Volume 7, Issue 6: Childer
Beyond Price and Blessed
The customs surrounding marriage in biblical times certainly demonstrate the
high view taken in Scripture of both women and marriage. When these customs are
contrasted with the practices of our own day, we find that we, in the name of
liberation, have treated our daughters with comparative contempt. Biblical law
and custom made clear provision for the daughters of believers to live as endowed
and free women. This is not to say that all took advantage of the provisio -- then,
as now, believers sometimes drifted into financial situations which placed their
daughters in much more difficult marital circumstances.
According to biblical custom, after a spouse was selected, the families made
arrangements for the marriage. But in order for us to make sense of these arrangements,
we have to remember that biblical society was not egalitarian as ours is. The
status of wives differed markedly, and this status was revealed in the arrangements
surrounding an upcoming marriage. Not surprisingly, the status of daughters in
Israel was determined by the financial responsibility of fathers.
In some situations, slave wives were purchased. When a "bride price" went to the
father of the bride, this was an acknowledgement that the daughter was not a
free woman -- and, of course, the status of her family was directly affected. Biblical
law protected her regardless (Ex. 21:7-11), but she did not have the same protections
as an endowed woman had. Such a "purchasing" arrangement does not reflect the servile
status of women in biblical society, but rather the servile status of that particular
family . When a father took money for his daughter in this way, it was an admission
that their family was lower class. A slave wife was a concubine. She was recognized
and protected under biblical law living with a concubine was not sexually
immoral, but she was not endowed as a free woman, and had a lawful, but lower,
With the marriage of a free woman, gifts of a different nature were exchanged.
One word for this process of giving gifts was the Hebrew word mohar , a marriage
present. The young Canaanite prince offers one for Dinah (Gen. 34:12); it was
required when a man had seduced a virgin (Ex. 22:17); Saul required David to
bring back the foreskins of one hundred Philistines (1 Sam. 18:25); and Laban
required Jacob to work for him for seven years (Gen. 29:18). As these examples
make clear, a free woman was not purchased -- rather, a man who was to marry
a free woman could be required to prove himself in various ways. The standards
of this testing set by the father were clearly very flexible.
Related to this was the endowment of a free woman. This was a gift to the bride
or groom from her father. These gifts varied also. For example, Rebekah and Leah
received servants (Gen. 24:59-61; 29:24) and Caleb's daughter and son-in-law
received land (Judges 1:15). Clearly, the father of the bride had the prerogative
to take what was given in the marriage present, and turn it back around into
the dowry. By means of the biblical endowment, the standing of women in biblical
society was elevated and honored.
When a suitor gave a marriage present, he was making the statement that a woman
as worthy as this one needed to have a husband worthy of her. The marriage present
provided a means for a suitor to acknowledge that fact. And when a father endowed
his daughter, he was saying that she had his trust and confidence.
A reductionist mentality can be readily seen in how the modern mind reacts to
these sentiments. A marriage present was not the purchase price for an expensive
concubine. It was a prelude to a marriage with a lady. The fact that all marriages
create economic relationships does not mean, contra feminism, that biblical
marriage is simply sophisticated prostitution. Nor is marriage simply concubinage
with different price tags.
Protection, including economic protection, is necessary for daughters. But such
protection for daughters is impossible apart from a biblical culture . Understanding
the economics of marriage does not result in a denigration of women or marriage;
rather, it sets the economic aspect within the broader context of a cultural
expectation of love, trust, and godly dominion. The modern "all you need is love" approach,
far from elevating women, accomplishes the opposite. The logic of egalitarianism
always works downward. Biblical law and custom acknowledge the differences between
a concubine and a lady. But because we will have none of it, we rail against
outmoded concepts like class, distinction, and nobility; and we outlaw concubinage.
When the dust clears, we find that we have actually outlawed the idea of the
lady. "Who does she think she is?"
So the biblical woman was an endowed woman endowed by her father, who was perhaps
aided by her suitor. They both rose up and called her blessed.