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Now there’s a word that you don’t hear everyday. In fact, I would guess it is a word that you’ve never heard before. The shoshben, in Hebrew weddings, was the friend of the bridegroom. This is how John the Baptist referred to himself in verse 29. He would be somewhat like the best man in our culture, though with much more responsibility.
After doing a little research here is my understanding of the typical wedding customs in Jewish circles at the time of Jesus. It may help to give insight into some of the imagery in this passage (as well as others in the New Testament):
- The first major step in a Jewish marriage was betrothal. Betrothal involved the establishment of a marriage covenant. By Jesus’ time it was usual for such a covenant to be established as the result of the prospective bridegroom taking the initiative.
- The prospective bridegroom would travel from his father’s house to the home of the prospective bride. There he would negotiate with the father of the young woman to determine the price (mohar) that he must pay to purchase his bride.
- Once the bridegroom paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was thereby established, and the young man and woman were regarded to be husband and wife.
- From that moment on the bride was declared to be consecrated or sanctified, set apart exclusively for her bridegroom.
- As a symbol of the covenant relationship that had been established, the groom and bride would drink from a cup of wine over which a betrothal benediction had been pronounced.
- With the covenant in place, the groom would leave the home of the bride and return to his father’s house “to prepare a place” for her. His job was to build a room in which he and his bride would live in his father’s house. He would not see his bride until this was complete.
- At the end of this period of separation the groom would come to take his bride to live with him. The taking of the bride usually took place at night. The groom,the shoshben, and other male escorts would leave the groom’s father’s house and conduct a torch light procession to the home of the bride.
- Although the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she did not know the exact time of his coming. As a result, the groom’s arrival would be preceded by a shout and often the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn). This shout would forewarn the bride to be prepared for the coming of the groom.
- After the groom received his bride, together with her female attendants, the wedding party would return from the bride’s home to the groom’s father’s house. Upon arrival the wedding party would find that the wedding guests had assembled already.
- Shortly after arrival the bride and groom would be escorted by the other members of the wedding party to the bridal chamber (huppah). Prior to entering the chamber the bride remained veiled so that no one could see her face.
- While the groomsmen and bridesmaids would wait outside, the bride and groom would enter the bridal chamber alone. There in the privacy of that place they would enter into physical union for the first time, thereby consummating the marriage.
- The shoshben stood outside waiting for the groom to tell him that the marriage had been consummated.
- Once consummated, the shoshben then announced to all the good news that the marriage was on and that the party could begin. Then all the friends really started celebrating for the seven days that the couple were honeymooning. When the couple emerged there would be much congratulations and the Marriage Supper could begin.
Here is my takeaway. While I understand that the church is the bride of Christ, there is also a sense in which we are “shoshbens“, friends of the bridegroom. And it is our joy, our delight, our privilege, to tell others the good news about Christ and His bride. We get to announce to anyone who will listen the glorious gospel of the risen Christ who has come to claim us as His own and take us to a place that even now He is preparing for us. And one day there will be a great party for those who are redeemed as we celebrate at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.
“Father, would You so excite me about THAT DAY that I can’t help but tell the good news to anyone who is willing to listen on THIS DAY.”
Next Week’s Passage: John 4:1-26