When Does the Sabbath Begin & End ?
by Herb Solinsky
Sabbath-keepers want to know when this holy time begins and ends. More generally, as students of the Bible, they want to know when any numbered day of the month begins and ends. The meanings of Hebrew words are very critical to this study. Sound principles of word study will be needed to reach an accurate conclusion.
One principle is to establish meanings of Hebrew words from easily understandable biblical contexts, and leave the puzzling contexts for later. Another principle involves the translation of special Hebrew words that are important to this study: it is mandatory for these special words, that one English word always be used to translate one Hebrew word, and that this English word is never used to translate any other Hebrew word. This will be rigidly applied, and whenever the abbreviation of a published translation is shown, it will either be cited in isolation (as RSV) or with "m" (as mNKJV), where the latter indicates that a minor modification was made in order to rigidly apply the "one to one" translation of significant Hebrew words to only one English word. The NKJV translation will be used unless otherwise noted. Other translations are used when they are closer to the literal Hebrew in some important way.
Many Bible passages that are important to this study have several Hebrew words of significance that require explanation. Unless meanings can be established one word at a time with Scriptures that have a clear context, nothing logical can be achieved. In order to achieve logical results, we establish some preliminary approximate findings for some words, and then later return to discuss some of those words again and achieve a more refined understanding (but not contradictory).
Patience is needed with this approach of letting the context determine the meaning rather than some lexicon or dictionary. All such reference works are modern; there is no known Hebrew dictionary that was made in ancient times.
And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God created and made (Gen 2:2-3).
The word "day" occurs three times here, always from the Hebrew yom (Strong’s #3117), which is a significant word for this study. All three times the "seventh day" is stated. This day was blessed and sanctified by God, and a reason given for this is His example of resting on that day. This passage does not mention the law for human rest, nor the word "Sabbath" from the Hebrew word Shabat (Strong’s #7676), which is a significant word for this study.
The significant Hebrew word shabaton (Strong’s #7677) is often not translated consistently, but "solemn rest" will always be used in this study. This word occurs eleven times in the Bible: Ex 16:23; 31:15; 35:2; Lev 16:31; 23:3,24,32,39(twice); 25:4,5.
Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death (Ex 31:15 mNKJV).
Here the Hebrew word yom occurs in the plural ("days") and then the singular. Comparing this with Gen 2:2-3 it is clear that the seventh day which was blessed and sanctified is named the Sabbath day and is a day of abstaining from work. Ex 20:8-11 and Deut 5:12-15 corroborate this.
Day and Night
There are examples in which day and night are opposites.
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning Jehoiakim king of Judah: "He shall have no one to sit on the throne of David and his dead body shall be cast out to the heat of the day and the frost of the night" (Jer 36:30).
Here "day" and "night" are opposites, showing it is cooler at night than during the day. The translation "night" is from the Hebrew word lailah (Strong’s #3915), which is a significant word for this study.
That which was torn by beasts I did not bring to you; I bore the loss of it. You required it from my hand, whether stolen by day or stolen by night (Gen 31:39).
Here again is an example where day and night are opposites. Some other corroborating examples of these opposites are in Gen 8:22; 1Sam 28:20; 1Ki 8:29; Ps 74:16; 88:1; 136:8-9; Eccl 8:16; Isa 27:3; 62:6; Amos 5:8.
A 24 Hour Day
As in the English language, Hebrew often has multiple meanings for one word, and it will now become quite clear that this is true for the Hebrew word yom.
Therefore you shall abide at the door of the tabernacle of meeting day and night for seven days, and keep the charge of the Lord, so that you may not die; for so I have been commanded (Lev 8:35).
Here "seven days" refers to seven periods, each of which is a day and a night, so that "day" (used in the plural) is a daytime followed by a nighttime, a natural 24 hour period. Also:
Go gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish! (Est 4:16).
Here "day" (used in the plural) is a nighttime followed by a daytime, a natural 24 hour period. These two examples differ in which comes first; one example has the daytime first in the 24 hour day, while the other has the nighttime first. But neither of these examples involves the Sabbath or a numbered day of the month, the primary focus of this study.
