The Reality of the Marriage Covenant Symbolism (Part 3)

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 follow 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.


[ Part 1 ]     |     [ Part 2 ]     |     [ Part 3 ]

As a Thief in the Night–The Bridegroom Cometh

In this segment [Part 3], we will examine the events that led up to the actual wedding. These events began with the father’s giving his son permission to go and claim his bride. At that point, the father issued his second and final call to the wedding. Then the wedding processional began. The bridegroom came as a thief in the night and whisked away his beloved bride and conveyed her as a queen to the place that he had prepared for her. Then the wedding took place; the bridegroom and his bride were finally together, never again to be parted.

Invitation to the Wedding

When the bridegroom completed the “little mansion or bridal chamber” [i] for his bride, and when the groom’s father finally declared that the construction and preparations met with his approval, the father finally gave his son permission to go and claim his bride. Immediately, the bridegroom began to organize a wedding procession by calling and gathering his close associates. In this we remember the reference to the Lord’s coming with “all the holy angels with him.” [ii]

While the bridegroom was thus engaged, the father sent his servants to make the second announcement or in other words “for the last time.” [iii] We recall that the first announcement or calling happened at the time of betrothal. At that time, the invited guests covenanted to come to the wedding whenever the father announced that the wedding, feast and festivities are about to commence. [iv]

We must keep in mind that the chosen ones had promised that they would remain in readiness and attend the marriage of the son. To reject the invitation now would be nothing short of a monumental insult and a serious offense. Jesus spoke about the second announcement and the seriousness of following through on our initial covenant:

A certain man made a great supper, and bade many:

And sent his servant at supper time to say to them that were bidden, Come; for all things are now ready.

And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.

And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.

And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I can not come.

So that servant came, and shewed his lord these things. Then the master of the house being angry said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind.

And the servant said, Lord, it is done as thou hast commanded, and yet there is room.

And the lord said unto the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.

For I say unto you, That none of those men which were bidden shall taste of my supper. [v]

Notice that the chosen guests who did not attend the wedding used as excuses property, possessions and family concerns. It is sad but true that many of the chosen ones will step aside from their covenant: “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.” [vi]

For an invited guest to place anything above his commitment to attend the wedding or for an invited guest to be unprepared, as were five of the ten virgins, are insults that will summon the Father’s indignation. To not respond to the Bridegroom’s advent will most certainly result in such individuals’ being shut out from the wedding and the Bridegroom’s denying knowing them.[vii]

The Wedding Processional

The bridegroom led a procession to the bride’s home to claim her. He was decked out in regal attire, often wearing a crown, dressed in garments “scented with frankincense and myrrh,” and appearing in every way like a king. This joyous occasion was one of “singing, dancing and merriment.” Now the bridegroom’s long-awaited purpose and the object of his sacrifice were about to be rewarded.[viii] The clamorous late-night procession wound through the streets with their torches beaming and their trumpets blaring, awakening everyone along the way.

The scriptures inform us that “the Son of Man shall come, and he shall send his angels before him with the great sound of a trumpet.” Those in the procession beckoned others to join them: “…and they shall gather together the remainder of his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” [ix]

When the procession neared the bride’s home, “a messenger was sent ahead to give the shout, The bridegroom cometh!’” At that point, the bride had about half an hour “to make final preparations” before the shout was given again and the bridegroom claimed her. [x] “And he [the angelic messenger] shall sound his trump both long and loud, and all nations shall hear it. And there shall be silence in heaven for the space of half an hour; and immediately after shall the curtain of heaven be unfolded, as a scroll is unfolded after it is rolled up, and the face of the Lord shall be unveiled.” [xi]

Claiming the Bride

The Jewish marriage is filled with the imagery of the New and Everlasting Covenant. When we entered into the Covenant with the Bridegroom through baptism, we recognized the fact that he had paid a price for us. In the covenantal agreement, he promised to provide for us, redeem us, and to live with us in a loving relationship. Then he presented us with tokens (his wounds) representing his love and devotion. He did all of this in the presence of witnesses.

He vowed to prepare a place for us in the mansions of his father, and he promised to one day return for us: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

” [xii] When at last he would finally come for us, we together would make the marriage complete and he would seal us his. [xiii] This is an interesting phrase, given our understanding of the temple. Conversely, if we neglect or reject our covenant with the Lord, “the devil doth seal [us] his.” [xiv]

The hour had finally come for the loyal and long-suffering bride. Having made all preparations, having waited faithfully and patiently for the bridegroom’s return, having heard the trumpet and the shout, having gathered all together during the last half hour, and having heard the final shout, the bride now gave herself willingly to the bridegroom as he burst through the door of her home to claim her. By this action, the bridegroom suddenly elevated his bride to the stature of a queen.

