[Heb., laʹyil or layʹlah; Gr., nyx].
The period of darkness from sunset to sunrise was designated by Jehovah God as “Night.” (Gen. 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. (Prov. 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.”
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 p.m. to 10 p.m. The “middle night watch” would begin about 10 p.m. and run until about 2 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 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 1 Samuel 11:11.
At least by the time of the Roman domination, 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 cock-crowing or early in the morning.” (Mark 13:35) The “late in the day” watch ran from sunset till the third hour, or about 9 p.m. The second watch, called “the midnight,” began with the third hour and ended at midnight. (Luke 12:38) The “cock-crowing” covered from midnight till the ninth hour, or about 3 a.m. It was probably during this time that the first or even both of the cockcrowings mentioned at Mark 14:30 occurred. (See COCKCROW.) Finally, from the ninth hour until sunrise was the fourth or “early in the morning” watch.—Matt. 14:25; Mark 6:48.
On one occasion mention is made of a specific hour of the twelve hours that make up the nighttime. Acts 23:23 tells us that it was at the “third hour,” or about 9 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 twelve-hour periods at all times of the year. This is the practice in most nations today.
Among the Greeks and Romans night was deified and called the daughter of Chaos. She was regarded as the mother of both gods and men, and is described as riding in a chariot accompanied by the stars.
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 Ecclesiastes 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 Ephesians 6:12, 13; Colossians 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 John 8:12; 12:36, 46; 1 Peter 2:9; 2 Corinthians 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 John 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 other acts of evil are committed. (Ps. 91:5, 6; 104:20, 21; Isa. 21:4, 8, 9; Dan. 5:25-31; Obad. 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.”