Before giving a translation of Ps 32:4, it must be mentioned that it contains the Hebrew word yomam (Strong’s #3119) which is (you guessed it) another significant word for this study. This word is a form of yom used in different Hebrew grammatical senses from yom. It may be argued that this word should also be translated "day", as it usually is, but in order to distinguish between these words in translation, yomam will be translated "daytime" because that seems reasonably suitable, and we can judge its sense when it is used.
When I kept silent my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long. For daytime and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer (Ps 32:3-4 mNKJV).
Here one day is shown to be a daytime (Hebrew yomam) followed by a nighttime, a natural 24 hour day.
...[P]lease let Your ear be attentive and Your eyes open, that You may hear the prayer of Your servant which I pray before You this day, daytime and night, for the children of Israel Your servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel which we have sinned against You (Neh 1:6 mNKJV).
Here one day is shown to be a daytime (Hebrew yomam) followed by a nighttime, a natural 24 hour day.
Morning, Evening, and On the Morrow
Two more significant Hebrew words: boker (Strong’s #1242) is to be translated "morning". and erev (Strong’s #6153) is to be translated "evening". Here are some of the verses that make it clear that morning and evening are time periods of the 24 hour day that are separated from one another:
This is the offering which Aaron and his sons are to present to the Lord on the day when he is anointed; the tenth of an ephah of fine flour as a regular grain offering, half of it in the morning and half of it in the evening (Lev 6:20 NASB).
In the morning you shall say, "Oh, that it were evening!" And at evening you shall say, "Oh, that it were morning!" because of the fear which terrifies your heart, and because of the sight which your eyes see (Deut 28:67).
Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice (Ps 55:17).
The king also appointed a portion of his possessions for the burnt offerings: for the morning and evening burnt offerings, the burnt offerings for the Sabbaths and the new moons and the set feasts, as it is written in the law of the Lord (2Chr 31:3).
For the sake of consistency for the reader, the Hebrew phrase ad erev will always be translated "until evening" and the Hebrew phrase ad ha erev will always be translated "until the evening" in this study. The Hebrew word ad is Strong’s #5704 which is a preposition whose meaning varies according to the expression in which it appears. The Hebrew word ha means "the". The presence or absence of the Hebrew word ha for "the" in the phrase "until the evening" seems to have no real significance as illustrated here:
On the morrow Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood about Moses from morning until the evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, "What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand about you from morning until evening?" (Ex 18:13-14 mRSV.)
Notice that verse 13 has "until the evening", while verse 14 merely has "until evening", yet both refer to the same event. The meaning of "until evening" in Ex 18:13-14 is generalized in Ps 104:23 where we find (mNKJV), "Man goes out to his work and to his labor until evening." In an agricultural society where outdoor light is needed for earning a living by most people, this particular context would imply that "until evening" has the approximate sense of "until daylight fades." Later, more will be said about the phrase "until evening".
In Ex 18:13 immediately above, the phrase "on the morrow" is a translation of the Hebrew phrase me macharat where the flexible preposition me is Strong’s #4480 and macharat is Strong’s #4283 which means "morrow" and refers to the period of time following the sleep pattern. For example:
And they made their father drink wine that night. And the first-born went in, and lay with her father; and he knew not when she lay down, nor when she arose. And it came to pass on the morrow [me macharat] , that the first-born said unto the younger: "Behold, I lay yesternight with my father. Let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father" (Gen 19:33-34 JPS17).
The translation "yesternight" is from the Hebrew word emesh (Strong’s #570) which also occurs in Gen 31:29, 42. (In the Hebrew, the two words me macharat have no space between them, as is typical with many prepositions.) Unfortunately, most translations use the word "day" instead of "morrow" here, which could give the reader the false impression that the Hebrew word yom may occur. For consistency, the Hebrew phrase me macharat will always be translated "on the morrow" in this study. Note that in Gen 19:34 above, the conversation that occurred "on the morrow" followed an event that occurred in the night, so that both the event and the conversation took place within the same night and daytime 24 hour period.
A Numbered Day of the Month
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. For seven days no leaven shall be found in your houses, since whoever eats what is leavened, that same person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a native of the land (Ex 12:18-19).
The unbroken time interval for eating only unleavened bread is here given a beginning time and an ending time, the whole period of which is stated to be seven days in length. Here "day" (used in the plural) is a 24 hour day, each of which begins "at evening" and ends "at evening". This context involves a numbered day of the month, a matter of primary interest in this study.
