The Biblical Day – From Sunrise or Sunset?

The Biblical Day – From Sunrise or Sunset?

I accepted as given that the Sabbath was to be observed from sunset to sunset, but after I wrote the Blog “The Mark of The Beast and Sabbath Days” (31st May 2015), I began to get a little troubled about the whole Biblical Day thing. After all, just shifting from sighted moon to conjunctive moon to set the timing for the month, New Moon days, Holy days and Sabbaths, moves the dates a day or so one way or another. Also, after have kept the Sabbath from sunset to sunset I could never get over the uncomfortableness of that. You have just had a whole day off and then sunset comes around and its back to work. My body protested! My sense of order protested! I think that if I had been born into the Jewish culture I would probably have been used to it, but that wouldn’t mean that it would make  sense.

No, this whole sunset to sunset thing just did not make sense at all. But scripture supports it, doesn’t it? Actually, no, it doesn’t, when you think about and not get lost in the miniscule details of the exegesis of a word here and a word there. As I have said before, if you want a detailed Biblical analysis quoting myriads of scripture then you are in the wrong place. I am defining for my own life a basis for understanding and faith that makes sense first, supported by scripture second. Now I know that there are many who will read this and say ‘shock, horror! putting scripture second!’ but then, I say that YHVH is not stupid, he is the Elohim of common sense and as Yahushua says, “My yoke is easy and burden light”. So I expect my Adonai to make rules that make sense even today, thousands of years after he penned the for us.

So, in saying all that, my position now is that the Biblical day does not start at sunset, rather it starts at sunrise, or as near as possible to give a 12 hour working day. But before I get into the detail lets kick into touch the idea that night comes first in the Biblical day. Let’s make sense of this by asking a simple question. What came first, light or darkness?

Genesis (B’reeshet) 1: states that “ darkness was on the face of the deep” and then “God said let there be light, and there was light”, but this does not presuppose any order to day and night. Darkness, in and of itself, is not a thing, it is a lack of a thing and there could not be any difference between darkness and light until light was spoken into being. Note that the word translated as ‘darkness’ in the KJV could just as readily be translated ‘obscurity’. Also, consider what this ‘Deep’ was, a physical thing or an expanse of nothing? Because there is a little phrase there in Genesis 1:2 “face of the waters” that indicates there was a something in the darkness. I depicted the creative act as literally an sphere of water in my book “Origins” from the “We Are I Am” series. But I also gave the origins of all as an intelligent formable substance that completely fills every space in the universe and us, and is either the medium through which YHVH spreads His omnipresence, or it is YHVH, either conclusion works.

Concluding that the first reference to darkness was in the context of nothing, no presence of active energy (light), no animation to whatever was in the darkness,  the speaking into being of light was the initiation of the creative act, and by that act ‘Day’ was created, then separated into day and night. In other words day was created first in the active creation and night followed. Now the text in Genesis says “…and there was evening and there was morning, one day”. This on the face of it seems to point to night first, but there are two things to watch out for here. First being blatant fiddling with the text of YHVH. It has been proposed by Biblical scholars that during the Babylonian captivity when many pagan rituals and ideologies were absorbed into Judaism, the scribes reversed the order of these words, which I understand can be done in Hebrew without change of sense or idiom. They did this to support the new, assimilated Babylonian ideology.

Putting that aside as an argument for now, the meaning of the two words in Hebrew are not what the English conveys. The Hebrew words translated morning and evening actually refer to;
Morning – that part of the daylight hours occupying the period from dawn to midday.
Evening – That part of the daylight hours occupying the period from midday to sunset.
So even with the words reversed, if they were, then the concept being expressed here is a daylight period. Nothing at all to do with night and certainly not showing that the day starts and ends at sunset.

The next thing we get into is the pure reading of the Biblical text where the sense of a group of passages clearly show that the idea of today and tomorrow referred to the daylight periods as we know them, and the words translated as ‘this night’ or ‘this evening’ are using the English understanding of evening and night, not the Hebrew one. The first event to point out is the giving of Manna to the Israelites during their wanderings in the desert. Without going into any detail here, the passages in Exodus (Shemot) 17:14-36 without doubt show that the manna was a morning to morning thing. When Moses speaks of the ‘next day or ‘until morning’ he is clearly referred to the overnight period after the daylight period as belonging to the daylight period before it, not after it. In fact it could be argued that YHVH defined His day by the length of time the manna stayed fresh for and that was during the day and the night following but not into the following day, from sunrise to sunrise.

