The time when the sun appears to rise above the horizon, and the time when it disappears from view below the horizon. These times were pivotal points in the daily life of people in the Biblical period. For most persons, the dawn opened the curtain on the day’s activity and the dusk drew it closed again. As the psalmist wrote: “The sun . . . sets. You cause darkness, that it may become night; in it all the wild animals of the forest move forth. The maned young lions are roaring for the prey and for seeking their food from God himself. The sun begins to shine—they withdraw and they lie down in their own hiding places. Man goes forth to his activity and to his service until evening. How many your works are, O Jehovah! All of them in wisdom you have made. The earth is full of your productions.”—Ps 104:19-24.
The rising of the sun marked the start of the natural daylight period and, when Jesus Christ was on earth, the start of the counting of the “twelve hours of daylight.” (Mr 16:2; Joh 11:9) Many, of course, were up before dawn, like the diligent woman of Proverbs 31:15. Jesus, too, is mentioned as rising before the sun was up, to spend time in prayer. (Mr 1:35) When sunrise came the large city gates swung open, men went out to their fields or to the vineyards, women lined up at the wells for water, people filled the marketplaces, and fishermen pulled for shore to sell the night’s catch, after which they would clean and mend their nets.
The day’s normal activities and labor went on until sundown. At its approach the men returned from their fields, their masters paid them their wages for the day, women carried their night’s supply of water home, the city gates swung shut, and the watchmen began the first of the four night watches, while throughout the city oil lamps began to flicker in the homes. (Jg 19:14-16; Mt 20:8-12; De 24:15; Ge 24:11; Ne 13:19; Mr 13:35) For many, however, work went on after the evening meal, as industrious men and women did weaving or engaged in other indoor crafts. (Pr 31:18, 19; 2Th 3:8) At times Jesus and his apostles also continued their ministry and its related activity on into the night.—Mt 14:23-25; Mr 1:32-34; 4:35-39; Lu 6:12; 2Co 6:4, 5.
While sunset marked the close of the daylight period, for the Jews it marked the start of the new calendar day, which officially began at sunset, being counted from evening to evening. (Le 23:32; compare Mr 1:21, 32, which shows that the day, in this case a sabbath, ended in the evening.) It was, therefore, at sunset that Nisan 14 began and the time came for slaughtering the lamb and eating the Passover.—Ex 12:6-10; De 16:6; Mt 26:20; see PASSOVER.
Because the day ended at sundown, the Law required that certain things be done then. A garment taken in pledge had to be returned to its owner “at the setting of the sun.” (Ex 22:26; De 24:13) At that time, too, wages were to be paid to hired laborers (De 24:15), a dead body hanging on a stake had to be removed and buried (De 21:22, 23; Jos 8:29; 10:26, 27), and a person who had been ceremonially unclean had to bathe himself and, following sunset, would be considered clean again (Le 22:6, 7; De 23:11). The fact that sunset closed one day and initiated a new one added meaning to the apostle’s exhortation: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.”—Eph 4:26.
The rising or shining of the sun is occasionally used in a figurative way. At 2 Samuel 23:3, 4 the reign of a righteous ruler who fears God is said to be as refreshing as “the light of morning, when the sun shines forth, a morning without clouds.” (Compare Mal 4:2; Mt 17:2; Re 1:16.) On behalf of God’s servants the request is made to Jehovah: “Let your lovers be as when the sun goes forth in its mightiness.”—Jg 5:31; Mt 13:43; Ps 110:3; Da 12:3; contrast with Mic 3:5, 6; Joh 3:19, 20.
The terms “sunrising” and “sunset” are also used in a geographic sense, meaning from E to W. (Ex 27:13; Jos 1:4; Ps 107:3; Re 16:12) This is the sense of Psalm 113:3: “From the rising of the sun until its setting Jehovah’s name is to be praised.” (See also Mal 1:11; Isa 45:6.) ‘From sunrise to sunset’ may also mean all day long.