Day and night [Heb. יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה “day and night” and in the New Testament Greek ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς.

The University Museum in Philadelphia housed many tablets and items in 1912-1914 and A. Poebel transcribed and translated them. One tablet of which the original is excerpted from, also drawn by him, gives the expression in a Sumerian-Akkadian dictionary of time in a long list of “time-related phrases”. None of them read “day and night” but the expression in Sumerian and Akkadian is:

Column 11 line 27 gĕ-Ū-na    [Sumerian]               mu-ši ù ur-ri  [Akkadian] = “night and day”

Column 11 line 28 gĕ-û-da     [Sumerian]               mu-ši ù ur-ri  [Akkadian] = “night and day”

(Poebel, 1914 Vol. IV on page 39).


   (Tablet drawn by Poebel, 1914 in Vol. V at Plate LXXXI)


Day and Night with Moses as well as Night and Day

Moses wrote Genesis in Midian in 1460 BCE hiding from the illegitimate child of Iset, namely, Thutmosis III, after the death of Hatshepsut. Scholar and glotto-linguist as Moses was, he cited from his Book of Adam source the expression for the Creation as “evening and morning the first day” etc. “And there was evening and there was morning, one day” = וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר, יוֹם אֶחָד (Genesis 1:5c).

But, the same Moses will not use throughout his works the expression just as night before day. He also used day before night when he talks about a duration of an activity that started during the day and continued also into the night. Activities like sunlight daily work and sunlight daily events are supposed to end before dawn so that people can sleep. But, when Moses wants to show that these activities that one becomes aware of waking up in the morning continued also into the night, he used the expression “day and night” to indicate duration of process that was supposed to stop. It has nothing to do with the counting of a full day as “day and night”.  

Eight times in the texts of Moses the order “day and night” is used: Genesis 31:39; Exodus 10:13; 13:21; 13:22; 40:38; Numbers 11:32; Job 5:14 and Job 26:10. In Exodus 10:13 Moses started his task before Pharaoh in daylight and since God wanted the Egyptians to see their plague, the wind blew the whole night also. In Exodus 40:38 Moses contrasted the Lord in a cloud during daytime and fire during nighttime. In Numbers 11:32 the issue is not what is a definition of a day for Moses. The people did an activity that continued daytime, night-time and the next daytime also. It describes the continuation of the picking-up activity.


Samuel and Day and Night

In 1 Samuel 19:24 the duration Saul laid naked on the ground prophesying before Samuel was “all that day and all that night” (duration of activity).


Nehemiah and Day and Night

In Nehemiah 1:6 Nehemiah was going to pray not only in the days to come but will extend his prayer also into the night “which I pray before You at [this, literally “the”] day, days [plural] and night [singular]” אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מִתְפַּלֵּל לְפָנֶיךָ הַיּוֹם יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה.


Esther and Night and Day

In Esther 4:17 the order is like Genesis 1 and the Sumerian and Akkadian dictionary used by Esther to summon the Jews to pray for her: “and fast upon me, and neither eat nor drink three days, night and day” = צוּמוּ עָלַי וְאַל-תֹּאכְלוּ וְאַל-תִּשְׁתּוּ שְׁלֹשֶׁת יָמִים לַיְלָה וָיוֹם. She is counting three days for the period allocated is 72 hours and she needs a full extent of prayer for her during three full days, counted with night starting before day as was common in Hebrew thinking when a definition of a “day” was in mind.


Psalms and Day and Night

The expression “day and night” is used in the Psalms: 42:3; 74:16; 88:1; 121:6 but none of them try to define what a “full day” in their culture is. It is duration of tears (Psalm 42:3); daylight time belong to the Lord as well as night time (Psalm 74:16); duration of crying to the Lord activity (Psalm 88:1); a contrast expression in Psalm 121:6.


Isaiah usage of  Day and Night as well as Night and Day

Seven times Isaiah used the expression “day and night” in the following places in Isaiah 21:12; 28:19; 38:12; 38:13; 59:10; 60:11; 62:6 but one time the opposite: “night and day” in Isaiah 34:10. In this pericope Isaiah is describing the Hell event (from verse 8 where the Lord has a Day of Wrath until the eradication of evil with fire for one day, 24 hours as “shall not be quenched night (singular) and days (plural)” = לַיְלָה וְיוֹמָם לֹא תִכְבֶּה. It will not be quenched in a 24 hour period and even if human firefighters need more days of 24 hour periods (plural) it cannot be quenched by humans since it is divine fire. History will not be repeated there or cyclic renovation of ruins because “unto eternity” =  לְעוֹלָם no more passing by or touring to it will be historically possible. Eternity or heaven made everything new so “old times are no more”.


Jeremiah and Day and Night

In Jeremiah 16:13 the punishment of the Lord will be that they will serve other gods in duration of “day and night” starting when they wake up but services going into and through the night “and there shall ye serve other gods day and night” = וַעֲבַדְתֶּם-שָׁם אֶת-אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה.


Zachariah and Day and Night

Zachariah gave in Zachariah 14:7 a definition of what a heavenly “day” will consist of and he explains that there will not be daylight as opposed to night-time for there will be always dayslight.

In Mark 5:5 the expression is “night and day” καὶ διὰ παντὸς νυκτὸς καὶ ἡμέρας ἐν τοῖς μνήμασιν καὶ ἐν τοῖς ὄρεσιν ἦν κράζων καὶ κατακόπτων ἑαυτὸν λίθοις. = “And all, night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains he was crying out and scraping himself with stones”. The emphasis here is also continuation of action and this poor person has to be operating in shadowy circumstances when all sleep. Thus the night is mentioned before the day. John 9:4 mentioned that when the night comes no one works: “the night comes when no man can work” = ἔρχεται νὺξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐργάζεσθαι..


Luke explaining Paul speaking as Night and Day

Luke in Acts 26:7 used the “night and day” expression to explain regular daily practices by Christians: “we to obtain a hope in seeking worship night and day” = “ἡμῶν ἐν ἐκτενείᾳ νύκτα καὶ ἡμέραν λατρεῦον ἐλπίζει καταντῆσαι. Paul is speaking and this order of night before day was a key usage for him in all his writings too.


Paul only uses Night and Day

Paul uses “night and day” order in Romans 13:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 1 Thessalonians 3:10; and 2 Titus 1:3. He does not use “day and night”.


John and Day and Night

Duration of the worship is in the mind of John when he wrote Revelation and these continuation actions or events are described with “day and night” in Revelation 4:8; 7:15; 12:10; 14:11 and 20:10.


In conclusion

There is thus no attempt by any writers after Moses or Moses himself to cancel the concept or definition of one full day as consisting of a night part before a day part in total 24 hours. The reverse of this order in a phrase serves purposes of emphasizing actions, activities or events in which the process started in daylight but continued into the night. Or they are in contrast with each other in which activities in the day will be different from activities in the night.




Poebel, A. (1914). Sumerian Grammar. Grammatical Texts. Philadelphia: University Publications of the Babylonian Section 4. Plates Downloaded at file:///D:/Sumerian%20Grammar%20by%20Poebel%201914%20historicalandgr00sectgoog.pdf and Text 152 Column 11 lines 27-28 is relevant for this topic. Babylonian Publications of the University Musuem Vol. V: Plate LXXXI.