Studies in Torah

Shmini Atseret (convocation of the Eighth Day) pictures new beginnings

JeffThe common name for the day following seven days of Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles) is Shmini Atseret in Hebrew, or “Assembly of the Eighth (Day).” The day also is called Simchat Torah, Hebrew for “joy of the Torah,” based on the centuries old practice in synagogues of restarting the cycle of Torah readings at that time.

God first defines Shmini Atseret in Lev. 23:33–36:

“On the eighth day [יּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי yom ha-shmini] you shall have a holy convocation [מִקְרָא־קֹדֶשׁ miqra qodesh, i.e., a holy calling out] and present an offering by fire to the LORD; it is an assembly [עֲצֶרֶת ‘atseret, from to inclose]. You shall do no laborious work.” (Lev 23:36; cf. Num. 29:35–38)

The Hebrew word for eight is שמנה shemoneh (H8083), thought to come from the verb שמן shaman (H8080), which means to shine, as if to be made waxy or oily. A related word is שֶׁמֶן shemen (H8081), or oil. Could there be something that is reaching its fulness — or anointed into fulness — that needs to be memorialized on this day?

The teaching of being set aside for a new phase of life after life has flowed  forth is memorialized with the circumcision of boys on the eighth day of life, following seven days of “separation” for the mother (Lev. 12:2–4). This picture of seven days then the eighth day for dedication of an offering to God also is pictured also with animals (Ex. 22:29-30) and the priesthood (Leviticus 8-9). Being brought back from the dead, so to speak, on the eighth day is powerfully memorialized in the cleansing ceremony for lepers declared clean (Leviticus 14).

Early Christian leaders drew from the biblical picture of new beginnings related to the Eighth Day to come to the unbiblical conclusion that  the solemnity of the seventh-day Shabbat should move to the “eighth day,” i.e. the first day of the week, because of Yeshua’s resurrection:

“Finally He saith to them; Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot away with. Ye see what is His meaning; it is not your present Sabbaths that are acceptable [unto Me], but the Sabbath which I have made, in the which, when I have set all things at rest, I will make the beginning of the eighth day which is the beginning of another world. Wherefore also we keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the heavens.” (Barnabas 15:8–9)

While it’s outside our discussion here, there already is a memorial on the calendar God gave Israel for the “firstfruits” of the freedom granted via the Pesakh (Passover) lamb, pointing to “the Lamb of God,” i.e., Yeshua. That memorial is called Bikkurim, or “firstfruits,” also called the wave offering.

Shmini Atseret is a bookend to the miqra qodesh on the first day of Sukkot (Lev. 23:35). What is so important about this day that it is a festival shabbat like the first day of Sukkot, yet it is after the seven days of Sukkot? That, itself, is a clue to its importance, because the arrangement of seven days of an appointment of God plus a special day on the end of it is a mirror image to Pesakh (Passover) followed by the seven days of Matsot (Unleavened Bread) and the offering of the Firstfruits of the harvest.

Pesakh memorializes the halting of God’s wrath bringing of freedom, all by the spreading of the blood of a special lamb on the doorposts of the home and the moving in haste from the land of bondage for seven days without stopping. That memorial takes on its fullest meaning with the death of the “Lamb of God,” Yeshua the Mashiakh (Messiah), and His resurrection, freeing from the wrath of God on rebellion in the world all who trust in God’s plea bargain that Yeshua would take the judgment.

We’ve been learning during this celebration of Sukkot that it is a memorial of God’s dealing with four types of people and the dwelling that God wants to construct in our lives as a forerunner to the eventual establishment of the dwelling place of God completely among humankind.

As with the seven days of Matsot memorializing God’s plan for complete transformation of us into pure and authentic people — “unleavened” — through the blood of the Lamb of God, Sukkot memorializes God’s plan for the complete transformation of us while we are in these temporary bodies.

Then comes “the Eighth Day” after Sukkot. Based on the pattern of Pesakh followed by Matsot and Bikkurim, Shmini Atseret following Sukkot suggesting that God wants to memorialize what is planned for when the time period of “wandering” in these mortal bodies and rebellious minds finally comes to an end, and humankind enters total lasting “rest.”

Among the passages that give us a glimpse into the world to come are Isa. 66:18–24 and Revelation 21 and 22 (cf. Rev. 19:1–9; 20:6–15; 3:1–6).

Recorded during Shmini Atzeret in Occidental, Calif. Speaker: Jeff. Summary: Tammy.

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