Numbers in the Bible

Status
Not open for further replies.

Elimelek

Puritan Board Freshman
[FONT=&quot][/FONT] [FONT=&quot]Dear Friends[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Sorry for this long post. However I hope that it could open a discussion about the symbolic use of numbers in the Bible.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]In the Ancient Near East the idea to use numbers symbolically was common. The Sumerians already made use of this literary device in their poetic and religious texts. Numbers meant more than their face value. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]When it comes to numbers in the Bible, it resembles the Ancient Near East usage to interpret numbers symbolically. (A symbol is an object or concept that represents something that is different from the nature of the object itself. A concept that is not intrinsic to an object was linked to it.) In the Bible numbers like three, seven and 40 are good examples of concepts that convey specific ideas that were not inherent to it.

[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Here follows a few prominent numbers that the Bible uses to convey its message. It isn’t complete, and might be mistaken or misinterpreted by my. Yet, I hope that it could start a conversation about the symbolic use of numbers.

One (1)
This number is constantly associated with God. It wants to convey God’s uniqueness. (No other deity has the right to exist) In Revelation 4:2 the Greek makes it clear that God is the “ONE” that sits on the throne. Deuteronomy 6:4 reminds us, “Hear Israel, YHVH is one. JHVH is our Lord.” [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Three (3) [/FONT][FONT=&quot]
Three is the smallest number used to group ideas, concepts or objects. People also tend to remember triads better than a single concept. In oral culture, triads are used to focus someone’s attention on a specific point of interest/reference.In 1 Samuel 3 the Lord calls Samuel three times. Samuel goes to Eli every time and say: “Here I am.” But the third time Eli realises that God is calling Samuel. He says to him, “Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant hears’” (ESV). In 1 Kings 19:15-17 the Lord tells Elijah to anoint three people to continue with his work. The number three creates expectation. When something has happened thrice, the hearer expects more to happen. In Proverbs 30 the step-proverbs are mostly using the number three, “Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin” (Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV). The one-over-three pattern immediately focuses the hearer’s attention on the example that doesn’t fit into the pattern. In this case the focus is on how wonderful the way of a man is with a young woman.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The number three also signify the border between two important phases or situations. It creates the expectation that something will change or that a new life will begin (Exodus 19:16, Hosea 6:2 and Jonah 1:7). When it is used in a more static situation it symbolises “finality” or “completeness” (for example 1 Kings 19 as well as the grouping of the dragon, the beast from the sea and the false prophet in Revelation 12 and 13. Together they symbolises complete and ultimate evil.)[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Three and a halve (3½)[/FONT][FONT=&quot]
The number 3½ is derived from history. King Antioch IV (175-164 v.C) a Seleucid conducted a reign of terror for three and a half years under the Jewish people of Palestine. In Revelatation the period of 3½ years, 42 months and 1260 days (all indicates the same period), is used to indicated a period of persecution and terror. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Four (4)
When things are grouped in numbers of fours in the Bible, it usually indicated comprehensiveness. This is based on the four compass directions – North, South, East and West. People believed that it was the four corners of the earth. Revelation 4:7-8 tells us of four living beings around God’s throne. They represent the whole of creation. In Genesis 2:10 we read how a river flows from the garden of Eden. This river has four shoots. The step-proverbs in Proverbs 30, already mentioned above, also mention the number four. In Jeremiah 15:2-3 God announces judgment. He uses four words in verse 2 to indicate how comprehensive and irreversible his judgment is. The words are ‘pestilence,’ ‘sword,’ ‘famine,’ and ‘captivity.’ Jeremiah 15:3 reads: “I will appoint over them four kinds of destroyers, declares the Lord; the sword to kill, the dogs to tear, and the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth to devour and destroy”(ESV). This verse underlines the decisiveness of God’s judgment. In the Apocalyptic literature, the number four becomes a symbol of supreme power and completeness (Revelation and to an extend Daniel). In Revelation 13, John uses the fourfold formula “every tribe and people and language and nation” to indicate the beast’s deceit. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]

Five (5) and ten (10)
Five and ten is often found together in the Bible, but can function alone. Five indicates that something is insignificant, while ten conveys something that smoothed off/ completed. This idea probable comes from the fact that a human being has two hands, each with ten fingers. There are the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20 en Deuteronomy 5) en the ten plagues (Exodus 7:14-11:10).

