The period of darkness from sunset to sunrise was designated by Jehovah God as “Night.” (Ge 1:5, 14) Between sunset and the actual darkness there is a short period of evening twilight when the stars begin to be seen. This time was called neʹsheph by the Hebrews and evidently is the time meant by the expression “between the two evenings” found at Exodus 12:6. (Pr 7:9) Similarly, at the end of the night’s darkness there is a morning twilight leading to the dawn, and this was expressed by the same Hebrew word. Thus, the writer at Psalm 119:147 says: “I have been up early in the morning twilight.”
Hebrew Division. The Hebrews divided the night into watches. “When I have remembered you upon my lounge, during the night watches I meditate on you.” (Ps 63:6) Since Judges 7:19 speaks of a “middle night watch,” it seems evident there were three of them in early times. It appears that each watch covered one third of the time between sundown and sunrise, or about four hours each, depending on the time of the year. The first watch would thus run from about 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. “The middle night watch” would begin about 10:00 p.m. and run until about 2:00 a.m. This was a strategic time for Gideon to make his surprise attack on the Midianite camp. The third watch was called “the morning watch,” lasting from about 2:00 a.m. till sunrise. It was during this morning watch that Jehovah caused the pursuing Egyptian armies to begin to experience grave difficulties in their attempted passage through the Red Sea.—Ex 14:24-28; see also 1Sa 11:11.
Roman Division. At least by the time of the Roman control, the Jews adopted the Greek and Roman practice of four nocturnal watches. Jesus evidently referred to these four divisions when he said: “Therefore keep on the watch, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming, whether late in the day or at midnight or at cockcrowing or early in the morning.” (Mr 13:35) The watch “late in the day” ran from sunset until about 9:00 p.m. The second watch, called the “midnight,” began about 9:00 p.m. and ended at midnight. (Lu 12:38) The “cockcrowing” covered from midnight till about 3:00 a.m. It was probably during this time that the cockcrowings mentioned at Mark 14:30 occurred. (See COCKCROWING.) Finally, from 3:00 a.m. until sunrise was the fourth watch, “early in the morning.”—Mt 14:25; Mr 6:48.
On one occasion mention is made of a specific hour of the 12 hours that make up the nighttime. Acts 23:23 tells us that it was at the “third hour,” or about 9:00 p.m., that the military commander ordered the troops to take Paul from Jerusalem on his way to Caesarea.
Whereas the Jews began the new day at sunset, according to Roman custom midnight was the fixed point for ending and beginning the day. This avoided the problem resulting from the lengthening and shortening of the daylight hours due to the seasons (as occurred when starting the day at sunset) and allowed for their dividing the day into two equal 12-hour periods at all times of the year. This is the practice in most nations today.
Figurative Use. The word “night” is at times used in a figurative, or symbolic, sense in the Bible. At John 9:4 Jesus spoke of “the night . . . coming when no man can work.” Jesus here referred to the time of his judgment, impalement, and death, when he would be unable to engage in the works of his father.—See Ec 9:10; Job 10:21, 22.
At Romans 13:11, 12, “the night” manifestly refers to a period of darkness caused by God’s Adversary, which is due to be ended by Christ Jesus and his reign. (See Eph 6:12, 13; Col 1:13, 14.) At 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 God’s servants who have been enlightened by his truth are contrasted with worldly people who have not. Their way of life manifests that they are “sons of light and sons of day. [They] belong neither to night nor to darkness.” (See Joh 8:12; 12:36, 46; 1Pe 2:9; 2Co 6:14.) A similar usage is found at Micah 3:6, where the prophet says to those rejecting true divine guidance: “Therefore you men will have night, so that there will be no vision; and darkness you will have, so as not to practice divination. And the sun will certainly set upon the prophets, and the day must get dark upon them.”—Compare Joh 3:19-21.
The night is also used to represent, generally, a time of adversity, since the night with its gloom and obscurity is the time when wild beasts roam, when armies launch surprise attacks, when thieves creep in, and when other acts of evil are committed. (Ps 91:5, 6; 104:20, 21; Isa 21:4, 8, 9; Da 5:25-31; Ob 5) It is in these different figurative senses that we must understand the texts at Revelation 21:2, 25 and 22:5, where we are assured that in the “New Jerusalem” “night will be no more.”