Men, did you ever wonder why you gave your wife a wedding ring? Peer pressure or history? Love or pride? Some combination? Here is some history: Way back in time Egyptian pharaohs used rings to represent eternity because a circle has no beginning and no end. It also reflects the shape of the sun and the moon, which the Egyptians worshipped. They also thought that the open space in the middle of a ring represented a gateway to the unknown.
Alexander the Great conquered the Egyptians and the Greeks adopted the tradition of men giving rings to their lovers. Many of their rings depicted Eros or Cupid, the god of love. Then, when the Romans conquered Greece, they followed the tradition and began using iron and copper rings in marriage ceremonies.
In the U.S., the wearing of rings to symbolize marriage is a relatively recent practice. Puritans did not wear any jewelry, including wedding rings, because they believed that excess adornment was a sin. However, one common practice was for the man to present his fiancée with a thimble, used for sewing. Later brides began to cut off the cup of the thimble leaving only the outer ring, which acted as a woman’s wedding ring.
According to a “how to” book called Enquire within About Everything, published in 1903, “men would wear a ring to symbolize not only their marital status, but their desire for marriage as well. If a man wanted a wife, he would wear a ring on the first finger of his left hand. When he became engaged, he moved the ring to his middle finger, and when finally married he would move it to his ring finger […] if a man never wanted to marry, he would indicate this by wearing a ring on the pinky finger of his left hand. These rules for indicating marital status were similar for women of that time.”
A good story, but it was not true for most men, who did not traditionally wear wedding rings until World War II. Because of extended separations caused by the war, men’s wedding rings signified that the man was “betrothed to another.”
When I proposed to Joice in 1955 I gave her an engagement ring and in 1956 a wedding ring. By this time, it was traditional that the ring had a diamond (or some other gem) topping it. The bigger the diamond, the more love—right? Of course, if we believe the jewelers! But the engagement ring was a sign of our promise, and the wedding ring was the promise fulfilled. My diamond was not substantial, but it could be seen without a magnifying glass. The wedding ring was worn until it could no longer slip on and off Joice’s finger—due to arthritis about 15 years ago. It was then cut off and made into a necklace. I’ll return to it later.
When we lived among the Kewa of Papua New Guinea, the women were intrigued by Joice’s ring and that I had given it to her in marriage. They were also embarrassed that I could only afford such a little “piece of glass.” The women chided Joice: “My husband gave 10 pigs and 4 pearl shells for me,” indicating the inferior ring of hers (and perhaps the husband as well) was of little value.
We move on a few years until Joice and I were visiting friends in New Zealand and, after shopping at a large store, she discovered that the diamond had dropped out of her ring and was lost. Sometime later, however, a jeweler friend took the ring and put a much better diamond in it. I wanted to show it to my Kewa women friends and, to some extent redeem myself, but could not.
I mentioned that Joice developed arthritis in her finger joints and eventually was unable to remove the ring manually. Her solution was to go to the local fire station and have them cut it off. She then she had it made into a necklace and kept it hung by some other jewelry in our closet. After she died, my daughter and I looked for the ring but could not find it. We were distraught and prayed much about “the lost ring.”
Recently, while searching again, I saw something shining in a remote area behind a shoe rack. There, hidden in the crevice between the carpet and the wall, was the missing ring. I immediately called my daughter to tell her, even as I thought about the stories in Luke 15 of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. I didn’t call in the neighbors to celebrate with me, but I did thank the angels of heaven.
Something as “simple” as a wedding ring is symbolic of promises and pleasures, in our case for 65 years. In Revelation 2:17 we read that “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.”
Unlike our ring, it is a name that we will never lose!