Toward a Better Understanding of Passover
Part 5 - The Term 'At Even'
by: Jim Rector
Before going further with the historical narrative, there is one verse that must be mentioned in regard to the Days of Unleavened Bread. We have already established that this Feast began on the 15th day of the first month, but notice how this is expressed in the Exodus 12 account:
“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month AT EVEN, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month AT EVEN. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses . . . You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall you eat unleavened bread” (Ex. 12:18-20).
We have previously defined the usage and meaning of the Hebrew word ad, rendered as until in English. When the Scriptures state that the Israelites were to consume unleavened bread until the 21st day of the month, it is intended that the specific day in question be included. Here’s the simple proof from the Bible.
The commandment was to eat unleavened bread for seven days, and the time period is described as being from the 14th day at even to the 21st day at even. The key to correctly discerning what is meant in this passage lies in the meaning of the phrase at even. Does that term mean the beginning or the ending of the day in question? Can we know, for a fact, with respect to the specific way the Bible intends that be understood? The answer is absolutely YES!
In Leviticus 23:27, God gives the instructions regarding the Day of Atonement.He says:
“Also ON THE 10TH DAY of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be a holy convocation unto you; and you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the Lord.”
That’s a fairly straightforward command. It is clear. The Day of Atonement is the 10th day of the seventh month. Notice carefully, however, how the Bible describes this 10th day just a few verses later:
“It shall be to you a Sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the NINTH DAY AT EVEN, FROM EVEN TO EVEN, shall you celebrate your Sabbath” (Lev. 23:32).
Here is language precisely the same as we read earlier in Exodus 12:18. In this instance, the 10th day is described as beginning on the 9th day AT EVEN and lasting until the next evening.How can this be? The answer is staring us right in the face! The phrase at even (not between the two evenings) is meant to indicate the end of the day in question and the beginning of another. So, God can say the 10th day of the seventh month is the Day of Atonement, and at the same time describe that 10th day as occupying the time period from the 9th day at even until the 10th day at even, a 24 hour span comprising the 10th day. Of this there is utterly no question.
In like manner, therefore, we have Biblical precedent for understanding precisely what is meant in the description of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Exodus 12:18 now becomes perfectly clear. So when the Bible states that: “In the first month, on the 14th day of the month AT EVEN, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the 21st day of the month AT EVEN,,” it should be interpreted precisely as the passage in Leviticus 23 regarding the Day of Atonement. Thus, the 14th day AT EVEN means the end of that day, and the 21st day AT EVEN refers to the end of that day. Count this period of time up, and you have seven complete days of unleavened bread. So whether the Bible calls the beginning of unleavened bread simply the 15th day, as we read in Leviticus 23:5-6: “In the 14th day of the first month between the two evenings is the Lord’s Passover. And on the 15TH DAY is the Feast of Unleavened Bread unto the Lord: seven days you must eat unleavened bread,” or describes it as commencing on the 14th day AT EVEN, it is still stating exactly the same thing–the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th day and runs for seven consecutive days until the end of the 21st day of the first month. Nothing could be more plain or simple.
The commandment concerning the beginning of unleavened bread is reiterated in Numbers as follows:
“And in the 14th day of the first month is the Passover of the Lord. And in the 15th day of this month is the Feast: seven days shall unleavened bread be eaten. In the first day shall be a holy convocation; you shall do no manner of servile work therein . . . And on the seventh day you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no servile work” (Num. 28:16-18, 25).
So the Biblical injunction is that the Passover lambs were to be slain around mid-afternoon of the 14th day of the first month, eaten at the beginning or evening portion of the 15th day, accompanied by unleavened bread, because that very night inaugurated the Feast or Days of Unleavened Bread. This festival lasted for seven straight days, ending at the conclusion of the 21st day. On the first day of Unleavened Bread (15th) there was a holyday, and on the seventh or last day (21st) there was a holyday.
