Marriage
Part 2 The Rite of Marriage

Chapter 25 Lectionary: Old Testament

About This Page

801-1 Genesis 1:26-28, 31a -- Male and female He created them.

801-2 Genesis 2:18-24 -- The two of them become one body.

801-3 Genesis 24:48-51, 58-67 -- In his love for Rebekah, Isaac found solace after the death of his mother.

801-4 Tobit 7:6-14 -- May the Lord of heaven prosper you both. May He grant you mercy and peace.

801-5 Tobit 8:4b-8 -- Allow us to live together to a happy old age.

801-6 Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 -- The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

801-7 Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a -- Stern as death is love.

801-8 Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16 -- Like the sun rising in the Lord's heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.

801-9 Jeremiah 31:31-32a, 33-34a -- I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

About This Page

This web page contains the Old Testament readings for marriage.  The paragraph of background material (exegesis) together with the homily hints  were  originally written by participants in the course "Sacrament of Marriage" and are intended to be of practical assistance to couples planning their wedding ceremony and to pastors and others preparing to preach on these texts.   These paragraphs are not entirely original and are taken for the most part from the books listed in the section "Works Consulted."  We hope they will be helpful to you in planning the wedding liturgy.

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801-1 Genesis 1:26-28, 31a -- Male and female he created them.

Then God said:
"Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.
Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
    the birds of the air, and the cattle,
    and over all the wild animals
    and all the creatures that crawl on the ground."

God created man in his image;
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them, saying:
    "Be fertile and multiply;
    fill the earth and subdue it.
Have dominion over the fish of the sea,
        the birds of the air,
    and all the living things that move on the earth."
God looked at everything he had made,
        and he found it very good.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition copyright  2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. 

Exegesis  In this passage, the divine intent is expressed by "let us make a human," an echo of what was spoken of the divine assembly.  In ancient near eastern literature, the gods decided the fate of human beings but in this passage it is God alone who has the power to make that decision.  The origin of mankind is in God's image, "according to our likeness."  The human is a "statue" of God in a sense.  We human beings were created in the fantastic action of God.  Even though men and women were created with different functions they were created with equal dignity.  This differentiation is complimentary and helps to continue the existence of what God first created.  In this passage, God's first command is observed, "Be fruitful and multiply."  As the pinnacle of God's creation, humans were commanded to master the earth, the land, and the animals.  The world is good according to God.  All that is in the created order is holy and good.  God does not create anything that is evil. 

Homily Hints
-Parents co-create with God. 
-Procreating is a holy and beautiful act
-By our choosing to cooperate with God, we will find ourselves open to more and more grace.
-Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.
-Your spouse is holy and precious unto God, your job is to get your spouse to heaven!

Works Consulted 

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801-2 Genesis 2:18-24 -- The two of them become one body.

The LORD God said: "It is not good for the man
   to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him."
So the LORD God formed out of the ground
    various wild animals and various birds of the air,
    and he brought them to the man to see what he
        would call them;
    whatever the man called each of them
        would be its name.
The man gave names to all the cattle,
    all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals;
    but none proved to be the suitable partner
        for the man.

So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man,
    and while he was asleep,
    he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place
         with flesh.
The LORD God then built up into a woman the rib
    that he had taken from the man.
 When he brought her to the man, the man said:

    "This one, at last, is bone of my bones
        and flesh of my flesh;
    This one shall be called 'woman,'
        for out of 'her man' this one has been taken."

That is why a man leaves his father and mother
    and clings to his wife,
    and the two of them become one body.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. 

