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In certain religious groupings where people keep the high days of Leviticus 23, there has been disagreement in regard to when they should keep those days. That is connected to the question, how did the ancient Israelites reckon the dates for their annual high days? This article takes a closer look at some of the scriptures some have brought up in that connection, and brings clarity to the whole matter.
Many Jews still keep those high days, in one way or another. Today, they do that according to a system where the dates for those days are calculated on beforehand. That system was invented after New Testament times, around year 300 CE. How were those dates figured out, in earlier times? Did even the ancient Israelites use a fixed table of days? According to old Jewish writings, it was not so. Read on, for more on this matter.
A note: This article is directed mostly to people in groupings of the above-mentioned kind. It might not make much sense to others.
Some people talk about “holy day calendars”. In that connection, it can be good to know certain things.
Today, the word “calendar” refers to an on beforehand arranged table of months and days. But, the original meaning of that word is quite different. This has to do with old Latin.
In ancient Rome, the first days of the months were called calendae or kalendae (“calends”). That came from the Latin verb calare which meant “to call out”, “to proclaim”. The beginning of each month was proclaimed or announced, when the new moon was sighted. In other words, Roman months used to be connected to the actual circuit of the moon. (This was before the Julian system with fixed days which began to be used in 45 BCE.)
It was the same in ancient Israel. Old Jewish writings make it clear that in biblical times, the Israelites did not have any on beforehand calculated table of months and days. Instead, the beginning of each month was determined through visual sighting of the new moon. There were special ceremonies connected to that sighting and the reporting and announcing of it.
(Sometimes, the new moon could not be seen, because of weather or so. Some say that in such a case, the ending month was given 30 days, and the next one 29. The average length of a synodic lunar month is around 29.53 days, but it varies between circa 29.18 and 29.93 days. One of the reasons for this variation is that the moon’s circuit is elliptic and not round.)
It was only later, after New Testament times, around 300 CE, that the Jews began using a system where the high days of Leviticus 23 were given fixed dates that were calculated in advance.
A side-note: Some writers have claimed that the word “oracles” which a number of bible-translators have put into Romans 3:2, refers to “oral instructions in regard to how to construct a calculated calendar”. But, the Greek text of that verse talks about ta logia tou Theou which simply means “the words of God”. Romans 3:2, “…they were entrusted with the Words of God”, VW08. That refers to the Old Testament. That passage has nothing to do with “calculations” or “calendars”.
Exodus 12 with its context shows that the first day of the Israelites’ first month – the beginning of their “religious year” – was in the spring, two weeks before the Passover.
Exodus 12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 “This month is to be the beginning of months for you; it is the first month of your year. (HCSB)
(That was spoken in connection with the Passover in Egypt. Verse 6 shows that the Passover lambs were killed on the 14th day of that first month.)
The Israelites’ months and years were based on the circuit of the moon, and not on the circuit of the sun. Now, twelve moon-circuits is around 354 days, 11 days less than a solar year. So, unless something was done, each of their new years would have begun circa 11 days earlier than in the preceding spring, in regard to the harvest situation and similar things.
Their annual high day seasons were to a certain extent tied to the agricultural year. For instance, winter barley (sown in the autumn, harvested in the spring) had to be ready for reaping by the middle of their first month. (New barley was needed for a “first-fruits” sacrifice in the Passover season.) If it towards the end of the twelfth month could be seen that the barley would not be ripe within the next few days, the ending year was given an extra, thirteenth month.
A note: Some writers have, for some reason, claimed that the ancient Israelites somehow counted the dates for their annual high days from the autumnal equinox of the sun (which occurs around September 21–24, in our reckoning). But, that is not so. Later, after biblical times, the Jews invented a calculated system, and the equinox may have been a part of that. – Here, it is good to keep in mind that the Old Covenant’s high day system was connected to the circuit of the moon and the harvest situation in the land of Israel. There is no indication that the ancient Israelites would have used the circuit of the sun or the equinoxes, for determining the dates for their high days. What some Jews have written or done after biblical times, is a different matter.
The ancient Israelites determined the first day for each month through the sighting of the new moon. But really what was a “new moon”, for them? Was it the dark moon, or the first visible crescent, or something else?
The Bible does not specifically spell this out, but several things considered together make it clear that it was the first visible crescent of light which could be seen on the previously dark moon, that was considered to be a “new moon”. This is verified by old Jewish writings; it was the sighting of the first thin crescent (in Jerusalem) that led to the announcement of a new month.
It appears that the below-quoted verse refers specifically to the Feast of Trumpets which was a new moon day.
Psalms 81:3 Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day. (AKJV)
(The date for the Feast of Trumpets was “appointed” in the meaning that it was to be kept on the first day of the seventh month. But, the beginning of that month was determined through the sighting of the new moon. – Of course, the Israelites knew that the new moon would come 29 or 30 days after the preceding one, and so, they were prepared to keep the Feast of Trumpets. But, it was the sighting of the new moon that determined which day was to be considered as the high day.)