In Genesis 18 God informs Abraham of his decision to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham asks the following from God in verse 23-25: [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Then Abraham drew near and said, ‘Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous [5 (A unmentionable group) X 10 (totality) = any insignificant person] within the city. Will you then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?’” (ESV).[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Hereafter the Lord confirms that He will save Sodom and Gomorrah if there are indeed fifty righteous. Twice Abraham asks what shall happen (verse 28 & 29) if he reduces the number 50 by 5, 45 and 40. God will spare them even if the righteous are less significant as 50. Hereafter Abraham subtracts 10 until the number ends on 10. By this time the Ancient hearers of Genesis 18 would have grasped that there were no righteous person left in Sodom and Gomorrah. The reason why Abraham stopped at 10, is to indicate to the hearer that Sodom and Gomorrah in totality didn’t have one righteous person in it. [/FONT][FONT=&quot][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Seven (7) [/FONT][FONT=&quot]
The number seven is probably the most important number in die Bible. It indicated totality and completeness. If an issue is associated with seven, it indicates that it is rounded off. The sever days of creation in Genesis 1 isn’t something that happened along. According to Genesis 4:14 and 24 Cain’s murder will be avenged seven times, should someone murder him. Noah must take seven pairs of clean animals into the ark (Gen 7:2). Remember the seven fat cows (years of abundance) and seven lean cows (years of famine) in Josef’s dream in Genesis 47. Hegai, the palace official ensures that Esther has seven chosen women (i.e. servants) to assist her (Esther 2:9). This indicates that she would undergo the complete beauty treatment – only the best! Seven also want to tell us that God’s order is applicable and that he reigns. Seven is the number of God. (In the book Esther the Lord’s name is absent but there are seven ‘accidental’ things that happen, indicating that God is behind it. In Revelation it becomes clear that God is in control of everything that happens. Just think about the “seven Spirits” (Revelation 1:4, 3:1, 4:5 and 5:6) that is send out over the earth. It illustrates how far God’s reign reaches. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Twelve (12)
In the Ancient Near East there were twelve moons/months in the moon calendar. The consequence of this was that 12 started to symbolise cyclic perfection or the perfection of order. In the Bible twelve is prominent due to the division of Israel into twelve tribes. In the New Testament the number also carries the meaning of restoration. Jesus appointed 12 disciples to “restore” Israel. Revelation uses 12 frequently. 12 000 people, from the 12 tribes of Israel are sealed (Revelation 7:5-8). The woman (the church) that gives birth to her child (Jesus Christ) receives the gift of 12 stars as a crown (12:1-2). Meanwhile the New Jerusalem has twelve doors and watchers at the gates and the twelve names of the twelve tribes are written on it (Revelation 21).[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Forty (40) [/FONT][FONT=&quot]
Periods of 40 days (and nights) are important markers in the Bible. Difficult times, suffering and judgment are usually associated with this number. More generally, 40 can indicate any period in time that is seen as a completed event. The number 40 is also continually used as an approximation of a number that cannot be determined. God says to Noah before the world flood in Genesis 7:4, [/FONT][FONT=&quot]For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground” [/FONT][FONT=&quot](ESV).[/FONT][FONT=&quot][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]In Exodus 16:35 we read: “[/FONT][FONT=&quot]The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan[/FONT][FONT=&quot]” (ESV).[/FONT][FONT=&quot][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]In Exodus 24:18 we are told how Moses met God on the mountain, “[/FONT][FONT=&quot]Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights” (ESV).[/FONT][FONT=&quot][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]After the song of Deborah (Judges 5) it is mentioned that the land had rest for forty years (Judges 5:31) before there again was war. After Ehud it was 80 years [40 x 2) (Judges 3:30). Goliath pestered the Israelites for 40 years (1 Samuel 17:16). Ish-bosheth was 40 years old when he became king of Israel (2 Samuel 2:1). The Israelites were forty years in the wilderness / desert before they entered the Promised Land. Jesus was also forty day in the wilderness / desert before Satan tempted Him (Mark 1:13, Matthew 4:2 & Luke 4:2).[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Fifty (50) [/FONT][FONT=&quot]
This number is often applied to someone’s life. It’s often part of a larger number. Noah reaches the age of 950 years (Genesis 9:29). The number 50 is a symbol of a fruitful and ripe life. When the number is used alone, it never indicates the end of someone’s life. In Numbers 4:23 the Lord orders that Moses must count the descendants of Gershon, “F[/FONT][FONT=&quot]rom thirty years old up to fifty years old, you shall list them, all who can come to do duty, to do service in the tent of meeting” (ESV). (Compare also the rest of the family groups in Number 4.) When someone reached 50 years of age he would stop working, almost like retirement today. According to Number 8:25 a person of 50 was released from military duty. In John 8:57 the Jews remarks to Jesus, “So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” (ESV). [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The number 50 is not only applied to humans but also to the land – in the Sabbath year which comes around every 50 years, the land must rest (Leviticus 25:11-12).[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
50 also communicate to the hearer that something is enormous. The gallows that Haman built for Mordecai was 50 cubits high (Esther 5:14 & 7:9) In Ezekiel’s vision Jerusalem’s gate entrance were 50 cubits wide (Ezekiel 40:15). Read through the whole of Ezekiel 40 to see how many times 50 cubits is mentioned to describe the glorious Jerusalem.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] Seventy (70)
The number 70 is probable a compilation of the numbers 7 and 10. In Genesis 10 we read about 70 nations that were the descendants of Noah’s sons. The 70 descendants of Jacob also became a great many (Deuteronomy 10:22). It is not clear how 70 must be interpreted. In Daniel 9:24 there are 70 eras determined for Israel and Jerusalem. When 70 is connected with time it often portrays the idea of ‘judgment’ or ‘being lost.’ [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Hundred (100) [/FONT][FONT=&quot]
When the Bible refers to the number 100 it usually is an indication of God’s miracles. Abraham was 100 years old when he had his son. It also indicated something that is complete, for instance the parable of the 100 sheep of which one went missing (Matthew 18:12-14).

