In the marriage custom of the ancient Hebrews, the betrothal was the first binding step. Generally they were arranged marriages, the parents of the bride had arranged with another family for the uniting of the bride and groom, sometimes years in advance. Brides were often fairly young by todays standards, often 14 or 16 years old. The grooms were often much older, having served apprenticeships of 7 to 12 years, or laboring to pay of debts to their own family that took years to accomplish. The betrothal was a binding contract between bride and groom, with vows and ceremony that took a legal divorce to break. After the betrothal a period of time often as much as a year took place to allow for the groom to prepare a home for his bride. This might be a new construction, or an addition on his fathers house as land was scarce and community was strong. Then came the wedding which would amount to a celebration that started at the brides house and ended in the grooms new quarters. It could last for days, when finally everyone was sent home, and the new couple were left alone.
Starting with the wedding celebration the bride and her bridesmaids would gather at her parents home and await the groom. A parade was about to start when he came and she and her maids would walk through the streets accumulating other guests in the parade and end up at the grooms for the celebration. These festivities almost always took place at night, so lamps were necessary for lighting the way and identity of those who were invited. Now the word for lamp in this passage is the same as in John 18.3 where the Roman cohort comes to arrest Jesus, the Greek word “lampas,” which is translated torch, not “luchia,” as in Matthew 5.15 which means candlestick. So these girls waiting in the brides home had more of a Tiki light torch, that held oil in a basin or cup, a wick and was on a stick to be held high in the air to light the way.
In this parable Jesus tells of ten bridesmaids, who are presumed to be fairly young girls, five were silly, five were prudent. When they gathered at the brides house, five took only their torches with the oil in them, while five more carried an extra vial of oil to replenish their torches as the night wore on. While the groom delayed, for many possible reasons, such as readying the home, party preparations, etc. the night wore on and the girls fell asleep. Verse 6 says at midnight the groom finally arrives! The girls awake, trim their wicks and head out. But the silly ones have no more oil, their torches have burned out and they are unprepared. They try to borrow oil from the prudent ones but the oil is already in the torch basin and there is no removing it now. “Go quickly and see if you can buy some,” is the cry as the parade starts. As they approach the grooms home the party enters and the door is shut. No newcomers are going to be let in now. The other girls come later to the door and beg to come in, saying “Lord, Lord, open up for us,” but the groom says “I don’t know you,” and will not open the door.
As in the Sermon on the Mount earlier in Matthew 7.21, Jesus warns, “Not everyone who says to me,’Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of the Father who is in heaven will enter. “ The context of this dissertation is the second coming of the Lord, as Jesus has wept over Jerusalem, and answered the disciples questions concerning the destruction of the temple, when they all thought wrongly about His taking over the physical kingdom of Jerusalem. When they asked, “ when will these things be, what are the signs of your coming, and of the end of the age.” Jesus response was, speaking concisely, read the scriptures, understand the prophets, and be ready. No man knows the day or the hour, so have your soul ready. Don’t think that grace is so free that you can live like there is no tomorrow, and at the last second seek forgiveness, but determine ahead of time what is most important. We are talking about eternity and it’s your soul . Religion is not the answer, good deeds are not the answer, but only faith in the finished work of Christ. He alone has provided the way to forgiveness of sins and eternal life, not Buddha, Mohamed, Hinduism, Joseph Smith, Russel, or Confucius. Just like the parable of the wheat and the tares, the silly and the prudent girls sat together waiting. Only God and the wise ones knew their eternal state, and it’s important to examine yourself, for just like the oil in the torches, salvation is not transferable, I can’t give you mine or vice-versa. Isaiah 55.1 says, “and you who have no money, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” Salvation is free but must be received.