Numbers In The Bible

Some numbers occur with amazing regularity throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Here is a look at which numbers they are and where they appear.

I am fascinated by the regularity with which some numbers keep popping up in the Bible. I am not a believer in Numerology but I do sense that certain numbers are used in God's word as a symbol for something else and that the value of the number itself is not as relevant as the thought behind it.

The number "7" is one digit which comes up time after time. It is as significant in Genesis as it seems to be in Revelation. There were seven days of creation. The Sabbath day was the seventh day. In fact, it appears that the Levitical system was built on a cycle of sevens. The number seven seems to convey the idea of completeness or wholeness.

As I said, the Sabbath day was the seventh day. This day is a day of rest, where no one works. Every seventh year was considered a Sabbath year and the farmland was allowed to lie fallow. (Lev. 25: 2-7) Whatever grew in the fields in those years had to be left for the poor and the animals, which could wander in and help themselves. After seven times seven years (49 years) a Jubilee year was proclaimed where all slaves were set free and debts were forgiven.

The Passover Feast and the Feast of Tabernacles each lasted for seven days. There are seven weeks between Passover and Pentecost. At Pentecost, seven lambs were offered. When Joshua led the battle against Jericho, the number seven played a prominent role in God's instructions to him. Seven priests with seven trumpets marched around the outside of the city once a day for seven days. On the seventh day, they blew their trumpets seven times. Naaman the Syrian, seeking a cure for his leprosy, went to Israel for help. The prophet Elisha, in 2Kings 5, ordered the Syrian to dip himself seven times into the Jordan River to gain the relief he sought. Jesus himself referred to the incident in Luke 4: 27.

Jacob had to perform seven years of service to Laban in order to gain a wife. Joseph interpreted the Pharaoh's dream of seven fat oxen and seven lean ones. Seven is also significant for sacrifice. Eliphaz had to sacrifice seven bulls and seven rams (Job 42:8). King Hezekiah sacrificed seven each of bulls, sheep, lambs and goats to take away the sins of the royal family. (2 Chr. 29:21).

Seven is the number of purification and consecration (Lev. 4:6, 17; 8:11, 33; 14:9, 51), of forgiveness (Matt. 18:21, 22), of reward (Deut. 28:7; 1 Sam. 2:5), and of punishment (Lev. 26:21, 24, 28; Deut. 28:25). It is also used throughout the Bible for any round number: Prov. 26:16; Isaiah 4:1; Matt. 12:45; Gen. 4:15; Lev. 26:24 and Psalm 79:12.

In the book of Revelation, sevens are abundant. There were seven letters to seven churches, seven seals and seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven lamp stands, seven stars, seven angels and seven spirits. There is a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes (5:6), seven lamps (4:5) and seven thunders (10:3-4). Living things such as a red dragon with seven heads and seven crowns (12:1), a leopard beast with seven heads (13:1) and a scarlet colored beast with seven heads (13:1). In chapter 17 there are seven hills and seven kings. There are even seven "Blesseds" or Beatitudes in the Book.

The number "40" is another recurring quantity. The Flood of Noah lasted for forty days. Moses ran away to Midian at the age of forty and stayed in Midian for forty years. He spent forty days on Mount Sinai, getting the Commandments. After escaping Egypt, the Israelites spent forty years wandering in the desert. The spies from that Exodus spent forty days in Canaan. Ninevah was allowed forty days to repent (Jonah 3). Elijah and Jesus both fasted for forty days. Jesus spent forty days on earth after the resurrection. Israel's Judges judged for forty-year terms. Kings Saul, David and Solomon each reigned for forty years. Forty must have been symbolic for a generation or a lifetime.

Other numbers, which may have a Biblical symbolism, are:

12: The number of tribes of Israel and the number of Jesus' apostles.

The 144,000 of Revelation.

6: A number denoting incompleteness as in the number of the beast, 666

10: Could indicate world powers (Revelation, Daniel)

To try to understand the numbers and their significance in the ancient world, we would have to transport ourselves into that time period. Fixed numbers for various time spans may have been the easier and more understandable way of relating age and the passing of time. There were no calculators and calendars were not very reliable. To say that a judge or King reigned for forty years meant a lifetime of work had been accomplished.

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