HH Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom? And five of them were wise, and five were foolish–Matthew 25:1-2
The Tradition of a Jewish Wedding
The ceremonies at a marriage in the East were very different from those we are accustomed to, and the more clearly we can picture one of these Eastern weddings, the better we shall understand this parable. There was no religious service, as with us; no priest or minister was present. The essential thing was that the bridegroom should lead his bride from her father’s house to his own. Hence the old phrase, “to take a wife,” was literally true in Eastern countries, and we know that to this day, among the Arabs, the bride is taken as if she were an enemy–captured after some show of violence, and removed as a prisoner to her husband’s home. Among the Jews, the bridegroom, with his friends (John 3:23), went to the home of his bride in the late evening. It was dark, and lights were needed for the procession–such lights among the Greeks and Romans (as the boys who are reading Latin poetry know) were generally torches, but among the Jews were more commonly lamps. The bride was waiting for the bridegroom there, in a white dress, decked out in all her jewels; and John would recall many a village scene when he wrote that the wife of the Lamb was arrayed in fine linen, clean and white (Revelation 19:8) and that the New Jerusalem came down from heaven prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:2). Then the bridegroom led his bride into the street, with her maiden friends bearing her company, amid music and a score of flashing lights. And as the procession made its way back to the bridegroom’s home, through the crowds who had poured out to see the bridal party, a little group of maidens at this corner, and a few more who had been waiting in the court, joined the happy company, and went with it to share in the marriage feast.
Five Were Not Prepared for a Delay
This, then, was the scene that Jesus transfigured in this exquisite parable, and the ten virgins, who take the chief place in it, may either (as many have thought) have been attending the bride in her own home that evening, or they may have formed one of those little bands that waited for the return of the procession. Will the reader please observe that number ten ? It is a favourite number in the Bible. When Abraham’s servant went on his great journey, he took ten of the camels of his master (Genesis 24:10). When the kinsman of Ruth desired to deal with Boaz, he took ten men of the elders of the city (Ruth 4:2). The dragon in Revelation had ten horns (Revelation 12:3).There were ten lepers who were cleansed by Jesus (Luke 17:12). The commandments were ten, and the talents and pounds were ten, and here our Lord says there were ten virgins. Now we are not told that these ten, were good and bad; but we are told that five were wise and five were foolish, and we recall another parable where we read of a wise and of a foolish builder (Matthew 7:24-27). The strange thing is that the foolish as well as the wise, here, each had her lamp, and it was burning merrily. The sad thing is that the foolish were not prepared for a quite possible, and indeed quite common, delay. The night deepened, and still, there was no bridegroom. The wisest of them nodded off into sleep. Then at midnight there rang the cry, “Behold the bridegroom!” and in a twinkling every eye was open. No lamp was out, but all were going out (read verse 8 in the Revised Version). The wick even of the wise was sputtering. But then the wise had little flasks of oil with them; it was the work of a moment to trim their lamps. But the foolish had no oil, and there was none to borrow, and when they hurried out to buy it at the merchant’s –can you not hear the jesting of the crows? And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut.
Want of Forethought Is True Foolishness
Now I trust that no one will spoil this matchless story by arguing what the lamp or what the oil must be. I do not think that Jesus built up His parables laboriously. It is better to keep to the broad lessons of a parable, and there are three here which anyone may grasp. The first is, want of forethought is true foolishness. Can you tell me why the one builder was a foolish man (Matthew 7:26)? It was just because he never foresaw the storm. He built in May when the birds were singing, and the sand was firm enough for summer weather, but he forgot November and its gales when nothing could stand but a house upon a rock. So here the foolish virgins had their lamps, and their lamps were burning merrily enough. But they forgot to reckon with a tardy bridegroom, and it was just that want of forethought that spoiled all. Now none of us is to be anxious for tomorrow. But we have a strange and difficult life to live, and we have a death to die and a God to meet, and it is high time to make provision for all that. Have you done it? You know perfectly what the provision is. “Evil is wrought by want of thought, as well as want of heart.”
Times When We Cannot Help Each Other
And the second lesson of the story is this: in the great hours we cannot help each other. I have no doubt the ten were all good friends; they had done many a kindly turn one to another. But now, that friendship was of no avail; there was no oil to borrow or to spare. It was not because the wise disdained the foolish, or were eager to see them ousted from the marriage, that they were deaf to this request for oil. They refused it for a far better reason–they needed every drop of oil they had. That means, that in every hour of judgment, there is no shining with a borrowed light. The help of others is priceless in many things, but in the hours of spiritual crisis, it is vain. Another’s faith can never aid us then, even though that other be a friend or father. It is our own faith and holiness and love that will determine matters when the Bridegroom comes.
The Highest Wisdom Is to Be Watchful
Then, lastly, and this is the great lesson of the parable, it is the highest wisdom to be watchful. The bridegroom came when no one looked for him, and Jesus will come in an hour we think not of. The one day has been hidden, said Augustine, that every day might be regarded. How little did Pompeii think, in the bright morning, of the desolation the evening was to bring! With what awful suddenness in 1666, did the great fire devastate London! And like a Bridegroom in the night, Jesus will come. God grant He find us vigilant!
Watch! ’tis your Lord’s command,
And while we speak, He’s near;
Mark the first signal of His hand,
And ready all appear.