ACCORDING TO GOD, WHEN DOES THE SABBATH DAY BEGIN AND END?

Many people wonder when the  Sabbath  officially  begins  and  ends according  to  God.  Most Sabbath  observers believe  that it begins at sunset on Friday and ends at sunset on Saturday. They refer  to chapter one of the Book of Genesis as proof for this belief. But, is this true?  Can  proof be found in the Bible to support the assumption that a day begins and ends at sunset?

It is important to examine the origin of the Sabbath to determine  how  God has  shown  when a day begins  and ends. In   Gen.1:5,8,13,19,23,31, God defines the first six creation days in the following way:

"And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen.1:5 KJV).

In this verse, the Hebrew word for evening is erev, which  comes from a root with the suggested original  meaning  of 'enter' or 'go in' (it has the same meaning in Assyrian). It does not refer to sunset; it refers to the period before sunset (possibly even beginning at  noon according to the context of some scriptures).

It is clear from the context of Genesis chapter one that God intended a day to begin and end close to sunset; however, the word erev does not specifically denote the precise time when a day begins  and ends.  The following references  clearly  show  that erev begins at some indefinite time near sunset:

"And the Philistine approached morning and  evening [erev];  and he stationed himself forty days" (1.Sam.17:16 KJV).

Here, Goliath the giant challenges the Israelites, which was probably not done at sunset, because there  would  not  have been adequate light for a  battle  if  an Israelite had accepted the challenge:

"So  Joshua  burned Ai and made it a permanent heap of  ruins,  a desolate place to this day. He hung the king of Ai on a tree  and left  him there until evening [erev]. At sunset [Hebrew: 'bo'=go, in, entering  of the sun] Joshua ordered them to take his  body  from the tree and throw it down at the entrance of the city  gate. . . " (Josh. 8:28-29  NIV).  

Here, 'evening'  and 'sunset'  are defined as two different events.

"But  someone  drew a bow at random and hit the  king  of  Israel between  the  sections of his armor. The king  told  the  chariot driver,  "Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I've  been wounded.  All  the  day long the battle raged, and  the  king  of Israel  propped himself up in his chariot  facing  the  Arameans until evening [erev]. . . Then at sunset [bo= going of the sun; ibid. Josh. 8:28-29] he died" (I Kings 22:34-37, NIV).

This shows that erev comes before  the  actual setting  of the sun. There are also other scriptural examples  of the  word erev that show it primarily denotes the time in  the late afternoon up to the time of sunset. Contextually, no exact length of time is indicated by the usage of erev in its various forms. Contextually, erev is  a very general word referring to the part of the day from noon to sunset.

"And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen.1:5).

There is no doubt that the word erev refers to the half of the day in which the sun is descending (evening) rather than ascending (morning). Because the exact meaning of erev is determined by the context in which it is used, we should be able to determine the  beginning and ending of the Sabbath by reviewing its creation and its revelation to ancient Israel.

SABBATH CREATION

"And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all  the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended his  work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all  his work  which  he had made. And God blessed the  seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which  God  created  and made" (Gen.1:31; 2:1-3 KJV).

Notice the  Sabbath  day  is mentioned  in context with the  other six  days of creation as ending and beginning in 'the  evening' (erev),  which  is very near sunset in this context.

THE SABBATH AND THE JEWS

Although  the ten commandments, which include the commanded observance of the Sabbath, were written on tables of stone at Mount Sinai, there  is clear evidence  that  all of the ten commandments, the statutes, and the  laws were in effect long before  the time of Moses:

"In your seed shall all the nations of  the earth be blessed; because that Abraham obeyed  my voice, and  kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my  laws" (Gen.26:4-5 KJV).

This  same promise that was made to Abraham was  later  conferred  upon  his  grandson Jacob (Israel), the father of   twelve   sons from  whom the twelve tribes of Israel came (see  Gen.28:1-14). Notice  that Judah, the father of the tribe of Judah (the  Jews), whose birth is recorded in Gen.29:35, was only one of the twelve sons. God's commandments, including the Sabbath day, were for all the tribes of Israel (and mankind), not just the Jews.

