The Passover observance was to begin at a specific time of the day. Leviticus 23:5 and other passages define this time as being “at even” in the KJV, or in the Hebrew, “between the evenings,” Leviticus 23:5.
Some believe that the Passover should be observed in the afternoon on the 14th of Abib, contending that “between the evenings” means any time from noon to sunset. Others maintain that it means at dusk at the beginning of the 14th of Abib. A proper understanding of the term “between the evenings” will show us the proper time to observe the Passover.
Between the Evenings – Ben ha arbayim
The phrase “between the evenings” is from the Hebrew ben ha arbayim. It is this phrase that describes the time that the Passover lamb or goat was slaughtered on Abib 14. The exact definition of ben ha arbayim has long been debatable. The goal of this article is to establish a well-defined and scripturally supportable definition of ben ha arbayim.
There are two differing definitions attached to ben ha arbayim. The Pharisees, in accordance with their man-made Talmudic adherence, defined ben ha arbayim as any time from afternoon to sunset. Conversely, the Sadducees, Karaites, and Samaritans, in accordance with the Biblical Torah (law), all interpreted ben ha arbayim as being the time from sunset to complete darkness.
Exodus 12:6 reads, “And you shall keep it [the Passover sacrifice] up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening” (literally, “between the evenings.”). The Pharisees interpreted this as meaning between midafternoon, when the sun’s heat abated, and sunset, whereas the Sadducees took it to mean between sunset and dark” (Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary, note at Ex. 12:6).
Another authority says, “In the evening. Hebrew, between the evenings. From very early days opinions have differed as to the exact time of the sacrifice. The Samaritans and the Karaites construed it as the time between sunset and complete darkness. The Pharisees held to the traditional explanation that it was from the beginning of lengthening shadows to sunset, approximately 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., and with this the Talmud agrees” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary, note at Ex. 12:6).
And yet another source explains, “Between the evenings – Different opinions have prevailed among the Jews from a very early date as to the precise time intended. Aben Ezra agrees with the Caraites and Samaritans in taking the first evening to be the time when the sun sinks below the horizon, and the second the time of total darkness; in which case, ‘between the evenings’ would be from 6 o’clock to 7:20…According to the rabbinical idea, the time when the sun began to descend, viz. From 3 to 5 o’clock, was the first evening, and sunset the second; so that ‘between the evenings’ was from 3 to 6 o’clock. Modern expositors have very properly decided in favor of the view held by Aben Ezra and the custom adopted by the Caraites and Samaritans” (Commentary on the Old Testament, The Second Book of Moses).
It should be noted that the Pharisees, the political-religious leaders during the time of the Messiah, based their understanding not only the TANAKH, but also on their own rabbinical teachings that are found in the Talmud. The Messiah in Matthew 15 and Mark 7stated that the Pharisees transgressed Yahweh’s Word because of their traditions, referring to their rabbinical teachings found in the Talmud.
On the other side, the Sadducess and Karaites used only the TANAKH to establish their beliefs. Why is this important? Because we know that Yahshua kept the Passover not on the day that was reckoned by the Pharisees, but on the day established by Yahweh’s law and followed by the Sadducees, who were in charge of the Temple. Because Yahshua kept the Passover on the 14th of Abib as did the Sadducees, then He kept the Passover memorial between sunset and complete darkness. That could only have occurred at the start of the 14th to meet the requirement that the entire Passover be observed on the 14th (Num. 28:16).
Other Arguments Answered
Let’s look at some examples where ben ha arbayim is used in the Scriptures.
“I have heard the murmurings of the children of Israel: speak unto them, saying, At even (between the evenings) you shall eat flesh, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread; and you shall know that I am Yahweh your Elohim” (Exodus 16:12).
Exodus 16:12 states that Yahweh gave quail to the children of Israel between the evenings. Some speculate that this was done prior to sunset, thus being easier to capture the quail before nightfall. It is also a fact, however, that at sunset or dusk such birds are less active and more docile and confused because they have more difficulty seeing at twilight, thus making them easier to capture. There is, however, no evidence that this event occurred in midday or sunset.
In the Old Testament Yahweh instructed the Levites to offer one lamb in the morning and another lamb “between the evenings.”
“And with the one lamb a tenth deal of flour mingled with the fourth part of an hin of beaten oil; and the fourth part of an hin of wine for a drink offering. And the other lamb thou shalt offer at even (between the evenings), and shalt do thereto according to the meat offering of the morning, and according to the drink offering thereof, for a sweet savor, an offering made by fire unto Yahweh” (Ex. 29:40-41).
Both lambs were to be offered on the same day. Some say that this proves that “between the evenings” is before sunset, because at sunset one day ends and another day begins.
This argument also lacks definitive evidence that “between the evenings” refers to midafternoon. Scripturally, at sunset one day ends and another day begins. If a lamb was offered at the start of the day after the sun set (ben ha arbayim), and the other lamb was offered the following morning of that same day, both would be offered the same day. See Exodus 29:41 and Numbers 28:4, 8 for additional reference to the daily sacrifices.
Another example of ben ha arbayim is when Aaron the High Priest was commanded to light the menorah between the evenings.
“And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even (between the evenings), he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before Yahweh throughout your generations” (Ex. 30:8).
