality to any and all–for God is no respecter of persons:
“…he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God.”
I invite you to personally ponder both the symbolism and the reality encompassed in this teaching of the Hebrew marriage custom. Pay close attention to the detailed symbols, timeframes, purposes, sacrifices, principles, and people involved in this special custom.
Waiting and Preparing for the Bridegroom
In this segment [Part 2], we will examine the events that occur during the waiting period-the time between the betrothal and the wedding. We will examine the calling, symbolic clothing, the responsibility of the friend of the bridegroom, and the importance of the bridegroom and the bride’s preparing for each other.
The Father’s Announcement
Immediately after the betrothal ceremony, the bridegroom’s father made the first of two announcements of the marriage of his son. This announcement, or calling, is proffered to close friends, family, and others who were invited to the wedding.[i] The scriptures inform us that “many are called”[ii] to the wedding because of their relationship with the father and the son.
By covenant, if the invited people accepted the father’s invitation, they were duty-bound to honor their commitment; that is, they must agree to come to the wedding when it was eventually announced, regardless of the inconvenience of the hour. Donna Nielsen explained, “The initial acceptance obliged the guest to respond to the summons at the hour of the banquet.’ Only those who accepted the first invitation would receive the final invitation when the feast was ready.”[iii]
The Bride’s Veil
Maidens, who were not yet spoken for, could be seen in public with unveiled faces. But once they had entered the betrothal or engagement period-that is, when they had entered the Covenant-they veiled their faces in public. This custom, of course, is reminiscent of temple worship. Once the young woman had accepted her beloved proposal of marriage, she was considered set apart, consecrated and holy. Therefore, she wore the veil as an indication that she belonged only to her husband and that no one else had the right to appreciate her beauty except him.
As a symbol of consecration, the bride would forevermore “wear a veil over her hair whenever she was in public. This would indicate her status as a betrothed woman and signal that she was not available to anyone else. She would wear a veil over her hair for the remainder of her life as a symbol of her devotion and faithfulness to her husband. Properly understood, her veil hid only that which was too precious for the common, careless gaze.” This was not a sign of inferiority, but rather of glory. Her beauty was to be “enjoyed exclusively by her groom. In fact, only those things which were treasured and glorious were veiled.”[iv]
Sometimes in scripture Christ becomes the Bride, who beckons us to receive him. As the Bride, he also symbolically becomes the “veil,”[v] as indicated by the author of Hebrews. This term, veil, seems to signify that we go through him to return to the Father. In this light, other scriptures connecting Christ and the veil begin to take on added meaning. For example, “Sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you will see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.”[vi]
Only the bridegroom was allowed to look upon the bride’s beauty that remained hidden behind the veil. Just so, it is our unique honor to part the veil and gaze upon the glory of the Lord: “And again, verily I say unto you that it is your privilege, and a promise I give unto you that have been ordained unto this ministry, that inasmuch as you strip yourselves from jealousies and fears, and humble yourselves before me, for ye are not sufficiently humble, the veil shall be rent and you shall see me and know that I am.”[vii]
Clearly, that which is most holy is hidden behind the veil. We recall that Moses veiled his face after he returned from speaking with the Lord. His face was filled with so much glory that the people could not endure his presence.[viii] That same idea of veiling that which is most holy was represented in the tabernacle and later in the temple of Solomon: a first veil concealed the inside of the temple and a second veil concealed the Holy of Holies.[ix]
As we have mentioned, the bride became a temple to her husband; therefore, in symbolism, she wore the veil to indicate that by covenant her beauty and her loyalties belonged exclusively to her husband. Likewise by covenant, we “veil ourselves” from the things of the world and allow no unhallowed hand or glance to remove us from the Bridegroom to whom we give exclusively the beauty of the temple of our souls.
By covenant, we “come unto Christ (the Bridegroom)…and deny [ourselves] of all ungodliness,” and we love him with all our “might, mind and strength.”[x] Symbolically, we hold sacred those things about ourselves that only the Bridegroom might cherish. “Like a temple,” wrote Donna Nielsen, “the woman was now set apart’ for holiness-the greatest holiness of all.”[xi]
The Friend of the Bridegroom
After the bridegroom had paid the bride price, offered his beloved the marriage covenant, given her a token or emblem, consecrated himself to her and pledged his enduring devotion, then after the bride had indicated her agreement to enter into the marriage covenant by drinking the cup of wine in the presence of witnesses from a cup, and finally, after the two had shared a covenantal meal together, the bridegroom left to prepare a place for her in his father’s house. The bridegroom and the bride would not see each other again for about a year. Then on an unspecified night, he would come suddenly for her and whisk her away.