Also the tenth of this seventh month shall be the day of atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.... It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening until evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath (Lev 23:27,32 mNKJV).
The Sabbath (Hebrew Shabat) mentioned here twice is the day of atonement rather than the Sabbath of the seventh day. (Shabat is also used this way in Lev 16:31.) As in Ex 12:18 above, this verse mentions a numbered day of the month ending "at evening" at which time the next day begins. Since an "evening" is mentioned in Lev 23:32 as both the beginning and ending of the tenth day, this is surely a 24 hour day rather than a daytime. Each of the seven days in Ex 12:18 is a 24 hour day also. Thus, as numbered days of the month, we have consistency of Ex 12:18 with Lev 23:32. This also makes the beginning and ending of Shabat in agreement with the beginning and ending of a numbered day of the month.
Light and Darkness
You make darkness and it is night, in which all the beasts of the forest creep about (Ps 104:20).
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day (Gen 1:4-5 NASB).
In this very first time that the words "day" and "night" occur, they are here defined in the Bible. Here the first use of "day" (Hebrew yom) is given the meaning "light", which obviously concerns its meaning in the sense of the daytime portion of a natural 24 hour day, rather than the 24 hour meaning of "day". Gen 1:4-5 does not explain how much light is needed at the extremities in order to be considered still "day". The word "evening" occurs here for the first time, but is not defined in the chapter. The possible meaning of the second use of "day" at the end of Gen 1:5 partly depends upon the meaning of "evening", which we now discuss. From Gen 1:4 we know that night is defined by darkness, except that when heavy rain prevails, daytime may appear dark. We are excluding such exceptions that muddy the water of discussion.
There are two passages of the Bible that demonstrate that "evening" lasts into the "night". We will consistently translate the Hebrew word neshef (Strong’s #5399) as "twilight".
...[S]o I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me. When I lie down I say, "When shall I arise?" But the evening is long, and I am full of tossing til the twilight (Job 7:3-4 mRSV).
Here many translations give "night" as the meaning of the Hebrew word erev. The word translated "is long" in "the evening is long" is a translation of the Hebrew word madad (Strong’s #4058) which also occurs in 1Ki 17:21 which reads (NKJV), "And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the Lord and said, ‘O Lord my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.’" Here "stretched himself" is the translation of the Hebrew word madad. Job is saying (in Job 7:3-4) that when he lies down, his conscious time in the evening is prolonged due to his physical discomfort.
Concerning the evening lasting into night, the other Scripture to be discussed is Ps 30:5. In order to understand how far "evening" extends here, the key issue is the Hebrew word following erev which is the verb leen (Strong’s #3885).
For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for life; weeping may endure [leen] for an evening [erev], but joy comes in the morning (Ps 30:5 mNKJV).
Here the Hebrew verb leen is translated "may endure". On the basis of the use of leen in the rest of the Old Testament, it does seem that in Ps 30:5 evening extends into some of the night, perhaps until sleep comes. But in poetic language where there is a scarcity of words, translators often take liberties to capture their own thoughts on the intent of the Hebrew. This verb leen occurs 85 times in the Old Testament, but it has two categories of meaning that are not related to one another; one is "to remain (or lodge)" and the other is "to murmur (or complain)". The latter meaning occurs 16 times (if Ps 59:15 is included as "howl" or "growl").
Of the remaining 69 times, the word "night" is understood from the context or explicitly stated 51 times; for example, Judg 19:7 states (NKJV), "And when the man stood to depart, his father-in-law urged him; so he lodged there again." Here the NASB has "spent the night" instead of "lodged" for the Hebrew word leen. 1Ki 19:9 reads (NASB), "Then he came to a cave, and lodged there; and behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’" Here the NKJV has "spent the night" instead of "lodged" for the Hebrew word leen.
What about the other 18 (= 69 - 51) times, which includes Ps 30:5, our current focus? In all 17 cases (excluding Ps 30:5) the time period is not precise, but understood to be at least a night, and often many years. One highly figurative example in which Job’s friends have been provoking him for many days is Job 17:2 in which Job says (NKJV), "Are not mockers with me? And does not my eye dwell on their provocation?" Here "dwell" is used for the Hebrew word leen. It thus seems understandable that JPS17, NASB, NKJV, and RSV translate the Hebrew word erev in Ps 30:5 as "night", yet the literal meaning is "evening".