Some bible-translators have put into that verse such wordings as “at the new moon, at the full moon”, but it is well known through old Jewish writings, that the ancient Israelites’ “new moon” was the first thin crescent of light which can be seen on a previously dark moon.
These notes are included here, because some have used the matter of beginning and ending of days, in their arguments in regard to when the Passover was to be (on what day, and at what time).
When did the Israelites’ days begin and end? The answer to that question can be found by studying Leviticus 23. Verses 27–32, combined, show how such things were reckoned in those ancient times. We read:
Leviticus 23:27 Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation to you; […] 32 It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath. (AKJV, highlighting added)
(A note: It is well known that the Israelites’ days were from evening to evening, sunset to sunset.)
So, Leviticus 23:27 states that the Day of Atonement was kept on the tenth day of the seventh month. And then, verse 32 shows that it actually began at the close of the ninth day. It was the same with the other high days. For instance, when it was said that the first of the Days of Unleavened Bread was on the fifteenth day of the first month (Leviticus 23:6), this meant that it began at evening at the close of the fourteenth day.
Above, it was noted that in biblical times, the Israelites did not have on beforehand fixed dates for their high days. They determined the beginning of their months through visual sighting of the new moon.
In contrast to that, today the Jews have a system with a fixed table of months and days. That system is based on a calculated moon-circuit, but it has also something that is called “postponements”.
At some point of time, apparently in connection with the system with calculated days which was introduced after biblical times, some Jews decided that they did not want the Day of Atonement to fall on a Friday or Sunday, or the seventh day of the Feast of Booths to fall on a Saturday. They accomplished this (for those years when that was “needed”), by postponing the first day of the seventh month – the Feast of Trumpets – moving it forward a day or two.
So, on certain years, the Jews keep the Feast of Trumpets, not in connection with the new moon but a day or two later. (This has also a bearing on the dates for the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Booths and the Assembly on the Eighth Day.)
The Old Covenant’s instruction, as it is recorded in the five books of Moses, does not say anything about “postponements”.
The following contains some remarks on certain matters in connection with the ancient Israelites’ Passover ritual.
Here, one must keep in mind that the word “Passover” is used in different ways. Sometimes, it refers to the “Passover sacrifice” – the day when the lambs were killed and slaughtered. After this came the “Passover night” when those lambs were roasted and then eaten. More: The daylight-part which followed that night, has come to be called “Passover day”. Further: Sometimes, the word “Passover” has been used as a reference to the entire eight-day period which included the day when the lambs were killed and the seven Days of Unleavened Bread.
The killing and slaughtering of the Passover lambs was done on the 14th day of that month:
Exodus 12:6 And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month. And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings. (LIT)
The wording “between the evenings” which the above-quoted LIT has in this verse, is a literal translation of the phrase is ben ha arbayim in the Hebrew text.
For the Israelites, days began and ended at sunset. But, the special term “between the evenings”, Hebrew ben ha arbayim, referred to something different.
For those ancient Hebrews, a day had two “evenings” (Hebrew ereb, plural arbayim). A common view is that the first ereb was when the sun began to descend (noon), and that the second ereb was when it set and vanished out of sight. And so, on the practical level the phrase ben ha arbayim, “between the evenings”, Exodus 12:6, referred to the middle part of the afternoon, around 15:00 in our reckoning. That is also when the “evening sacrifice” was made in the sanctuary. More:
The New Testament records that Jesus the True Passover gave his life as the Lamb of God, in the middle of the afternoon on the 14th day of the Israelites’ first month. The Jews killed their Passover lambs at the same time.
The word ereb and the phrase ben ha arbayim are discussed in more detail in appendix 1.
Appendix 2 considers certain things that some have brought up in arguments in regard to the timing of the killing of the lambs, and the timing of the high day which has come to be called “Passover day”.
(The article nca040.htm has some notes on certain timing-related things, in regard to the Passover season when Jesus gave his life.)
In the Old Testament, Pentecost is called “the Feast of harvest” (Exodus 23:16) and “the Feast of weeks” (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:10). The reason for the first name is that that day was connected to the early wheat harvest (winter wheat, sown in the autumn and reaped in the spring). The other name, “Feast of weeks”, has to do with the fact that that day was to be kept seven weeks after a certain day in the Passover season.
Seven weeks is 49 days. (Those were simply seven-day periods, and not “calendar weeks”.) But, as Leviticus 23:16 states, the count was actually 50 days. This was because even the day from which the count was started, was included in the count, so that it actually was a matter of counting (7 × 7) + 1 = 50 days. “Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall you number fifty days”. That is why Greek-speaking Jews called the Feast of weeks by the name Pentêkostê, “fiftieth”.
Leviticus 23:11–16 is one of passages that have a bearing on the date for Pentecost. It records that the count to Pentecost was started from the day when a wave offering (of barley) was made in the Passover season, “on the morrow after the Sabbath”.
