Sometimes you have read and re-read a passage so much that you never even think about the possibility that the translation you are reading is inaccurate in conveying the original Hebrew or Greek. Such was the case for me with Nehemiah 13:19. I plan to write a more in depth article on this verse in the future, but for now let me explain briefly.
The KJV rendering of the first part of the verse is as follows:
"And it came to pass, that when the gates of Jerusalem began to be dark before the sabbath, I commanded that the gates should be shut..."
I have a KJV Bible in my study, but the translation I use mostly in reading and studying is the HCSB. Here is the same very in the HCSB:
"When shadows began to fall on the gates of Jerusalem just before the Sabbath, I gave orders that the gates be closed..."
The KJV sounds more like sunset took place and it was beginning to be dark, but the Sabbath had not begun. The HCSB sounds as though sunset had not taken place (the sun was casting a shadow) and the Sabbath would begin at sunset.
I believe the HCSB is correct in rendering the verse with the word shadows. Notice carefully that in both translations it is the GATES that are getting dark and not the DAY necessarily. The KJV talks about the gates beginning to be dark. Every tranlsation I know focuses in on the gates growing dark or becoming shadowed.
The Hebrew word here for "dark" or "shadows" is the word "tsalal," and is only used 1 other place in the entire Tanak - Ezekiel 31:3. Here is Ezekiel 31:3 in the HCSB:
"Think of Assyria, a cedar in Lebanon, with beautiful branches and shady foliage, and of lofty height."
Note the use of the word "shady" in the text, as it comes from the Hebrew word "tsalal." The use of the word here refers to shade that a tree gives. It is this meaning that is also applicable in Nehemiah 13:19 in reference the the gates becoming dark, i.e. having a shadow cast upon them before the Sabbath.
What was taking place in Nehemiah was this: before sunset the sun must have cast a shadow upon the gates of Jerusalem that made the gates darken. This was some sort of signal that the Sabbath day was close at hand (it would begin at sunset).
Do some further study on this yourself. There are alot of other translations that translate "tsalal" as "shadow" (or some variation) in Nehemiah 13:19.
I've talked to so many people about subjects like the Sabbath and the Festivals over the past 10 years and I've enjoyed many of these discussions. Some of them haven't born much fruit, but I can say that for the most part, fruit has been produced. Do I think subjects like this need to be discussed? You better believe I do. The Sabbath and Feast Days are important doctrines of Biblical faith. We are called as Yahweh's people to observe them with are all. There are passages in the Bible that reprimand Yahweh's people (Israel) for their disobedience to the fourth commandment. As a matter of fact, the land of Israel had to be allowed to keep "her" Sabbaths while the people of Israel were in bondage because of their neglecting to keep these land sabbaths.
Is it pleasing to Yahweh though to keep Sabbaths and Feasts while neglecting weightier matters in the law? I've met some people who only want to talk about Sabbaths and at the same time are not loving their wife and teaching their children the commandments of Yahweh. Personally, I do not want to listen to a man teach me about the Sabbaths of Yahweh if his house is not in order. I don't want to hear someone go on and on about how we need to keep the Sabbath and at the same time treats his wife like garbage and allows his children to be caught within the web of the world. This does not mean the Sabbath is not important, all it means is that our Sabbaths can become abominations to Yahweh because of the other things we are involved in.
Yahweh, at times, hated the Sabbaths of His people Israel (Isaiah 1). I'm not talking about Yahweh hating their false Sabbaths (that's a given); I'm speaking of Yahweh hating a persons Sabbaths when they blatantly disobey His law and expect everything to be okay if they show up for the holy convocation on Sabbath. A man can leave Sabbath worship and spend all week not being a good husband and father and His Sabbaths will be an abomination to Yahweh. A man can also spend all week backbiting, gossiping, getting drunk, hanging out with the people of the world, and His Sabbaths will be an abomination.
If we really want to honor the Sabbath, lets do it with the life we live. Let's not live for the devil all week long and think we can give Yahweh the Sabbath at the same time. You can't eat from the devils table and the table of Yahweh; it just doesn't work that way. Oh, you can choose to live your life in this fashion, but you will receive weeping, gnashing of the teeth, judgment, and destruction.
I'm a Sabbath keeper. Does that sound strange? It does to countless people in the world today. The Sabbath (or a Sabbath) is seen to be archaic, primitive, and something that is no longer relevant in the modern world. Yet many people, even non-religious enjoy some type of Sabbath each week. A day off from work is what I have in my mind. Each time you get a day off from work, this constitutes (in some fashion) a Sabbath. Now, I believe that Sabbath keeping involves more than just a cessation from labor, but nevertheless the primary component of keeping the Sabbath is rest. After all, that is what the word literally means - rest.
One of the most frequent objections I receive from professing Bible believers concerning a devotion to the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 is that our rest is found in Christ. Jesus is now our Sabbath. I'm not really sure I've figured out what these people mean when they make these statements, because it often varies from person to person. I will say that the majority of the time, those who believe such are quick to quote this passage of Scripture, from the mouth of Christ himself:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 KJV)
"See," someone remarks to me, "Jesus said that He will give us rest, therefore we do not need to keep the Sabbath." Well, I definitely believe what the above Scripture says, but I've read it over and over and have yet to see where the Messiah says here (or anywhere else in Scripture) that the rest He gives us means we should no longer keep the Sabbath day. As a matter of fact, when we look into this text, examining one of the most important things there is to examine when looking at Scripture - CONTEXT - we should be able to see the following points:
(1) Yeshua made this statement living under the Old Covenant. No Bible believer will argue that a person didn't have to keep the Sabbath under the Old Covenant. If Yeshua was teaching an abolishing of the Sabbath here it would make him a minister of sin, seeing that sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).