Recognizing that the biblical evening extends into the night, we are in a better position to comment on the use of "day" at the end of Gen 1:5:
And there was evening and there was morning, one day (Gen 1:5 NASB).
This must refer to a 24 hour day rather than a daytime. We can only guess at why there is such brevity in the description of this day as well as the next five days. What happened at the very beginning of the first day? Any answer involves speculation.
Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by daytime, the ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, and its waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name) (Jer 31:35 mNKJV).
Note the words "stars" and "light". The light of these heavenly bodies determine or separate daytime and night.
To Him who made great lights, for His mercy endures forever, the sun to rule by day, for His mercy endures forever, the moon and stars to rule by night, for His mercy endures forever (Ps 136:7-9).
This serves as a commentary to:
And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars (Gen 1:16 JPS17).
The amount of the night that is ruled by the light of the moon varies greatly during the month, from no rulership at the astronomical new moon to full rulership at the full moon. Gen 1:14 mentions the purpose of defining "years", so the context of Gen 1:16 indicates general purposes for the sun, moon, planets, comets, and stars, rather than a precise description of what happened on that specific fourth day. Any claim that Gen 1:16 proves that the fourth day was a full moon is reading too much into that verse and ignoring the context of general purposes for the heavenly bodies. The thought of rulership by a heavenly body refers to dominance of its light. Since the moon itself has so much variation in dominance, as a sign for separating daytime from night, the role of the moon is speculative at best. On the other hand, as long as the weather is relatively clear, the stars are an excellent sign for separating daytime from night. Gen 1:14-16 does not mention the words "sun" or "moon", which puts emphasis on their function to serve as lights.
Sunset is the time when the circle of the sun first disappears over the horizon. After sunset, there is still a period of light from the sun (the sun rules) until the light from the stars begin to rule. The length of this time period, which is most of twilight, varies with the season and the latitude of the observer. At the equator this time is several minutes, but it can last a couple of hours in southern Canada and much longer when approaching the poles of the earth. If there had been a human observer on the earth during the first three days, he would not have been able to see the circle of the sun at all because the "heavenly lights" were not "created" yet (Gen 1:14).Thus, there were no sunsets during the first three 24 hour days, yet there were three periods of dark and light. In order to have consistency in light for rulership during the first three daytimes in comparison to the fourth day and beyond, it would seem that "sunset" is not the precise separator between daytime and night. Before discussing sunset in the Bible, there is another significant Scripture that involves the stars.
The Hebrew word sachar (Strong’s #7837) will consistently be translated "dawn".
From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half of them held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail; and the leaders stood behind all the house of Judah.... So we labored at the work, and half of them held the spears from the break of dawn till the stars came out (Neh 4:16, 21 RSV).
Note that one half were defending and one half were productive. The break of dawn is near the start of the twilight of the morning, about the time when stars cease being visible. The defenders were active from about the time of the loss of the visibility of the stars to appearance of the stars.
Likewise at the same time said I unto the people: "Let every one with his servant lodge within Jerusalem, that in the night they may be a guard to us, and may labour in the day" (Neh 4:22 JPS17).
Thus the defenders were to spend the night sleeping in Jerusalem with the others, but during the "day" defined by the light of the stars at both ends, the defenders were to be active. This is consistent with the concept of the light from the sun ruling the day in the sense that it prevents the stars from being visible. It is consistent with the first three days during which there was no sunset. Thus, daytime is when the stars are not visible. Israel is a land with significant hills and valleys, thus making sunset come at varying times depending on one’s physical location. On the other hand, visibility of the stars is more uniform throughout Israel.
Sunset is Not Technically in the Bible
There is no single Hebrew word for sunset in the Bible.
So afterward Joshua struck them and put them to death, and he hanged them on five trees; and they hung on the trees until the evening. And it came about at sunset that Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and put large stones over the mouth of the cave, to this very day (Josh 10:26-27 mNASB).