Leviticus 23:11 And he shall wave the omer before the Lord, that it may be favourably received for you; on the morrow after the holy day shall the priest wave it. […] 15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the holy day, from the day that ye bring the omer of the wave-offering, that it be seven complete weeks: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall then offer a new meat-offering unto the Lord. (LSR)
In the system with fixed dates which the Jews invented around 300 CE, Pentecost is always on the sixth day of their third month. But earlier when the beginning of months was determined through the sighting of the new moon, it could fall on the fifth, sixth or seventh day, depending on how many days the first and second months came to have (29 or 30) through the sighting system.
During the centuries between Old Testament and New Testament times, there arose a strife among the Jews, between the Sadducee and Pharisee parties, in regard to on what day the wave sacrifice in the Passover season was to be presented. This affected even the date for Pentecost.
That strife between those parties had to do with many things; the date matter was only a small part of it. That strife actually led to several civil wars in Israel, resulting in countless people’s death. This was caused by certain warlords who made themselves both rulers and high priests. Those warlords sided with the Sadducee party.
The Sadducee party, including the Boethusians who apparently were a fraction of it, wanted to introduce changes, for instance to the temple-ritual. In contrast to that, the Pharisee party wanted to preserve the traditional ways.
Old Jewish writings say that the wave sacrifice from which the 50-day count to Pentecost was started, was made on the day after the annual Sabbath which is mentioned in Leviticus 23:6–7 and 15 – in other words, it was made on the morning of the 16th day in the Israelites’ first month. But, the Sadducees claimed that it was to be made on a weekly Sabbath in that season.
Various kinds of claims have been made in regard to that matter, often with complicated and confusing details. There is more on this in appendix 3 at the end of this article, but here are some shorter notes:
Here, one must keep in mind that the first time the (barley) sacrifice of Leviticus 23:11 and 15 and the wheat sacrifice of Leviticus 23:16 were presented, was around 40 years after the Exodus. That is, after the Israelites had entered the Promised Land. During the 40-year desert sojourn which followed the Exodus, they neither sowed nor harvested. Instead, they ate manna. – The point here is that it is quite obvious that the 50-day count of Leviticus 23:15–16 did not point to something that came to happen several decades after the Exodus. That count must have referred to the seven weeks between the Israelites’ departure from Rameses in Egypt, which happened on the morning after the Passover, and the making of the covenant by Mount Sinai, seven weeks later. (See this time-graph.)
For more on the strife between the Sadducee and Pharisee parties, see appendix 3 in this present article, and the article noa130.htm.
The article nxa020.htm contains a study on Pentecost and its symbolism.
In other words: Should believers in some way keep those days, or some of them?
The article nxa090.htm contains a detailed study on that matter.
See also the “recommended reading” section, after the appendixes below.
Some writers have, in connection with their claims regarding certain things, quoted Leviticus 23:5 in translations which have in that verse such wordings as “on the fourteenth day of the month at even”. But, the meaning of the Hebrew text is actually “on the fourteenth of the month, between the evenings”. Here are three of the relevant passages:
Exodus 12:5 A flock animal, a perfect one, a male, a yearling, shall be to you. You shall take from the sheep or from the goats. 6 And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month. And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings. (LIT, highlighting added)
Leviticus 23:4 These are appointed seasons of Jehovah, holy convocations, which ye proclaim in their appointed seasons: 5 in the first month, on the fourteenth of the month, between the evenings, is the passover to Jehovah (LIT, highlighting added)
Numbers 9:3 In the fourteenth day of this month, between the evenings, you shall prepare it according to all its statutes, and according to all its ordinances. 4 And Moses spoke to the sons of Israel to prepare the Passover. 5 And they prepared the Passover in the first month on the fourteenth day of the month, between the evenings, in the wilderness of Sinai, according to all that Jehovah had commanded Moses, so the sons of Israel did. (LIT, highlighting added)
(Please note those passages refer to the Passover sacrifice, the day when the lambs were killed and slaughtered, and not the night when they were eaten.)
The wording in the Hebrew text is ben ha arbayim, “between the evenings”. (Arbayim is plural of ereb, “evening”.)
It is said that the ancient Israelites divided a day’s sun-lit part into two halves, “morning” (from sunrise to noon) and “evening” (from noon to sunset). The time when the sun begins to descend (noon) was counted as the “first evening”; the “second evening” was when the sun set and vanished out of sight. On the practical level, the Hebrew idiom ben ha arbayim, “between the evenings”, refers to the middle part of the afternoon. Read on:
Consider this: The biblical record shows that Jesus the True Passover gave his life as the Lamb of God, in the middle of the afternoon on the 14th day of the first month (Abib). At the same time, the Jews were killing their Passover lambs.
In contrast to that, some have claimed that the phrase ben ha arbayim referred to dusk, the time between sunset and dark. (A note: In the land of Israel, in the March–April period, the dusk is a rather short period of time, not very many minutes.)
