From Fifty Year Ago: Holy Convocations

No less than nineteen times the Expression, “Holy convocation,” is used in the Old Testament in connecion with the “Feasts of Jehovah”. (First in Ex 12:16; then in Lev 13:2, 3, 4, etc., also in Num 28:18, 25, 26; 19:1, 7, 12.)

Since in Num. 10:2, the same original word (Miqra) is translated “calling”, we readily conclude the word “convocation” to mean the gathered company of God’s people in obedience to His command, at their appointed seasons.

Why were those gatherings called by God “holy convocations”? The answer is obvious, for God had said, “I am the Lord … I am Holy” (Lev 11:45). When therefore His people, in obedience to His command, gathered in “the place He had chosen to put His name there,” His presence in their midst constituted them a “holy convocation”. Surely such was no place for vain show of the flesh lightness or frivolity. Solemn reverence and awe would characterize any one who realized the character of the God Who was in their midst. Nor was there in all these various gatherings, any provision made for special meetings of any of the different age groups, but the congregation was to meet as a whole.

In Isaiah 1:13, where this same word is rendered “assemblies”, Israel had so departed from God and His ways that their “oblations” had become “vain”; their “ASSEMBLIES”, He couldn’t “away with”; they were to Him “iniquity (“grief”, Marg.). Their “feasts” His soul had come to “hate” and had troubled Him unto weariness. What a sad spectacle! Yet how full of instruction and warning it is to us!

What a blessed contrast we observe when we turn to ch. 4:5, and see in that future scene of Israel’s restoration, the “cloud by day” and “fire by night”, symbols of His abiding presence in their midst again, and His acceptance of and delight in their “assemblies”.

Turning to the New Testament, we behold in that upper room the few faithful disciples and Jesus in their midst, “in the same night in which He was betrayed” (1 Cor 11:23). Taking the bread and the cup, appropriate symbols of His holy body soon to be broken, and His precious blood soon to flow from Immanuel’s veins on the cross, He instituted the remembrance feast for His own. Following as it did the last Passover recognized by God, and graced with His own divine presence, can we think of the Lord’s supper as being ought else than a “holy convocation”? Should we esteem the prayer meeting or the gospel meeting for which we earnestly pray that His presence may be known and realized, less holy than the Lord’s Supper?

Surely if we entered into a proper realization of this, there would be more becoming reverence when we come together, and less last minute and distracting late coming. There would be more quiet deportment and less profitable and sometimes light and frivolous conversation carried on almost to the start of the meeting, and often resumed immediately after the service is dismissed. This, Satan often uses after a gospel meeting to take away the Word out of the heart (Luke 8:12).

In our Lord’s Day morning meetings, the lack of godly exercise before coming together is sometimes in evidence by long periods of silence which have a depressing effect on the whole meeting, while at other times, a spirit of rush prevails, and the hymns are sung in such a jazzy manner as to grieve one’s soul, and the whole tenor of the meeting suggests a feeling of haste to get it over and away home. We venture to say that these and other failings would be corrected by a consciousness of it being a “holy convocation”.

Have our souls not been grieved at times, when assembled for prayer prior to a gospel meeting, at hearing Christians in another part of the building engaged in distracting conversation, rather than in quiet prayer, if it is not convenient for them to meet with others in the prayer room?

What about conference gatherings when God’s people assemble for the ministry of the Word? Are they not likewise to be esteemed “holy convocations”? In Nehemiah 8, the little remnant lately returned from Babylonish captivity, in weakness and with much failure, are gathered to hear the Word of God. Ezra (verse 8), “read … distinctly … gave the sense, and caused them to understand the READING” (Miqra, same word again). Previous to this, in Ezra 9:4, and 10:3, the people being assembled, “trembled at the Words of God”; here, “they mourned and wept”. A consciousness of their sin and failure so moved their hearts as to open the fountains of their tears in genuine repentance, until Ezra and Nehemiah, men of God with discernment, reminding them still further of the holiness of the day, spoke peace and assurance to their hearts, sending them away filled and satisfied, and carrying blessing to others.

A similar atmosphere was commonly seen at our conferences in years past, when believers with tender consciences were moved to tears as the spoken Word exposed their sin and failure. But how different it is today! Spiritual exercise is not so apparent as it used to be, while more attention is given to social pleasantries, and something of a holiday spirit at time prevails. Far too commonly do some absent themselves from some of the meetings to go on shopping or sight-seeing tours, or the young people to become better acquainted with each other. What need there is for more exercise of soul that conference gatherings should be indeed “holy convocations”!

Growing increasingly popular are the summer camp gatherings where part of the day is devoted to meetings, and part to games, bathing, hiking, parties, and such like, sometimes even in questionable attire. Such seem utterly foreign to the gatherings recorded in the Word of God, apart from that in Exodus 32, where the people, following the example only recently witnessed of the pagan festivals of Egypt, “sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play”.

When we remember that “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him” (Psa 89:7), surely such things should have no place where Christians meet, professedly claiming His presence in their midst.

We are not ignorant of the plausible argument that it is better for Christians to spend their vacations where they are under the supervision of other Christians and the influence of daily reading of the Scriptures, as otherwise they might drift into questionable places and doings. But this seems but a concession to the lack of spiritual stamina and godliness so prevalent today. Surely any Christian, living under the eye and in the fear of God, should be able to take a vacation rest in a commendable place, and live for God and bear testimony for Him while there. If not, it isn’t likely his condition will be much bettered in a place where he finds something for the flesh as well as the spirit. In Scripture, we do not find carnal things and Spiritual, nor the things of the world and the things of God, mixed together (I jn 2:15, 16). Christendom abounds with this unholy mixture with all its baneful results, but let us shun it.

A proper realization of the holiness of His presence would deeply exercise our hearts and lead to real heart-searching and confession of sins, before our coming together in any capacity. As a result there would be less of that which savors of Egypt and Babylon and which tends toward fleshly gratification, but there would be more becoming reverence on our part. He would receive His portion from us with delight, and His power and blessing would be more fully manifested in our midst. Then truly our meetings would be “holy convocations”. Let us then take more heed to the exhortation, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).