The lamp that Aaron was commanded to light every morning and evening (between the evenings) was located in the Holy Place within the tabernacle. This particular place could not have natural light. The only source of light within the Holy Place was that light that the seven-branch menorah produced.
Therefore, because the holy place of the tabernacle had no natural light it would make no difference whether it was lit midafternoon or at sunset. This again lacks anything definitive one way or the other for ben ha arbayim.
The last example of ben ha arbayim that we will look at is in connection with the Passover lamb.
“And you shall keep it up until the fourteenth day of the same month: and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it in the evening [between the evenings]” (Ex. 12:6).
This passage alone does not precisely pinpoint the time of ben ha arbayim. However, by looking at the entire context of the Passover the exact time will be made clear, along with the proper meaning of ben ha arbayim. A few facts must be established to understand this crucial Hebrew phrase and the timing of the Passover.
Fact One: the entire Passover service, and everything connected with it, must be kept on the fourteenth of Abib.
“In the fourteenth day of this month, at even (between the evenings), you shall keep it [Passover] in his appointed season: according to all the rites of it, and according to all the ceremonies thereof, shall you keep it” (Numbers 9:3).
The Passover cannot start on the thirteenth or go through the fifteenth. Yahweh says unequivocally that His Passover is on the fourteenth day of Abib. And ALL rites and ALL ceremonies of the Passover must take place on the 14th, Numbers 9:3.
Further, no part of Passover can be on the 15th because the Feast of Unleavened Bread is commanded to be on the 15th day of Abib (Lev. 23).
Fact Two: Yahweh’s day begins at sunset, and thus the Passover began at sunset. The importance of this fact will be clear after fact three.
Fact three: the death angel that killed the firstborn of both man and beast “passed over” at midnight on the fourteenth day of Abib. “And it came to pass, that at midnight Yahweh smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle” (Ex. 12:29).
If the children of Israel had waited to slaughter the lamb between midafternoon and sunset on the fourteenth day, all their firstborn would already have died, because it is written that the death angel came through at midnight (Ex. 12:29). Another contradiction: Slaughtering the Passover lamb between midafternoon and sunset on the 14th would also demand that the death angel would have had to pass through at midnight on the fifteenth day of Abib, not the 14th, which also opposes Scripture. All Scriptures maintain that the Passover is on the fourteenth day of Abib. Not one verse in the Bible allows otherwise. Yahweh reserved the 15th for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which specifically had to be kept in the wilderness and not in Goshen with the Passover, Leviticus 23: 6; Ex. 5:1.
Understanding Yahweh’s Passover is much like a puzzle. The complete, accurate picture becomes clear when all the pieces are put together correctly. It is a matter of Scriptural fact that Abib fourteen began at sunset and that the death angel came through at midnight, which would have been approximately six hours after sunset. Therefore, the lamb had to be slaughtered at or after sunset on the fourteenth, but before midnight on that selfsame night. Thus, we can quantitatively establish that ben ha arbayim means from sunset to complete darkness, not from midday to sunset.
Modern Translations Support Sunset
Most modern versions, including the TANAKH, New Revised Standard, New American Bible, New Jerusalem Bible, New King James, and New International Version, use the word “twilight” in Exodus 12:6 to describe ben ha arbayim. The Britannica World Language Dictionary defines twilight as, “The light diffused over the sky from sunset to dark and from dark to sunrise, caused by the reflection of sunlight from the higher portions of the atmosphere; hence, any faint light.”
In addition to the above Bible translations, the Revised English Bible, James Moffatt Bible, Lamsa Bible, Five Books of Moses, Harper Collins Study Bible, and Insight on the Scriptures all say that ben ha arbayim is from sunset to complete darkness.
• “Have it in safe keeping until the fourteenth day of this month, and then all the assembled community of Israel must slaughter the victims between dusk and dark” (Ex. 12:6, Revised English Bible).
• “Lamb or a kid, but you must keep it till the fourteenth day of the month, when every member of the community of Israel shall kill it between sunset and dark” (Ex. 12:6, James Moffatt).
• “And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this same month; and the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill it at sunset” (Exodus 12:6, Lamsa Bible).
• “Between the evenings: at Twilight” (The Five Books of Moses, note at Ex. 12:6).
• “Twilight, lit. “between the two settings,” apparently between sunset and the last of the residual light in the sky” (HarperCollins Study Bible, note at Ex. 12:6).
• “From the foregoing, and particularly in view of such texts as Exodus 12:17, 18, Leviticus 23:5-7, and Deuteronomy 16:6, 7, the weight of evidence points to the application of the expression “between the evenings” to the time between sunset and dark” (Insight on the Scriptures, article: Passover).
Likewise, the same support is found in many concordances and lexicons.
• “Between the evenings, i.e. prob. between sunset and dark” (The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon).
• “Even, Evening, Eventide – “To be or grow dark. The evening, when the day begins to be obscured. Between the evenings, the time when…the paschal lamb was slain” (Wilson’s Old Testament Word Studies).
• “Evening, twilight, dusk, the fading of the day; twilight can be extended to the dark of the night” (Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance).
• “Through the idea of covering with a texture; to grow dusky at sundown” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible).
Overwhelming Scriptural and scholarly verification concludes that ben ha arbayim is from sunset to complete darkness. That is when the Passover observance was to commence, both anciently and today. This is provable from Biblical context, modern translations, and the majority of Biblical word studies.