Where this has "sunset", the margin of the NASB (Reference edition) states that this is literally "the time of the going of the sun." In this literal statement in the margin, the Hebrew verb bo (Strong’s #935) is translated "going" and the Hebrew word shemesh (Strong’s #8121) is translated "sun". There is never a Hebrew word for "down" in any of the 31 contexts of the Hebrew for "goes sun" for an alleged "sunset" in the Bible. These contexts are Gen 15:12,17; 28:11; Ex 17:12; 22:26; Lev 22:7; Deut 11:30; 16:6; 23:11; 24:13,15; Josh 1:4; 8:29; 10:13,27; 23:4; Judg 19:14; 2Sam 2:24; 3:35; 1Ki 22:36; 2Chr 18:34; Ps 51:1; 104:19; 113:3; Eccl 1:5; Isa 60:20; Jer 15:9; Amos 8:9; Micah 3:6; Zech 8:7; Mal 1:11. None of these verses provides clear visual evidence of what "goes sun" means, but there are significant clues. If we see "sunset" in a translation, we should simply recognize that it is "goes sun", though the verb tense may vary.
In an Aramaic portion of the Old Testament we find in Dan 6:14 (NKJV), "And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him." The translation "going down" is from the Aramaic word mehal (Strong’s #4606) which only occurs in this place in Scripture. On page 166 of Wood at this verse it states, "literally, ‘going in of the sun.’" Since this Aramaic word only occurs one time and it’s in the context of Babylon with no specific indication of its precise meaning, little can be said of this.
Prepare war against her; arise, and let us attack at noon. Woe to us, for the day declines, for the shadows of the evening lengthen (Jer 6:4 NASB).
This indicates that some of the evening occurs when there are long shadows, i.e., before sunset.
There is biblical evidence that "goes sun" is a loose time interval rather than a precise brief time.
...but at the place where the Lord your God chooses to establish His name, you shall sacrifice the Passover in the evening at sunset, at the time that you came out of Egypt (Deut 16:6 NASB).
This verse is discussed because it will help us understand "goes sun". If we can determine the time interval for sacrificing the Passover, that should tell us something about the time of "goes sun". From Jer 6:4 above, we have already seen that "in the evening" includes some time before sunset.
Sunrise is Opposite to Sunset
Notice the contrast between sunrise and sunset:
The Mighty One, God, the Lord, has spoken, and summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting (Ps 50:1 NASB).
From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised (Ps 113:3 NASB).
Also the sun rises and the sun sets; and hastening to its place it rises there again (Eccl 1:5 NASB).
This contrast of opposites is also seen in Zech 8:7; Mal 1:11. The box at right explains the biblical definition of sunrise: the time period beginning when there is enough light that objects become clearly visible (before the circle of the sun rises above the horizon) until it becomes definitely warm (sometime before noon). The application of the meaning of biblical sunrise to the meaning of biblical sunset is that both are significant time intervals and both occupy a portion of daytime. Biblical sunrise occupies the first portion of daytime, and biblical sunset occupies the last portion of daytime. As indicated above, daytime is when the stars are not visible.
Each day you shall give him his wages, and not let the sun go down on it, for he is poor and has set his heart on it; lest he cry out against you to the Lord, and it be sin to you (Deut 24:15).
And when all the people came to persuade David to eat food while it was still day, David took an oath saying, "God do so to me, and more also, if I taste bread or anything else till the sun goes down" (2Sam 3:35).
In both of these verses, the word "down" is not based upon any specific Hebrew word that means "down". Each verse indicates that daytime ends at the end of biblical sunset (already shown not to be identified with the circle of the sun going below the horizon).
Between the Two Evenings
The Hebrew expression ben ha arbayim means "between the two evenings"; ben means "between", ha means "the", and arbayim is the dual plural form of "evening", meaning "two evenings". The Hebrew ending im is the general plural, while the Hebrew ending ayim is the dual showing two things (pp. 100-101of Lambdin). Whenever we encounter this expression, we will consistently translate it "between the two evenings". This occurs eleven times in the Bible: Ex 12:6; 16:12; 29:39,41; 30:8; Lev 23:5; Num 9:3,5,11; 28:4,8.
Now you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month. Then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the two evenings (Ex 12:6 mNKJV).
On the fourteenth of the first month between the two evenings is the Lord’s Passover (Lev 23:5 mNKJV).