Until then, the friend of the bridegroom, who had been a witness of the couple’s covenant, would act “as liaison between the bride-to-be and the groom during the betrothal period…[he would become] the guarantor of the bride’s virgin chastity until the consummation took place…[later he acted as the] governor at the marriage feast, and finally, his last obligation was announcing to the assembled guests that the full marriage was successfully completed.’”[xii]
In this tradition, we see the obvious role of the Holy Ghost, who witnesses the initial covenant-making process.
Thereafter, as we wait and prepare for the Lord, the Holy Ghost conveys messages between the Bridegroom and us (the bride). Additionally, he prepares us for the Bridegroom, encourages us to remain faithful, and ultimately, when we are finally brought to the wedding, the Holy Ghost justifies us to the Bridegroom and bears testimony of our worthiness. Thus, he oversees the entire proceedings from start to completion, and in the end he declares the covenantal process is finished. Then the Bridegroom’s friend hands us over to the Bridegroom and the friend’s job is completed.
Preparing for Each Other
During the preparation period, which might approach one year, the bridegroom and the bride busied themselves with the primary thing on their minds: their coming wedding. As we have mentioned, the young woman was now considered a bride, so she wore a veil over her hair in public as a token of her new status.
Whereas she had belonged to her mother and father, she now belonged to her husband; therefore, she set aside all former relationships in favor of the relationship with her husband, which would define her forevermore: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”[xiii]
For the bride to be separated from her beloved for a year was an exercise in long-suffering and patience. As she prepared for her wedding, she wondered when her bridegroom would come for her. Her not knowing the day or hour is a theme of the Second Coming that is widely rehearsed in scripture. For example, “…the hour and the day no man knoweth, neither the angels in heaven, nor shall they know until he comes.”[xiv] Because the bride did not know the time, she had to live her life in constant anticipation and readiness.
Her faithfulness is reminiscent of the five virgins whose lamps were trimmed and filled with oil when the bridegroom came.[xv] Her example also hearkens to the chosen few, those handful of faithful saints among the many who were called to the marriage of the king’s son. Only those people were actually allowed to attend the wedding.[xvi]
The apostle Paul applied the imagery to a woman who was now about to give birth: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.”[xvii]
Commenting, Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
Paul’s illustration here is perfect. The Second Coming is compared to a woman about to give birth to a child. She does not know the hour or the minute of the child’s arrival, but she does know the approximate time. There are signs which precede and presage the promised arrival. And so it is with our Lord’s coming. He shall come as a thief in the night, unexpectedly and without warning, to the world, to those who are in spiritual darkness, to those who are not enlightened by the power of the Spirit. But his coming shall not overtake the saints as a thief, for they know and understand the signs of the times.”[xviii]
On difficult days, the bride might have even despaired, wondering if her bridegroom would ever come. Likewise, we might become discouraged when the Lord delays his coming to our aid. Nevertheless, we are counseled to watch, pray and not faint while waiting.[xix] We are to “seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life.”[xx]
In every difficulty, the Lord will eventually come for us. Even if the time is protracted, he will come. The Lord told Isaiah, “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come…he will come and save you.”[xxi] We are assured that “he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all.”[xxii] “Ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.”[xxiii] Most certainly, the Bridegroom will come; it is not a matter of if but when.
To comfort and help the bride endure his absence, the bridegroom left in her possession reminders of his promise to return-“I go away and come again unto you”[xxiv]–which symbolize his enduring love for her. These reminders, which she holds close to her heart, are the bride price, the marriage contract, and the token.
When he left her, he knew her wait would be difficult. His pledge was reminiscent of his words to us: “Let not your hearts be troubled; for in my Father’s house are many mansions, and I have prepared a place for you; and where my Father and I am, there ye shall be also.”[xxv] And at another time, “I go to prepare a place for you.”[xxvi]
It is important here to realize that during the separation period the bridegroom was preparing for his bride; she was not preparing alone. Additionally, although he would be physically absent, he had arranged to provide for her safety and her comfort. He assigned his trusted “friend” or “comforter” to watch over her until he returned. We recall that when Jesus announced his imminent departure, he said to the apostles, “I will not leave you comfortless.”[xxvii] As we have mentioned, the Lord’s “friend” is the Holy Ghost.