The New and Everlasting Covenant provides for such regal unity: “[The Bridegroom] hast made us unto our God kings and priests [and queens and priestesses]: and we shall reign on the earth.” [xv] Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

This unity among all the saints and between them and the Father and the Son, is reserved for those who gain exaltation and inherit the fulness of the Father’s kingdom. Those who attain it will all know the same things; think the same thoughts; exercise the same powers; do the same acts; respond in the same way to the same circumstances; beget the same kind of offspring; rejoice in the same continuation of the seeds forever; create the same type of worlds; enjoy the same eternal fulness; and glory in the same exaltation. [xvi]  

Immediately, the bride was lifted up into a special chair-a throne-“and carried to her new home. The four strong men,” who conveyed the bride, were “given the honorary title, Giborei Yisrael, or heroes of Israel.”  [xvii] In this regal setting, the bride appeared stunningly beautiful without spot or blemish. Moreover, she was beautiful within, having prepared during and faithfully endured the wait.

Similarly, the apostle John saw latter-day Zion “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” [xviii] The psalmist wrote, “The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace.” [xix]

Now the bridegroom brought her to the place he had prepared for her. Donna Nielsen explained:

The most important period of the marriage festivities was when the bride entered her new home. The bride and groom were sometimes crowned with real crowns or with garlands or roses, myrtle, or olive leaves…. The couple was treated like royalty during this time. The new husband was literally considered a king and priest in his own home, with his wife as queen. [xx]

How glorious is the Covenant that exalts us and makes us equal with the King of Heaven!

The Wedding

A number of symbolic events occurred when the guests entered into the father’s home. These events hearken to blessings that attend the New and Everlasting Covenant. For example, each guest had his feet and hands washed, then he was anointed, embraced and kissed. These gestures were evidences of reconciliation; no hard feelings would be allowed in the father’s house on such a joyous occasion. We might expect to be thus treated when we regain the Father presence.

“Another Jewish custom was to wear a wedding garment.’” These garments were supplied to the guests by the bridegroom’s father. They were white, “a color associated with royalty.” Moreover, the white garments represented light. If someone were found not wearing a garment, such as the guest mentioned in Matthew 22:11, he would be cast out. His action would be interpreted as disdain for the father’s generosity.

While the guests were dressing, greeting and conversing, the bridegroom and the bride dressed in their white wedding clothing, which was symbolic of “purity, forgiveness of sins, and solemn joy.” [xxi] Isaiah exulted, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.” [xxii]

At this point, the bride would be anointed with sweet olive oil. We remember that this sanctifying act signified her joy and her willingness to transform her life from a single woman to a queen to her husband. This change of status was shared by both the bride and the bridegroom. “Each groom at the time of his wedding and later in his own home was to be considered as a king and a priest.”

The act of clothing the couple in royal wedding robes signified among other things that they were now consecrated to become fruitful and bear children. [xxiii] Similarly, the Covenant clothes us “with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” [xxiv] Our purpose changes from profane to holy, and joined with the Lord we become fruitful. [xxv]

Now the time of the wedding was at hand. The place of making the covenant was under a canopy, a square piece of cloth held up by four poles. The canopy was open on all sides, reminiscent of the hospitality Abraham and Sarah showed guests in their open tent. The canopy was usually positioned outside so as to be under the stars.

Symbolically and among other things, it represented “God’s sheltering love” and also the covenant that God made with Abraham, promising that his children would be as numerous as the stars of the heavens. [xxvi] Likewise, when we marry in the temple, we are sealed together in the presence of the luminaries of heaven and blessed with all the blessings of Abraham, including “a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” [xxvii]

After the bridegroom had been escorted to the canopy by his parents, the bride was brought to the canopy by hers. At that point, the “officiator faced the couple and read the Psalm of Thanksgiving (Psalm 100). A goblet of wine was raised, and a blessing was said over the wine. This was called the Cup of Joy.’ Both the bride and the bridegroom drank from the same cup, indicating they would share the joys of life together.” Likewise, we are yoked to Jesus in the New and Everlasting Covenant. [xxviii] Our Bridegroom covenants to share with us all the joys and sorrows of life; by covenant, we will never be left alone.

Then the bridegroom places a ring, which represents eternity, on the bride’s right index finger. It was the right hand that was used for making covenants. At that point, the bridegroom “lifted the bride’s veil and placed the corner of it on his shoulder. This was a proclamation to everyone present that the government of his bride now rested on his shoulder,” an image that Isaiah used to describe the Savior’s relationship to us. [xxix] Then the marriage contract was read aloud for all to witness, which reading was followed by the officiator’s reciting blessings. Similarly, the Lord pronounces blessings upon those whom he seals together:

And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them–Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection…and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths…and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.

Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them. [xxx]

Next, the officiator offers a second cup of wine to the couple. “This cup was called the Cup of Sacrifice’ and the Cup of Salvation.’ They would have to share sacrifices in life, but eventually those sacrifices would be a source of salvation for both of them.” [xxxi] Again, in the Covenant, the Bridegroom vows to walk the path of life by our side. Against all odds, he is determined to drink of the Cup of Sacrifice for our salvation: “…the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” [xxxii]

Our life together is one of mutual sacrifice that most assuredly will lead to mutual salvation. In the Covenant, we counsel and make decisions together; we love together; we hurt together. What he wants, we want. We share in our hopes, desires and dreams, and we also share in our sorrows. We are one.

Drinking from the Cup of Sacrifice or the Cup of Salvation is vividly described in the Savior’s own words: “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink–Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.” [xxxiii]

The Bridegroom’s Plea

No doctrine is more glorious than the New and Everlasting Covenant. Significantly, the Bridegroom initiates the invitation to join with him in a covenantal relationship that is as holy, loving, intimate, fruitful, trusting and enduring as an eternal marriage. Equally significant is the fact that in inviting us to enter into a covenant relationship, the Lord essentially pleads with us that we will have mercy on him that we might agree to join with him. Hosea 6:6 states, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice….” This is an interesting twist considering the fact that we are ever pleading for his mercy.

We begin to understand this gospel irony when we note that the Hebrew word for mercy is hesed, which “refers to the deep spiritual and emotional bond that exists between two very close people such as husband and wife. Immediately, one perceives that God wants us to be as emotionally and spiritually close to him in thought and action as a devoted husband and wife would be…. It is a humbling moment when we realize that such a powerful, loving, and kind God wants this type of a relationship. Such knowledge inspires one to grow up’ spiritually and to think more about the impact his life has on God.”[xxxiv]

That the Lord would literally beg us to enter into a covenantal relationship with him evokes tender images. At the end of his earthly ministry, we recall that Jesus lamented over proud Jerusalem, the bride whom he had courted for so long, the bride whom he would have gathered to him so many times in protective and loving care, and yet she would not give him her love. [xxxv] That image evokes the vision of a prospective groom, who has loved a woman for a very long time, and finally has managed to gather enough to pay a substantial bride price by sacrificing his all.

Now he hands her a document written on fine parchment which contains his covenantal promises: He will provide for her, redeem her, love her and give her his name. Then he offers her a token or a gift of value, a representation of his promises, and in the presence of witnesses he recites a pledge to irrevocably bind and consecrate himself to her forever. Now he places a cup of wine before her…and waits. Will she drink of the cup or will she refuse him?

How we respond to the Bridegroom’s invitation will determine our eternal future. A great and divisive decision lies before us. Those who neglect or reject the Lord’s proposal to enter into the New and Everlasting Covenant will find themselves on his left hand, symbolically the hand of disdain to the Jewish mind. Conversely, those who accept the Lord’s proposal and thereafter live faithfully in the Covenant will find themselves on his right hand, the hand of covenant making, the hand on which the bride accepts her husband’s ring. [xxxvi]

Jesus commented on this reality in words of stark imagery: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.

“[xxxvii] May we respond to the Lord’s plea and accept his invitation to join him in the New and Everlasting Covenant. Then may we, like the bride, stand forever on the Bridegroom’s right hand and there exult as did Jeremiah, “This is the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by thy name, O Lord God of hosts.”[xxxviii]

 


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[i]            Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.33

[ii]          Matthew 25:31

[iii]          See Jacob 5:62-64; D&C 24:19; 39:17; 43:28; 88:84; 95:4; 112:30

[iv]         See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.40

[v]          Luke 14:16-24

[vi]         D&C 121:34-35

[vii]         See Matthew 25:1-13

[viii]        Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.41

[ix]         JS-Matthew 1:37

[x]          Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.42

[xi]         D&C 88:94-95, emphasis added

[xii]         John 14:2-3

[xiii]        See Mosiah 5:15

[xiv]        See Alma 34:35

[xv]        Revelation 5:10

[xvi]       Bruce R. McConkie, “Unity,” Mormon Doctrine, p.814

[xvii]       Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.43

[xviii]      Revelation 21:2

[xix]       Psalms 45:13-15

[xx]        Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.44

[xxi]        See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.51-54

[xxii]       Isaiah 61:10

[xxiii]      See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.52, 54-55

[xxiv]      D&C 88:125

[xxv]       See John 15:5-8

[xxvi]      See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.55-56

[xxvii]     D&C 132:19

[xxviii]    See Matthew 11:29-30

[xxix]      See Isaiah 9:6

[xxx]      D&C 132:19-20

[xxxi]      See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.57-60

[xxxii]     John 18:11

[xxxiii]   D&C 19:16-19

[xxxiv]    Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p. iv

[xxxv]     See Matthew 23:37

[xxxvi]    See Donna B. Nielsen, Beloved Bridegroom, p.57

[xxxvii]   Matthew 25:31-34, 41

[xxxviii]   Jeremiah 15:16

 

Original Publishing (https://ldsmag.com/article-1-10758/)

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