Exegesis A  The author intends to tell a story about the dignity of marriage. To start with, he testifies to the fact that God created man (Adam) with the desire for human relationship (v.18). "Helper" in the Old Testament refers to "one who enables the other to fulfill their destiny."  This is true because when God presented to the man "every animals of the earth" and "every birds of the air," they did not satisfy his "need for physical and mental companionship." He named the animals whatever pleased him to affirm the authority he has over them. This suggests that the man is creative and has language ability. The animals did not prove to be suitable for intimate relationship and communication (v.19-20). So according to the passage, "God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh." This is what some writers refer to as "supernatural anesthesia." This act of God portrays creation as a "deep mystery" (v.21). Human society originated with the formation of the woman (Eve). Loneliness disappeared. The making of the woman from the rib of man suggests partnership and equality (v.22). At first, the man and the woman were created equal. It was after the fall that man was assigned a leadership role (Gen. 3:16). "This at last is the bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," explains the sexual attraction between man and woman. The fact that man acknowledged the woman as the gift when God brought her to him stands as explanation. "The man expresses his partnership to the woman by renaming himself" when he said "-this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken." Even though the man and woman are different, they were created to have a relationship with God and other people because they are image bearers of God (v.23). The terms "leave" and "cling" are covenant terms suggesting that marriage is a "covenant relationship." Marriage brings two different persons (the man and the woman) and keeps them united as one flesh in "mutual loyalty, in sexual union and in their offspring" (v.24)

Exegesis B  God continues to take care of man, his creature. God is like the master potter who has begun his creation, but has not yet brought it to fulfillment. This story illustrates God's love for man and his efforts to make a partner with whom the man is able to live in a full and deep union. The creation of the woman marks the climax of God's creation, bringing together man and woman out of a single flesh. This passage also shows us that man could not live on his own; rather, he needed the woman to be complete and to truly recognize who he was. The animals would not suffice to provide companionship for the man. It had to be one who could think and love as he could, and only another human being, only a woman could adequately complement the man. By using the rib of the man, God tells us that man and woman have the same nature and the same dignity, for both have come from the same piece of clay inspired by the breath of God. The Church has used this fact to develop her understanding of marriage. As John Paul II wrote in Familiaris Consortio, "This conjugal union…is nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire life-project, what they have and what they are" (19).

Homily Hints  Marriage is a covenant relationship that keeps the couples united as one.
Marriage is a sacred covenant between three: the man, the woman and Christ
There is no suitable substitute for a husband and wife.
Couples need to be separated from their parents to focus on their relationship.
Couples should not be burden on their parents.
Marriage fulfills our need for intimate communication and relationship.
Couples are image bears of God. They should have relationship with God and other people not just people who love them.

This union between man and woman is one that goes deeper than a piece of paper or even a physical act. It is a union that brings together the very identity of the partners and, in a very real sense, makes two people become one flesh. The fact that God used the man's rib can be a very important image to use.  It could help the couple to understand that they are equal and they complete one another.

Works Consulted  Dianne Bergant, ed., The Collegeville Bible Commentary: Based on the New American Bible. (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992).
Raymond E. Brown, Joseph A. Fitzemyer, Royal E. Murphy, eds., The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1990).
Wayne A. Meeks, ed., The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (San Francisco: HarperCollin Publishers, 1993).
James Gavigan, Ed. The Navarre Bible: The Pentateuch (Four Courts Press: Dublin, 1999).  

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801-3 Genesis 24:48-51, 58-67 -- In his love for Rebekah, Isaac found solace after the death of his mother.

The servant of Abraham said to Laban:
 "I bowed down in worship to the LORD,
    blessing the LORD, the God of my master Abraham,
    who had led me on the right road
    to obtain the daughter of my master's kinsman
        for his son.
If, therefore, you have in mind to show true
        loyalty to my master,
    let me know;
    but if not, let me know that, too.
I can then proceed accordingly."

Laban and his household said in reply:
"This thing comes from the LORD;
we can say nothing to you either for or against it.
Here is Rebekah, ready for you;
take her with you,
that she may become the wife of your master's son,
    as the LORD has said."

So they called Rebekah and asked her,
 "Do you wish to go with this man?"
She answered," I do."
At this they allowed their sister Rebekah
    and her nurse to take leave,
along with Abraham's servant and his men.
Invoking a blessing on Rebekah, they said:

"Sister, may you grow
    into thousands of myriads;
And may your descendants gain possession
    of the gates of their enemies!"

Then Rebekah and her maids started out;
    they mounted their camels and followed the man.
So the servant took Rebekah and went on his way.

Meanwhile Isaac had gone from Beer-lahai-roi
 and was living in the region of the Negeb.
One day toward evening he went out. . . in the field,
    and as he looked around, he noticed
    that camels were approaching.
Rebekah, too, was looking about and when she saw him,
    she alighted from her camel and asked the servant,
    "Who is the man out there, walking through the
     fields toward us?"
"That is my master," replied the servant.
Then she covered herself with her veil.   

