In this first of our two-part message this morning, I’d like to talk to you about Shemini Atzeret. It is the eighth day, added to what is the seven-day holiday of Sukkot (Booths or Tabernacles), which ended yesterday. Shemini Atzeret began yesterday evening and concludes this evening. It is a holiday that has produced a bit of confusion and contention, but really ought to be a source of celebration.
The commandment of Shemini Atzeret
Leviticus 23:36 and 39
For seven days you shall present food offerings to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall hold a holy convocation and present a food offering to the Lord. It is a solemn assembly; you shall not do any ordinary work… On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the produce of the land, you shall celebrate the feast of the Lord seven days. On the first day shall be a solemn rest, and on the eighth day shall be a solemn rest.
On the eighth day you shall have a solemn assembly. You shall not do any ordinary work, but you shall offer a burnt offering, a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord: one bull, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish, and the grain offering and the drink offerings for the bull, for the ram, and for the lambs, in the prescribed quantities; also one male goat for a sin offering; besides the regular burnt offering and its grain offering and its drink offering.
Facts (and confusion) about Shemini Atzeret
The word Shemini is the ordinal form of the number 8: shmoneh. As we just saw, in Leviticus 23 and Numbers 29, God commanded that the eighth (shemini) day –referring to the week of Sukkot – be considered a ‘solemn assembly’ – an atzeret
No one really knows for sure what atzeret means, but it probably stems from the Hebrew verb atzar, meaning to “hold back,” implying that we are not to return to the day-to-day routine just yet. In context, it appears to be a deliberate extension of the prior seven days. But the lack of specific detail caused the rabbis to wrestle with the meaning of the holiday. We’ll talk more about that in a few minutes.
Although Hoshanah Rabbah is the seventh, and thus technically the last day of Sukkot, the rabbis ultimately decided to treat Shemini Atzeret (and Simchat Torah) as part of Sukkot. The earliest rabbinic reference to Shemini Atzeret calls it yom tov acharon shel ha-hag, the last day of the festival. And yet, the Talmud considers it a festival in its own right. So which is it? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? I’m going with the former – it is part of Sukkot, since that’s how God framed it.
- There’s no more shaking of the lulav and etrog
- There are no more prayers about the commandment to dwell in the sukkah
- It begins a season of praying for geshem (rain), which will continue thru Passover
What is God teaching us through Shemini Atzeret?
Why did Adonai add an 8th day to the week of Sukkot? The answer to that question might be the very key to understanding what He wants us to learn from it.
Sukkot is such a joyous holiday. So doesn’t it seem a little odd that God would tack on an extra day, and refer to it as ‘a solemn assembly’? Is it possible we have lost something in translation? I believe we have. The word atzar (973) certainly has a range of meaning, such as to ‘detain’ or ‘confine,’ or ‘restrict’. But the word solemn is an unlikely way to translate it. Granted, the Jewish Publication Society Bible renders it that way, and some English translations have followed their lead, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to translate it. But, as we said earlier, the more likely meaning of the word atzeret is to “hold back”.
Here, I believe, is the intent of the passage.
Adonai has commanded a seven-day long feast, characterized by joy and celebration. And, just as at a wonderful occasion you wish it could last just a little longer, I think the intent here is that God is saying to Israel, “Don’t leave just yet. Stay with Me a little while longer.” There are several places in Scripture where God conveys His desire to dwell, to tabernacle with us.
In fact, in Revelation chapter 21 (echoing Isaiah 65), here is what we read,
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them.”
Did you catch the repetition of the word new?
New Heavens; a New Earth; a New Jerusalem.
Something special about the number 8?
Sukkot is the seventh and last of the seven annual holidays about which we read in the Torah. It occurs in the seventh month. It lasts seven days. In the days when the Temple still stood, during that week of celebration, there were seventy bulls sacrificed.
And what does the number seven convey in Scripture? As most of you know, it represents fulfillment, perfection, completion. So, if seven represents completion, what does the number eight represent? A NEW BEGINNING!
Perhaps the intent of Shemini Atzeret – an eighth day of holding back, is God’s way of saying, “Don’t leave just yet. I want you to stick around, because I’m going to do something altogether new!”
And as it turns out, what’s new… is YOU! Therefore, if anyone is in Messiah, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). So let’s commemorate this Shemini Atzeret, this 8th day of holding back, by drawing near to God, and by doing new things for Yeshua; serving Him with new boldness and joy.