What about Nehemiah 13:19? It gives support to sunset to sunset day length.

Question: The evidence for the day beginning at dawn is compelling. However, what do you do with this text in Nehemiah 13:19? “So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath.” (NKJV)  Does this text prove, in fact, that their Sabbath was starting at sunset?

Answer: A quick, surface reading would seem to indicate that this text proves a day which begins at sunset.  However, what is the context?

When read in context, this passage of Nehemiah actually supports a day (and the Sabbath) beginning at dawn.  In this story, we learn that Nehemiah had returned to the service of King Artaxerxes back in Babylon (Nehemiah 13:6.)  When Nehemiah received permission from the king to return to Jerusalem, he was horrified to learn of all the evils that had been permitted to take root in his absence (verses 7-11).

One of the evils which Nehemiah quickly observed was that of Sabbath breaking (verse 15).  Verse 16 specifically states that men of Tyre brought fish and “all manner of ware” into Jerusalem and sold them on the Sabbath day! The Israelites had paid a very high price for rebelling against Yahuwah: 70 years captivity in Babylon.  Nehemiah was understandably outraged that such a practice would be so quickly established again.  In verses 17 and 18 he vehemently reminds the nobles of Judah that it was for such sins that Yahuwah allowed the Israelites to be taken into captivity in the first place!

The text in question, verse 19, immediately follows and reveals Nehemiah’s plan of action: close the gates of Jerusalem the night before so that none of these merchants could come in during the night, set up stalls, and sell on the Sabbath.  Notice that this verse is not saying that the Sabbath started at sunset.  It refers to the period of darkness (which falls after sunset) as coming before the Sabbath.  As the darkness was beginning to gather (so clearly this was after sunset), Nehemiah commanded them to shut the gates.

Nehemiah was “guarding the edges of the Sabbath” so to speak.  The Sabbath did not start until dawn, but he did not want to come out to the market place at dawn and find the merchants all set up and ready to sell.  As a holy man of Yahuwah, if Nehemiah had wanted to guard the edges of a Sabbath that started at sunset, he would not have been closing the gates at or just after sunset.  He would have closed them earlier and been home to welcome the Sabbath with evening worship.  Nehemiah took active measures to plan ahead and guard the Sabbath on the next day.  He did not want to get into a fight on the Sabbath, trying to cast them out of Jerusalem the next morning when the Sabbath had started.  Therefore, he took the precaution of closing the gates as it began to get dark (again, it gets dark after sunset).  He did this so that the merchants could not come in during the night (or the early morning hours after midnight, as we would say it) and be in place to sell by the time Sabbath arrived at dawn.  Verse 16 specifically refers to fish being sold.  Fishermen fished at night and brought the fresh fish to market just before dawn while it was yet dark.

Anyone who was there at sunset or before could obviously come into the city.  What Nehemiah was preventing was night-time/just before dawn entrance by the merchants and fishermen.  Verse 20 reveals that the merchants were persistent and camped outside the walls of the city a couple of times, expecting the gates to open at dawn and planning to come in as soon as the gates opened.  Nehemiah had given orders that the gates were to remain closed all through the Sabbath.  He now told the merchants  that if they came and hovered about again, he would have them arrested.  The result was that “from that time forth came they no more on the Sabbath.”

This passage, which reveals Nehemiah’s zealousness for protecting the Creator’s holy day, actually supports the day beginning at dawn.  If the Sabbath began at sunset, the Sabbath had already started when it began to get dark and Nehemiah ordered the gates closed.  The Sabbath begins at dawn and that is what Nehemiah was trying to protect.  It is an excellent example to believers today to plan ahead to keep holy the Sabbath day.