The servant recounted to Isaac all the things
    he had done.
Then Isaac took Rebekah into his tent;
he married her, and thus she became his wife.
In his love for her Isaac found solace
after the death of his mother Sarah.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. 

Exegesis  This passage involves the arranged marriage between Abraham's son Isaac and Laban's sister, Rebekah. Isaac was the son born to Abraham and Sarah, who was very old and previously barren. Abraham previously had a son, Ishmael, through Sarah's servant, Hagar. When Isaac was a youth, God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as a test of his faith. Now, Abraham is old and Sarah has died. Abraham sends a trusted servant to find a suitable wife for Isaac. (Laban's daughters will later marry Isaac's son, Jacob.)  It is very important that a wife be found for Isaac so that God's promise to Abraham can be fulfilled. The servant makes clear that it was God who led him to Rebekah. Thus, God is taking care to honor his promise to Abraham of a "mighty nation."

Even though Laban acknowledges that the marriage is God's will, he still asks for Rebekah's consent to marry Isaac. Before she leaves to journey to a foreign land (notice the trust that she has in God), Laban gives her a nuptial blessing. The first part of this blessing is a wish for many descendents for Rebekah. The second part of the blessing binds Rebekah to her new family in that it wishes victory upon the children that she and Isaac will have together. In sum, the blessing prays for off-spring and prosperity.

This reading ends with Isaac taking comfort with Rebekah. The comfort soothes his grief over his mother's recent death. Out of the grief of aging and dying, comes the joy of love and companionship. The taking of a wife marks his transition from youth to adulthood. The commitment that Isaac has to Rebekah is demonstrated by the fact that their marriage is monogamous, unlike his ancestors' or his sons' marriages.

It has been suggested that Isaac's marriage to Rebekah is a healing experience. Perhaps, some writers say, Isaac's childhood experience as a near sacrificial victim left him emotionally scarred, confused about God, and distanced from his father. His only solace would seem to have been his mother (see 24:67). Her death leaves him alone. He finds comfort in Rebekah.

Some scholars state that Genesis 24: 67 should read "…Isaac found solace after the death of his father." This may lead to differences between some translations and commentaries. The way a man grieves his father may differ from the way he grieves his mother, so there may be deeper implications than just a translation issue.

Homily Hints  We may not realize it at the time, but God gives us gifts, guidance, and grace. Sometimes, we only see God at work in retrospect. The bringing together of a man and a woman who love each need not be seen as a matter of chance or good luck. Rather, God is at work in bringing two people together in love.

God's work in our lives is not usually spectacular. It tends to happen in the daily moments of life. Again, we might only recognize God's work in hindsight.

Isaac becomes an adult with his taking of a wife. Consider the words of Paul about putting away childish things. His mother is dead, his father is aged, and he is breaking with his childhood home to start a family of his own.

Isaac has mourned his mother's death. However, the love of a caring spouse can be a healing experience, provided that the marriage is not consciously or unconsciously undertaken in order to heal a person from past hurt. Still, a spouse agrees, to some extent, to help bear the burdens of the other's pain.

From a student's homily:  Think back to the first reading that Lara and John selected for today. It concerns Isaac taking a wife. Now, Isaac knew well that life was not easy. He was born to elderly parents. In his childhood, he was picked on by his half-brother, Ishmael, the son of his mother's servant. His father came very close to sacrificing him on an altar. Yet, the reading from Genesis says that he was comforted by his wife Rebekah. Whatever happened to him, whatever harm he suffered, was in some way healed by the love of a wife. We cannot forget that his love was also expressed in a very special way. Contrary to the culture of his place and time, Isaac loved only Rebekah, taking no other wives during his life. I like to think that in some way, he wanted to care for her, to heal her, as she healed him. In helping fulfill his promise to Abraham, God gave Isaac a wife who would in turn give many children to Abraham, building up those nations that God promised.

Works Consulted  Bruggemann, Walter. Genesis. Interpretation Series. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1980.
Cohen, Norman. Voices from Genesis: Guiding Us Through the Stages of Life. Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1998.
Westermann, Claus. Genesis: A Practical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987.

