The union for life of one man and one woman, is an ordinance of the Creator for the perpetuity and happiness of the human race; instituted in Paradise, Genesis 1:27-28 2:18-24, and the foundation of no small part of all that is valuable to human society. By promoting parental love and the sense of responsibility, marriage most effectually promotes the health and happiness of children, and their careful education to virtue, industry, and honor, to right habits and ends, and to all that is included in the idea of home. God made originally but one man and one woman. The first polygamists were Lamech and those degenerate "sons of God," or worshippers of Jehovah, who "took them wives of all that they chose," Genesis 4:17 6:2. On the other hand, Noah and his three sons had each but one wife; and the same appears to be true of all his direct ancestors’ back to Adam. So also was it with Job, Nahor, Lot, and at first with Abraham. See CONCUBINE. In after-times a plurality of wives became more common among the Hebrews, and the Scriptures afford numerous illustrations of its evil results, Genesis 16:16 Judges 8:30 2 Samuel 3:3-5 1 Kings 11:18 2 Chronicles 11:18-21 13:21. In the time of Christ there is no mention of polygamy as prevalent among the Jews.
The Israelites were forbidden to marry within certain specified degrees, Leviticus 18:1-30,1-27 Deuteronomy 27:1-26. Marriage with Canaanites and idolaters was strictly forbidden, Exodus 34:16; and afterwards with any of the heathen nations around them, especially such as were uncircumcised, Nehemiah 13:1-31. By the Levirate law, as it is termed, if a Jew died without children, his nearest brother or kinsman was bound to marry the widow, that her firstborn son after this marriage might be reckoned the son and heir of the first husband, Genesis 38:1-30 Deuteronomy 25:5-10 Matthew 22:23-26. The Savior set his seal to marriage as a divine and permanent institution, aside from all the civil laws which guard and regulate, or seek to alter or annul it; forbidding divorce except for one cause, Matthew 5:32 19:3-6,9; and denouncing all breaches of marriage vows, even in thought, Matthew 5:28. Compare Hebrews 13:4 Revelation 21:8.
Jewish parents were wont to arrange with other parents as to the marriage of their children, sometimes according to the previous choice of the son, and not without some regard to the consent of the daughter, Genesis 21:21 24:1-67 34:4-6 Judges 14:2-3. The parties were often betrothed to each other long before the marriage took place. See BETROTHING. A dowry was given by the suitor to the parents and brethren of the bride, Exodus 22:13 Deuteronomy 22:29 2 Samuel 13:11. The nuptials were often celebrated with great pomp and ceremony, and with protracted feasting and rejoicing. It was customary for the bridegroom to appoint a Paranymphus, or groomsman, called by our Savior "the friend of the bridegroom," John 3.29. A number of other young men also kept him company during the days of the wedding, to do him honor; as also young women kept company with the bride all this time. The companions of the bridegrooms are expressly mentioned in the history of Samson, Judges 14:11,20 Song of Solomon 5:1 8:13 Matthew 9:14; also the companions of the bride, Psalms 45:9,14 Song of Solomon 1:5 2:7 3:5 8:4. The office of the groomsman was to direct in the ceremonies of he wedding. The friends and companions of the bride sang the epithalamium, or wedding song, at the door of the bride the evening before the wedding. The festivities of the wedding were conducted with great decorum, the young people of each sex being in distinct apartments and at different tables. The young men at Samson’s wedding diverted themselves in proposing riddles, and the bridegroom appointed the prize to those should could explain them, Judges 14:14.
The Jews affirm, that before Jerusalem was laid in ruins, the bridegroom and bride wore crowns at their marriage. Compare Isaiah 61:10 Song of Solomon 3:11, "Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother, crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart." The modern Jews, in some places, throw handfuls of wheat on the newly married couple, particularly on the bride, saying "Increase and multiply." In other places they mingle pieces of money with the wheat, which are gathered up by the poor. The actual ceremony of marriage was very simple, consisting of little more than the reading of the marriage contract, Proverbs 2:17 Malachi 2:14, and the nuptial blessing invoked by the friends, Genesis 24:60 Ruth 4:11,12.
The wedding festivities commonly lasted seven days for a maid, and three days for a widow. So Laban says to Jacob, respecting Leah, "Fulfill her week," Genesis 29:27. The ceremonies of Samson’s wedding continued seven whole days, Judges 14:17,18. These seven days of rejoicing were commonly spent in the house of the woman’s father, after which they conducted the bride to her husband’s home.
The procession accompanying the bride from the house of her father to that of the bridegroom, was generally one of more or less pomp, according to the circumstances of the married couple; and for this they often chose the night, as is tell the custom in Syria. Hence the parable of the ten virgins that went at midnight to meet the bride and bridegroom, Matthew 25:1-46. "At a Hindoo marriage, the procession of which I saw some years ago," says Mr. Ward, "the bridegroom came from a distance, and the bride lived at Serampre, to which place the bridegroom was to come by water. After waiting two or three hours, at length, near midnight, it was announced, as if in the very words of Scripture, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.’ All the persons employed now lighted their lamps, and ran with them in their hands to fill up their stations in the procession; some of them had lost their lights, and were unprepared; but it was then too late to seek them, and the cavalcade moved forward to the house of the bride, at which place the company entered a large and splendidly illuminated area, before the house, covered with an awning, where a great multitude of friends, dressed in their best apparel, were seated upon mats. The bridegroom was carried in the arms of a friend, and placed in a superb seat in the midst of the company, where he sat a short time, and them went into the house, the door of which was immediately shut, and guarded by sepoys. Others and I expostulated with the doorkeepers, but in vain. Never was I so struck with our Lord’s beautiful parable as at this moment; ‘and the door was shut.’"
Christianity invests the family institution with peculiar sacredness; makes true love its basis, and mutual preference of each others’ happiness its rule; and even likens it to the ineffable union between Christ and his church, Ephesians 5:22-33. Nowhere in the world is woman so honored, happy, and useful as in a Christian land and a Christian home. Believers are directed to marry "in the Lord," 1 Corinthians 7:39. No doubt the restrictions laid upon the ancient people of God contain a lesson for all periods, and the recorded ill results of forbidden marriages among the Jews, if heeded, would prevent the serious evils which often result form union between a Christian and a worldling. As to the mutual duties of husband and wife, see Ephesians 5:22-23 1 Timothy 2:11,12 1 Peter 3:1-7.
The Romish church puts dishonor on what the Holy Spirit describes as "honorable in all." It not only extols celibacy and virginity in the laity, but also strictly refuses marriage to all its priests, bishops, etc., and in thus "forbidding to marry," fixes upon itself the name of anti-Christ, 1 Timothy 4:3. See BETROTHING, CONCUBINE, DIVORCE, GARMENTS, etc.