The Yearly Passover Question: Beginning or the End of the 14th?

Passover blood on doorposts
Passover is the next big feast day approaching, and I am excited! Passover talk and study has already begun in our house.  One of the yearly questions that comes up is:

Was the Passover lamb killed at the beginning or the end of the 14th day?

This year, after taking a look at the Hebrew phrase “ben ha arbayim,” I have some new considerations in this debate.

What follows is my study on this phrase.  Much of what follows was brought to my attention through various teachings/papers.  I am so thankful to have access to people who have studied Biblical languages and have rolled these questions around in their minds longer than I have.  I will make note of those sources as I go.

Though I did gain insights through other people, I have, to the best of my ability, verified everything here.  I didn’t just take an idea and run with it.  I have learned that all humans are capable of error, and all must be tested against the word.  Interlinearbible.org and I are close friends. :-)

Calendars…

Because I know the subject of calendars can be sensitive, I wanted to make clear my intentions in sharing my study.

1) I share it here for my own reference.  It works better than printing off a document, because here I can have links. (Plus, if you’ve ever seen my desk or filing cabinet you’d know I don’t need any other papers cluttering them up. :-P)

2) I share it here and ask others to check it over. I certainly have not “arrived” in understanding, so it’s always nice to get a few people older in the faith to check my thoughts to be sure everything is lining up with scripture. Again, it’s easier to share a link than to print out a paper.  And the links within my study can be followed and verified more easily this way.

One More Word at the Outset

With that said, I want to present one other, very important thought before jumping in.  One of the papers I read on this subject, written by George Tabac (whom, for the record, I do not know a thing about other than his thoughts on this topic) concluded with these words, which I thought were very appropriate:

The purpose of this study is to strengthen our faith by harmonizing all the Scriptures on the subject. For unless we could answer in our minds each of the points raised, we would feel uncomfortable, for the Scriptures must be harmonious. We trust the study is beneficial to this end.

But, may we always remember what is of greatest import each year as we approach the memorial season: partaking of the emblems, applying the preciousness of what they symbolize to ourselves, participating with all our brethren in our Lord’s ransom merit for our justification, communion in the cup of sin offering experiences, and the opportunity to renew our consecration vows and, with renewed determination, to complete them.

Amen!

And now for the study…

Ben Ha Arbayim

“Ben ha arbayim” is translated “at twilight” or “between the evenings.”

It is a variation of the root word “erev.” This specific variation occurs 11 times, all in the Torah.

  • 5 times it references Passover
  • 1 time it references meat in the wilderness
  • 1 time it references the alter of incense
  • 4 times it references the daily sacrifice

I looked up each of the verses that contain this word in order to see if I could learn when exactly “ben ha arbayim” occurs in the day – at the beginning or at the end. (Remember that the beginning of a new day, according to Yahweh, is when the sun has set. See Leviticus 23:32)

The First Five Occurrences Regarding Passover

1) Exodus 12:6

and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight (ben ha arbayim).

2) Leviticus 23:5

In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at twilight (ben ha arbayim), is Yahweh’s Passover.

3) Numbers 9:3

On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight (ben ha arbayim), you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its rules you shall keep it.

4) Numbers 9:5

And they kept the Passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at twilight (ben ha arbayim), in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that Yahweh commanded Moses, so the people of Israel did.

5) Numbers 9:11

In the second month on the fourteenth day at twilight (ben ha arbayim)they shall keep it. They shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

These Passover instructions don’t shed much light on exactly when “twilight” is.  Is it at the beginning of the 14th or the end?

Two theories

There are two theories (that I know of, anyway) on this subject:

1)  The Passover lamb was killed after the sun had set below the horizon, but while there was still light – a time between sunset and dark.  This theory places the lawful Passover at the beginning of the 14th.

2) The Passover lamb was killed after noon (when the sun begins the process of going down or “setting”) and sunset (when the sun drops below the horizon).  This theory places the lawful Passover at the end of the 14th.

This graphic gives a good visual for the two theories here:

Ben ha arbayim

The question is: Which of these theories is right? Do any of the other occurrences of this phrase (ben ha arbayim) shed any light on it?

One Occurrence Regarding Meat in the Wilderness

6) Exodus 16:12

I have heard the grumbling of the people of Israel. Say to them, ‘At twilight (ben ha arbayim) you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. Then you shall know that I am Yahweh your God.

This doesn’t give us much insight. Yahweh could have provided the meat at the start of the day – when the sun had set below the horizon, but there was still light.  OR He could have provided the meat at the end of the day – when the sun was in the process of going down, but hadn’t yet gone below the horizon.

One Occurrence Regarding the Alter of Incense

7) Exodus 30:8

and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight (ben ha arbayim), he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before Yahweh throughout your generations.

This doesn’t give much insight either. Again, it could be that Yahweh wanted the lamps set up at the start of the day – when the sun had already set below the horizon.  OR He could have wanted them set up  at the end of the day – the afternoon when the sun was in the process of going down, but hadn’t yet set.

The Last Four Occurrences Regarding Daily Offerings

These verses are a very important part of this puzzle.

8) Exodus 29:38-39

Now this is what you are to offer on the altar: two lambs a year old, regularly, every day. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the second lamb you shall offer at twilight (ben ha arbayim).

9) Exodus 29:41

The second lamb you shall offer at twilight (ben ha arbayim), and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to Yahweh.