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801-4 Tobit 7:6-14 -- May the Lord of heaven prosper you both. May he grant you mercy and peace.

A reading from the book of Tobit

Raphael and Tobiah entered the house of Raguel
        and greeted him.
Raguel sprang up and kissed Tobiah, shedding tears of joy.
But when he heard that Tobit had lost his eyesight,
    he was grieved and wept aloud.
He said to Tobiah:
    "My child, God bless you!
You are the son of a noble and good father.
But what a terrible misfortune.
    that such a righteous and charitable man
    should be afflicted with blindness!"
He continued to weep in the arms of his kinsman Tobiah.
His wife Edna also wept for Tobit;
    and even their daughter Sarah began to weep

Afterward, Raguel slaughtered a ram from the flock
    and gave them a cordial reception.
When they had bathed and reclined to eat,
    Tobiah said to Raphael, "Brother Azariah,
    ask Raguel to let me marry my kinswoman Sarah."
Raguel overheard the words;
    so he said to the boy:
    "Eat and drink and be merry tonight,
    for no man is more entitled to marry my
        daughter Sarah
    than you, brother.
Besides, not even I have the right to give her
        to anyone but you,
    because you are my closest relative.
But I will explain the situation to you very frankly.
I have given her in marriage to seven men,
    all of whom were kinsmen of ours,
    and all died on the very night they approached her.
But now, son, eat and drink.
I am sure the Lord will look after you both."
Tobiah answered, "I will eat or drink nothing
    until you set aside what belongs to me."

    Raguel said to him: "I will do it.
She is yours according to the decree
         of the Book of Moses.
Your marriage to her has been decided in heaven!
Take your kinswoman;
    from now on you are her love,
    and she is your beloved.
She is yours today and ever after.
And tonight, son, may the Lord of heaven
        prosper you both.
May he grant you mercy and peace."
Then Raguel called his daughter Sarah,
        and she came to him.
He took her by the hand and gave her to Tobiah
        with the words:
    "Take her according to the law.
According to the decree written in the
        Book of Moses she is your wife.
Take her and bring her back safely to your father.
And may the God of heaven grant both of you
        peace and prosperity."
He then called her mother and told her to bring a scroll,
    so that he might draw up a marriage contract
    stating that he gave Sarah to Tobiah as his wife
    according to the decree of the Mosaic law.
Her mother brought the scroll,
    and he drew up the contract,
    to which they affixed their seals.
Afterward they began to eat and drink.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner. 

Exegesis  Tobiah, the son of Tobit, goes to Raguel to ask for his daughter Sarah.  Raguel is likened to Abraham as a man of hospitality, and he offers a feast for Tobiah.  Tobiah refuses to eat until they have agreed on the marriage covenant.  Then, Raguel tells Tobiah that Sarah is his, but he warns Tobiah that Sarah has taken seven husbands, each of which died in the night.  Raguel tells Tobiah again to eat.  Tobiah again refuses until they have made the marriage covenant.  Raguel takes Tobiah's determination as a sign from God, and he blesses the marriage.  Raguel was hesitant because he did not want his daughter to suffer the death of her eighth husband.  Because it was God's will, Raguel was willing to take the risk.  He entered into covenant with Tobiah partly because he new of Tobit, a holy man.  This reading is an example that marriage is into a family and not just to one person.  Furthermore, marriage to a particular individual is a vocation from God worthy of a binding covenant, one likened to God's covenant with us.  The marriage covenant is an example of the love that God has for us.

Homily Hints 

Works Consulted Collegeville Bible Commentary.

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801-5 Tobit 8:4b-8 -- Allow us to live together to a happy old age.

On their wedding night Tobiah arose from bed and
        said to his wife,
    "Sister, get up.  Let us pray and beg our Lord
    to have mercy on us and to grant us deliverance."
Sarah got up , and they started to pray
    and beg that deliverance might be theirs.
They began with these words:

    "Blessed are you, O God of our fathers;
        praised be your name forever and ever.
    Let the heavens and all your creation
        praise you forever.
    You made Adam and you gave him his wife Eve
        to be his help and support;
        and from these two the human race descended.
    You said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone;
        let us make him a partner like himself.'
    Now, Lord, you know that I take this wife of mine
        not because of lust,
        but for a noble purpose.
    Call down your mercy on me and on her,
        and allow us to live together to a happy old age."

