When does the Sabbath start? That may seem like a no-brainer, but from Creation through Bible times, the days did not begin and end at midnight as they do today. Genesis 1:5 says, “The evening and the morning were the first day.” A day began when the preceding day closed, at sunset. The dark part of the day came first, then the light part.
In describing how to honor one of the feast days, God instructed the Israelites, “From evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath” (Leviticus 23:32). “Evening” is when the sun becomes even with the horizon, what we call sunset. “In the evening, at the going down of the sun ...” (Deuteronomy 16:6). “That evening, after sunset …” (Mark 1:32).
When the Israelites returned to Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity, Nehemiah had to teach them how to observe the Sabbath. To prevent the Israelites from carrying on their usual day-to-day business on Sabbath, Nehemiah commanded that the gates of Jerusalem be shut “when the evening shadows fell on the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath” (Nehemiah 13:15-19).
When the sun goes down on Friday evening, Sabbath begins. It is this creation memorial that we are to remember and keep holy (Exodus 20:8).
- Emily Thomsen