The Importance Of The Dowry 2

There was a covenantal reason for this economic obligation on the part of the bridegroom. The father of the prospective bride represented God to his daughter. This covenantal authority before God-this position as God’s representative to his daughter-had to be lawfully transferred from the father to the bridegroom. By paying the bride price to her father, the bridegroom ritually swore to a lifetime of faithfulness to his wife as God’s representative to her, faithfulness comparable to what her father’s faithfulness to her had been. This is precisely what Jesus swore to God the Father in His role as the cosmic Bridegroom. He paid the price at Calvary. God then transferred all authority over heaven and earth to Christ as His lawful representative. (Mat.28:18-20) 1

The scriptures provide us with a variety of ways that the dowry requirement could be applied in practice, even if it is not always named. But the variations have a central theme: the need to consider the welfare of the young woman.

It is easy to come to the conclusion that the dowry and the bride-price were different names for the same thing, but they were different. They are illustrated in the case of Rebekah. Abraham dispatched his servant, to go to Abraham’s family and his relatives, for a wife for Isaac, with 2 specific commands: avoid taking a wife for Isaac from the daughter from the Canaanites, and don’t take Isaac, when you go! When the servant left, he took 10 camels, and “set out with a variety of good things of his master’s in his hand.” (Gen.24:10) On coming to Nahor, and God appearing to have answered his initial prayer at the spring, when Rebekah draws water for him and his camels, he “took a gold ring weighing a half-shekel and two bracelets for her wrists weighing ten shekels in gold.”(v.22) This is very important; it is not a payment for services rendered at the well. These implicitly, are the firstfruits of her dowry, preparing Rebekah for the stunning changes about to take place in her life.

After a lengthy explanation, where the servant details who he is, why he has come, “that the Lord has richly blessed my master… and [Abraham] has given him [Isaac] all that he has,” along with the detailed explanation of divine guidance on the journey, Laban and Bethuel agree to Rebekah going with the man. Rebekah now, is effectively betrothed, through the decision of Laban and Bethuel.

Even before Rebekah has been consulted as to whether she wishes to go, (an indication that she was considered by the servant, to be unquestionably under their authority) the servant “brought out articles of silver and articles of gold, and garments, and gave them to Rebekah. He also gave precious things to her brother and to her mother.” (v.53) Abraham provides a dowry, on Isaac’s behalf for Rebekah, and a bride-price to her mother. Someone outside her immediate family, (and in this case, not even Isaac, and someone who does not even know her) is thus viewing Rebekah, as a very important girl, to be esteemed and sought as a wife.

“This indicates that the bride price could be separated from the dowry, meaning that the family could keep part of the total payment without passing the total bride price to the daughter as her dowry. This could be a means of increasing the capital base of the family of the bride. This would clearly have made the daughter an economic asset for her family.” 2

Abraham’s diligence in procuring (and paying for) a wife for Isaac, is a sharp contrast with David’s probable attitude towards Solomon, who did not marry until after David’s death. Solomon was clearly quite a youthful man at the time; possibly only 18-20. So David never had the oversight of Solomon’s bridal choice, and though Solomon initially respected his mother Bathsheba when he became king, (I Kings 2:19) he may have considered her to be complicit in Adonijah’s apparent conspiracy against him. (I Kings 2:12-25) This may have influenced him, not to seek her counsel when choosing a wife. His own advice (Prov.23:22) was to “listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old,” but this he did not observe.

The wife Solomon ultimately chose was Pharoah’s daughter, whom he married as an aspect of a political alliance with Pharoah. (I Kings 3:1) This practice God had specifically forbidden His people to engage in (Deut.7:1-4; Ex.34:12-16). This propensity for foreign spouses Solomon later continued, with hundreds of foreign wives, (also in violation of scripture- see Deut.17:14-17) and they affected his behavior, so that he did “what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (I Kings 11:6).

David and Bathsheba’s inability to serve God (and Solomon) in the choice of his wife, had massive repercussions in later generations. God said of Israel, in Solomon’s era, that “they have forsaken me…and they have not walked in my ways,” (I Kings 11:33) and the scripture later says of Solomon, that “the foreign women caused even him to sin.” (Neh.13:26)  It is no coincidence that Solomon’s son and successor Rehoboam, proved to be a disastrous king, as “he and all Israel with him forsook the law of the Lord.” (II Chron.12:1) Why? The scripture links Rehoboam’s behaviour, to the fact that his mother, one of Solomon’s many foreign wives, was Naamah the Ammonitess. (I Kings 14:21) Thus David, in failing to at least teach Solomon what sort of wife he should seek, may have done his family and Israel, a great disservice.

Jacob’s seven year wait for Rachel, was effectively in lieu of money for a dowry, as it appears he came to Laban empty-handed. (Gen.29:18-21) On meeting Rachel, and deciding he wanted to marry her, he immediately recognised an obligation to Laban, to give something to him. He had either discussed this with his parents before leaving home (Gen.28:1-5), or it had been part of his education.

Thus we can deduce that a dowry will generally require diligence, discipline and perseverance on the part of the young man, if he really wants a specific girl. This is a legitimate requirement, on the part of her parents. This may well be the context of Prov.24:27, a book written primarily for young men: “Prepare your work outside and make it ready for yourself in the field; afterwards, then, build your house.”

Concerning Jacob, the scripture later tells us,“Jacob fled to the land of Aram, and Israel worked for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.” (Hosea 12:12) Jacob thus proved his legitimacy as a potential son-in-law, through his work for Laban, and his patient seven year wait for Rachel.

1. North, ibid., p.252.
2. North, p.252.

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