Thousand (1000)
This number is a symbol for a large number. It is almost never meant to be taken literally. The Lord will show his steadfast love to “thousands of those who love me and keep my commmandments” (Exodus 20:6 ESV). The Satan is bound for a 1000 years (Revelation 20). In Psalm 105:8 we read, “[/FONT][FONT=&quot]He remembers his covenant forever, the word that he commanded, for a thousand generations” (ESV).[/FONT][FONT=&quot][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot] [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The number 1000 is very functional in Ecclesiastes 6:3-8, “If a man fathers a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with life's good things, and he also has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. For it comes in vanity and goes in darkness, and in darkness its name is covered. Moreover, it has not seen the sun or known anything, yet it finds rest rather than he. Even though he should live a thousand years twice over, yet enjoy no good—do not all go to the one place? All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. For what advantage has the wise man over the fool? And what does the poor man have who knows how to conduct himself before the living?” (ESV).[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Kind regards[/FONT]
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
“Hear Israel, YHVH is one. JHVH is our Lord.”

Interestingly the word in the Hebrew for "one" here, apparently allows for plurality in unity, as it is also the same word that is used in the passage about man and wife becoming "one" flesh. Thus Jews can use this text to prove that God is One, but not to prove that the Triunity is false.

Yet since the Middle Ages and the teaching of Maimonides (the Rambam) Jews have been taught to view the Shema as teaching absolute unity in opposition to the Christian doctrine of plurality in unity.

Many of the cases of numbers that you give above - according to orthodox rules of interpretation - are meant to be taken literally before any symbolical significance is taken out of them.

E.g. presumably we are meant to believe that Jesus was literally forty days and forty nights in the wilderness before we derive any symbolical significance from that fact.

In other words, those that focus on this symbolism need to make clear that in God's providence many of these numbers aren't purely symbolical but represent sober history.

Otherwise we enter an interpretive la-la land where every number in the Bible that may have symbolic significance is up for manipulation or disregard as being purely symbolic and not primarily historical.

Some of the numbers presumably have (will have) no rooting in history and are purely symbolic, e.g. the dimensions of Ezekiel's Temple.
 
Last edited:

Elimelek

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello Richard

Many of the cases of numbers that you give above - according to orthodox rules of interpretation - are meant to be taken literally before any symbolical significance is taken out of them.

I agree that there are some instances that has both a literal and symbolical meaning. I don't know what it is, but it seems to me that Semitic cultures in general are quite fond of giving symbolic meaning to numbers, even if they are literal. I can give you examples of Ugaritic, Moabite and other Semitic languages, that uses numbers in the same way.(It will however take me some time to collect them.)

It was for instance a general belief, not only under Jews, but in the Ancient Near East, that someone is truly dead if he is three days in the grave. For God the Father to let people understand that Jesus truly rose from the dead, he had to be resurrected on the third day.

Jonah is three days in the fish. It is interesting that Jonah 2 describes the waters in the words of the realm of the dead. In some people's eyes Jonah was dead.

I see in my transciption of the Lord's name is not right. YHVH would be the correct transcription and in other Germanic languages JHWH. It has to do with the way that the consonants are pronounced.

Kind regards
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Seventy (70)
The number 70 is probable a compilation of the numbers 7 and 10. In Genesis 10 we read about 70 nations that were the descendants of Noah’s sons. The 70 descendants of Jacob also became a great many (Deuteronomy 10:22). It is not clear how 70 must be interpreted. In Daniel 9:24 there are 70 eras determined for Israel and Jerusalem. When 70 is connected with time it often portrays the idea of ‘judgment’ or ‘being lost.’