During the protracted betrothal period, the bridegroom spent his time building his beloved a bridal chamber within the confines of his father’s house or estate. After the wedding, the chamber would become their home. Donna Nielsen explained:
The new home was built under the direct personal supervision of the groom’s father. In that culture, a son is considered to be a representative of his father, and everything that the son does reflects either favorably or unfavorably on the father…. With such close identification between a father and his son, the father wanted everything regarding the bride’s new home to be as beautiful and perfect as it could be…. The father of the groom was the sole judge of when the preparations were complete….When the father determined everything was ready, he gave permission for the son to claim his bride. No one knew when that permission was forthcoming…only the father knew.[xxviii]
The bride would not see her bridegroom until the night he came for her, which time was hidden from her view. Thus, the bride spent the betrothal period preparing for the time that her bridegroom, who was also preparing, would finally receive his father’s commission, suddenly appear with little warning then whisk her away to the “mansion” that he had prepared for her.
The Serious Nature of Preparing
The subjects of preparing for the Bridegroom’s return and receiving an inheritance in his Father’s kingdom occupy chapter 25 of Matthew.
This chapter describes who and what we are preparing for, how we must prepare, and how the principle of stewardship assists us to prepare. Here the Lord gives three parables-The Ten Virgins, The Parable of the Talents, and The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Kent P. Jackson wrote:
These allegories seem to form a progression, teaching different aspects of readiness that Jesus encouraged of His listeners and readers. The Joseph Smith translation of verse 1 places the story of the ten virgins clearly in the context of the Second Coming…. (Matthew 25:1-13) Preparation is a necessary precaution because “ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of Man cometh.” This parable…ends with the admonition, “Watch!”
In the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master, traveling to “a far country,” leaves different quantities of his goods in the hands of three servants, to each “according to his several ability.” Two of the servants doubled their master’s resources that had been entrusted to them. The third, however, hid his allotment for safekeeping. To the two who magnified their investment, the master said upon his return, “Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” The final servant returned the master’s talent to him, yet he did not receive his lord’s praise but rather his condemnation: “Thou wicked and slothful servant.” This is not a parable about the uncertain timing of Christ’s return but about what we are to do with the gifts He has entrusted to us while we were waiting. As Joseph Smith taught, we should “improve upon all things committed to [our] charge.” This parable…ends with the unprofitable servant’s intense sorrow, “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The final parable, that of the Sheep and the Goats (see Matthew 25:31-46), again addresses what people do with the blessings entrusted to them-but in a different way. The setting…is a judgment scene: “When the Son of Man shall come in his glory…and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.” Those placed on his right hand will receive an inheritance in His kingdom, whereas those on his left hand will be sent off to “everlasting fire.” Jesus explained in some detail the criteria for the King’s just judgment. Those worthy of an inheritance of glory will be those who fed Him when he was hungry, gave Him drink when he was thirsty, took Him in when He was a stranger, clothed Him when He was naked, visited Him when He was sick, and came to Him when He was in prison. Those who will be condemned will be the ones who had the same opportunities but did none of those worthy things.[xxix]
The burden of stewardship is intrinsically linked to our preparation for the Lord’s Second Coming. In this context, we are both the bride and the steward. First, as the bride, we must anticipate the Bridegroom’s arrival in an attitude of constant readiness, as would a betrothed bride prepare and watch as she waited for the promised return of her beloved. She would “always remember him.”[xxx] Just so, during our wait, we are to remain absolutely loyal to the Bridegroom. We are not to divide our affections with another. Our entire attention is to prepare for the coming wedding when we will be more surely joined with the Bridegroom and live with him forevermore.
The one who helps us to prepare and who comforts us so that we can endure the wait is the Bridegroom’s “friend,” the Holy Ghost. We are also comforted by holding in our possession the price that the Bridegroom paid for us, the Covenant he made with us, and the token (his wounds) that he gave to us.
In our dual roles of bride and steward, we receive from the Lord both gifts and stewardships to help us endure the wait and prepare: 1) as the “bride,” we receive from the Lord gifts to help us remember him and his promise to return; 2) as the “steward,” we receive from the Lord stewardships as sacred trusts to manage his property and resources until he returns.
As both the bride and the steward, we are to anticipate the Lord’s return and actively prepare for it. As the steward, we are to magnify our stewardships during the wait. We do so by using the resources and surpluses of the stewardship to bless the Lord’s children. As the steward and the bride, we have covenanted to take upon us his name, and therefore we belong to him. As his bride, his children become our children, and we share in his efforts to take care of them.
Both the loyal bride and the faithful steward are “accounted worthy to inherit the mansions prepared for him of my Father.”[xxxi] But, as both the bride and the steward, if we do not prepare for the Bridegroom, if we do not remain loyal to him, if we do not listen to his friend, if we are ashamed of the gifts he has given us or hide or misuse our stewardships or do not use them as he instructed (to bless the lives of others)-if we do any of these things, he will say to us when he comes that he does not know us: “Depart from me.”