The next section which I find gives absolutely clarity is the story of the daughters of Lot in Genesis (B’reeshet) 19:30-38. The context shows by the way they refer to events, that the night is considered part of the day preceding it, not following it. There are literally hundreds of contextual situations in the Old Testament where they can only be understood in a day preceding night context, and very few with a loose interpretation the other way around. A few of the supporting ones are: Joshua (Yehoshua) 7:6-14;  Judges(Shoftim) 19:9 and the stories in 1 Samuel (Shmuel Aleph) chapters 19, 28 and 30 and 2 Samuel (Shmuel Bet) chapter 24 and many others.

The story of Jonah gives us a very clear example of a text that can only be interpreted as a text for a day starting at sunrise and this is the one that Jeshuah refers to himself when describing His impending crucifixion in Matthew (Matit’yah)12. In fact, I find it extremely difficult for someone to read a sunset to sunset day into any part of the bible without some convoluted reasoning being necessary. As I said, the Bible must make sense if it is from a sensible Elohim and, even though I followed the sunset rule for a while, now that my eyes are opened I am amazed that I saw this in any other way. I am now convinced that the sunset to sunset day is a Babylonian corruption that has become part of the Talmud and one of the Jewish “traditions of men” that Yahushua was critical of. This is what the Torah and Hebrew Roots movement must be careful of, that in their striving for the ‘correct’ interpretation they unwittingly lead people back into the bondage of the traditions of men.

If now we have settled on the day being dawn to dusk, how do we solve the problem of when to start and stop it?

You may not consider that this could be a problem but it is. I am a Master Mariner and Hydrographer. My skill is in navigating the oceans and mapping the earth and sea, so trust me when I say what everyone calls sunrise and sunset is not sunrise and sunset.

As the day dawns and when the sun sets there are periods of time which have been defined and can be measured.
They are:
Astronomical twilight. This occurs when the Sun is between 12 degrees and 18 degrees below the horizon. In the morning the first hint of light is detected or at night the last vestiges before total darkness.
Nautical twilight. This occurs when the Sun is between 6 degrees and 12 degrees below the horizon. This twilight period is less bright than civil twilight and artificial light is generally required for human activities.
Civil twilight. This occurs when the Sun is between 0 degrees and 6 degrees below the horizon. In the morning, civil twilight begins when the Sun is 6 degrees below the horizon and ends at sunrise. In the evening, it begins at sunset and ends when the Sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon (Wikipedia). Normally street lighting goes on or off at the start or end of Civil Twilight.

So what is dawn? When the first glimmer of twilight begins or when the sun itself pops up over the horizon? If you say the moment the sun pops up be careful, because at that time the sun itself is still below the horizon. If we use the geometric centre of the sun as the reference point then the sun is not above the horizon until it appears to be one semi diameter above the horizon. That is, there is a gap between the horizon and the bottom of the sun’s disk equal to half of the apparent diameter of the sun. The reason we see the full sun is because of refraction in the Earth’s atmosphere bending the light over the horizon.

If we are not carful here we can spawn a dozen new sects of Sabbath Keepers all arguing about which time should be adopted. But you know, and I am going to throw this out there and wait for the criticism….    there are too many times that can be called sunrise or sunset to mark the “Day”, but there is a heavenly marker by which we can measure, the day, and it is a precise time.

Nowhere in scripture can I find an instruction to mark the dawn, or the sunset for that matter.  The words ‘sunrise’ and ‘sunset’ simply do not appear at all in the KJV. They do as separated words but in the contexts they are only marking the beginning and end of specific activities and are never referring to a global definition for the start or end point of a day or a night. We also have our problem of the changing durations of daylight hours depending on our latitude. But then Yahushua said it himself, “Are there not twelve hours in the day….” John (Yochanan) 11:9

Close to the equator the day is about 12 hours long and the night a little less because of the twilights, but as you go north or south the length of day and night changes depending on the latitude. So you get long summer days and short summer nights, then short winter days and long winter nights. Indeed in the high northern or southern latitudes either the day never breaks or it does not end.  I have sat on the bridge of a ship near the north of Norway in summer. The ship was stationery on DP (Dynamic Positioning) heading north and I watched the sun set on the starboard (right) bow then rise again some 20-30 minutes later on the port (left) bow. No night time here. So, if we get into defining the point at which the sun rises for the start of the day, and the Sabbath, we get into trouble when we are living in places like Scotland, Northern Russia, Finland, Alaska, New Zealand, Terra del Fuego and many other places.