The Jewish historian Josephus confirms all this Biblical evidence by saying:
“In the month of Xanthicus, which is called by us Nisan . . . on the 14th day (for in this month it was that we were delivered from bondage under the Egyptians, and law ordained that we should every year slay that sacrifice which before I told you we slew when we came out of Egypt, and which was called the Passover . . . The Feast of Unleavened Bread succeeds the slaying of the Passover, and falls on the 15th day of the first month and continues for seven days . . . But on the second day of Unleavened Bread, which is the 16th day of the month, they first partake of the fruits of the earth, for before that day they do not touch them” (Antiquities of the Jews, 3.10.5).
And from The Anchor Bible Dictionary, we read:
“Passover is the name of the sacrifice that is slaughtered on the 14th day of Nisan, and is eaten toward evening at the end of the day or soon after sunset marking the beginning of the 15th day of Nisan. Unleavened Bread is the name of an originally distinct seven-day festival, which, began on sunset of the 15th day of Nisan. The Holyday of the Passover offering (Ex. 12-13) consisted of the preparation of a one-year old sheep or goat on the 10th day of the month of Nisan, its slaughter or sacrifice on the 14th day of the month, and its consumption in family gatherings on the night ushering in the 15th day. During the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread, starting on the night of the 15th of Nisan, Israelites were to avoid leaven and eat only unleavened bread. By using the comment in Ex. 12:14 that this date should be an annually celebrated memorial and by turning then to the dates of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, Scripture bonds the two festivals temporally. In further stating that the injunction to eat unleavened bread and to avoid all leaven lasts seven days, it begins this period on the 14th day in the evening, i.e., on the evening of the 15th day, the time for eating the Passover sacrifice. It calls that day a holy convocation” (Vol. 6, Unleavened Bread & Passover).
There is such abundance of commentary on this subject that it would take volumes to even begin to scratch the surface. A couple of very pertinent quotations follow, and they will suffice for our discussion on this point:
“The Passover was originally a domestic feast. A lamb without defect (either sheep or goat) was selected four days prior to the ceremony and slain between the two evenings or as in Deut. 16:6 as the sun was going down on the 14th day of the month. During the combined festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, no leaven was to be used, nor was any permitted to remain within the house” (New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, Vol. 4, Passover).
And finally, a section from the same reference work under the heading of Passover:
“The spring festival in ancient Israel consisted of Passover followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and lasted a total of seven days. This festival is regulated in the calendars found in the Pentateuch (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:22-25; Lev. 23; Num. 28-29; Deut. 16:1-8), plus an elaborate regulation is integrated into the description of the tenth plague leading to the Exodus (Ex. 12:1-20). Either name could be employed for the entire festival. In Ex. 23:15, it bears the name Feast of Unleavened Bread, while in Deut. 16:1-6, it is called Passover. The fuller calendars in Lev. 23 and Num. 28-29 establish that Passover is celebrated (slain) on the evening (between the two evenings) of the 14th day of the first month, and that the Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th day, lasting for seven days.Interestingly, in Num. 28:17 the feast that begins on the 15th is simply called a feast; the prohibition against the use of leaven certainly indicates that it is the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
In Deut. 16:3, it is called the bread of affliction, identifying it with the pain and turmoil of Egyptian bondage. Since unleavened bread is quickly prepared, it served as a symbol of the haste in leaving Egypt. Not only does the earliest Old Testament tradition connect the eating of unleavened bread with the Exodus (Ex. 23:15, 34:18), but the union of Passover and the eating of unleavened bread is also attested in the first celebration of Passover in Canaan, as reported in Josh. 5:10-12 (cf. Ex. 12:34, 39). As a result, in the tradition, unleavened bread served not only to symbolize the haste of leaving Egypt, but, being the first food eaten in the Promised Land, it became a symbol of the fulfillment of the Exodus promise . . . in this light the rituals distinctive to both the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Passover are rooted in the character of Israel’s escape from Egyptian bondage.
The first Passover was celebrated at each home only during the evening, for the Israelites had to leave Egypt hastily DURING THE NIGHT OF OBSERVANCE (Ex. 12:3-4, 7, 22, 46; cf. Josh. 5:10-12).”