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A lot of disagreement exists in the end-time Church of God regarding the proper time to observe the Passover. Many, if not most, believe that the Passover lambs were originally slain on the 14th of Abib (later called Nisan) right after sunset, with the Passover meal being eaten later on the night of 14 Abib. They base this belief on Exodus 12:6:
EXODUS 12:6 And ye 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 [beyn ha'arbayim]. (KJV)
The Hebrew phrase beyn ha'arbayim (בין הערבים) is translated as "in the evening" above. However, the literal translation of this expression is "between the evenings," as Jay Green's English rendering of the Old Testament, entitled A Literal Translation of the Bible (LTB), shows:
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 [beyn ha'arbayim]. (LTB)
Most modern versions of the Bible render beyn ha'arbayim either as "at twilight" or "at dusk." This phrase occurs 11 times in the Old Testament (Exo. 12:6; 16:12; 29:39; 29:41; 30:8; Lev. 23:5; Num. 9:3, 5, 11; 28:4, 8). The first occurrence, Exodus 12:6, is in reference to the time God commanded the Passover lambs to be slain. Those who believe that the Passover lambs were killed on 14 Abib between sunset and total darkness reckon the first evening as sunset and the second evening as nightfall.
But is this interpretation correct? Does beyn ha'arbayim refer to this brief period of time? Is there any way to clearly define "between the evenings" from the Bible?
In reality, the debate over the timing of the original Passover sacrifice and meal boils down to one very basic question: What is meant by the Hebrew phrase beyn ha'arbayim? What time period does "between the evenings" cover?
Anciently, the Samaritans believed that "between the evenings" was the time from sunset to dark. Because of this belief, they sacrificed the Passover just after sunset, as 14 Abib was starting. They then ate the Passover meal later on the night of the 14th. Allegedly, the Sadducees held the same views on Passover as did the Samaritans.
On the other hand, most Jews have always reckoned "between the evenings" as the afternoon, literally the time between the decline of the sun after noon (the first evening) until the setting of the sun to end the day (the second evening). Therefore, until the destruction of the Second Temple, the vast majority of observant Jews killed the Passover on the afternoon of the 14 Abib, and ate the Passover meal later in the night, at the start of 15 Abib.
There is really no need to debate this issue, for the Bible clearly tells us when "between the evenings" is. In Exodus 29:38-41, God gives Israel instructions regarding the daily sacrifice:
EXODUS 29:38 And this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs daily, sons of a year; 39 the one lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the second [hasheni] lamb you shall offer between the evenings [beyn ha'arbayim]. 40 And a tenth of fine flour anointed with beaten oil, a fourth of a hin, and a drink offering, a fourth of a hin of wine, for the one lamb. 41 And you shall offer the second [hasheni] lamb between the evenings [beyn ha'arbayim]; you shall do it like the morning food offering and its drink offering, for a soothing fragrance, a fire offering to Jehovah. (LTB)
Although many English translations render hasheni as "the other" in verses 39 and 41, any good Hebrew concordance will show you that it literally means "the" (ha) "second" (sheni). Most Church of God members accept that the Eternal reckons days from sunset to sunset (cf. Lev. 23:27, 32). The divine instructions shown above make it clear that the priests were to offer two lambs every day. God told Moses that the first lamb was to be sacrificed in the morning, and the second lamb was to be sacrificed "between the evenings." To be the second offering of the day, the lamb sacrificed "between the evenings" had to be slain before sunset!
If "between the evenings" occurs anytime after sunset, then this command could not have been properly carried out by the Israelites. At sunset, the old day has ended and the new day has begun. So under the Samaritan definition of "between the evenings," the evening sacrifice would be first and the morning sacrifice second!
The Jews, however, correctly understood what God meant by beyn ha'arbayim. According to noted Jewish historian Alfred Edersheim, "Ordinarily it [the evening sacrifice] was slain at 2.30 P.M., and offered at about 3.30" (p. 174, updated ed., The Temple: Its Ministry and Services).
