(NOTE: This article is the first of four articles adapted from The Three Pillars of Zion. You may download FREE the entire series at www.PillarsOfZion.com.)
The astonishing parallels between the New and Everlasting Covenant and the ancient Hebrew marriage customs help us to understand the beauty and appreciate loving nature of this preeminent Covenant.
Clearly, the Lord intended that Jewish couples should contemplate the New and Everlasting Covenant as they entered into marriage. Upon the New and Everlasting Covenant, and this Covenant only, can a Zion life or a Zion marriage or family be established.
The New and Everlasting Covenant Compared to Jewish Marriage
Throughout the scriptures, the marriage metaphor is used to describe our covenantal relationship with the Lord. He is the Bridegroom[i] and the Church is the bride.[ii] By extension, we, individually, are his bride: “For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee.”[iii]
We are to prepare ourselves for the time the Bridegroom comes to receive us: “Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom--For behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, that I come quickly.”[iv] We are to become prepared and beautiful for him: “adorned as a bride.”[v]
That the Lord chose marriage to describe the New and Everlasting Covenant should summon our solemn contemplation. Marriage is the summit of gospel covenants, the relationship that is the most intimate, most enduring and the most loving of unions. Marriage is the relationship in which the power of God to create is manifest; children spring from this union; multiplication, replenishment and fruitfulness become possible. The metaphor of marriage suggests the abandonment of selfish interests, profound loyalty and complete sacrifice.
Marriage requires the entire consecration of one’s time, talents and resources to his or her companion, the totality of all that one is and all that one has. Marriage is a covenantal lifestyle that results in oneness, a relationship wherein the partners are no longer “twain, but one flesh,” joined together by God, and intended to endure beyond man’s attempts to put asunder.[vi]
If marriage is to be successful, it requires losing one’s life in selfless service to and the loving of one’s spouse; then, in return, marriage leads to finding one’s life in a more exalted purpose.[vii]
Marriage urges the best of behavior in the partners: “and they shall mention the loving kindness of their Lord, and all that he has bestowed upon them according to his goodness, and according to his loving kindness, forever and ever.”[viii]
Marriage is yoking together to ease one another’s burdens,[ix] and the mutual sharing of each other’s challenges: “In all their afflictions he was afflicted…and in his love, and in his pity, he redeemed them, and bore them, and carried them all the days.”[x] By purpose and by design marriage is eternal,[xi] the highest order of celestial living,[xii] the ultimate source of happiness,[xiii] and significantly the highest order of the Priesthood.[xiv]
Conversely, disloyalty to the marriage covenant is a grievous sin, “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost.”[xv] Clearly, the Lord takes seriously the New and Everlasting Covenant and expects us to do the same.
In the foreword of Donna B. Nielsen’s excellent work, The Beloved Bridegroom, Dr. Robert J. Norman wrote, “The wedding ceremony was a metaphor often used by Christ and the Old Testament authors. A study of the Jewish marriage customs yields a wealth of spiritual understanding and deeper insight into the teachings of Jesus and the Biblical prophets.”[xvi] Donna Nielsen explained, “A knowledge of Biblical marriage imagery can greatly enrich our understanding of how God relates to us through covenants.
Biblical covenant marriage imagery encompasses principles as diverse as Sabbath observance, the Atonement, temple worship, and missionary work. It literally begins with Adam and ends with Zion.”[xvii] Let us, therefore, examine the New and Everlasting Covenant by contrasting it with the Jewish marriage tradition. In advance, we thank Donna B. Nielsen for her generous support in providing access to her research.
Born to Marry
Elder John A. Widstoe stated that marriage is “the most important event between birth and death,”[xviii] and certainly the Jewish people agreed. We cannot overstate the importance of marriage in Jewish society. Marriage was clearly linked to the covenant God made with Israel; in fact, we might say that children were born with the purpose of marrying.
Donna Nielsen stated that an infant male “was often affectionately called ‘the little bridegroom.’ This reflected one of three great hopes that parents had for their children, namely that their children would: study Torah (study the scriptures), be under the wedding canopy (marry in the covenant), and do good deeds (live righteous lives).”[xix]
Immediately, we see the connection between marriage and the New and Everlasting Covenant. From the moment of birth, our life’s purpose should be to learn about and prepare for the Bridegroom, enter into a Covenant with the Bridegroom, and do the works of the Bridegroom. As much as Jewish children were born to marry, we are born to enter into the Covenant.
Because marriage was the goal of life, husbands and wives married at an early age. No later than eighteen was the norm, and most often they married years before that. A boy became a Son of the Law by age thirteen, and technically one month later he was considered of marriageable age. Girls were eligible at twelve years and one month.[xx]
In today’s culture, we might have difficulty imagining Joseph and Mary, two teenagers, taking on the heavy responsibility of marriage and caring for the Savior of the world. Also, we might struggle with the concept that Jesus could have been married for 12-15 years and had children before he began his ministry at age thirty. But according to Jewish custom, these facts probably hold true. Marriage was the focal point of Jewish life, and we might imagine that Joseph and Mary, and later Jesus, followed the prevailing tradition by marrying in their teens.
The Parents’ Responsibility and the Bride’s Choice
Marriages were thought to be too important to be left to chance. Fathers and mothers made these decisions for their children. Who else loved the child more? Who else had the child’s best interests in mind? Who else wanted the child’s happiness more than the parents?
Today, we might cringe at this ancient custom, but Jewish children expected their parents to advocate for their happiness.