However, there is a solution, one that is applicable all over the world and one that was known to the Israelites. Many times in the Bible events are referred to as being “at noon”. Not close to, nearly, around the time of, or anything else except a precise and definite “at”. (See 1 Kings (Malachim – Aleph) 18:27 and 20:16, (T’hilim) Psalms 55:7, (Yirmi’yah) Jeremiah 6:4). The story of Hezekiah in 2 Kings (Malachim – Bet) 20:9-11, and sun going back ten degrees shows that the measurement of the passage of the sun was well known. Verse 11 even mentions the “dial of Ahaz”, which was a sun dial.  That marking the suns passage was known even earlier is evidenced by the Great Pyramid, when Flinders Petrie showed that with the polished marbled stone covering (removed by Islam to build mosques in Cairo) you have a very effective sundial and method of determining the precise time of noon. Similarly the usage of stone circles (which are structures built by Israelites on the migrations) can also be used to mark noon. Amos 8:9 tells us they knew about this when he specifically refers to the change in the passage of the sun “at noon”.

In modern parlance this is called the time of “Meridian Passage” or “MerPass” and is the moment when the sun passes over the meridian, that is a line of longitude on which the observer is standing. It is the time when the sun is vertically overhead and the latitude you are on, north or south is totally irrelevant to this measurement. Everyone on that meridian with you, from the equator to the pole sees MerPass at the same time and there is only one time associated with it.

In the days before GPS a mariner would mark the Meridian Passage using a sextant, which I have done many times. Remember the scene in the movie ‘Master and Commander – The Far Side Of The World’, when all the junior officers are on deck with sextants. That is what they were doing. It is an amazing thing. You are looking at the disc of the sun through a very dark lens and frantically spinning the thumbwheel to keep it in the centre as it moves up when, for a brief moment,  it stops then starts to go down just as quick. If you are not on the ball you can miss the call and still be scrolling up, then you lose the image of the sun as it falls out of the bottom of the optics and you know you messed it up. But when the MerPass is called the observer would say “Noon Sir” to the Officer of the Watch and he will reply with “Make it so”. The Bosun’s Mate would then strike eight on the ships bell in pairs, ding ding, ding ding, ding ding, ding ding, and the junior officer would turn all the hourglasses with which they would track time throughout the day and night. This was how they set their time on long voyages. *

Enough of the reminiscing, what this means is that regardless of your latitude, north or south and the length of days where you are, you can still be compliant with “Are there not 12 hours in the day” and set the start of your day and Sabbath accordingly. If you go to the Time and Date website and put in your city or latitude / longitude position, then look at the sun data your will see “Today’s Sun Position” and the time of the Meridian. For other days an Almanac is available that will give the times for your position throughout the year. We have an advantage here with our astronomical Almanacs that perhaps the Ancient Israelites didn’t have, or perhaps they did but no evidence has survived.  However, the difference in MerPass time from day to day is measured in seconds only, so missing a few days because of weather would not greatly affect the timing of the day as a whole. We know the ancients had reliable candle and water clocks, so it is quite certain there was a reliable method of keeping time, and letting everyone know by the Shofar or some other means.

So, the ancient Israelites had the means to know when the Meridian Passage occurred and so do we. In Israel they would not have struck a bell, but I think the sound of the Shofar would have been heard at midday marking the transition from morning to evening and allowing the scripture to be precise and say “at” noon.

Now the precise time of sunrise and sunset becomes irrelevant and the choices for which time to observe go away. It no longer matters if you live in Anchorage Alaska or Singapore, whether it’s dark until 10.00am in winter or still light at midnight. Setting the start time of the day by the time of noon (MerPass) does away with all that and fits in with the Biblical notion of six hours for morning and evening measured from noon.

Therefore we can mark our “Day” by commencing it six hours before MerPass and ending it six hours after regardless of what the sun is doing at that time. High above the horizon or already set. And if that day is a Sabbath, then that day of rest merges into a night of rest and you wake up next morning refreshed and ready to start the new day and the new work week.

Now, this makes sense.

May all Israel, Honour YHVH.
Alexander Knox

*The MerPass Observation was also used to find their latitude.
90 degrees – Observed Angle to the Horizon +/- Declination = Latitude of Observation.

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