This may seem like a strange title for an article, but it is not so strange after all. Do you know what it means to have a holy convocation? I thought I did, until I did this study. This study was prompted by a dear friend who asked the question: are we commanded to assemble on the Sabbath? This is a good question, with an unexpected answer. Assembling on the Sabbath and Feast days with like minded believers is a huge blessing, but is this what is commanded with the words “you shall have a holy convocation?”
We, by no means, have this all figured out! What we are presenting here is our understanding of the Scriptures in its context. However, consider this prayerfully and feel free to share your understanding with us.
“You shall have a holy convocation”
As we said before, we are commanded to have a holy convocation on Sabbath and almost all the other appointed times. There are exactly eight commanded holy convocations in Scripture: the Sabbath, the Feast of Unleavened bread – first and seventh day, Shavuot, Yom T’ruah, Yom Kippurim, and Sukkot – first day and eighth day. The Hebrew word “miqra” is translated as convocation. This word “miqra” is used 23 times in Scripture and is, almost always except for two references, used in the context of the Sabbath and the feasts. As “miqra” is predominantly used with the word “moed” or appointed time, we shall first look at the meaning of this word for context.
What does the word “moed” mean?
A holy convocation is commanded on the appointed times (moedim) of YHVH. We need to know exactly what this word “moed” means in order to understand “holy convocation” as these words seem to be connected.
4595 מוֹעֵד (mô·ʿēḏ): n.masc.; ≡ Str 4150;TWOT 878b—
1. LN 67.17–67.64 appointed time, designated time, i.e., a particular point of time related to other points of time, with a focus that this time has a purpose designated by an authority (Lev 23:4);
2. LN 67.163–67.200 seasons, i.e., a single unit of a yearly cycle, with distinguishing weather and plant growth patterns that are unique (Ge 1:14; Ps 104:19);
3. LN 67.163–67.200 unit of time, i.e., a specific unit of time, but not necessarily related to a yearly or lunar cycle (Da 12:7);
4. LN 51 feast, i.e., a festival of celebration and/or worship, with a focus that this is a time appointed by an authority, which may include festive meals and offerings to God (Hos 9:5);
5. LN 15.123–15.134 assembly, i.e., a group of persons that meet, usually as a council for a specific purpose or occasion (Isa 14:13), note: in context, this can be natural or supernatural beings who gather;
6. LN 55.7–55.13 army, i.e., a group of soldiers that are assembled together (La 1:15);
7. LN 7.2–7.25 unit: אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד (ʾō·hěl mô·ʿēḏ) Tent of Meeting, i.e., another name for the Tabernacle, the official portable worship tent, with a focus that this tent was only used by appointment, located in a certain place, and authorized persons (Ex 27:21)1
From this, we understand that a “moed” is a set time in YHVH’s calendar. A special appointment with YHVH, made by Him.
So why do we say these two words are connected? The reason is that we are commanded to have a holy convocation on these set times.
What does the word “miqra” mean?
To shed some more light on the word “miqra,” we need to first look at the word, it originates from: “Qara.”
“Qara,” to call out
The word “miqra” is a derivative from the root “qara.” This is from the Theological wordbook of the Old Testament:
2063 קָרָא (qārāʾ)I, call, call out, recite (read).
2063a קֹרֵא (qōrēʾ) partridge (I Sam 26:20; Jer 17:11; Jud 15:19).
2063b קָרִיא (qārîʾ) called one, summoned (Num 1:16; 16:2; 26:9).
2063c קְ רִיא ָה (qĕ rîʾ â) proclamation (Jon 3:2, only).
2063d מִקְרָא (miqrāʾ) convocation.
The root qrʾ denotes primarily the enunciation of a specific vocable or message. In the case of the latter usage it is customarily addressed to a specific recipient and is intended to elicit a specific response (hence, it may be translated “proclaim, invite”). Infrequently, qārāʾ denotes just an outcry (e.g. Ps 147:9; Isa 34:14).2
Here are two very interesting verses where both words “qara” and “miqra” are used together with the word “moed.” It is,what is called in literary terms, a chiasmus, where you find inverted parallelism in a A B B A format. This is the pattern: appointed times (A), “miqra”(B), qara (B) and times appointed (A).
