On Measuring Time: Units of Time

Let us think about the units by which we measure time, and the source of those units. Some of these units of measurement are built into the created order. Others that we use every day are purely arbitrary.

The first unit of time we want to consider is the year. A year is not an arbitrary unit. It is established by the motion of the earth and is, as mentioned above, the time that is required for the earth to complete one circuit around the sun. Almost all calendars, ancient and modern, have established the year as a basic unit of time measurement.

A second measurement of time-counting is the month. Our months today are arbitrary. We begin our months by the date on our calendar, not by any built-in natural occurrence such as the new moon. The ancient Hebrews determined the beginning of the months by the moon.

What we call day and night is a reference to time that is dictated by sunrise and sunset. But our separation of “day” and “night” and the point at which we begin a “new day” is purely arbitrary. The Hebrews started their day—and their year—at sundown. Later on, to be more precise, they started it at 6 o’clock.

We, of course, begin our day at midnight. Astronomers start their day at 12 noon to give them the entire period of darkness within one recording period. They want the records of one night’s observation to be within a single “day’s” record. It would be awkward to report observing a star at five minutes to midnight on one day and continue the observation the next “day.”

The seasons are not arbitrary. They are determined by set laws of the universe. Spring and summer, autumn and winter all follow in natural sequence as determined by the revolution of the earth around the sun and the inclination of the earth’s axis in relation to the sun.

Abib, the Sacred New Year How did the ancient people determine the beginning of a new year or a new revolution around the sun? Primitive men, before the days of astronomy, did it by observing recurring events in nature (i.e., the trees budding, barley maturing). The Egyptians started their year at the time the Nile flooded each spring.

God gave the Israelites specific instructions as to when they should begin their new year, which we want to study.

The Bible gives us a brief background of the Jewish calendar as it was given to Moses when he was leading the Israelites out of Egypt.

The first month on that calendar was the month Abib, which according to God’s direction was to be the beginning of the new year, as we read in Exodus 12:2 and 13:4. “This month shall be unto you the beginning of months: it shall be the first month of the year to you:” Abib was to be observed as the “first month of the year.”

Abib, the time God appointed for the beginning of the sacred new year, was known in Palestine as the “spring or sprouting month,” “month of green ears,” month of flowers, month of ripening barley, according to the climate of Egypt and Palestine in this month. It began with the new moon of April or March.

The Abib season was not to be taken lightly or overlooked by any loyal Israelites. Among the Hebrew festivities it was doubtless the most significant, and its remembrance was directly commanded. As we read in Deuteronomy 16:1, “Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night:”

A passage recorded in Psalm 81 very possibly had reference to this same primary feast day: “Blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on our solemn feast day. For this was a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob” (vs. 3- 4).

The observance of Abib was in exactly this category. It was not something that they could do or that they could refrain from doing at their caprice, for it was “a statute for Israel, and a law of the God of Jacob:”

Abib marked the beginning of the year; it was important also for another reason: the annual anniversary of Passover fell in the month Abib (Abib 14), “for in the month of Abib, the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night” (Deut. 16:1). In Exodus 12, the Lord is instructing Moses in the observance of the Passover on the 14th of the first month. In the 23rd chapter of Exodus, 15th verse, the command is repeated: “Thou shalt keep the feast of unleavened bread: …in the time appointed of the month Abib.”