(2) The Greek word translated as "rest" in Matthew 11:28 is anapauo. This word is never used in the New Testament in relation to the fourth commandment. It is translated rest 6 times, but is also translated as refreshed (3x), ease (1x), refresh (1x), and resteth (1x). Thus the Messiah was not saying that He would be our Sabbath in replacement of the fourth commandment, but that in some way He would give us rest from our heavy burdens.
(3) When we examine the text the Messiah was quoting we find that He had Yahweh's law in mind when He said, "Ye shall find rest for your souls." Most people do not even know that He was quoting Scripture here, and most people actually think that the rest He spoke of was freedom to break Yahweh's law. Jeremiah 6:16-19 states the following:
"Thus saith Yahweh, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken. Therefore hear, ye nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it." (KJV)
Notice first that Yahweh mentions the old paths, the good way, and finding rest. Yet He also says His people will not hearken to this saying; they rather reject the law and words of Yahweh. This would have to mean that the law and words of Yahweh are the rest for the soul.
(4) When we examine this text and see the above 3 points we then can recognize that Yeshua was probably speaking of the Pharisaical traditions that were being bound on the Israelite people during His day. For instance, notice Yeshua refers to these traditions as being heavy in both Matthew 23 and Luke 11:
"Then spake Yeshua to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers." (Matthew 23:1-4 KJV)
"Then answered one of the lawyers, and said unto him, Master, thus saying thou reproachest us also. And he said, Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers." (Luke 11:45-46 KJV)
It is no coincidence that the word phortion (burden) is used in both Matthew 11:30 and Matthew 23:4. It is also no coincidence that the word phortizo (lade) is used in both Luke 11:46 and Matthew 11:28.
The Messiah wanted people to come and learn of Him because He truly taught what brings rest. He knew the words of the psalmist in Psalm 119:165 which say, "Great peace, have they who love Thy law." The law of Yahweh brings rest and ease, while traditions of men bring bondage and slavery.
Sometimes I have encountered people who have used passages as this one in Hosea to teach that the feasts of Yahweh, mentioned primarily in Leviticus 23, should not be observed under the New Covenant. Usually this verse is quoted, and then it is explained that this was a prophecy which spoke of a future time when Yahweh would place an end to these celebrations. The future time given by such interpreters is the time after the cross of Christ.
Sometimes, I am really amazed at the quality of study, or should I say lack of quality, that people put into texts of Scripture. I do not think that the intent of the prophet Hosea here is that difficult to ascertain, that is, if we read Hosea 2:11 in context of at least chapters 1-3 and even more so in the context of the entire prophetic work.
Hosea 1:1 tells us that Hosea was given a word of Yahweh during the reigns of certain kings in Judah and Israel, and in reading chapter 1 we find that Israel is likened to a promiscuous woman.
When Yahweh first spoke to Hosea, He said this to him: Go and marry a promiscuous wife and [have] children of promiscuity, for the whole land has been promiscuous by abandoning Yahweh. (Hosea 1:2 HCSB)
Here Yahweh basically setting the seen for the house of Israel to actually, physically see what they are doing to Yahweh. Israel was Yahweh's symbolic bride at the time, but Yahweh was so fed up with her going after other lovers that he was going to divorce the house of Israel and send them off into captivity.
Notice Hosea chapter 2. Yahweh begins by saying that Israel is not His wife, and He is not her husband. He orders her to remove the whorish look from her face, and the adultery from between her breast. Here, Yahweh uses such graphic language to reveal the seriousness of the transgression of His people. He had promised and given to Israel many blessings, yet she played the harlot and sought after other gods, which in reality were no mighty ones.
...their mother is promiscuous; she conceived them shamefully. For she thought: I will go after my lovers, the men who give me my food and water, my wool and flax, my oil and drink. (Hosea 2:5 HCSB)
When we read verses 6-10 we find that because of the actions of His beloved bride Yahweh would send strong calamity and cursing. This includes blocking her way with thorns and enclosing her with a wall (vs. 6), and taking back the grain, new wine, and oil that He had blessed her with (vs. 9). He would also remove the fine wool and linen that covered her nakedness, leaving her naked, cold, and ashamed in the sight of her lovers (vs. 9-10). Among all these curses came yet another, and this was the removal of her celebrations which she had been blessed with and enjoyed so much: the feasts, new moons, and sabbaths (vs. 11).
Yahweh is telling Israel that because she has played the harlot, He will remove the good and pleasant things He has given, including the festivals she enjoyed. Yahweh's removal of these festivals was a curse upon the people, seeing that they did not deserve to celebrate them, enjoying the blessings of fellowship with brethren, singing to Yahweh, and time off from laboring.
Yahweh surely did this very thing by sending the house of Israel into Assyrian captivity, causing the festivals to cease in Israel. These same festivals ceased for the nation of Judah as well, whilst in Babylonian captivity, yet they were restored during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The true meaning of the text, in context, is that when Israel played the harlot, Yahweh took many things away from her which she once enjoyed. Grain, wine, oil, figs, jewels, wool, linen, beauty, and all the joyous festivals. All of these were precious gifts of her husband, but she left this husband, so He made her like a deserted, parched land (Hosea 2:3).
Nothing in the context leads to the conclusion that Yahweh has removed the feasts, new moons, and sabbaths from New Covenant worship.
Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.