Apparently, the Sadducees and some Samaritans had interpreted that phrase as referring to the time between sunset and dark.
(Samaritans: It is thought that they were a mixed people who had been brought to the Samaria area, in place of the northern tribes of Israel who had been taken into captivity. It is said that the Samaritans had their own version of the Torah, and their own interpretations of it. They observed some of the Old Covenant’s rituals, but they did those things in their own way.)
Also: Some 800 years after New Testament times, there arose a small, old-covenantal, partially Jewish sect of Babylonian origin. Apparently, that sect copied some Sadducee or Samarite dogmas or practices. Later forms of that sect have come to be called “Karaism”, whence “Karaites”. – In the 1900s, some writers and groups for some reason referred to that old-covenantal Karaite sect’s teachings, and apparently some even used a part of them as guidelines. That is quite strange, because Karaism rejects Jesus and the New Testament and the New Covenant.
So, what should one think, in regard to the phrase ben ha arbayim? Did it refer to the middle of the afternoon, or to dusk? Here, one must keep in mind the fact that Jesus the True Passover gave his life in the middle of the afternoon on the 14th day of the first month. That is also when the Jews killed their Passover lambs. And, we can be certain that Jesus the Lamb of God gave his life “at the right time”.
The following contains some notes on certain matters that some brought up in connection with debates regarding the timing of Passover.
Some have made Exodus 30:8 into a matter of debate, in this connection. They have claimed that verse to prove that the phrase ben ha arbayim or “between the evenings” referred to the short dusk period after sunset.
Let us consider that matter. The wider context in Exodus 30 shows that that passage has to do with the altar of incense in the sanctuary. Even the lampstand is mentioned.
Exodus 30:1 ‘And thou hast made an altar for making perfume […] 7 ‘And Aaron hath made perfume on it, perfume of spices, morning by morning; in his making the lamps right he doth perfume it, 8 and in Aaron’s causing the lamps to go up between the evenings, [a] he doth perfume it; a continual perfume before Jehovah to your generations. (YLT, note sign added)
a “Between the evenings”, Hebrew ben ha arbayim.
A number of translators have put into verse 8 wordings that might cause the readers to think that the oil-burning lamps in the sanctuary were lit only in the evening when darkness came. That in its turn might then make some readers think that the phrase ben ha arbayim referred to “dusk”.
In the sanctuary, the menorah-lampstand which had seven separate fires, was continually lit, but possibly not to the same extent at all hours. The above-quoted verse 7 says that Aaron (the high priest) “made the lamps right” in connection with the morning sacrifice; some translations have “when he trims the lamps”, “when he tends the lamps”, or similar. And, at the time of the evening sacrifice – which was around 15:00 in our reckoning – he caused the light in the lamps to “go up”, verse 8. Eventually, this meant “burn brighter”. One ancient writer said that during the time between the morning and evening sacrifices, only three of the seven lamps were let burn. At the time of the evening sacrifice – around 15:00 in our reckoning – all of the seven lamps were burning.
(A clarifying note, regarding the lampstand or menorah in the sanctuary: It was not a “candlestick”. It was a lampstand with seven separate fires that were fed by olive oil.)
As you can see, Exodus 30:8 does not “prove” anything, in regard to the timing of the Israelites’ high days. It does not discuss that matter. It only records that the high priest was to tend the lamps in the sanctuary, in connection with the “evening sacrifice”. That was around 15:00 in our reckoning.
(Apparently, the lamps were tended also in connection with the “morning sacrifice” which was around 09:00 in our reckoning.)
Some writers have made the quails which are mentioned in Exodus 16:13, into a factor in debates concerning the timing of the Old Covenant’s high days. Let us consider that passage.
Exodus 16:12 I have heard the murmurings of the sons of Israel. Speak to them, saying, Between the evenings [Hebrew ben ha arbayim] you shall eat flesh; and in the morning you shall be satisfied with bread; and you shall know that I am Jehovah your God. 13 And it happened in the evening [ereb]: the quail came up and covered the camp. And in the morning a layer of dew was around the camp. (LIT, comments added)
Some writers have claimed that verses 12 and 13, taken together, prove that the old Hebrew phrase ben ha arbayim (“between the evenings”) had [always] the same meaning as ereb (“even”, verse 13). But, that is not so. Here, one must keep in mind that even though those two expressions could in some cases refer to the same point of time, they did not have the same meaning. The word ereb could refer to many different times, from noon to sunset and even after that (see also its use in Genesis 1:5), but the phrase ben ha arbayim, “between the evenings”, was more specific and referred to the middle of the afternoon.
In short: Exodus 16:12–13 with its quails has nothing to do with the ancient Israelites’ annual high days or their timing.
Many kinds of things have been used as arguments in debates concerning the timing of the killing of the Passover lambs, and the timing of the day which has come to be called “Passover day”.
