Evening and Morning

By the Rev. Peter J. Wallace

November 15, 2000

It has become a commonplace in some circles to assume that "evening and morning" in Genesis 1 refer to the whole day. This assumption, however, has no exegetical foundation. When we examine the Hebrew Scriptures we discover that the language of "evening and morning" is generally used to describe the period from the cessation of labor before sunset until the renewal of labor after sunrise. Likewise, the language of "morning and evening" refers either to the specific times of the daily sacrifices, or to the events of the daylight hours. Never is the language of morning and evening (or evening and morning) used to refer to a literal 24-hour day.

1. Evening and Morning

There are twenty three places in Scripture where the word "evening" (erev) precedes "morning" (boqer). Six, of course, are in Genesis 1. The other seventeen are as follows:

1. *Exodus 16:8-"The LORD gives you meat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full."

2. *Exodus 16:13 then tells the story.

3. *Exodus 27:21-"Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD." (Referring to the lampstand in the holy place-cf. *Leviticus 24:3).

4-5. *Numbers 9:15, 21-"Now on the day that the tabernacle was raised up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the Testimony; from evening until morning it was above the tabernacle like the appearance of fire....So it was, when the cloud remained only from evening until morning: when the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they would journey; whether by day or by night."

6. Numbers 28:8-[after describing the morning sacrifice] "The other lamb you shall offer in the evening; as the morning grain offering and its drink offering, you shall offer it as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD."

7. *Deuteronomy 16:4-no meat from the evening sacrifice shall remain until morning.

8. Deuteronomy 28:67-"In the morning you shall say, 'Oh, that it were evening!' And at evening you shall say, 'Oh that it were morning!'"

9. *Esther 2:14-In the evening she went, and in the morning she returned to the second house of the women."

10. *Psalm 30:5-"Weeping may endure for a night [evening], but joy comes in the morning."

11. Psalm 55:17-Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, and He shall hear my voice."

12. *Isaiah 17:14-"Then behold, at eventide, trouble! And before the morning he is no more. This is the portion of those who plunder us, and the lot of those who rob us."

13. *Ezekiel 24:18-So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded."

14. *Ezekiel 33:22-Now the hand of the LORD had been upon me the evening before the man came who had escaped. And He had opened my mouth; so when he came to me in the morning, my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute."

15. Daniel 8:14-And he said to me, 'For two thousand three hundred evening-mornings; then the sanctuary shall be cleansed'

16. Daniel 8:26-"And the vision of the evenings and mornings which was told is true; therefore seal up the vision, for it refers to many days in the future."

17. *Zephaniah 3:3-Her judges are evening wolves that leave not a bone till morning.

Numbers 28:8 simply refers to the hours of the evening and morning sacrifices, and Psalm 55:17 refers to three different hours of prayer (but in order to include the daytime hours, includes the word "noon").

Of the fifteen remaining references, thirteen (those marked with an asterisk [*]]) refer solely to the events of the nighttime hours. Some might argue that Exodus 27:21 and Leviticus 24:3 include the whole day, but the context of these passages does not bear this out. Exodus 27:20 contains the command that the lamp shall burn continually. During the day, Aaron and his sons would be ministering in the tabernacle, so it was obviously their task to keep the lamp lit (since no one but the priests were to enter the Holy Place). The question is who shall maintain the lamp in between the evening sacrifice and the morning sacrifice, when none of the priests would ordinarily be in the tabernacle? This is why verse 21 insists that "Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD." Since this is the light of the world, only the holy priests may provide the oil.

Therefore this leaves us with only one set of references that could possibly refer to an entire day (the translators of the NKJV even renders the phrase "day"). These are the two references to "evening-mornings" in Daniel 8. The context of the sanctuary may indicate that the language of evening and morning should be seen in terms of the evening and morning sacrifices, and should be read as a liturgical figure for the days that will pass until the cleansing of the sanctuary. But the days in view are the 2,300 "evening-mornings" which Reformed commentators have never considered to be ordinary days! Or to put it more precisely, the 2,300 days are indeed ordinary days-but they represent a different period of time.

However, I am not at all certain that the Daniel 8 references are speaking of the events of the whole day. Since every other usage of the language of evening and morning refers to the events of the nighttime hours, it is at least as likely that the vision of the evenings and mornings calls Daniel to see the 2,300 evening-mornings as the work of the powers of darkness. Since the language of the time of sacrifice is invariably "morning and evening" (see below), the fact that this is reversed suggests that Daniel's vision speaks of 2,300 nights-not 2,300 days. It would be blasphemy to speak of idolatrous sacrifices as "morning and evening" because idolatrous sacrifices belong to the night-not to the day.

Either way, the language of Daniel 8 is figurative and does not refer to literal 24-hour days.

2. Morning and Evening

There are nineteen references where "morning" (boqer) precedes "evening" (erev).

1. Genesis 49:27-"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night [evening] he shall divide the spoil."

2-3. Exodus 18:13-14-Moses judging the people from morning till evening.

4-5. Exodus 29:39-one lamb offered in the morning, the other in the evening. (Cf. Numbers 28:4)

6. Deuteronomy 28:67-cited above

7. 1 Kings 17:6-"The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening."

8. 2 Kings 16:15-Ahaz commands morning and evening sacrifices on his new altar.

9-14. 1 Chronicles 16:40; 24:30; 2 Chronicles 2:3; 13:11; 31:3; Ezra 3:3-references to morning and evening sacrifices and related duties at the temple.

15. Job 4:20-"They are broken in pieces from morning till evening; they perish forever, with no one regarding."

16. Psalm 65:8-"You make the outgoings of the morning and evening rejoice."

17. Psalm 90:6-"In the morning it flourishes and grows up; in the evening it is cut down and withers."

18. Ecclesiastes 11:6-"In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper."

19. Ezekiel 24:18-cited above

Eight of these references have to do with the morning and evening sacrifices. Most of the others refer to activities of the daylight hours, with a couple exceptions. Note that Job 4:20 speaks of "They are broken in pieces from morning till evening" as a parallel to "they perish forever" which indicates a figurative usage. Psalm 90:6 uses the words in a similar manner, speaking of grass growing up in the morning, and being cut down and withering in the evening-events plainly not of the same day.

It is instructive to note that Hebrew writers consistently referred to the daily sacrifices in the tabernacle in terms of "morning and evening" rather than "evening and morning." Indeed, there is no example to the contrary.

Therefore the usage of the terms "evening" and "morning" does not particularly lend itself to an ordinary day interpretation. When used in the order "evening and morning" with any time referent, it always refers to the nighttime hours alone.