They say together, "Amen, amen."

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Exegesis A  4 -- 6.  All forms narrate the prayers of Tobias and Sara for God's help.  7 -- 10.  The main doctrinal elements are: the recognition of God as creator of all things, 7; and the confession of sincerity in 9, which shows the upright purpose with which Tobias entered matrimony."

Dom Bernard Orchard, A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scriptures, (New York: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1953) 400.

"In his prayers Tobiah link their marriage, not only to the patriarchs, but to creation and Adam and Eve.  It is in this spirit of unity with the people of God that Tobiah and Sarah are united in marriage."

Dianna Bergent, C.S.A. and Robert Karris, O.F.M., The Collegeville Bible Commentary, (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1989) 839.

"8:6.  In recalling the story of Adam and Eve, he cites three elements: God recognized that human beings should not be alone; the woman was created as help and support for the man; and the man and the woman are the parents of all living.  These elements he regards as the foundation of his own marriage."

Leander Keck, The New Interpreters Bible, Vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999) 1041.

Exegesis B  This passage consists of the prayer of Tobiah, with his new wife Sarah, after a demon had been expelled.  In his prayer, Tobiah connects his story to his ancestors, even going as far back as Adam and Eve.  Through is recollection of Genesis 2, he acknowledges God as the originator of marriage.  Tobiah regards three elements of creation—that humans should not be alone, that woman is a help and support for man, that man and woman are the parents of all the living—as the foundation of his own marriage.  Yet, he makes no mention of the Fall, as he hopes for a positive marriage.  His prayer shows respect for his wife as well as his hopes for a long and happy marriage.  He knows that marriage is based on obedience, not lust (Nowell).

Besides acknowledging God as the originator of marriage, this passage also highlights the fact that sex should be the expression of sacrificial love and not self-gratification.  The demon cannot get to those who approach the marriage bed with sacredness (Dumm).  The emphasis is on the sexual act as being for procreation and not for sexual pleasure (Moore, 244).  Finally, the fact that this passage involves a prayer is important.  For the narrator of Tobit, prayer is the vehicle for his understanding of the nature and purpose of holy matrimony (Moore, 241).

Homily Hints   In marriage it is essential that you pray together as a couple, and ask for God's assistance in sustaining your marriage.  If God is the foundation of your marriage, then you will be able to withstand any obstacle that comes before you.  This will not make marriage difficulties any easier, however, it will allow you as a couple to rely on one another and God for your needed strength in these difficult times. 

Adam and Eve are a model for all marriages, they both loved one another and they loved God.  Even though Adam and Eve loved God and each other, they on occasion fell short in accomplishing God's plan for them, which caused hardship to them and man.  God is calling you to be the new Adam and Eve and be a model of love for all to witness.  By prayerfully listening and acting upon God's will, He will radiate His love for you in your marriage so that you might become a living light for all.

Marriage is a commitment, it is the desire of God that man and woman in the sacrament of marriage should be united as one.  Always remember that God loves you and He desires that your marriage be fruitful and abundant.

The importance of prayer in a marriage relationship
Recognizing that marriage was created by God for our benefit
Showing how sex is a sacred, creative act within marriage, and that it should not be the foundation of the relationship

Works Consulted Demetrius R. Dumm, OSB. "Tobit, Judith, Esther." The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1968), 623.
Carey A. Moore. Tobit. The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1996).
Irene Nowell, OSB. "The Book of Tobit." The New Interpreter's Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999), 1040-1041.
Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., and Robert J. Karris, O.F.M., general editors, The Collegeville Bible Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1989), 838-39.
The New Interpreter's Bible, vol 3 (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1999), 1040-41.