This has to do with such passages as Exodus 11 and 12 (the event when the Israelites spoiled the Egyptians), Exodus 12:42 (the meaning of the phrase “night of solemn observance”), Exodus 12:22 and Deuteronomy 16:1 (whether the Israelites had to stay indoors until sunrise) and Numbers 33:3 (the meaning of the word “morrow”, and whether it was night, morning or daytime when the Israelites departed from Rameses). Those passages and some other matters are discussed under the subheadings that follow here.
Some notes: Keep in mind that the word “Passover” can refer to different things. The day when the lambs were killed and slaughtered, was called “Passover”. The nightly ceremony when those lambs were eaten, has also been called “Passover”. Some have even called the day which followed after that, “Passover day”. Likewise, the entire eight-day period from the 14th to the 21st day in the Israelites’ first month, has sometimes been called “Passover”. If one is not careful, one can misunderstand certain things in the Scriptures, in this regard.
Some writers have claimed that the Passover night and the “night of solemn observance” of Exodus 12:42 were two different nights. They have tried to prove that claim by the help of wordings that some translations have in Exodus 12:36. The following sorts out that matter.
In some bible-versions, certain verbs in the Hebrew text of Exodus 12 are translated in a way that could cause casual bible-readers to think that the spoiling which that passage mentions, was done after the Passover night. That thought in its turn might cause someone to think that in such a case, the “night of solemn observance” of Exodus 12:42 must have been on the following night.
But, a number of translations make it more clear that when the Passover night came, the spoiling had already been done.
The “spoiling” story begins in Exodus 11 which is about events that took place before the Passover night in Egypt.
Exodus 11:1 Now the Lord said to Moses, “One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out from here completely. 2 “Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold.” 3 And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. […] (NASB77)
Verse 2 records that the Israelites were told to ask the Egyptians for valuables. They did that, and, verse 3, “the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians.” This was before the Passover. (Actually, that “spoiling” matter is mentioned already in Exodus 3:20–22.)
Then, verses 35–38:
Exodus 12:35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. 37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock. (NASB77, highlighting added)
The Israelites had asked for things from the Egyptians, just as the Lord had told them to do. When the Passover night came, that plundering or spoiling had already been done.
This point is included here, because some writers have claimed that the “night of solemn observance” of Exodus 12:42 was not the Passover night but instead the following one. Such claims have caused some people to think that Exodus 12:6 refers to an event during the last part of the 13th day of the first month, and not the 14th.
Exodus 12:1–3 records that the Israelites were to select lambs for the Passover sacrifice, already on the tenth day of their first month. Those lambs were then killed on the 14th day of that month, “between the evenings”, Hebrew ben ha arbayim (that is, in the middle part of the afternoon, see above in appendix 1).
Exodus 12:6 And it shall be for you to keep until the fourteenth day of this month. And all the assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it between the evenings. (LIT)
In verse 42, some translations have the phrase “a night to be much observed”; some others have such wordings as “a night of observance”, “a night of watching”. The New King James version has “a night of solemn observance”:
Exodus 12:41 And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord [b] went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations. 43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover […] (NKJV, note sign and highlighting added)
b Verse 41,“the ‘armies’ of the Lord” = “the hosts of the Lord” = the Israelites whom the Lord took out from Egypt.
Does verse 42 refer to the nightly ceremony with the Passover meal, or the following night as some have claimed? Here, it is important to first check and understand certain other things which are connected to the day when the lambs were killed, and the night after that, in Egypt. Several such matters are discussed under the following headings. But, in short: Of course, the phrase “night of solemn observance” in verse 42 refers to the night when the Israelites ate their Passover lambs. Read on, for more on this.
A note: Some have claimed that the lambs were slaughtered “at dusk”, and that it “was not possible” for the Israelites to roast those lambs so quickly that they could eat them that night and then depart in the morning, before sunrise. But again, the lambs were killed, not “at dusk” but in the middle of the afternoon, around 15:00 in our reckoning. There was ample time for preparing and roasting those lambs so that they were ready for eating around midnight.
We know that in Egypt, the Lord told the Israelites to eat the Passover-meal in haste, and with their clothes and shoes on and with their “staff in their hand”, Exodus 12:11. In other words: As they ate their lambs, they were ready to leave Egypt. So, did they depart from Rameses that night, or at some later time?
Also: Is there a conflict between Deuteronomy 16:1 which states that the Israelites left Egypt “by night”, and Exodus 12:21 which says that they were not to leave their houses “until morning”?
(There is even Numbers 33:3 which says that the Israelites went out “in the sight of the Egyptians”, “on the morrow”. The translation and meaning of that passage is discussed and clarified later in this appendix.)
A closer consideration of this matter shows that there is no conflict between Deuteronomy 16:1 and Exodus 12:22. One must keep in mind that the concepts “night” and “morning” overlap. It can be said that “night” ends at sunrise, but on the other hand, “morning” begins already in the dark hours, a long time before daylight. Here is an example of that kind of use of the old Hebrew word boqer (“morning”):
Ruth 3:14 And she lay at his feet until the morning [boqer], and rose up before one could discern another. And he said, Let it not be known that a woman has come to the grain floor. (LIT, comment added)
This was regarding Ruth. She left that place “in the morning”, but this was already before daylight, “before one could discern another”. As you can see, for the ancient Hebrews, morning began a long time before sunrise. Just as an English morning does. – Having noted this, let us now consider Deuteronomy 16:1 and Exodus 12:21–23.