The  commandments,  including  the Sabbath, were  given  for  the benefit  of  mankind long before the tribes of Israel  came  into existence;  thus,  it  is incorrect to refer  to  the  Sabbath  as belonging to the Jews.  

After Israel (including the tribe of Judah) fell into slavery and the paganism of Egypt, they lost all sense of the Sabbath day and its observance. As God began to educate the people about the way they should worship him, he showed them when to begin and end his festival days:

"In  the first month, on the 14th day of the month at even  [Hebrew. ba-erev,  meaning near the end of the day as sunset  is  approaching], you shall  eat  unleavened bread, until the 21st day of the month at even" (Ex.12:18 KJV).

THE SABBATH DAY DEFINED

God tested the tribes of Israel (which included Judah) to see if they would obey his law concerning the day of cessation from  labor. In Exodus 16:4-30,  God uses tremendous  miracles involving food to show the Israelites  which day to  observe the Sabbath, when the Sabbath day begins and ends, and  how  to prepare  for it. In this chapter, it becomes very clear  that  the Sabbath  day  begins 'at even'  (ba-erev)  as   sunset   is approaching,  and it continues  until the next  day  as  sunset  is approaching.

"Then  said  the Lord unto Moses, Behold, I will rain  bread  from Heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a  certain rate every day, that I may prove them, whether they will walk  in my  law or not. And it shall come to pass, that on the sixth  day they  shall prepare that which they bring in; and  it  shall  be twice  as much as they gather daily. . . At even [ba-erev],  then you shall know that the Lord has brought you out from the land of Egypt" (Ex.16:4-6).

God begins his revelation by  telling the Israelites to prepare for the coming day that will begin 'at even' (ba-erev), which means 'as the sun is  descending  in  mid-afternoon toward sunset'.

When reading Exodus 16:8-15, it is important to remember that the  context of Exodus 16:5 is the preparation on the sixth day  for  the seventh  day:  "The Lord shall  give  you  in  the evening [ba-erev=mid-afternoon towards sunset] flesh to  eat  [quail] and in the morning bread [manna] to  the full" (v8 KJV).

Again,  in  verse  12, God commands  Moses  to tell  the Israelites:  "At even [Hebrew, beyn ha ar ba'yim] you  shall  eat flesh [quail]. . .." Verse 13 clarifies this: "At  even [ba-erev] the quails came up and covered the camp . . .."

Two different Hebrew words are used for 'at even'  in verses  12 and 13. Verse 13 uses ba erev, which means 'late afternoon approaching sunset'. However, verse 12 uses beyn ha ar ba'yim, which literally means 'between the  two  evenings.'  This is a dual form for  the word  erev; therefore, one of the 'two evenings' of the phrase is the evening that begins  in the afternoon, and the other  evening is  most likely  very close to sunset.  This period 'between  the two evenings' can refer to a maximum of about six hours (noon  to sunset), or the traditional length of about three  hours (about 3 p.m. to sunset).

'Beyn ha-arbayim' is an older term for erev. As already shown, erev means 'a descent.'  One descent point begins at high noon when the sun starts to descend. Another descent begins when the sun descends behind the horizon (actual moment of sunset). These are the 'two evenings'.

Contextually, erev is shown to be synonymous with both beyn ha-arbayim ('between the two evenings') and k'vo ha-shemesh ('as the sun is coming' or 'while the sun is coming'). In this way erev has come to mean the 'descent' of the sun as a whole, not just a point of its path (see the chart below).

Beyn ha-arbayim and erev are synonyms (See Ex.16 usage). 'Ba-erev' means 'in the erev' or 'in the afternoon'. Erev is synonymous with k 'vo ha-shemesh ('as the sun descends'). Moreover, erev, ba-erev and beyn ha-arbyim are synonymous: 'erev' is the same as ba-erev and beyn ha-arbayim is the same as erev. All of these words are defined as k 'vo hashemesh ('as the coming of the sun' or 'the descent of the sun') and they are all general terms for 'afternoon' for which there is no other specific word.