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801-6 Proverbs 31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31 -- The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

When one finds a worthy wife,
    her value is far beyond pearls.
Her husband, entrusting his heart to her,
    has an unfailing prize.
She brings him good, and not evil,
    all the days of her live.
She obtains wool and flax
    and makes cloth with skillful hands.
She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her fingers ply the spindle.
She reaches out her hand to the poor,
    and extends her arms to the needy.
Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;
    the woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a reward of her labors,
    and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Exegesis  The focus of these verses is the woman's wise and energetic activity.  The question is not whether it is possible to find a capable wife.  The question states that if you find a woman such as this she is like a precious jewel. Whoever has married such a woman knows from his experience how priceless is her worth.  As the wise trust in God, so also a wise husband, on a human level, trusts his wife, because she "brings him good, not harm".  in verses 19 and 20 it is the hands that grasp the distaff to produce and open wide to provide for the poor.   In 30-31 the normal standard of woman of the time is being challenged.  Women were valued as to their external beauty.  Here the woman is a priceless treasure that does her husband good "all the days of her life".  Finally, this woman fears the Lord.  This is the source of her energy and wisdom and puts purpose to her life.

Homily Hints  Explain what a treasure the woman is for the man.
That now there is external beauty but what is important is the internal beauty that she will continue to have, as they grow old together.
The fear of the Lord and the need for trust in Him is a source of strength and adds purpose to their lives.

Works Consulted New Interpreter's Bible Commentary Volume V. 1997, Abingdon Press, Nashville,TN. Pgs. 260-264
Old Testament Message Theological Commentary, 1982 Michael Glazier, Inc. Wilmington, Delaware. Pgs. 252-253

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801-7 Song of Songs 2:8-10, 14, 16a; 8:6-7a -- Stern as death is love.

Hark! my lover -- here he comes
    springing across the mountains,
    leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
    gazing through the windows,
    peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
    "Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one,
        and come!

"O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
    in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
    let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
    and you are lovely."

My lover belongs to me and I to him.
He says to me:

"Set me as a seal on your heart,
    as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
    relentless as the nether-world is devotion;
    its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
    nor floods sweep it away."

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Exegesis A  This passage from the Song of Songs is clearly one of the most descriptive and romantic passages of all of the Marriage readings.  As a whole, this book has a reputation for being very sensual, and this passage is no exception.

The few verses from chapter 2 are full of terms of endearment and charming comparisons:  lover, beautiful one, darling, gazelle, young stag, dove.  Nearly all of these terms are preceded by the pronoun "my."  In fact, "my" occurs more than 50 times within the whole poem, which shows the unwavering commitment and possessiveness that the lovers feel for one another. 

In verses 8-10, the maiden sees her lover, comparing him to a young gazelle or stag, and she hears him call for her to join him.  Then, in verse 14, the man imagines his shy maiden as a dove hiding in the rocks and asks to hear her voice.  This section climaxes with the lovers declaring their mutual devotion in verse 16.

The last section comes from chapter 8 and speaks strongly of the fierceness of love.  Love is said to be strong as death and as raging as a fire; it cannot even be drowned by floods.  The passage ends with the statement that love is without price.

Exegesis B  The courtship has begun, and the desire for each other is intense.  She is weak with passion.  It is at that point that the protagonist, the maiden, has appealed to the daughters of Jerusalem.  She is concerned that the emotions of her and her lover not take them beyond the proper pace of pure love.  So we now see them separated but longing for each other.  The maiden seems clearly (v.9) to be in her own home in the city.  She hears her lover's voice as he comes to visit her.  He is like a gazelle or a young stag in his energy and in his passionate desire to be with her.  There is no way we can dismiss the trauma of true love with its ecstasy of longing and fear.

The lovers may accept restraint on the pace of love's development, but there is no denying that they belong to each other.  There seems clearly to be a double "entendre" character that pulls a cloak over the details of the lovers' lovemaking, a metaphor in the service of the mystery and sanctity of the relationship.  The ambiguity of the language of the Song of Songs is characteristic of lyric poetry. Here it certainly seems fair to look for more that one level of meaning. 

Regarding Chapter 8, verses 6-7, the drama is almost over.  The couple have followed her desire and now return from the trip into the fields and the villages.  The bride pays no attention to the call of the friends.  She speaks only to her lover.  She has not taken him to her mother's home He has apparently taken her to the site of her conception. (v 5)  There they have sealed more deeply their love.  She speaks of the depth of that sealing. (v 6)  Her love is so total and so strong that she wants their mutual possession of each other to be a lasting as life.  It is a strongly poetic demand for "until death do us part." 