Deuteronomy 16:1 Observe the month Abib, and keep the Passover to Jehovah your God. For in the month of Abib Jehovah your God brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 And you shall sacrifice a Passover to Jehovah […] (LIT, highlighting added)
Exodus 12:21 And Moses called to all the elders of Israel and said to them Draw out and take of the flock for you and for your families, and kill the passover. 22 And take a bunch of hyssop and dip in the blood in the basin. And touch some of the blood in the basin to the upper doorpost and to the two side doorposts. And you shall not go out, anyone from the door of his house until morning. 23 And Jehovah will pass through to strike Egypt. […] (LIT, highlighting added)
(Verse 22, “morning” – the Hebrew text has boqer.)
Right here, the point is that the phrase “until morning” in Exodus 12:22 does not mean “until daylight”. Again, morning begins a long time before sunrise. – Now, why did the Lord tell the Israelites not to go out “until morning”? It was for this reason:
Exodus 11:4 Then Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt; 5 ‘and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the female servant who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the animals. (NKJV, highlighting added)
Exodus 12:12 ‘For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord. 13 ‘Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (NKJV)
So, Exodus 11:4 shows that it was around midnight that the Israelites had reason to stay indoors. But, when it became morning, they could safely leave their houses. And again, morning begins already a long time before sunrise; night and morning “overlap”.
In short: When Deuteronomy 16:1 states that the Lord brought them out “by night”, that refers to the early morning part of the 15th day of the first month, before sunrise.
For the sake of clarity – some timings: The lambs were killed in the afternoon of the 14th day. The 15th day began at sunset at the close of the 14th. The solemn ceremony when the lambs were eaten, was during the first part (night) of the 15th day.
In Numbers 33:3, many English bible-translations say that the Israelites went out “in the sight of the Egyptians”, and that they departed from Rameses “on the morrow after the Passover”, or “on the morrow after the Passover sacrifice” as some have it. But, some writers have claimed that that verse refers to a morning 24 hours later. Let us consider that passage and matter.
Numbers 33:3 And they departed from Rameses in the first month, on the fifteenth day [c] of the first month; on the morrow after the passover [d] the children of Israel went out with an high hand in the sight of [e] all the Egyptians. (AKJV, note signs added)
What does “morrow” in that verse refer to – or really, what is the Hebrew word in question, and what did it mean? See the notes below.
c The above-quoted verse states in plain language that the Israelites departed from Rameses on the 15th day. (The lambs were killed in the afternoon of the 14th day of the first month.) The Israelites’ days began and ended at sunset. This means that the 15th day began after sunset at the close of the 14th, and that the first part of the 15th day consisted of an evening and a night. During that night, the Israelites ate their Passover lambs “in haste”, Exodus 12:11, with their clothes and shoes on and with “their staff in their hand”, ready to depart. – And again, keep in mind that “night” and “morning” overlap. The last part of that night formed the early dark hours of the morning. That is when the Israelites began their journey out from Egypt.
d Numbers 33:3 also states that they left “on the morrow after the passover”. In that phrase, “morrow” is mohorat in the Hebrew text. That simply refers to the morning at the end of the night when the Passover lambs were eaten. Some writers have confused things by claiming that the word mohorat referred to a morning some 24 hours after the night in question, but that is not so. For examples of the use of that word in this kind of connection, see for instance Judges 6:37–38 and 1 Samuel 5:1–4 where it is obvious that it refers to the morning directly after the night in question.
e Numbers 33:3 – the Israelites left “in the sight of all the Egyptians”. Some might say, “How could the Egyptians see them leaving, if it was night?” Well, this was in the middle of the month, full moon time. In Egypt where clouds are rare, a full moon gives much light. And, it could also be that the pillar of fire, see Exodus 13:21, lit the Israelites’ way right from the beginning. And anyway, it probably was a long time after sunrise before the “tail end” of that huge multitude of people (Exodus 12:37–38) had left Rameses, and so, the Egyptians certainly saw the Israelites leaving.
In certain groupings where people keep the high days of Leviticus 23, there has been disagreement in regard to how the date for the Feast of weeks (Pentecost) was counted in biblical times. The background for that disagreement is found in a strife which took place more than 2000 years ago. In order to sort out this matter, it can be helpful to consider some of those things of the ancient past.
During a part of the several hundred years long period between Old and New Testament times, there was a power-struggle between the Pharisee and Sadducee parties. It had an impact even on the matter of dates for high days. According to old Jewish writings, the Sadducees wanted to change a number of things in the temple-ritual. For a time, they actually succeeded in that. It is said that one of the things that they changed, was the timing and manner of a certain wave-sacrifice in the Passover season. This had a bearing on the date for Pentecost, because it was counted from the day when that sacrifice was made.
