In the Bible, a solemn assembly is a gathering of the people of Israel for a sacred feast, festival, or holy occasion. A solemn assembly included a ritual of purification or observing a state of holiness in which all the people of the community were commanded to do no work. The solemn assembly is also called a “sacred assembly” and a “solemn meeting.”
One Hebrew word translated “solemn assembly” means “a day of restraint”—primarily from work. Another Hebrew term rendered “solemn assembly” denotes a unique, appointed time set apart for the keeping of festivals. On these special worship occasions, the whole community gathered together for either a feast or a fast day.
Solemn assemblies played a role in Israel’s annual feasts and festivals. As part of the observance of Passover, on the seventh day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, God called for a solemn assembly: “For six days eat unleavened bread and on the seventh day hold an assembly to the LORD your God and do no work” (Deuteronomy 16:8). On the eighth day of the Feast of Booths (or Feast of Tabernacles), Israel was to hold a solemn assembly: “For seven days present food offerings to the LORD, and on the eighth day hold a sacred assembly and present a food offering to the LORD. It is the closing special assembly; do no regular work” (Leviticus 23:36).
The dedication of Solomon’s temple lasted seven days and closed with a solemn assembly on the eighth day, which was then followed by the Feast of Tabernacles: “On the eighth day they held an assembly, for they had celebrated the dedication of the altar for seven days and the festival for seven days more” (2 Chronicles 7:9).
An unusual solemn assembly took place during King Jehu’s reign in Israel. Jehu devised a scheme to purge the land of Baal worship by ordering a solemn assembly of all the priests of Baal. After cunningly luring them into their own temple, Jehu had the entire assembly slaughtered, and then he burned and destroyed the temple of Baal (2 Kings 10:18–28).
During times of crisis, the people of Israel gathered in solemn assembly for special days of fasting. When a devastating plague of locusts brought drought and famine to Israel, the prophet Joel called the people to a solemn assembly: “Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly. Summon the elders and all who live in the land to the house of the LORD your God, and cry out to the LORD” (Joel 1:14; cf. 2:15).
The prophets sometimes criticized and condemned the people’s solemn assemblies because their gatherings were merely hypocritical religious shows: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:13–14). The Lord despises outward rituals that serve only to hide inward rebellion. In their everyday lives, the people of Israel were failing to act justly. They weren’t living up to the Lord’s standard of righteousness, yet, with their solemn assemblies, the Israelites were continuing a public charade of piety. God saw right through the religious hypocrisy and would have none of it: “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” (Amos 5:21).
Today, some Protestant churches periodically hold meetings they call "solemn assemblies"; their purpose is usually to pray and hear the Word during a time of corporate soul-searching and self-examination. Typically, the congregation comes together during a solemn assembly for repentance, confession of sin, and fasting.