The Marriage Feast
by R.C. Sproul
Thank you, Gary North. One of the benefits reaped by the impact of the theonomist movement is a renewal of the serious study of the Old Testament law.
As a consequence of the pervasive spirit of antinomianism that has infected contemporary evangelicalism, the law of God has been treated with woeful neglect. In their zeal to recover the importance of divine law, the theonomists have produced significant scholarly expositions of the Old Testament law. In his huge volume Tools of Dominion, Gary North provides a masterful exposition of many of the laws of the Old Testament that appear arcane to the modern reader. I found his treatment of the case laws of the Holiness Code of Exodus 21–23 particularly helpful. Exodus 21:2–4 presents a conundrum of severe difficulty for the contemporary reader:
If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
On the surface this text appears to justify a practice that is blatantly cruel, harsh, and severe. Not only do we face the problem of the Old Testament sanction of slavery, but we see the treatment of slaves by which upon their liberation in the sabbatical year they may face separation from their wives and children. This all seems primitive and savage in its conception.
North explains the text in terms of the practice of indentured servanthood and the Jewish practice of exacting a “bride price” from a groom. If a man wanted to take a wife in Israel, he was required to pay a bride price to the girl’s father. The bride price was proof of economic productivity and stability, evidence that the groom was capable of supporting his wife and their subsequent offspring.
(Even in modern times, when a young man asks a girl’s father for her “hand in marriage,” the father usually inquires about the suitor’s ability to provide for his daughter.)
In Exodus 21:3, it is clear that if the servant was already married when he entered into his indentured servitude (to repay debt he was unable to pay), the Law provided that at the time of his liberation, his wife and children would go free with him. In the case of 21:4, the provision of the Law deals with a servant who marries after he enters indentured servitude. The question then becomes, from whence did the servant acquire his bride? Perhaps he married a female servant of his master or a servant from another family. If she had been the daughter of a free man, then the master would have been required to pay the bride price to her father.
The point is clear that the servant did not have the financial means to pay a bride price. It is the master, then, who pays the bride price and assumes legal and covenantal responsibility for the care of the wife and children. He would remain legally responsible for them until the servant was able to get on his feet financially and pay the bride price himself. This law was designed to assure the natural father of the bride that his daughter and grandchildren would have continual support and protection.
The whole system is remarkably displayed in the history of Israel and the church. God redeems the nation Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The indentured servant, if he was unable to purchase his bride, could remain with her if he was adopted by the master as his household servant. So Israel, when she is delivered from bondage, is adopted by God into His family. This adoption symbolizes the only method by which any person, then or now, is ever redeemed.
The second way of escape from bondage was through the bride-redemption system. When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, He not only adopted her but He purchased her as His bride. In both the Old and New Testaments, the people of God are called the bride of God. Isaiah declared, “For your Maker is your husband” (Isaiah 54:5a).
The New Testament builds on this analogy. The church is the bride of Christ. He has redeemed her. He has purchased her. The bride-price Jesus paid was the most expensive price ever paid for a bride. With that price He assumed covenantal responsibility for her provision, nurture, and protection.
When Christ purchased His bride He bought a bride who was “damaged merchandise.” His bride was sullied by manifest impurities. She was covered by spots and marred by wrinkles. Yet what He purchased He also sanctifies to purify her:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her: to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25–27).
Christ prepares His bride for His wedding feast. The wedding feast is envisioned in Revelation 19:7–9:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Then the angel said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb.’” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”
Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we celebrate not only the redeeming purchase price paid by the Bridegroom, but symbolically the marriage feast of the Lamb to which every believer is called.
Jonathan Edwards argued that the coming of the Bridegroom comes to each of us at our deaths. He said:
“The coming of Christ, His destroying the Jewish state and church, and setting up the Gospel dispensation, is compared to the coming of the Bridegroom, and His marriage to the church; the Gospel day, to the wedding day; and the procession of God’s house under the Gospel, to the wedding feast; and Gospel ministers, to servants sent out to invite persons to the wedding.”
It is those who hunger and thirst after His righteousness who will receive an invitation on that great day. It is those who are ever prepared for the bridegroom, who cry out, “Maranatha, Lord come.”