10) Numbers 28:3-4

Tell them, “This is the offering made by fire that you are to bring to Yahweh: male lambs in their first year and without defect, two daily as a regular burnt offering. Offer the one lamb in the morning and the second lamb at twilight (ben ha arbayim);

11) Numbers 28:8

The second lamb you shall offer at twilight (ben ha arbayim). Like the grain offering of the morning, and like its drink offering, you shall offer it as a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to Yahweh.

In these instructions we have more information about when exactly “ben ha arbayim” is.

Two lambs have to be offered each day:

  • One has to be done in the morning.
  • The second has to be done at twilight (ben ha arbayim), which must be before the end of the day.

Though some translations say one has to be done in the morning and the other has to be done at twilight, this is an incorrect translation.  The specific Hebrew word used is “second” – an ordinal number.

So, “between the evenings” takes place on the same day as the morning sacrifice, before that day ends. It cannot be the second sacrifice if it is made after sunset, because then it would be the first sacrifice of the day.

Here is another helpful graphic I came across to illustrate the timing of the sacrifices:

Two Daily Offerings

Elijah’s Sacrifice

There is another section of scripture that bears second witness to the idea that the evening sacrifice would have been before the sun set below the horizon. 1 Kings 18 tells about the show-down between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal. By paying close attention to the timing of the events, we gain more insight into what time of day the evening sacrifice was made.

26 They [the prophets of Baal] took the bull he gave them, prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning until noon. They said, “Baal, answer us!” But there wasn’t a sound or an answer. So they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah started to make fun of them. “Shout louder, since he is a god. Maybe he’s thinking, relieving himself, or traveling! Maybe he’s sleeping, and you have to wake him!”

28 So they shouted louder. They also cut themselves with swords and spears until their blood flowed. (This is what their ritual called for.) 29 In the afternoon they continued to rant and rave until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no sound, no answer, no attention given to them.

Recap: From morning until noon, the prophets of Baal appealed to their god to consume the sacrifice they had prepared on their altar.  At noon, Elijah started to make fun of them.  They made their appeals with more fervor until the time for the evening sacrifice.

In the meantime, Elijah was preparing his altar. We’ll resume with the story at verse 36:

36 When it was time to offer the sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward. He said, “Yahweh Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make known today that you are Elohim in Israel and that I’m your servant and have done all these things by your instructions. 37 Answer me, Yahweh! Answer me! Then these people will know that you, Yahweh, are Elohim and that you are winning back their hearts.”

38 So a fire from Yahweh fell down and consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, and dirt. The fire even dried up the water that was in the trench. 39 All the people saw it and immediately bowed down to the ground. “Yahweh is Elohim!” they said. “Yahweh is Elohim!”

So, at the time of the evening sacrifice, which we know to be at twilight (ben ha arbayim), Yahweh sent fire to consume his burnt offering. (Which is awesomely cool.  Our God is incredible!)

Now let’s see what transpired after twilight to get clues as to how much time there was from twilight until darkness.

40 Elijah told them, “Seize the prophets of Baal. Don’t let any of them escape.” The people seized them, and Elijah took them to the Kishon River and slaughtered them there.

41 Then Elijah told Ahab, “Get up, eat, and drink. It sounds like a heavy rain is coming.” 42 Ahab got up to eat and drink.

Elijah went to the top of Carmel and bowed down on the ground to pray. 43 He said to his servant, “Please go back to Mount Carmel, and look toward the sea.”

He went up, looked, came back, and said, “There’s nothing.”

Seven times Elijah told him, “Go back.”

44 After the seventh time the servant said, “A little cloud like a man’s hand is coming from the sea.”

Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and leave before the rain delays you.’”

45 Gradually, the sky grew darker with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. Ahab got into his chariot to go back to Jezreel. 46 Yahweh’s power was on Elijah. He hiked up his robe and ran ahead of Ahab until they came to Jezreel.

I’m going to borrow the bullet points summarizing the activities done between twilight (ha arbayim) and darkness from another article on this same topic.

  • The capture of the prophets of Baal by the people of Israel (I Kings 18:40).
  • The execution of the 450 prophets of Baal by the Brook Kishon (I Kings 18:40).
  • Elijah’s message to King Ahab to eat and drink because rain was coming (I Kings 18:41).
  • Elijah’s climb to the top of the 1,600+ ft. Mount Carmel (I Kings 18:42).
  • Elijah sending his servant to look toward the sea seven different times (I Kings 18:43).
  • The sighting by his servant on the seventh look of “a cloud as small as a man’s hand rising out of the sea” (I Kings 18:44).
  • The blackening of the sky due to clouds (not night!) as heavy rains began to fall (I Kings 18:45).

Conclusion

Based on this understanding of the evening sacrifice given in Exodus, Numbers, and 1 Kings, we can interpret Exodus 12:6 as:

And you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs in the afternoon of that 14th day, as the sun is going down, but before sunset.

I still have more studying to do to figure out whether Yeshua’s last meal was a Passover meal or not.  But for now, it seems reasonably clear to me that the Passover lamb was to be killed at the end of the 14th and that Yeshua’s death at 3pm on the 14 day of the month was a perfect fulfillment!  Here is another helpful resource regarding this topic:

Was the Last Supper a Passover Meal

I wish blessings to everyone preparing their hearts to partake of this incredible appointed time!

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Laurie on January 24, 2014 at 2:10 am

    excellent.thanks for sharing

    Reply

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