A Rosh HaShanah Meditation on Matthew 25:1-13.
Did you know there’s a Jewish wedding feast to take place in Heaven? It’s true! In fact, the Scriptures are filled with examples of God portrayed as a Husband, and Israel His bride. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For your Husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts… (Isa. 54:5). Jeremiah declared, “…Thus says the Lord, ‘I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness…’” (Jer. 2:2).
So, what does all this have to do with Rosh HaShanah? In a word: preparedness.
Weddings in ancient Israel required the bride-to-be to continually be on the alert for the shout announcing the coming of the bridegroom. The sounding of the shofar at Rosh HaShanah likewise summons us to awaken from our spiritual slumber, for the Day of God’s Judgment is coming, and we don’t know when – only that we expect it soon, and we had better turn away from our sins and be prepared. Just as the bridegroom could come for his bride at any hour of day or night, God’s great Day of Judgment will come suddenly, and for most, unexpectedly!
Biblically, the holiday we are celebrating is called Yom T’ruah – The Day of Blowing Trumpets. It serves as a warning – a precursor to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most solemn of all – the day of God reckoning accounts with us.
God’s judgment has never come without due notice and repeated warnings to those needing to repent. Some, wisely, heed those warnings. Others go on about their lives indifferent to the prospect of Divine Judgment and, tragically, are caught completely off-guard when it comes. God’s judgment is for eternity; there is no court of appeals.
As we begin Yamim Nora’im – the Days of Awe, let’s consider how Yeshua, in Matthew ch. 25 compared His return to an approaching wedding. Now weddings are happy events, and there’s nothing more joyful than a Jewish wedding. But be warned, this is one in a series of parables Yeshua told which speak of judgment and exclusion – those who will be shut out of the Kingdom of Heaven.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be comparable to ten virgins, who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
This refers to the virgins going out, each from their own home, and converging at the home of the bride-to-be. This was Jewish custom in preparation for a wedding. From the moment a bridegroom and bride sealed their betrothal with a cup of wine, the bride had to be in a constant state of readiness, while the bridegroom went “to prepare a place” for her (a bridal chamber typically adjoining the home of his parents). The bridesmaids would join the bride-to-be in waiting at her home, day by day, alert and listening for the shout of the bridegroom’s sudden coming.
Each bridesmaid brought her own lamp to the bride’s home. The lamps for such occasions were more like torches, a lamp put atop a hollowed-out pole, which also held a supply of oil. Such lamps were indispensable! After all, suppose the bridegroom came for his bride at night; there were no street lights, no porch lights. Without lamps, travel by night would have been difficult (picture dirt roads, rocks and ruts). Without a lamp, a person traveling by night would also have been that much more vulnerable to attack by wild animals or robbers.
And we have here ten virgins. Ten was the customary number of witnesses needed to comprise a quorum for official and for ceremonial purposes. But the parable centers around the contrast in the character of these virgins.
Five of them were foolish, and five were prudent. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the prudent took oil in flasks along with their lamps.
One might think the five foolish virgins to simply have been stupid. Not so! It was not stupidity, but presumption that characterizes their folly. They either presumed the bride’s family would supply the oil for them, or they presumed they would have more than ample time to purchase oil for whenever that day would come.
Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep.
This is one aspect of the parable that has been widely misunderstood. There was nothing sinful in their growing drowsy. Remember, the five wise virgins fell asleep, too. The bridegroom delayed His return for her. Their wisdom wasn’t about staying awake, but about being prepared. In this fallen world, we often feel like Messiah’s return is long overdue. Yeshua spoke often of His return, but forbade us to know the exact time. In fact, this is just one in a series of parables He spoke with reference to the seeming delay of His Second Coming, and how many people will be caught off-guard, unprepared and unbelieving at that time.
But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’
This doesn’t mean His return will be at midnight, or even at night. The point is, almost everyone will have become comfortable and drowsy – not expecting Him. Yeshua’s Return will come as a surprise to almost everyone. The question is, will that shofar blast be a delightful surprise or a terrifying realization? Will it be the welcoming to the great Wedding Feast of Heaven, or a summons to appear before the Judgment Seat? That depends on you. But make no mistake about it, His coming for us is as certain as that of a young man in love and eagerly preparing that place for his bride-to-be. You can be sure that the moment he gets the okay from his father, he will not waste one minute, but send for his bride!
And so, in our parable, the shout is heard in the middle of the night, and the bride and her companions quickly awaken and assemble themselves for the procession to the place of the wedding. Just one little problem…
Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’
Of course, their lamps were going out – they hadn’t brought any of their own oil. Let me state again that it was not stupidity, but presumption. They presumed that oil would be supplied to them, and when it wasn’t the case, they procrastinated and made no effort to obtain any. They apparently didn’t think it was all that urgent. Now the time was at hand, and they were caught completely unprepared.
