No Wedding Song

I married my husband, Seth, at the age of 42. Before we met, I was very afraid that I would never marry.  

Do you desire marriage but have yet to see it fulfilled? If so, I want to encourage you. You are not alone regarding this desire. God created us this way, to be married. Both men and women are relational beings and God designed us with a communal yearning. In Genesis 2:18-25, it states:

“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.” So, he took some soil from the ground and formed all the animals and all the birds. Then he brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and that is how they all got their names. So the man named all the birds and all the animals; but not one of them was a suitable companion to help him. Then the Lord God made the man fall into a deep sleep, and while he was sleeping, he took out one of the man’s ribs and closed up the flesh. He formed a woman out of the rib and brought her to him. Then the man said,

“At last, here is one of my own kind – Bone taken from my bone, and flesh from my flesh. ‘Woman’ is her name because she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united with his wife, and they become one. The man and woman were both naked, but they were not embarrassed.”

In reading these scriptures, we understand that it is not God’s will for man to be alone. God created marriage as the answer for this need. The ache single men and women feel to meet someone is normal. The desire to have a relationship and marry is inscribed into our very being by our creator, God himself. It is how we were wired from the beginning.

In our modern society, however, less people are marrying. There are several reasons for this trend, which I will not address now as it is the subject for another blog post. The objective for this piece is the validation of the desire to marry that has gone unfulfilled. It is a real distress and a true sorrow. The scriptures speak of it as well.

No grooms for the brides
-Psalm 78:63

Psalm 78:63 reads, “Young men were killed in war, and young women had no one to marry.” On its face, the reading basically tells us that there were no men for a generation of young women to marry as the eligible males had perished somehow at that time. It was a worthy enough event for the psalmist to note it. But a little research on this verse provides a bit more.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) provides a list of approved translations of the bible for Catholics to use for their own personal study. A link to this information on their website can be found at  http://www.usccb.org/bible/approved-translations/index.cfm.  Below are four different approved versions of Psalm 78:63:

  1. “Fire consumed their young men: and their maidens were not lamented.” (Douay-Rheims)
  2. “Young men were killed in war, and young women had no one to marry.”  (Good News Bible; Today’s English Version Second Edition)
  3. “Fire consumed their young men; their young women heard no wedding songs.” (New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE))
  4. “Fire destroyed the young men, and the young women were left with no one to marry.” (Contemporary English Version)

The Douay-Rheims version of the bible is the translation from the vulgate (the Latin version of the scriptures); it is the first authorized Catholic bible in English. In the four versions of Psalm 78:63 provided above, I grappled to understand the meaning of the Douay-Rheims version. The other three versions seemed self-explanatory and consistent with each other. How did this initial Catholic bible translation support the rendering that there were no eligible wedding partners so that marriages could take place?

I consulted a catholic bible commentary that analyzed the Douay-Rheims translation. Specifically, I used Haydock’s Catholic Family Bible and Commentary, which was originally compiled by Rev. George Leo Haydock (1774-1849). A link to this online commentary can be found here at https://web.archive.org/web/20170907134647/http://haydock1859.tripod.com/id1.html

Psalm 78:63 was written by King David. In my reading of Haydock’s commentary on Psalm 78, a chronological timeline is provided of the miracles God performed for the Israelites between Egypt and their sojourn through the desert. Further depicted were the events that transpired in the desert which prevented an entire generation from entering the Promised Land. Around verse 60, the psalmist begins to speak of the different location(s) of the ark and a punishment that came down from God.

It is this punishment where Psalm 78:63 picks up. Haydock’s commentary advises that this verse has been interpreted to mean there was no time to mourn the destroyed hopes of marriage for the young woman, as the young men had been killed and everyone was too zealous for their own safety. Why is this important? Because normally people are hopeful about marriage. Women and men have a desire for marriage and when something keeps it from happening, there is a definite heartache that is felt. The Psalmist attests to the commonality of the sadness experienced when one experiences their nuptial hopes dashed.

The bible shares a similar story of broken dreams for marriage in the Book of Judges chapter 11. Jephthah was a soldier from Gilead. The Israelites made him their leader in a war that was waged on them by the Ammonites. During the battle, Jephthah made a vow to the Lord that he would set aside the first person who came out of his house to meet him to the Lord (Judges 11:30-31). Israel won the war and Jephthah went home.

The very first person who came out to meet Jephthah was his only daughter; she was dancing and playing the tambourine as she greeted him. Judges 11:35-39a tell us the rest of the story:

“When he saw her, he tore his clothes in sorrow and said, “Oh, my daughter! You are breaking my heart! Why must it be you that causes me pain? I have made a solemn promise to the Lord, and I cannot take it back!”

She told him, “If you have made a promise to the Lord, do what you said you would do to me, since the Lord has given you revenge on your enemies, the Ammonites.” But she asked her father, “Do this one thing for me. Leave me alone for two months, so I can go with my friends to wander in the mountains and grieve that I must die a virgin.” He told her to go and sent her away for two months. She and her friends went up into the mountains and grieved because she was going to die unmarried and childless. After two months she came back to her father. He did what he had promised the Lord, and she died still a virgin.”   

Jephthah’s daughter needed to grieve the loss of marriage and children

Did Jephthah really sacrifice (e.g., kill) his daughter? I do not know. We know that God is against human sacrifice (remember Abraham and Isaac?). Haydock’s Commentary indicates some were of the opinion that Jephthah only set her apart to the Lord; he consecrated his daughter to perpetual virginity. Haydock’s Commentary puts forth arguments for both; I could write an entire blog post on my opinion on the matter.

Jephthah’s daughter willing accepted the vow her father made (Judges 11:36) It is important to note that no one is condoning the vow. The point is it was the hope of marriage that she missed most. Therefore, she asked for time to grieve this loss before she had the consequences of her father’s vow implemented. I believe that Jephthah’s daughter needed time to process her sadness over the loss of marring and the possibility of children. Also, since it was possible that she was going to live a life of consecrated virginity, a definite change of events for her, she needed the time to gather the fortitude to carry it out.

Both stories explored in this blog are important for us today because the desire for marriage in our hearts is real. It was placed there by God. When that hope is not fulfilled or is deferred, there is real grief. However, because of God, there is always hope!

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