Homily Hints  In this passage, the relationship between the man and woman should be seen as mirroring the relationship between God and human beings.  Clearly this passage demonstrates the rapture of young love, but it could easily be used as an introduction to the idea that these perfect times will not last forever.  "Lovers cannot take their love for granted, no more than humans can take their relationship with God for granted.  We must take care to spend time with those we love and to find time to talk with each other.  Like lovers in search of the perfect time and place to mate, care should be given to creating an atmosphere in which conversation and intimacy can thrive." NIB, ,395.)  If enough effort is put into a relationship with God, or between a man and a woman, then love will remain forever.
Husband and wife should love each other with their whole being after God.
The Sacrament is forever, "till death do us part."
Husband and wife should motivate each other towards holiness.

Works Consulted Buttrick, George.  Editor.  The Interpreter's Bible.  Abingdon Press. New York. 1956.
Gaebelin, Frank.  Editor.  The Expositor's Bible Commentary.  Zondervan Pub.
The International Bible Commentary-Liturgical Press, ed. by William R. Farmer.
The New Interpreter's Bible, vol. V-Abingdon Press, ed. by Neil M. Alexander.
Grand Rapids, MI.  1991.

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801-8 Sirach 26:1-4, 13-16 -- Like the sun rising in the LORD's heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.

Blessed the husband of a good wife,
    twice-lengthened are his days;
A worthy wife brings joy to her husband,
    peaceful and full is his life.
A good wife is a generous gift
    bestowed upon him who fears the LORD;
Be he rich or poor, his heart is content,
    and a smile is ever on his face.

A gracious wife delights her husband,
    her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones;
A gift from the LORD is her governed speech,
    and her firm virtue is of surpassing worth.
Choicest of blessings is a modest wife,
    priceless her chaste soul.
A holy and decent woman adds grace upon grace;
    indeed, no price is worthy of her temperate soul. 
Like the sun rising in the LORD's heavens,
    the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Exegesis The general theme of these verses in Sirach are the virtues of being a good wife. However, it does not extol her for what she is, in and of herself, but only for what she is and does for her husband. In v.1 there is even a rhetorical arrangement that literally breaks down to: wife:good::happy:husband. A good wife can lengthen the days of her husband's life and is a generous gift from God. The key to finding a good wife and enjoying a happy marriage, according to Sirach, is fear of the Lord. Wealth is not even necessary. What is essential though is a cheerful heart on the inside and "a smile" on the outside, and these come only when a husband, who is God-fearing, has a good wife. The charm of a good wife can even "fatten the bones," which is a desirable condition to be in and is a sign of God's blessings. The virtues of a good wife include self-discipline in speech and modesty. If it is "well-ordered," God will shine his blessings upon a marriage, like the rays of the sun.

Homily Hints Marriages that always keep God in sight will be blessed.
The key to a good marriage is humility to one another and to God.
Pleasing each other, pleases God.

Works Consulted The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. V, Nashville: Abington Press, 1997.
Patrick W. Skehan, trans., The Anchor Bible: The Wisdom of Ben Sira, New York: Doubleday, 1987.

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801-9 Jeremiah 31:31-32a, 33-34a -- I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

The days are coming, says the LORD,
    when I will make a new covenant with the house
        of Israel
    and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers:
    the day I took them by the hand
    to lead them forth from the land of Egypt.
But this is the covenant which I will make
    with the house of Israel after those days,
        says the LORD.
I will place my law within them, and write it upon
        their hearts;
    I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends
        and relatives
    how to know the LORD.
All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD.

Excerpts from the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States of America, second typical edition © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1970, Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington. DC.  Used with permission.  All rights reserved.  No portion of this text may be reproduced by any means without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Exegesis

Homily Hints

Works Consulted

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© Copyright: Tom Richstatter, Franciscan Province of St. John the Baptist, Cincinnati Ohio, Order of Friars Minor. All Rights Reserved.  This page was created by Fr. Thomas Richstatter, O.F.M.  Every effort has been, and is being made, to acknowledge sources when the ideas are not my own.  Any failure to comply with the United States Copyright Act (Title 17, United States Code) will be corrected immediately should I become aware of it.  This site was updated on 06/05/07 .  Your comments on this site are welcome at webmaster@tomrichstatter.org.