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B'Midbar/Numbers 29:35 On the eighth day there shall be an assembly for you
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The word , here translated 'assembly', comes from the root - to shut, close up; to hold back, restrain, detain (Davidson).Rashi follows this meaning when he comments, "you shall be restrained with respect to doing work; alternatively, restrain yourselves from departing Jerusalem." His first suggestion comes from the discussions of the Sages concerning what kind of work may be done or is prohibited during the festivals (b. Chagigah 18a); the second from an early rabbinic commentary where it is said that those who have gone up to Jerusalem for the feast of Sukkot are required to spend the last night of the festival in the city, being thus restrained from going away too quickly so that the eighth day can be a leisurely day for Israel to relax with HaShem after the seven frantic days of Sukkot itself (Sifrei 151).
Targum Onkelos, on the other hand, renders the phrase , choosing the word - gathering, assembly - from the Aramaic root , to gather, collect or gather in (Jastrow). The word is used in other Targum literature to represent harvesting, raking together or sweeping, or even in its passive voice, the process of death: "it is better for the righteous man to be gathered in in peace" (Tanhuma, Ki Tetze 4). Amusingly, the Sages also speak of a woman who "calls the chickens together" (Vayikra Rabbah s.25), perhaps the same idea as Yeshua saying, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you! How often I wanted to gather your children, just as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, but you were not willing" (Matthew 23:37).
and its companion word are used a number of times in the Hebrew scriptures. The parallel verse to our text also contains the instruction: "On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation and present an offering by fire to the L-RD; it is an assembly" (Vayikra 23:36, NASB). It is seen being fulfilled during the dedication of the Temple - "And on the eighth day they held a solemn assembly" (2 Chronicles 7:9, NASB) - and after the Babylonian exile - "on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance" (Nehemiah 8:18, NASB). During the time of the prophets, Israel is scolded for their inappropriate keeping of the festival: "I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly" (Isaiah 1:13, NASB) and "I reject your festivals, nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies" (Amos 5:21, NASB). Yet G-d also calls for a solemn assembly as a sign of repentance: "Blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children and the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom come out of his room and the bride out of her bridal chamber. Let the priests, the L-RD's ministers, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, 'Spare Thy people, O L-RD, and do not make Thine inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, "Where is their G-d?"'" (Joel 2:15-17, NASB).
The Jewish world sees the festival of Shemini Atzeret as a sign of G-d's grace towards and favour upon Israel. ThePesikta de Rab Kahana presents several ancient voices speaking eloquently of G-d desiring a special day to celebrate with His people and setting this day apart, not as an afterthought, but as a deliberate choice. The Rabbis took this to show that G-d considers relationship with His people, meeting with them on a regular basis, to be important. The contrast between the previous seven days of Sukkot, when all the sacrifices are offered on behalf of the nations and the eyes of the world are fixed upon Jerusalem, and Shemini Atzeret is sharply drawn to illustrate the intimacy that G-d desires with those that are His; while special sacrifices are still offered to celebrate the uniqueness of the day, the scale is greatly reduced and the offerings have a much more personal and close feeling as G-d calls His chosen people into His presence for a moment of worship and grace.
When the time came to end the Babylonian exile and for our people to return home to Jerusalem, Ezra the priest prays in a way that might seem strangely familiar to us today: "But now for a brief moment grace has been shown from the L-RD our G-d, to leave us an escaped remnant and to give us a peg in His holy place, that our G-d may enlighten our eyes and grant us a little reviving in our bondage" (Ezra 9:8, NASB). With his eye on the returning people and the way miraculously opened to rebuild the Temple, Ezra nevertheless speaks of our condition as we await the return of Messiah Yeshua. As Rav Sha'ul writes, "For by grace you have been saved through faith" (Ephesians 2:8, NASB); we have been reconciled to Father G-d "who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18, NASB) that we might share His grace with others. We have been given the "hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil" (Hebrews 6:19, NASB); very much a peg in His presence.
The apostles and the church described in the book of Acts knew the presence of G-d in a very tangible way: "with great power the apostles were giving witness to the resurrection of the L-rd Yeshua, and abundant grace was upon them all" (Acts 4:33, NASB), so that people flocked to enter the kingdom, to enter into that living relationship with G-d. After those days, the church seemed to lose much of its power and attraction, so that many church-goers were so by habit and practice rather than devotion; while a few bright lights shone in the darkness where individuals responded to the promptings of the Ruach and developed significant prayer lives and ministries based around intimacy with G-d, the institutional churches took services, preached sermons and sung liturgy that - however inspiring the words - failed to connect the majority of the people in living faith relationships with G-d. In recent years, as the focus has once more swung round to times of intimate worship and prayer, as G-d has been able to touch the lives of His people as they are prepared to spend time with Him, so the power has re-appeared among the body of Messiah and people are once more being drawn into the kingdom by the manifestation of G-d's power and grace.
No one particular church has a lock on intimacy with G-d, from the so-called "simple church" movement, the charismatic churches, through the non-charismatic evangelical churches, to the high churches; G-d can and will break through into peoples' lives when they focus on Him and set apart that extra time to worship and pray with intimacy and simple faith. Wherever they do and as He meets with them, life and power will be poured out and others will be drawn to the light. Will you accept the challenge of setting the eighth day aside, staying on in Jerusalem and worshipping the King so that His glory may shine in your life?
Further Study: Isaiah 26:20-21; Romans 15:18-19
Application: Do you shrink from intimacy with G-d, wondering what you might say or what you should do? Are you slightly afraid of what might happen if you were to give Him the time and permission to touch your life? Today is the day to trust Him, to engage with Him and encounter the living G-d for yourself. Go forward and don't look back!
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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