The following contains some notes on the power-struggle between the Pharisee and Sadducee parties.
In 134 BCE, the warlord Johanan Hyrcanus managed to make himself both ruler and high priest in Jerusalem. According to the Jewish-Roman writer Josephus (ca. 37–104 CE), a member of the Pharisee party had expressed doubts in regard to Johanan’s lineage – that is, concerning his right to be a priest. This caused Johanan to be enraged. Earlier, he had been in favour of the Pharisees and had even made their teachings into law, but after this he favoured the Sadducee party instead. (Josephus, ‘Antiquities of the Jews’, book XIII.) After Johanan Hyrcanus’ reign, his son Judah Aristobulus became the ruler. The year after this, the rulership was taken over by Alexander Jannaeus, a warlord of extremely bad nature. Even he made himself a high priest, besides acting as a ruler.
During the reign of both Johanan Hyrcanus and Alexander Jannaeus, the Pharisee party was forced out from the Sanhedrin (the Jewish council in Jerusalem). But, Alexander Jannaeus died, and his wife Salome became the ruler. It is said that she was favourable to the Pharisee party, and that during her reign (76–67 BCE), the Pharisees were restored and rose to power and influence. This led to that also the traditional temple-ritual was restored. The article noa130.htm has more on this and on the Sadducees in general; right here it is enough to note that in New Testament times, it was again the Pharisees who were in control of the temple-ritual, also in the case that the high priest happened to belong to the Sadducee party.
Again, that power-struggle of ancient times affected even the way the date for Pentecost was counted. A part of that matter had to do with how Leviticus 23:11 should be interpreted.
Leviticus 23:9 And the Lord spoke unto Moses, saying, 10 Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When ye shall have come into the land which I give unto you, and reap the harvest thereof: then shall ye bring an omer full of the first of your harvest [g] unto the priest; 11 And he shall wave the omer before the Lord, that it may be favorably received for you; on the morrow after the holy day shall the priest wave it. [f] […] 15 And ye shall count unto you from the morrow after the holy day, from the day that ye bring the omer of the wave-offering, that it be seven complete weeks: 16 Even unto the morrow after the seventh week shall ye number fifty days; and ye shall then offer a new meat-offering unto the Lord. (LSR, note signs added)
f Verse 11 – the Pharisees maintained that the words “the morrow after the holy day” referred to the 16th day of the first month, which was the day after an annual Sabbath. The Sadducees, who wanted to change things, claimed that those words instead referred to a day after a weekly Sabbath in connection with the Passover season. This had a bearing on Pentecost, because its date was counted from the in verse 11 mentioned day when the wave offer was presented.
g Verse 11, “bring an omer full of the first of your harvest” – the omer was not a “sheaf” as some bible-translators have made it seem. Clarification: The omer was a volume-measure; see Exodus 16:16, 18, 22, 32, 33 and 36. Jewish tradition has it that the first-fruits barley which was brought to the sanctuary, was prepared into special spiced flour. A part of that flour was then presented as a “wave sacrifice”. Here are excerpts from the article “Omer” in the 1906 ‘Jewish Encyclopedia’:
Manner of Waving the ‘Omer.
After the grain had been gathered it was brought to the courtyard of the Temple, where, according to R. Meïr, it was parched while it was still in the ear; according to the other rabbis, it was first thrashed and then parched. The grain was ground into coarse meal and then sifted through thirteen sieves until it became very clean, after which the tenth part was taken, the measure of the ‘omer, and given to the priest. […] The priest proceeded with the ‘omer as with any other meal-offering: he poured oil and frankincense over the meal, “waved” it, and then burned a handful of it on the altar; the remainder was eaten by the priests […] As soon as the ‘omer ceremony was completed the people of Jerusalem were permitted to eat of the newly harvested grain; people of towns far from Jerusalem might not do so until after noon, when it was certain that the ceremony at Jerusalem had been concluded.
According to that encyclopedia entry, the “omer” sacrifice which was “waved” after the Passover day (Leviticus 23), consisted of specially prepared flour.
It appears that when the Pharisees were in control of the temple ritual (such as during New Testament times), that wave offer was presented on the 16th day of the first month. It was from and including that day, that the Israelites each year counted the 49 + 1 = 50 days, in order to get a date for Pentecost. That count could lead to the fifth, sixth or seventh day of the third month, depending on how many days the first and second months came to have, 29 or 30. (The number of days in a month was not fixed in advance but depended on when the new moons were sighted. This is the reason why there was a need to count, in order to determine which day was to be observed as Pentecost.)
What did those seven weeks actually point to? Apparently, some have thought that they referred to the time between Passover and the early harvest of winter wheat at Pentecost time in the spring. But, consider the fact that the period between the Passover in Egypt and the time when the Israelites ate first-fruits of a wheat harvest in the Promised Land, was around 40 years, and not 50 days. (After the Exodus, the Israelites stayed in the Arabian desert for 40 years. During that 40-year desert sojourn, they did not sow or harvest. Instead, they ate manna.)
