Translating Nehemiah 13:19 Properly
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.
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Blog by Matthew Janzen. Lover of Yahweh, Yeshua, my wife and 5 children. All else is commentary.