THE MARRIAGE DOWRY
Reason for dowry for bride's family. In the Orient, when the bride's parents give their daughter in marriage, they are actually diminishing the efficiency of their family. Often unmarried daughters would tend the flock of their father (Exodus 2:16), or they would work in the field, or render help in other ways. Thus upon her marriage, a young woman would be thought of as increasing the efficiency of her husband's family and diminishing that of her parents. Therefore, a young man who expects to get possession of their daughter must be able to offer some sort of adequate compensation. This compensation was the marriage "dowry."
It was not always required that the dowry be paid in cash, it could be paid in service. Because Jacob could not pay cash, he said, "I will serve thee seven years for Rachel" (Genesis 29:18). King Saul required the lives of one hundred of the enemy Philistines as dowry for David to secure Michal as his wife (I Samuel 18:25).
Reason for dowry for the bride herself. It was usually customary for at least some of the price of the dowry to be given to the bride. This would be in addition to any personal gift from the bride's parents. Leah and Rachel complained about the stinginess of their father Laban. Concerning him they said, "He hath sold us, and hath quite devoured also our money" (Genesis 31:15). Laban had had the benefit of Jacob's fourteen years of service, without making the equivalent of at least part of it as a gift to Leah and Rache1.
Since a divorced wife in the Orient is entitled to all her wearing apparel, for this reason much of her personal dowry consists of coins on her headgear, or jewelry on her person. This becomes wealth to her in case her marriage ends in failure. This is why the dowry is so important to the bride, and such emphasis is placed upon it in the negotiations that precede marriage.
The woman who had ten pieces of silver and lost one was greatly concerned over the loss, because it was doubtless a part of her marriage dowry (Luke 15:8,9).
Special dowry from the bride's father. It was customary for fathers who could afford to do so to give their daughters a special marriage dowry. When Rebekah left her father's house to be the bride of Isaac, her father gave her a nurse and also damsels who were to be her attendants (Genesis 24:59, 61).
And Caleb gave to his daughter a dowry of a field with springs of water (Judges 1:15). Such was sometimes the custom in olden times. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]