If someone should conjecture that "between the two evenings" means any time between the evening on one certain day and the evening on the following day, this could be refuted by going to Deut 16:6 where the time for sacrificing the Passover is when "goes sun", and certainly this latter expression does not mean a 24 hour day.
And you shall say to them, "This is the offering made by fire which you shall offer to the Lord: two male lambs in their first year without blemish, each day, as a regular burnt offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, the other lamb you shall offer between the two evenings" (Num 28:3-4 mNKJV, Ex 29:38-39 is similar.).
This sacrifice between the two evenings is called the evening sacrifice:
Then everyone who trembled at the words of the God of Israel assembled to me, because of the transgression of those who had been carried away captive, and I sat astonished until the evening sacrifice. At the evening sacrifice I arose from my fasting; and having torn my garment and my robe, I fell on my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God (Ezra 9:4-5).
This evening sacrifice is also mentioned in 2Ki 16:15; Ps 141:2; Dan 9:21. It is also mentioned without the word "evening" explicitly stated, but nevertheless understood, in 1Ki 18:29, 36. In reading 1Ki 18:29-45 it should become obvious that from the time of the first mention of the evening sacrifice until darkness is indicated due to heavy clouds in 1Ki 18:45, some hours of daylight must have passed. Thus "between the two evenings" as the time of the evening sacrifice must occupy some hours in the afternoon before the night begins.
Hence the Passover sacrifice must occur during some hours in the afternoon before the night begins, and Deut 16:6 shows this to be called "goes sun" or "sunset" in common translations.
The biblical evidence that a daytime ends when the stars become visible is based upon Jer 31:35; Ps 136:7-9; Gen 1:16; Neh 4:16,21-22. This evidence along with the evidence of sunrise (from Ps 104:21-22 and Nahum 3:17) leads to the conclusion that "the going of the sun" is roughly a few hours long and ends with the appearance of the stars. In English usage, the time of "sunset" is brief and precise, but in the Bible it lasts some hours and ends when the stars appear. Deut 16:6 says that the sacrifice of the Passover animal occurs during the (present tense) "going of the sun." Deut 16:6 also mentions "in the evening" which it recognizes as imprecise, so it clarifies this by adding "at the going of the sun." The phrase "in the evening" can vary from sometime in the afternoon until sometime in the night; the Bible does not state the exact beginning and ending time of "in the evening."
The Sabbath and a Numbered Day of the Month
The expression "between the two evenings" indicates that there are two evenings. Ex 12:18 and Lev 23:32 showed that the Sabbath and a numbered day of the month begin at evening and end at evening, but we need to discuss which evening. From Jer 6:4 and 1Ki 18 we have seen that one evening begins before sunset. From Job 7:4 and Ps 30:5 we have seen that evening lasts into night. Within the evening there is a transition from daytime to night when the light from stars become visible.
The biblical word for evening is ambiguous, so the only solution to determining the "evening" that begins a day is a process of logically eliminating all but one rational choice. Several verses above showed that a biblical 24 hour day is either a daytime followed by a night, or a night followed by a daytime. Only the latter choice allows evening to begin and end a 24 hour biblical day, so only this choice is viable to show the boundaries of a day. This is also the only plausible choice to be the start of the second evening, so that Lev 23:32 means the Sabbath is to be kept from the second evening to the second evening. Deut 24:15 and 2Sam 3:35 add weight to this. The conclusion is that the Sabbath and a numbered day of the month begins and ends at the beginning of night when the stars come out, and that this is also the start of the second evening.
Batton Fundamentals of Meteorology, Louis J. Batton, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall (1979)
Dallinger Grasshoppers, Jane Dallinger, Minneapolis: Lerner Publications (1981)
JPS17 Jewish Publication Society Bible translation of 1917
Lambdin Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, Thomas O. Lambdin, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons (1971)
McBride The White Lions of Timbavati, Chris McBride, London: Paddington Press (1977)
Milne Insect Worlds, Lorus J. Milne, Margery Milne New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons (1980)
NASB New American Standard Bible
NKJV New King James Version
RSV Revised Standard Version
Wood A Commentary on Daniel, Leon Wood, Grand Rapids: Zondervan (1973)
What is the Biblical Definition of Sunrise?