In rhetoric, chiasmus (from the Greek: χιάζω, chiázō, “to shape like the letter Χ“) is the figure of speech in which two or more clauses are related to each other through a reversal of structures in order to make a larger point; that is, the clauses display inverted parallelism…
The elements of simple chiasmus are often labelled in the form A B B A, where the letters correspond to grammar, words, or meaning. 3
2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘YHVH’s appointed times (moed) which you shall proclaim(qara) as holy convocations (miqra)—My appointed times (moed) are these:
4 ‘These are the appointed times (moed) of YHVH, holy convocations (miqra) which you shall proclaim (qara) at the times appointed (moed) for them.
Something is being pointed out to us here! As we said before, there seems to be a special relationship between these words, they seem to be intrinsically connected. Let us continue our study…
We shall now look at the definitions of the Hebrew word “miqra” in some lexicons. The first quote is from the Dictionary of Biblical Languages and is based upon the context of the word in Scripture.
5246 מִקְרָא (miq·rā(ʾ)): n.masc.; ≡ Str 4744; TWOT 2063d—
1. LN 11.12–11.54 assembly, group, convocation, i.e., a collective of people gathered for a purpose (Ex 12:16; Lev 23:2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 21, 24, 27, 35, 36, 37; Nu 28:18, 25, 26; 29:1, 7, 12; Isa 1:13; 4:5+), note: in each context for a religious purpose;
2. LN 33.35–33.68 a reading, i.e., the content of a written communication that is publicly uttered aloud (Ne 8:8+);
3. LN 33.307–33.314 calling, i.e., the act. of publicly making a signal or sign for the purpose of community coming together (Nu 10:2+)1
These possible meanings were interpretations of the translators, based upon the context, but can we assume that these are always perfectly right? To say yes, would be saying that the translators were infallible. We are not saying this is wrong, but this interpretation may be based on their bias. You shall understand when you continue to read.
A holy proclamation!
Here is a quote from the Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Take note of this one, he calls it a holy proclamation or a proclamation of a holy time.
A solemn assembly, mentioned in connection with the festivals of Israel and always followed by the command to do no work. Heb. miqrāʾ-qōḏeš means lit., “a holy proclamation” or “a proclamation of a holy time” (2 Kgs. 10:20; Lev. 23:36; Num. 29:35; Deut. 16:8).
Seven days are associated with this term in Lev. 23: the first and seventh days of Unleavened Bread (vv. 4–8); Weeks (v. 21); the feast of Trumpets, the first day of the seventh month (v. 24); the Day of Atonement (v. 27); and the first and eighth days of Booths (vv. 35, 36). The sabbath is also associated with this term (Lev. 23:3).
MICHAEL D. HILDENBRAND4
We have learned before, that the word “holy” means “set apart for a special purpose.” Here is a quote from the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.
Thus far, we have learned that, not only is holy convocation connected to appointed time, but it is a special appointment with YHVH, a set apart proclamation or reading. Let us continue…
The New Strong’s Dictionary translates convocation also as a rehearsal. Could it be that we have always looked at this word from a perspective to only mean an assembly of people?
4744. מִקְרָא miqrâ˒, mik-raw’; from 7121; something called out, i.e. a public meeting (the act, the persons, or the place); also a rehearsal:— assembly, calling, convocation, reading.6
This is what Wayne Blank has to say about this
Another literal meaning of the original Hebrew word is a rehearsal – rehearsal meaning to “re-hear” what has been taught, but the modern-day accepted meaning of rehearsal,a practice session for a later event is also very appropriate because all of the so-called “Old Testament” Holy Days are prophetic in intent (they are not an end or purpose in themselves), until they are fulfilled, and are then memorials forever thereafter. The “spring” Holy Days (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Pentecost – see below) have been largely fulfilled (the Sacrifice of the “Lamb of God” and the founding of the Christian Church), while the “autumn” Holy Days (The Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, The Festival of Tabernacles and the Eighth Day – see below) portray events awaiting to happen, beginning with The Return Of Jesus Christ.7
It has been taught in both Christian and Jewish circles, that a “miqra” is predominantly a commanded assembly. Every congregational leader will tell you that a holy convocation is an assembly, and that fellowship with other believers is essential. We are not saying that assembling on these days is wrong, or that we should not fellowship with other believers, but if we were to understand this only to mean “to assemble,” we miss the purpose of these days, a special appointment with our Heavenly Father to read, rehearse and recount. To interpret it as only to have an assembly, detracts from the original meaning.