The foolish virgins asked the prudent to give them some of their supply, and at first glance it seems uncharitable that the wise virgins decline to share their oil. But in reality, it was just common sense not to split that supply in half. Otherwise everybody’s lamp would go out prematurely, and then you’d have the whole wedding party trying to make their way in the dark. That would be a disaster!
Have you ever heard the phrase “Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part”? So, the wise virgins suggest the others go purchase oil from one of the local shops. You might think it absurd to suggest that the foolish virgins go at midnight to conduct business. But some scholars argue that on festive occasions like this, it was not unheard of for oil and lamp merchants to be set up and ready to do business at night – particularly since their products would be in demand. What choice did they have? The wedding party was at hand, and lamps were a necessary and expected part of the bridal procession. So, the five foolish virgins left to buy oil.
And while they were going away to make the purchase, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast; and the door was shut.
Nobody had counted on the bridegroom coming so quickly! Yet here he was, and it would have been improper to keep him and those already gathered at the place of the banquet waiting. So those who were ready left with him, journeying together with great joy to the wedding feast. They went in and the door was shut.
Hollywood movies aside, there is no crashing a wedding banquet! Weddings are not open parties where whoever wants to can just drop in. A wedding is a formal event, and it is by invitation. These five foolish virgins had not only been invited, but had been given the honor of being the companions of the bride. Yet they didn’t care enough to prepare themselves. They failed to take either the impending wedding or the intent of the groom seriously. The door was shut!
Now, let’s unpack the parable. The Bridegroom is Messiah and the Bride is the community of believers, the wedding is the Great Ingathering in Heaven (called in The Revelation “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb”). When those doors are shut, nobody else is getting in. That means you need to do whatever is necessary now to be prepared for That Day. If you think you can afford to put it off, you are mistaken, and there are no second chances, as we learn from verses 11 and 12.
Later the other virgins also came, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open up for us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’
This was not callous indifference, it was proper protocol. Had the five foolish virgins been part of the wedding procession, they would have entered with the bridegroom. But the door was shut, and was not to be opened again. Since they weren’t at the bride’s home when he came for her, why would he be expected to recognize their voices, or even their faces? Weddings were joyful but also serious occasions. You needed to be there promptly, and it was regarded as a most serious social offense to refuse the invitation, or to not show up. The foolish virgins effectively “no-showed”. Their actions exhibited disdain for the bridegroom and for the occasion itself, and it was altogether proper that they be excluded.
One scholar suggests that the saying “I do not know you” was a formula used by rabbis to keep certain disciples (those who had fallen out of favor) at a distance.
Yeshua sums up the meaning of the parable in verse 13.
Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour.
This was not mere storytelling. The parable was meant to be understood as having reference to the Kingdom of Heaven. So, let me conclude by reviewing the main components. Messiah is the Bridegroom. We, Messiah’s Holy Community of Jews and Gentiles, are the Bride. Our assembly is like the house, the place of waiting for His return. He has betrothed us to Himself and gone to prepare a place for us. And He will return very suddenly and unexpectedly for us.
If you are wise, you have your own oil. That means you have entered into the New Covenant relationship with God through Messiah Yeshua, and have received the Holy Spirit. If you are foolish, you’ll tell yourself that walking into the building where believers gather is sufficient – that maybe it’ll be okay because, after all, your spouse is a believer, or your parents, or your friends. To think that way is to be unprepared. Merely showing up at the bride’s home (this place) doesn’t mean you’ll be admitted to the wedding banquet. This parable clearly demonstrates that merit cannot be transferred. Wives cannot give some of their faith to their husbands. Parents cannot give some of their faith to their children. It is an all-or-nothing proposition. Your faith must be your own. You either have oil in yourself or you don’t. And you don’t get oil from the house, you get it from the Lord.
To unbelieving friends or relatives who may be listening to this via our website, let me say that if by my friendliness and lack of admonition to you, I have given you the impression that you are okay as you are, I have been wrong. Without Yeshua, you are not okay. If you do not repent of unbelief, you will be excluded from the Kingdom of Heaven. I like to be friendly, but a real friend speaks the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable to hear. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Prov. 27:6). So forgive me if I have been too ‘friendly’ and not enough of a friend.
To those who are still sitting on the fence, let me say this: If you’re waiting until the 11th hour to repent, you better hope you don’t die at 10:30.
From David Robert Anderson:
The story goes that three devils set out to conquer the world. The first devil went around proclaiming the message, “There is no God!” But even though some people acted as if there were no God, they knew in their hearts that this message was not true. The second devil announced, “There is no sin!” And again, although many people acted as if the message were true, they knew deep down that it wasn’t. The third devil was smarter than the other two. He did not attempt to change people’s beliefs. He made no attempt to argue against their deepest convictions. He simply said, “There is no hurry.”
Rabbi Paul admonished us, saying, Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold TODAY is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). Will today will be your day?
 See Matthew: New International Biblical Commentary, Robert H. Mounce, Ó 1985 Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA, pg. 233. Mounce cites Schweizer’s suggestion that in a rural village on a festive occasion, many people would have been up and about, including merchants looking to profit from it.