Theocratic Assemblies in Bible Times
THE great Creator of the universe, the Almighty God, Jehovah, is a wise and loving God. He knows best what will advance his righteous and loving purposes and how best to equip his servants so that they may co-operate with their Maker to his praise and to their own happiness. Proof of this is seen in his provision for having his servants come together in assemblies. And since he is the great God-Ruler or Theocrat, it follows that all assemblies arranged by him would be theocratic assemblies.
Among the very first assemblies that Jehovah caused to be held by his earthly servants was the one that took place when Jehovah’s time came to deliver the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage. At that assembly “Aaron spake all the words which Jehovah had spoken unto Moses, and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed: . . . bowed their heads and worshipped”. (Ex. 4:29-31, AS) Without doubt, that assembly was a joyous occasion, revealing as it did Jehovah’s purpose to deliver his name-people.
Some months later the Israelites were assembled at Jehovah’s command at the foot of Mount Sinai for the purpose of witnessing the giving of the law. “And mount Sinai, the whole of it, smoked, because Jehovah descended upon it in fire; and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly. And . . . the voice of the trumpet waxed louder and louder.” (Ex. 19:18, 19, AS) What a strong basis for faith, what abundant proof was there given that Moses was no impostor but was indeed the spokesman of the Supreme Being, Jehovah God! At that assembly the children of Israel agreed ‘to do all the things Jehovah commanded and to be obedient’. At that assembly also the law covenant, previously made in Egypt with the celebration of the Passover, was inaugurated.—Ex. 24:7.
However, the Israelites failed to live up to the agreement they made at that assembly and so, instead of entering the Promised Land in a matter of months, the older ones, with few exceptions, all perished in the wilderness; and we find their offspring thirty-nine years later assembled on the plains of Moab, still on this side of the Jordan river. At this assembly Moses reiterated God’s law and recounted the marvelous way in which Jehovah had preserved and led them, repeatedly exhorting them to faithfulness, and introduced to them Joshua as his successor. To appreciate the heart-warming lesson of faith that Moses there gave to the assembled Israelites one must read the book of Deuteronomy.
Without a doubt that assembly and the words uttered by Moses deeply impressed themselves upon the mind of Joshua, for after leading the Israelites across the Jordan and serving as their military commander and theocratic judge for some twenty years, shortly before his death he also called together an assembly. Gathering all the people at Shechem, he recounted the way Jehovah had dealt with his people and voiced his determination that, regardless of what they decided to do, ‘he and his house would serve Jehovah.’ (Josh. 24:1-28, AS) The people voiced a like determination.
After having had judges such as Joshua, Gideon, Samson and Samuel for some 350 years, another outstanding assembly, marking another milestone in the history of the nation of Israel, was held. The occasion was the request of the people to have a king like those of the surrounding nations, they not being content to have Jehovah as their invisible King. Having first determined Jehovah’s will and choice in the matter, Samuel told the people assembled at Mizpah what Jehovah had said regarding their request. By lots Saul was found to be Jehovah’s choice, he in fact having been previously anointed to be king by Samuel.—1 Sam. 10:17-24, AS.
ASSEMBLIES AT JERUSALEM
The law which Jehovah gave the children of Israel by the hand of Moses provided for three annual assemblies at which every male was to be present. These assemblies were to be held in the city that God would choose, which turned out to be Jerusalem. The first of these annual assemblies was the feast of unleavened bread, which immediately followed the Passover, lasting for seven days beginning with the fifteenth day of Abib or Nisan. This feast, like the Passover that preceded it, commemorated the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt, at which time they were in such great haste that they had to bake their bread before it was leavened.—Ex. 12:39; 23:14-17, AS.
Next came the feast of the harvest or first fruits, celebrated fifty days after the first sheaf of grain had been brought to the priest to be waved before Jehovah. And finally, there was the feast of ingathering or of tabernacles in the seventh month, at the conclusion of the harvest, and which was celebrated for seven days beginning with the fifth day after the day of atonement. Regarding that feast the Israelites were commanded: “Ye shall dwell in booths [made of branches] seven days; . . . that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.”—Lev. 23:39-43, AS.
The convening of yearly assemblies at Jerusalem undoubtedly taxed the housing facilities of that city and its suburbs to the limit, requiring many to use tents and other improvised shelters, except for the feast of tabernacles, when all were required to live in booths. The people saw the significant ceremonies, such as that of the day of atonement, performed by the priests, heard God’s Word read to them and listened to the singing of thousands of trained Levite singers accompanied by huge orchestras.
These annual assemblies impressed upon the minds of the Israelites the awesome majesty of Jehovah their God and of his laws as well as graphically reminding them of the marvelous deliverances he had performed for them in times past, all of which would cause them to rejoice with songs of praise and thanksgiving. Those assemblies, no doubt, also meant the making of many new acquaintances, and we may be sure that even the traveling to them had a broadening effect as they became more and more acquainted with other parts of their land of Palestine.
David called together a special assembly at Jerusalem after all the material needed for the building of the temple had been gathered, at which time he gave Solomon instructions regarding his office and the building of the temple and exhorted the people to faithfulness. To catch the spirit of that occasion read 1 Chronicles 29:10 to 19, AS.
About eleven years later Solomon caused another great assembly to be convened at Jerusalem, this one to mark the dedication of the glorious temple, at which ‘all the congregation of Israel was present with King Solomon and so many sacrifices were made that they could not be counted or numbered for multitude’. That assembly lasted more than three weeks, the people returning to their homes on the twenty-third day “joyful and glad of heart for the goodness that Jehovah had showed”.—2 Chron. 5:2 to 7:10, AS.
EARLY CHRISTIAN ASSEMBLIES
At the time of Jesus the Jews were scrupulously observing the feasts commanded by the law. And while in a sense it might be said that the public meetings held by Jesus at which thousands were in attendance, lasting for hours and making it necessary that Jesus provide them with food, were the first Christian assemblies, it was the feast of Pentecost that really was the first of all Christian assemblies.
The supernatural phenomenon accompanying the outpouring of the holy spirit, and which marked the beginning of the Christian congregation, might well be compared with the assembly held at Mount Sinai at the inauguration of the law covenant. “And they all became filled with holy spirit and started to speak with different tongues,” thus enabling them to preach to the many reverent Jews in Jerusalem at the time for the celebration of the feast of Pentecost from “every nation of those under heaven”.
That assembly of 120 Christians saw a twenty-fivefold increase on its very first day, for the number grew to three thousand. (Acts 1:15; 2:1-41, NW) No question about that’s being a joyful occasion! Truly, the theocratic assemblies of Bible times brought praise to Jehovah, knowledge and instruction to his people, and invariably gave them much cause for rejoicing. The same is true of theocratic assemblies held in modern times.