These days are not primarily intended as days of fellowship with each other. Fellowship is important, but this was not the purpose of these days. The focus should not be us, but YHVH! Whenever this topic comes up for discussion, we want to make it about the importance of fellowshipping with other believers, but we need to see it differently.
We shall now look at the specific references in Scripture where a “holy convocation” was commanded to see what else we can learn. The first two references are in the book of Exodus. This passage is about the Feast of Unleavened bread.
16 ‘On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.
The word “miqra” was translated here as “assembly.” Do you know that there are eight words in the Tanach alone, that could be translated as “assembly?” Why didn’t YHVH choose “qahal” or “asarah” or “asap” or any of the other words? All these words mean to assemble… He might have chosen “miqra” because He wanted to convey the purpose of these days.
The next eleven references are in Leviticus 23. Here, YHVH tells Israel (us) what He considers to be His appointed times. This is how He starts this passage:
2 “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘YHVH’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these:
YHVH then continues to list these days: the Sabbath, Pesach and Unleavened bread, First fruits, Shavuot, Yom T’ruah, Yom Kippurim and Sukkot. A holy convocation is commanded for every one of these days, for some feasts twice, one for each high Sabbath, except for the feast of First fruits.
We find seven more references in the book of Numbers; the first reference in Numbers 10:2, is about the silver trumpets that were to be used to summon the community and for having the camps set out. The word “miqra” is translated as “summon. ” According to Numbers 10:10, the trumpets were blown over the offerings at the feasts.
The other six references are in the context of the commanded offerings at the appointed times. The next reference is an interesting one.
“Miqra,” a reading?
2 Then Ezra the priest brought the law before the assembly (qahal) of men, women and all who could listen with understanding, on the first day of the seventh month.
This is what was done on Yom T’ruah, a reading of the law of YHVH, it is called a “miqra” in verse 8.
8 They read from the book, from the law of Elohim, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.
Our last two references are from the book of Isaiah. The first one is a very interesting reference as we find both “miqra” and “asarah” in this verse. If the word “convocation” was only intended to mean an assembly, why would two different words be used here and in Leviticus, where it refers to the eighth day? It seems redundant. By the way, the word “solemn” was added by the translators.
13 “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, Incense is an abomination to Me. New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies (miqra)— I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly(aserah).
Here is the last reference, this is a prophecy for the end time:
5 then YHVH will create over the whole area of Mount Zion and over her assemblies a cloud by day, even smoke, and the brightness of a flaming fire by night; for over all the glory will be a canopy.
The word here could refer to YHVH’s called-out ones as “miqra” could also mean to call out.
We have now looked at all the references containing the word “miqra.”
Why did the translators translate “miqra” in Neh 8:8 as “reading”? Because this is what it was, a holy convocation was a reading, a rehearsal or recounting, if you would. The Israelites would have assembled for this reading. However, they did not assemble for the sake of assembling; the focus was YHVH’s Word. We find a confirmation in the Scripture of this. We are commanded to recount the events of the Exodus at the Feast of Unleavened bread. We are also commanded to remember YHVH’s redemption, on the Sabbath and on the feast of Shavuot.
We are to observe these days, remembering His redemption. YHVH’s redemption makes it possible for us to observe His appointed times.
15 ‘You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and YHVH your Elohim brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore YHVH your Elohim commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.
One of the instructions given for the feast of Shavuot is to remember that we were slaves in Egypt.
12 “You shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and you shall be careful to observe these statutes.
At Pesach, we are also to observe the feast for YHVH, because He brought Israel out of Egypt.
42 It is a night to be observed for YHVH for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for YHVH, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.