Is it the case that in the Bible and Jewish culture, 70 is often an an abbreviation/round number for 72? 12 x 6 = 72.

Did 70 or 72 go down to Egypt?

Were there 70 or 72 elders that went up Mount Sinai with Moses?

Were there 70 or 72 scholars involved in translating the Septuagint?

Did the Sanhedrin (Synedrion) , the Jewish ruling council, consist of 70 or 72 members?

Did Christ send out 70 or 72?

Jesus appointed 12 disciples to “restore” Israel.
I like this thought.

The sever days of creation in Genesis 1 isn’t something that happened along
?
 

Elimelek

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Richard,

You are quite right. 70 is indeed an abbreviation of 72. :amen:

Sorry, sometimes I think something and I type gibberish. What I tried to say is that the seven days of creation wasn't something that came haphazardly.

:wave::detective:
 

kvanlaan

Puritan Board Doctor
I always find that the Jewish tradition of gematria tends to muddy the waters for me in thinking clearly about this issue, even though its use dates back only as far as 70 AD or thereabouts.
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
The perfectly numbered week and weekly Sabbath imposed on Creation by God, is the unit of time which is given by special revelation rather than natural revelation. Days, months, years are given by natural revelation.

The seven day week and Sabbath reminded Adam that this world was not his home but that a perfect and incorruptible eschatalogical world awaited him once he had fulfilled the probation of the Covenant of Works, and he and Eve and their offspring had fulfilled the Creation Mandate, in the good but corruptible world.

In that New Order, since it is characterised by "Rest", there will be no need for the weekly Sabbath, but we will always also be serving God.

See my post here:-

http://www.puritanboard.com/f31/edenic-probation-adam-concerning-covenant-works-60019/

Apparently Geerhrdus Vos had a lot to say on this, although I learned about it through reading Richard Gaffin's book on "Calvin and the Sabbath" (Presbyterian and Reformed)


One of the functions of the use of "seven" in the Book of Revelation is therefore a reminder that in this period, between Christ's First Advent in the First Century and His Second Advent at the Eschaton, that all the time, even each week that passes, we are moving closer to the perfect, incorruptible, sinless, Eschatalogical Heavenly Kingdom, and we'd better get ready for it.
 
Last edited:

Elimelek

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello Kevin

There is a difference between gematria and symbolic meanings to numbers. Gematria has to do with assigning a number to each letter of the alphabet and adding the numbers together. The number 666 (of Revelation 13) being the best known example of gemartia. In some manuscripts it is 616. The reason is as follows:

NRVN QSR (Neron Qaiser)
n(un)=50, r(esj)=200, v(aw)=6, n(un)=50 q(of)=100, s(amech)=60, r(resj)=200 equals 666

NRV QSR (Nero Qairer)
n(un)=50, r(esj)=200, v(aw)=6, q(of)=100, s(amech)=60, r(resj)=200 equals 616

Often Jews used the Hebrew / Aramaic alphabet to compile the gematric number of a person and carried it over in Greek. This is the case and the current scholarly concensus about the number 666.

Regards
 

kvanlaan

Puritan Board Doctor
Oh, I understand that, it's just always been a bit of an obfuscation to me (mostly based on ignorance!)
 

Peairtach

Puritan Board Doctor
Hello Kevin

There is a difference between gematria and symbolic meanings to numbers. Gematria has to do with assigning a number to each letter of the alphabet and adding the numbers together. The number 666 (of Revelation 13) being the best known example of gemartia. In some manuscripts it is 616. The reason is as follows:

NRVN QSR (Neron Qaiser)
n(un)=50, r(esj)=200, v(aw)=6, n(un)=50 q(of)=100, s(amech)=60, r(resj)=200 equals 666

NRV QSR (Nero Qairer)
n(un)=50, r(esj)=200, v(aw)=6, q(of)=100, s(amech)=60, r(resj)=200 equals 616

Often Jews used the Hebrew / Aramaic alphabet to compile the gematric number of a person and carried it over in Greek. This is the case and the current scholarly concensus about the number 666.

Regards

This is what I believe respecting the 666, although with all of these difficult Qs on Revelation, etc, I'm willing to hold my views with a pinch of salt.

Nero, as the first pagan, statist, "secular", persecutor of the Church becomes the head or symbol of pagan/statist/secular persecution, in the Book of Revelation and throughout history, as "the Beast" rears its ugly head/resurrects down through the centuries to the present day.
 

Elimelek

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Richard

Nero, indeed became an example of the worst from of persecution. I find it interesting that 666 is put on the right hand and forehead of those swearing allegiance to the Dragon. It indicates that all that they do and their whole being belongs to the Satan.
 
Status
Not open for further replies.
Top