The Quail and the Manna

Thus, when God said he  would  give  the Israelites quail to eat 'at even' (beyn ha ar ba'yim), he meant the afternoon portion of the day. He actually sent the quail 'at even' (ba-erev), sometime in mid to late afternoon. The use of these two meanings harmonize, because  there  was enough  time in the late afternoon for the Israelites to gather, dress, and cook the quail. Therefore, there is no difference between the two phrases. This passage only shows that by context the two phrases are synonymous. Any distinction into a more specific time division cannot be supported by this text.

The manna came with the dew in the  morning and the quail came in the  evening, but  on the Sabbath nothing came in order to show that this day was a  day of cessation from labor.  

Exodus 16:16-26 contains the details concerning the daily gathering of the  manna. The Israelites were told to take only what was  needed for each day, because  it  would  spoil by the next day. But in  verse  22,  the Israelites  are told to gather twice as much in  preparation  for the Sabbath day. The context shows that God was  very  clearly revealing when the Sabbath begins and ends.

God sums up the matter in Exodus 16:27-30 by recording how  the  Israelites disobeyed him through attempting to gather manna on the  Sabbath; then, in verse 29, God reiterates that he had given the Sabbath for the people to cease from work.

The creation account in the Book  of Genesis clearly indicates that days begin  and end at  evening. Much  later  in history,  the  Israelites, including the tribe of  Judah  (Jews), knew which day was the Sabbath and that it began 'at even' as the preparation  day (sixth day) was ending and the seventh day was about to begin.

The knowledge of the  Sabbath  and all of the commandments was lost when the  Israelites  were enslaved in Egypt. When God delivered them out of Egypt, he revealed  the  preparation day and the Sabbath day to them  by  a tremendous  miracle clearly  established  that the Sabbath  began  very close to sunset as the sixth day was ending and the seventh day was about to begin.

In Leviticus 23:2-3 the  seventh-day  Sabbath is grouped  with the other festivals. Moreover, Leviticus 23:32 verifies that all of  God's festivals, including the Sabbath, begin 'at even' (ba-erev), which is in the late afternoon very close to sunset as the next day is  about to begin.

How and When?

How  and  when  did  the Sabbath come to  be  defined  in  common practice as beginning at the exact moment of sunset as the  sixth day  ends? The answer is not yet known. However, as seen previously, probably the oldest meaning of erev is the actual point of sunset; each sunset was counted as part of the old day, but was also the beginning point of the new day.

In order for  uniform Sabbath  observance to be defined, a decision was made by  someone (probably the Priesthood) to arbitrarily define the beginning  of a  day as the exact moment of sunset.

This logical concept is  also supported  by the practice of ancient Israel of  determining  the beginning of each month by observing the new crescent of the moon shortly after sunset. Because historical evidence indicates that God, through Moses, authorized the Levitical priesthood to establish a calendar  court, which   was  responsible  for  the Sacred Calendar,   including the determination of the New Moon, it  logically follows that the priesthood also established the tradition of beginning each  day, including the Sabbath day, at the exact moment of sunset.

A PERSONAL CHOICE

It is impossible to determine from the scriptures the exact moment in time when a day begins and ends. Furthermore, God only recorded guidelines for the beginning and ending of a day; therefore, it seems obvious that he intends to allow each  person to individually make this determination.

Each individual must  evaluate their  own personal  relationship  and attitude toward God and  the Sabbath observance once a week.  It should also be apparent that God does  not  intend the beginning  and ending of the Sabbath to be  observed  in  the strict  letter of the law, but he intends it to be observed  in  the spirit  of the law. Our Savior summed up the a great  principal of the Sabbath when he said,

"The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath."

By Charles E. Barrett, file b5w11