From this, we learn that the focus of the feasts, including the weekly Sabbath, was a recounting of events, remembering what YHVH did for us and also a rehearsal of what is coming. We know that YHVH’s appointed times are prophetic events, some have been fulfilled once, some twice and some not yet. To celebrate these appointed times is to learn about YHVH and His plan of redemption for mankind. It glorifies Him and Him alone. We do this by reading and studying His Word.
The Pilgrimage feasts
We know from Scripture that Israel is commanded to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the feast of Unleavened bread, Shavuot and Sukkot (Ex23:14-17.) The people would all be in Jerusalem, naturally assembling together.
We find a reference of Israel assembling together on the day the Ten Commandments were given. We have discussed before, in the article about Shavuot how there is a great possibility for this day to have been on Shavuot.
10 “Remember the day you stood before YHVH your Elohim at Horeb, when YHVH said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My words so they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children.’
Another reference of believers assembling on Shavuot is in Acts on the day the Holy Spirit was poured out.
1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
Here is a reference of people commanded to assemble on the feast of Sukkot, this was specifically during the Sabbatical year.
12 “Assemble the people, the men and the women and children and the alien who is in your town, so that they may hear and learn and fear YHVH your Elohim, and be careful to observe all the words of this law.
It is interesting to note that a “miqra” was commanded on the seventh day of the feast of unleavened bread (Lev 23:8,) however in Deut 16:8 an “asarah” is commanded. In Leviticus 23:36, we also find a “miqra” being commanded and an “asarah.” This is the eighth day of the feast of Sukkot. What does this mean?
“Asarah” is from the root “asar” which means hold back or retain. Some say this gives us a better idea of the real meaning behind the use of this word specifically when the last days of the feasts are concerned. It is to make sure that people indeed celebrated the entire feast, including the last day. They can’t go home early. Who would want to? :) Anyway, let us look at the scriptural references.
36 ‘For seven days you shall present an offering by fire to YHVH. On the eighth day you shall have a holy convocation (miqra) and present an offering by fire to YHVH; it is an assembly (asarah). You shall do no laborious work.
We see this repeated in the book of Numbers:
35 ‘On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly; you shall do no laborious work.
Here, the ordinance was repeated to assemble; using the Hebrew word “asarah.” This word, “asarah” is used eleven times in scripture, always in the context of a religious assembly. At least three times in the context of calling the people together to fast, and repent (the three last references of the following quote.)
6809 עֲצָרָה (ʿǎṣā·rā(h)): n.fem.; ≡ Str 6116; TWOT 1675c—LN 11.1–11.11 assembly, congregation, i.e., a crowd or group of persons that meet together (Lev 23:36; Nu 29:35; Dt 16:8; 2Ki 10:20; 2Ch 7:9; Ne 8:18; Isa 1:13; Jer 9:1[EB 2]; Joel 1:14; 2:15; Am 5:21+)1
We see this ordinance, to have an assembly, on the eighth day being observed in 2 Chron 7:9 and in Noah 8:18.
2 Chronicles 7:9
9 On the eighth day they held a solemn assembly, for the dedication of the altar they observed seven days and the feast seven days.
18 He read from the book of the law of Elohim daily, from the first day to the last day. And they celebrated the feast seven days, and on the eighth day there was a solemn assembly according to the ordinance.
So, we see from all these references that the Israelites did go up to Jerusalem for these pilgrimage feasts and did assemble together while they were there. It is only natural that they would. When we go up to Jerusalem, we meet people from all over the world and we end up assembling on the Sabbaths to study and read Scripture.
Assembling on the Sabbath
If you were to search the Tanakh for references of Israelites assembling on the Sabbath you would not find any. I did this and my search included different words like to gather, assemble and congregate. If it was commanded for people to assemble on Shabbat, why don’t we find any references confirming this? We are not saying that assembling is wrong, not at all. Just that it is not commanded per se. There are some references in the Apostolic writings that show that believers did assemble on the Sabbath. How are we to understand that?
What did Y’shua do?
Did Y’shua always assemble on the Sabbath? We know He had a “custom” of doing that. However, there was a time in the beginning of His ministry when He went into the wilderness for forty days. If it was indeed commanded to assemble on the Sabbath, He would have been guilty of breaking the commandments, which we know He wasn’t. He was without sin (sin is breaking the commandments (1 John 3:4).