The preceding passage of Scripture alone should define "between the evenings" for us. Yet God also inspired another event to be recorded in the eighteenth chapter of I Kings to help His end-time people correctly understand when "between the evenings" occurs.
To recap the story, the prophet Elijah had King Ahab of Israel assemble the people of Israel on Mount Carmel. He challenged the people, saying, "If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him" (I Kings 18:21). Elijah then proposed a test to identify the true God. The prophets of Baal were to sacrifice a bull for a burnt offering and call on their god to consume the offering with fire. Let's pick up the story in I Kings 18:26:
I KINGS 18:26 So they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Baal from morning even till noon, saying, "O Baal, hear us!" But there was no voice; no one answered. Then they leaped about the altar which they had made. 27 And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened." 28 So they cried aloud, and cut themselves, as was their custom, with knives and lances, until the blood gushed out on them. 29 And when midday was past, they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention. (NKJV)
Notice the time element distinctly laid out in the Scriptures above. The prophets of Baal spent from morning until the time of the evening sacrifice trying to get an answer from their god. From Exodus 29:38-41, as well as Numbers 28:1-8, we know that the evening sacrifice was to be offered "between the evenings." So, at a minimum, this passage shows that "between the evenings" is sometime past noon.
Having given the prophets of Baal plenty of time, Elijah took his turn at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice. He repaired God's altar, cut the bull in pieces, and laid it on the altar. He then had the people pour water in a trench around the altar and drench the sacrifice three times. Let's pick the story up again in verse 36:
I KINGS 18:36 And it came to pass, at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that Elijah the prophet came near and said, "LORD God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word. 37 Hear me, O LORD, hear me, that this people may know that You are the LORD God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again." 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, "The LORD, He is God! The LORD, He is God!" 40 And Elijah said to them, "Seize the prophets of Baal! Do not let one of them escape!" So they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the Brook Kishon and executed them there. (NKJV)
The Bible specifies that this mighty miracle occurred "at the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice" (i.e., between the evenings). Now let's examine the rest of the story to see if we can determine when this time was:
I KINGS 18:41 Then Elijah said to Ahab, "Go up, eat and drink; for there is the sound of abundance of rain." 42 So Ahab went up to eat and drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; then he bowed down on the ground, and put his face between his knees, 43 and said to his servant, "Go up now, look toward the sea." So he went up and looked, and said, "There is nothing." And seven times he said, "Go again." 44 Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, "There is a cloud, as small as a man's hand, rising out of the sea!" So he said, "Go up, say to Ahab, 'Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.'" 45 Now it happened in the meantime that the sky became black with clouds and wind, and there was a heavy rain. So Ahab rode away and went to Jezreel. 46 Then the hand of the LORD came upon Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran ahead of Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. (NKJV)
Generally, there is about 30-45 minutes from the time the sun goes down until total darkness. If the Samaritan definition of beyn ha'arbayim is correct, all the following events detailed in I Kings 18 had to have occurred "between the evenings" at the time of the evening sacrifice, a period of declining visibility:
Even if we conservatively assume that Elijah made all the preparations for the sacrifice (I Kings 18:30-35) before the time of the evening sacrifice, common sense should tell us that there is no way the remaining events (I Kings 18:36-45) could have taken place between sunset and total darkness. The facts of the above story just don't support the Samaritan interpretation of "between the evenings."
Clearly, the Samaritan definition of beyn ha'arbayim contradicts the Bible and must be rejected. Yeshua told the Samaritan woman at the well that the Samaritans did not know what they worshiped (John 4:22). However, in the same verse, he stated that the Jews did know the God they worshiped. Should we follow the Samaritans in this matter, or should we follow the example of the Jews, who were entrusted with the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2)? The answer should be clear to those humble enough to cast aside their preconceived beliefs and take God at His word.
Bryan T. Huie
April 21, 1997