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Reckoning Days in Ancient Israel: More Evidence

ancient days, evening, morning, face of the morning, Israel's days, Exodus

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Besides the examples of peace offerings and Ruth there are other examples of how ancient Israel reckoned days in Scripture.  Consider Moses statements when the army of Egypt was about to overtake them in the wilderness. ‘And Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever."’ (Ex 14:13)


Verse 13 above was spoken by Moses during the daylight hours.  Israel was able to see the Egyptians even though they were evidently some distance away.  Verse 19 mentions the pillar of cloud moved from before them to behind them.  The pillar of cloud was for the daylight.  It was day, not night, when Moses spoke verse 13.  They were still able to see the Egyptians.  When evening came the cloud evidently separated them from the Egyptians and began giving light for the night to Israel (vs 20).  This would have blocked Israel’s view of the Egyptians. 


The cloud slowed the Egyptians, but they kept coming and in the dark of early morning the Creator started slowing them down even more (vs 24-25).  The sky was evidently just starting to lighten the next morning when the sea returned and destroyed them (vs. 27).  The literal Hebrew describes the situation as ‘to face of morning’.  A similar reference appears in Judges 19:26.  A woman fell on the door step at ‘the face of the morning’ and was there until it was light.  The face of the morning was evidently the first hint of sunrise.


What the Lord "will accomplish for you today" according to Moses, referred to activity that continued from daylight one day to almost the next sunrise. A new today did not begin with evening.  It would have been natural to humans for it to begin about sunrise when they usually got up.


Gen 19:33 'So they made their father drink wine that night. And the firstborn went in and lay with her father, and he did not know when she lay down or when she arose. 34 It happened on the next day that the firstborn said to the younger, "Indeed I lay with my father last night; let us make him drink wine tonight also, and you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve the lineage of our father." '


The phrase 'the next day' indicates a change in the day from the reference point, i.e. "that night".  The previous night was not part of this next day.  This does not indicate their day began in the evening.


I Sam 19:11 "Saul also sent messengers unto David’s house, to watch him, and to slay him in the morning: and Michal David’s wife told him, saying, ‘If thou save not thy life to nightto morrow thou shalt be slain."


Tomorrow, the next day, began in the morning.  That night and the following morning were different days.


Deu 21:23 "his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.


In Joshua 8:29 and 10:27 Joshua had dead people hanged on trees.  In both cases he left them there until sundown. About that time he ordered them to be buried.  If he considered the day to end at sundown, he wasn’t very diligent to make the deadline specified in the Law.  Nehemiah closed the gates of the city earlier before the Sabbath (Neh 13:19).  He had them shut when it began to be dark, literally shadowed.  By the time the sun is down there are no more shadows.


It was necessary for Israel to bury the bodies before going to bed, so the bodies wouldn’t ‘remain overnight’.  Their day continued past sun down similar to how we think of it.  The dark after the day was still part of that day.


Jud 6:38 "And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow< Str. 04283>, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water."  (04283 Heb. mochorath, the morrow, the day after)


Early the next day was early in the morning, when “he rose”, not early the previous evening.  To someone who reckons the day to begin with the evening, ‘early in the day’ would need to be connected with the evening.  The evening would be the early part of the day.


I Sam 5:4  “And when they arose early the next <04283> morning <01242>, there was Dagon, fallen on its face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. The head of Dagon and both the palms of its hands were broken off on the threshold; only Dagon’s torso was left of it.


Hebrew ‘mochorath’ is not another way to say morning.  In this case it is used with ‘boqer’ to indicate the next day, the next day morning.  ‘Boqer’ (01242) is the typical Hebrew word for morning.


This method of reckoning a day continued into New Testament times.  There is no disagreement that Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on the first day of the week, Sunday.  Messiah wasn’t there.  Later that afternoon He walked with two disciples to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31).  When they arrived it was almost evening (vs 29).  Later still He appeared to the disciples (John 20:19).  Likely this was after dark.  It is acknowledged as being late, yet it is identified as still the ‘first day of the week’.  According to how they typically considered a day it didn’t change with evening.


The common reckoning had day beginning in the morning.  They probably reckoned the day to begin at sunrise or when they awoke and to continue until they turned in that evening.  If they stayed up well after dark it was still the same day.  If it wasn’t a "mo’ed" this would work just fine and would be very simple and natural.  Likely a day encompassed one waking period.  Usually that’s all that concerned them.  This is the natural way humans would do it.  We do it about the same way now.  Our reckoning is not entirely natural since our reckoning is driven by the clock rather than the sun.