Once, on a Sabbath, He was in the fields with His apostles,plucking grain and eating it. As said before, another Scripture calls His going to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, His custom, a habit. Y’shua often went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath to teach the people.
16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.
The Greek word “eiotha” was translated as “custom”
1665 εἴωθα (eiōtha): vb.; ≡ Str 1486—LN 41.26 be in habit of, have a custom (Mt 27:15; Mk 10:1; Lk 4:16; Ac 17:2+)1
What about Paul?
We find a similar reference in the book of Acts where it is written that it was also Paul’s custom to reason with people on the Sabbath.
1 Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures,
It was customary to assemble on the Sabbath in order to study the Word. There are many references that confirm that.
Here is another one. In this passage in Acts, Paul went to Antioch and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath and there he got the opportunity to share the message of Y’shua.
14 But going on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch, and on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.”
After the people heard this they asked to hear more, they begged them to speak more about Y’shua.
42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath.
44 The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of YHVH.
In this passage, the people assembled to hear the good news. Once again, the focus being, hearing the word of YHVH.
In Acts 15, the apostles were faced with the problem of what to do with new gentile believers. They decided on four things (Acts 15:20). If these gentiles were to continue in doing these things, it would prevent them from assembling together to learn the Word as it was customary for believers to go to the Synagogue to learn the Word.
21 “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”
In another reference, we see a group of women gathering together on the Sabbath, it would seem that they gathered together to pray.
13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
From these Scriptures, we conclude that you can assemble on the Sabbath, but you don’t even have to assemble in a Synagogue or a congregation. The focus on Shabbat is rest and a special appointment with YHVH, a holy convocation, reading and studying of His Word.
Assembling with believers is not wrong, on the contrary. However, it could be done on the Sabbath or any day and should be done regularly. We need each other for support, fellowship and even to stretch each other to new growth. We also see Paul reasoning in the synagogue and marketplace ,every day, with those who happened to be present.
17 So he was reasoning in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.
So what would our conclusion be on the matter? Are we to assemble on the Sabbath?
The answer lies within the purpose of these days. It is an appointment with our Heavenly Father, a moed or appointed time. So, if we do assemble on the Sabbath or feast days, remember, the appointment is between us and YHVH. The purpose is not meeting with each other on these days, but an appointment with our Heavenly Father.
Fellowship with one another is important, but this should not be our focus on the moedim. Yes, we are to encourage each other, we can learn from each other and should be built up by each other. We need each other for support and encouragement, but that can be done any time. We can do a whole study on the purpose and benefits of assembling together with believers, but as we said before, this should not be our focus on these days. It is not about us!
Assembling should also not be done at the expense of rest on the Sabbath.
We know from Scripture that the Israelites did assemble on feast days, we also know that Y’shua went to the Synagogue on the Sabbath to teach the people. It was His custom to do so. Paul did the same, he often went to Synagogues on the Sabbath to discuss Scripture with those who were there.
However, can we say that it is commanded to go to an assembly on the Sabbath? No, as long as each of us keeps those special appointments with our Heavenly Father, proclaiming the day and reading His Word.
We have seen from the meaning of the word for “convocation” and from Biblical, historical accounts that these days were about learning and studying the Word of YHVH. It is not about us or our need to fellowship with other believers, it is about YHVH and His Word.
In a future article, we would like to look at how we are to assemble when we do assemble. Also, where assembling together, as we know it now, originates from. Please subscribe to our list if you want to make sure you don’t miss this. Prepare to be challenged!
- Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
- Coppes, L. J. (1999). 2063 קָרָא. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (810). Chicago: Moody Press.
- Hildenbrand, M. D. (2000). Convocation. In D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck (Eds.), Eerdmans dictionary of the Bible (D. N. Freedman, A. C. Myers & A. B. Beck, Ed.) (278). Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans.
- Mccomiskey, T. E. (1999). 1990 קָדַשׁ. In R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer, Jr. & B. K. Waltke, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (787). Chicago: Moody Press.
- Strong, J. (1996). The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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