Then sadly we will have forfeited the marriage. In that miserable state, we will be cast away to where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We will find ourselves on the Lord’s left hand, the place that is called “cursed,” and described as “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”[xxxii]
Clearly, the Bridegroom expects his bride to hold his name in high regard, always remember him, and remain loyal to their marriage covenant. To the extent that the bride remains faithful, she will have the Bridegroom’s friend to attend, comfort, instruct and prepare her for the Bridegroom’s coming and the wedding.
The Bride’s Final Preparations
As we have mentioned, the bride did not know the exact day and hour of the bridegroom’s coming, but her relationship with the bridegroom’s friend would have provided her signs of the bridegroom’s coming. As the approximate time approached, she intensified her preparations. She kept herself adorned.
She practiced applying wedding make-up, and she paid special attention to her fingernails, hair, and skin so that she would appear as attractive as possible for her new husband. Also from the time of the bridegroom’s departure, she had kept a lamp burning in her window; she would keep it burning bright until he came for her.[xxxiii]
As the time of the wedding drew closer, the young girl anxiously awaited her groom’s arrival. By custom, it would be sudden, with an element of surprise, and often late at night. She invited her sisters, cousins, and friends to join her vigil and be supportive at this time of joyous anticipation…. Night after night, they would strain to hear the shouts of the bridegroom and his friends.[xxxiv]
This custom is reminiscent, of course, of Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins.
We recall that the vigil had gone on a long time, and the bridegroom had “tarried.” Then late in the night, “at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.”[xxxv] Intrinsic in the New and Everlasting Covenant is the stipulation that we, the bride, “watch.” That is, we must live in a state of happy anticipation and preparation, “for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”[xxxvi]
In the last days before her wedding, the bride would submit to a ritual washing and anointing, because she was about to become royalty. At her wedding, she become a queen and presented to a king.[xxxvii] In a special pool called a mikvah, the bride immersed herself completely in “living waters.”
Her life and her body were to be the gift of a living sacrifice to her husband, and to be pure without spot or blemish was a condition required of sacrifices (Ephesians 5:27; Romans 12:1)…. The Jewish bride did not immerse herself because of uncleanness, but in preparation for holiness, to fulfill God’s commandment to be fruitful and multiply…. After her immersion in the mikvah, the bride’s friends would help her anoint herself as part of the preparation for marriage.”[xxxviii] This ceremonial immersion in living water symbolized, among other things, “a preparation for holiness.” Additionally, “it also represented a separation from an old life to a new life-from life as a single woman to life as a married woman.[xxxix]
As part of the New and Everlasting Covenant, we are also to go into a holy place (the temple) “to prepare…for the ordinances and endowments, washings and anointing.”[xl] The visual image of washing hearkens to the process of purification, which is to eliminate impurities, contaminants and pollutants.[xli] We are washed or purified in preparation to be anointed and thus sanctified. The idea of anointing[xlii] speaks to the process of changing the purpose of something or someone.[xliii]
By ceremonially washing and anointing her body, the bride avowed that she was clean and ready for her life’s purpose to change; she was now ready to be endowed with the fulness of the marriage covenant and thus become a queen in Israel. By the rituals of washing (purification) and anointing (sanctification), the bride demonstrated her willingness to become totally consecrated to her husband and yield to the transformation of her life’s purpose. Now, all was in order to that she could join with her husband, who would be her king.[xliv]
Of interest, the bridegroom, although not required, usually submitted to washing in the mikvah to purify himself in preparation for the wedding. This voluntary washing reminds us the Savior’s submitting to baptism, although he was sinless. His purpose was to enter the New and Everlasting Covenant by fulfilling all righteousness.[xlv]
Later, at the end of his life, he also submitted to voluntarily sanctify himself so that he might better help others to become sanctified so that they could become one with him: “And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth…. That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”[xlvi]
Thus we see Jesus submitting to the processes of purification and sanctification to prepare himself to become one with those whom he loved. It is said that Jesus Christ is our Mikvah-Israel, which means “hope of Israel.”[xlvii]
In the last article in this series [Part 3], we will examine the events leading up to the actual wedding: the father’s giving his son permission to go and claim his bride; the father’s issuing his second and final call to the wedding; the wedding processional; the bridegroom’s coming as a thief in the night, whisking away his beloved, and conveying her as a queen to the place he has prepared for her. Then the wedding takes place; the bridegroom and his bride are finally together, never again to be parted.
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[i] See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.40
[xxix] Kent P. Jackson, “The Olivet Discourse,” The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ: From the Transfiguration through the Triumphant Entry, Richard Neitzel Holzapfel and Thomas A. Wayment, eds, p.342-43