The Bridegroom’s Pledge

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.

Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.

A Promise To Come Back

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The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).

In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.

A Gift For The Bride

When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost.

The Holy Spirit wasn’t given until after Yeshua was glorified; after He’d fulfilled the other parts of establishing the marriage covenant (John 7:39). Only then do He and His Father give “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38, WEB, also John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7).

in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:13-14, WEB)

In this context, the Holy Spirit fills two main roles. It is the seal marking us as belonging to the Bridegroom and it is the down-payment, or pledge, ensuring He’ll come back and do all that He has promised.

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A Request For Redemption

Before coming to Jesus we were all like Ruth. She’s a picture both of the Jew and the Gentile — of the Gentiles who were outside Israel (because she was a stranger) and of the Jews who were married under the Old Covenant (because she was a widow). Like her, we’re now marrying someone new, specifically the one who redeemed us (Rom. 7:1-4).

Other than asking Boaz to take her under his wing, Ruth had no power to act for herself in this society. She was poor and a stranger. Her only source of the most basic necessity of food came through Boaz fulfilling God’s command to leave grain in the fields for the poor to glean (a command given alongside instructions for Pentecost in Lev. 23:16-22).

Like Ruth, we can’t accomplish our salvation on our own. Yeshua’s sacrifice opened the way to salvation, and the Father is currently calling people into a relationship with His Son (Matt. 22:2; John 6:44-45). But the only thing we can do is respond to that invitation and, like Ruth, say, “Please redeem me.”

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A Completed Wedding

After Ruth made her appeal to Boaz, he promised to make sure someone did “the duty of a kinsman” for her. He was willing to marry her himself, but there was a nearer relation to settle with first. So Ruth returned to Naomi bearing a gift and a pledge, but uncertain of exactly how her future would play out. This was Naomi’s advice:

Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day. (Ruth 3:18, KJV)

Yeshua is the only one who could act as redeemer for us, but there were still obstacles to Him completing the marriage contract. Our sins stood in the way, along with the death-penalty hanging over our heads (Is. 59:2; Rom. 6:23). Like Boaz, though, Yeshua couldn’t be in a state of rest until He’d finished fulfilling His promises (Luke 12:50; John 19:30).

The word for “finished” in the book of Ruth is kalah (H3615), and it corresponds to Yeshua’s final words on the cross: “It is finished.” The word refers to bringing something to completion. There is also another Hebrew word, kallah (H3618), which is likely a close relative of  kalah (the sources I’ve found disagree on the words’ roots). Kallah is the word for bride.

The Father and Yeshua will not rest until they have brought their plan to completion. As the Author and Finisher (Heb. 12:2), our Bridegroom will come back in accordance with the pledge He made on Pentecost, and which He makes again each time God seals a new believer with the Holy Spirit.

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