It is quite obvious that the 50-day count to Pentecost was reminiscent of the seven weeks between the Israelites’ departure from Rameses in Egypt and the making of the Old Covenant by Mount Sinai – more exactly, the day when the Lord spoke “the words of the covenant”. [h]
h This refers to what is recorded in Exodus 20.
Some writers have used Joshua 5:10–11 as a basis for certain arguments, in connection with the date for Pentecost.
Some of those writers have first assumed that the wave sacrifice of Leviticus 23:11 was made on a day after a weekly Sabbath. They have further assumed that the instruction of Leviticus 23:10–11 was put into practice already in the Passover season when the Israelites crossed over the river Jordan, in the days of Joshua. And also, they have read Joshua 5:9–12 as if a wave sacrifice was mentioned in that passage.
But, what does Joshua 5 really say, and not say?
Joshua 5:9 The Lord then said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you.” Therefore, that place has been called Gilgal to this day. 10 While the Israelites camped at Gilgal on the plains of Jericho, they kept the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month. [i] 11 The day after Passover [i] they ate unleavened bread and roasted grain from the produce of the land. 12 And the day after they ate from the produce of the land, the manna ceased. Since there was no more manna for the Israelites, they ate from the crops of the land of Canaan that year. (HCSB, note sign added)
i Verses 10 and 11: The Passover-sacrifice when the lambs were killed, was on the fourteenth day. Those lambs were then roasted and eaten, during the evening and night which followed, the “Passover night”. Even the day which followed that night, has sometimes been called “Passover day”.
Joshua 5 talks about the time when the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land, after the 40-year sojourn in the Arabian desert. Verse 11 states that they ate unleavened bread and roasted grain from the produce of the land. Was that grain from an earlier harvest (captured stores), or from a harvest during that spring? We do not know. And, was it barley, or something else? We do not know. The Hebrew text simply has abuwr which apparently referred to “produce”. Also: Is a wave sacrifice mentioned in that passage? No. Further: Was there a place for that sacrifice – that is, had the Levites set up the portable sanctuary, already at that time, directly after crossing the river Jordan, while the Israelites were still on war-footing? We do not know.
So, what is it that could be “proven”, by the help of Joshua 5, in regard to the date for Pentecost? Nothing at all.
From the biblical record, it can be calculated that the event by Mount Sinai, when the Lord spoke “the words of the covenant”, took place around the sixth day of that year’s third month, give or take a day or so. That is, circa 50 days after the Israelites’ departure from Rameses in Egypt.
The below-quoted passage makes it possible to calculate when the event of Exodus 20:1–17 took place, within a range of three days.
Exodus 19:1 On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. (TNIV)
That wording “on the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt” is correct, but it can easily be misunderstood. The article noa060.htm has more on Exodus 19:1, but in short: The phrase “the first day of the third month” does not refer to a day after two months of journeying. It refers to the first day of the third month of that year.
Here is an excerpt from the entry on Exodus 19 in the 1871 Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary:
Ver. 1–25. Arrival at Sinai. 1. In the third month—according to Jewish usage, the first day of that month—“same day.”—It is added, to mark the time more explicitly, i.e., forty-five days after Egypt—one day spent on the mount (v. 3), one returning the people’s answer (v. 7, 8), three days of preparation, making the whole time fifty days from the first passover […]
The following clarifies the sequence of events, from the day when the Israelites departed from Rameses in Egypt, to the making of the covenant by Mount Sinai.
The article nxa020.htm has some notes on Pentecost and its symbolism.
See also the “recommended reading” section, below.
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Recommended reading here at the Bible Pages, on related as well as other matters
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → nsa090.htm
Should the Old Covenant’s Sabbaths, the annual ones and the weekly one, be kept today? → nxa090.htm
Who were the Sadducees, and what were their teachings? Also: Who were the Herodians and the Boethusians? → noa130.htm
The Old Covenant’s high day Pentecost and its symbolism, and some New Covenant parallels. → nxa020.htm
The New Covenant’s bread and wine, versus the Old Covenant’s Passover. → nca040.htm
The route of the Exodus, and the location of Mount Sinai. Did the Israelites cross the Red Sea by the Gulf of Suez, or by the Gulf of Aqaba? Or, was it some “reed sea” they went over, as some say? And, where did the forty-year desert sojourn take place? → noa060.htm
A time-graph of the events of the Exodus trek from Rameses in Egypt to Mount Sinai in Arabia. The fifty days from the Passover in Egypt to the making of the covenant by Mount Sinai. → noa060e.htm
Regarding the matter of the two covenants, old and new, look under the heading “Covenant, covenants” on the page key12.htm.
Regarding the Old Covenant’s high days and their symbolism, look under the heading “High days” on the page key27.htm.
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