In Ps 104:21-22 we read (NKJV), "The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God. When the sun rises they gather together and lie down in their dens." Mr. Chris McBride spent several years living in the wild, studying the habits of lions about 350 miles northeast of Johannesburg, South Africa. On page 152 of McBride we find, "From the observations I’ve made, it appears that temperature plays a tremendously important part in influencing lions’ behavior patterns. I have taken the breathing rates of these lions under all sorts of conditions and found that it can vary from 120 times a minute in the heat of the day to about 12 times a minute in the cool of the evening. My belief is that they are mainly nocturnal hunters because it’s easier for them to be active when it’s cooler. They’ll hunt in daylight on the Machaton when it rains, or on an overcast windy day, so it looks as if there’s a purely physical explanation behind it." In relation to Ps 104:21-22 this shows that "when the sun rises" they become inactive because the temperature becomes warm. But when does the temperature become warm? On page 232 of Batton we find: "Minimum temperatures are usually experienced 30 min to an hour after sunrise." This indicates that biblical sunrise is not the moment when the sun begins to come up over the horizon, but it includes a significant time later when it begins to get warm.
In Nahum 3:17 we read (NKJV), "Your commanders are like swarming locusts, and your generals are like great grasshoppers, which camp on the hedges in a cold day; when the sun rises they flee away, and the place where they are is not known." Locusts and grasshoppers have similar habits. On page 6 of Dallinger we read, "Grasshoppers are usually quiet at night and active during the day. As with all insects, their bodies must be warm in order for them to be active. During the coolness of night they climb onto plants and rest quietly without moving. When the first rays of sunshine reach them in the morning, they begin to stir. After warming up, they start eating." Page 207 of Milne states, "Once a locust swarm is airborne, the only thing capable of stopping it is a change of weather. The pests fly on if their food reserves permit, as long as the temperature of day remains between 77 degrees and 104 degrees F., or above 81 degrees at night." Thus the biblical description of grasshoppers and locusts at sunrise can not fit the time when the circle of the sun begins to come up over the horizon because at the latter time the temperature is still approaching its coolest time. This indicates that biblical sunrise includes a significant time after sunrise when it begins to get warm.
In Ex 22:2-3 we read (NKJV), "If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed. He should make full restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft." Here we see the difference between killing a thief before the sun has risen compared to afterward. Before visibility it is not considered murder because one can not see the nature of the enemy, but after visibility it is murder. Thus, sunrise is associated with visibility, which occurs before the circle of the sun begins to show on the horizon.
How Should Sabbath Timing Affect Our Lives?
We printed this article now because we have received several letters insisting that "the Sabbath is from sunrise to sunrise." Some scriptures might be interpreted to support that idea if certain Hebrew words had only one narrow definition. However, look at the English word "day". It can mean a "24-hour day", "the period when the sun is out" or "a general period of time" as in the expression "the day of vengence". A concordance will show you all of the uses of the Hebrew yom (day)it has all of the same meanings as the English "day". While our Father is perfect, he works through human languages that are sometimes imprecise.
Another reason given for the "sunrise to sunrise" day is that the expressions "day and night" or "so-many days and so-many nights" occur more in the Bible than do "night and day" expressions. But almost none of these expressions are specifically about the issue of when a Sabbath or other day officially begins or ends. On the other hand, there are plain scriptures such as Nehemiah 13:19:
So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath.
The conclusion of the attached study is that specific Biblical days, including the Sabbath, begin and end when the stars become visiblewhen it is dark. Even when it is cloudy, it is easier to tell when the sky becomes dark than it is to guess when the sun might be slipping below the horizon.
Does that mean we have been sinning by engaging in non-Sabbath activities before dark on Saturday? Probably so, but aren’t we only dealing with a matter of a few minutes, maybe less than twenty minutes? We must realize that the timing of the Sabbath is not given in the 10 commandments, nor is there any major section of the Bible that explains it. It is "here a little, there a little." All of the Sabbath related condemnations in the Bible are against those who do not keep it, not against those who are keeping it "a half hour off." We will be judged on how we keep the Sabbath according to our understanding of the scripture. We should still be able to fellowship with others who have a technically different understanding of the Sabbath.
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