The Use of Numbers in the Bible
The Hebrew alphabet have numbers assigned to each of the twenty two letters (not the vowels) the first ten 1-10 (Aleph to Yod), the following eight letters (Kuf to Tzadee) is 20-90, and the remaining last 4 letters (Kof to Tav) have 100, 200, 300, and 400. According to Rabbis the Hebrew alphabet had this numerical system built into it.
There is the conventional use of Numbers in the Bible. For example a day can be used as a period of time or as a week. Numbers can also often have a symbolic use rather than a arithmetic value. Not every number is given significance in the Scripture but when repeated and used for important places, events and things, they can represent a concept or meaning. Some numbers, (not all) have significance when they are repeated and applied consistently in the Scripture.
The number 1- One true God - all other gods are false. Genesis 1 in the beginning God. the number 'one' can signify unity with diversity. Man and woman become one flesh in the first marriage (Gen.2:24). In Gen.1:5 evening and morning are called one day (a combination of two parts to make one). It can take several to make one, as in Ps.133:1 the brethren are to dwell as one (in unity). Judges 20:8: “So all the people arose as one man.” Paul also uses this type of example in 1 Cor.12: “For as the body is one and has many members of that one body”
It depends on which Hebrew word is used as to whether it is strictly singular or a united one in its application.
The number 2- God often used the number 2 for examples of either side; as a contrast or comparison for good and evil, belief or unbelief, a division.
For example: The tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Cain and Abel; Jacob and Esau; Eldad and Medad, male and female, 2 sons Ishmael, Isaac; the 2 thieves on the cross; Old and New, Alpha and Omega.
Two Great Lights on Day four, God created the Sun and the Moon, Gen. 1:16.
The animals went into the Ark by two's; Jesus sent out the seventy disciples by two's. Two brothers, two prophets (1Kings 13), two Saul's, two Tamar's, Two wives-Rachel and Leah, Mary and Martha. Two main apostles followed in the book of Acts, Peter was sent to the Jews and Paul to the gentiles. A prophet and his disciple -Elijah and Elisha.
The number 3 is often found of persons and things sacred or secular; the one God as Trinity - being three in persons; Three main offices- Prophet, Priest, and King. Three great feasts men were required to go to Jerusalem on (Ex. 23:14-17; Deut. 16:16). The threefold blessing (Num. 6:14,24); the thrice holy by angels (Isa. 6:3); the three hours of prayer each day (Dan. 6:10; Ps. 55:17); the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). Noah's 3 sons (Gen. 6:10); Job's 3 daughters (Job 1:2; 42:13) and 3 friends (Job 2:11); Abraham's 3 guests (Gen. 19:1); and Sarah's 3 measures of meal (Gen. 19:5; mentioned Mt 13:33 as a parallel); the 3 daily prayers (Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10,13); the 3 night watches (Job 17:13); God's 3-fold call of Samuel (Job 39:10); the 3 keepers of the temple threshold (Jer. 52:24); the 3 presidents appointed by Darius (Dan. 6:2); the 3 temptations of Christ (Mt. 4:3,5 ,8 l); the 3 prayers in Gethsemane (Mt. 26:39,42,44 parallel); Peter's 3 denials (Mt. 26:34,75 parallel); the Lord's restoration to Peter by a 3-fold question and 3-fold charge (John 21:15); and the 3-fold vision of the sheet (Acts 10:16). The three fold division of the Old Testament the law the prophets the writings.
Number of passages 3 is used of periods of time: 3 days; 3 weeks; 3 months and 3 years. So in Gen. 40:12-13,18; Ex 2:2; 10:22 f; Ps 84:6; Isa 20:3; Jon 1:17; Mt 15:32; Lu 2:46; 13:7; Ac 9:9; 2 Cor. 12:8. The frequent reference to the resurrection “on the 3rd day” or “after 3 days” (Mt 16:21; 27:63, etc.)
We even find our universe having 3 , there is past present and future. 3 dimensions we live in height width depth. The Bible describes man as body, soul and spirit (2 of which are on physical)
The number 4 - 4 creatures- 4 wings- 4 faces. There are 4 gospels
The four winds and portions of the earth North, east, south, and west (Rev 7:1; Dan 7:2). 4 Seasons Eden's four streams (Gen 2:10; Ezek 40:47). The confusion of languages occurred in the fourth generation after the Flood, about the time of the birth of Peleg (Gen.10:25 ).
But not every number carries significance, nor for every place it is mentioned.
We need to look for the first mention of a number to see how it is consistently used.
The number 7 Seven is often used as the number of completion or fulfillment. As we see in Genesis in the 7 days that complete a week, 6 in creating and one in rest. There are seven words in Gen.1:1 in the Hebrew text. The total number of letters is 28; 7 x 4. There were seven patriarchs living at the time that could testify of Enoch’s translation who was the 7th from Adam.
For example the first mention of the number 7 after the 7 days in creation is when God told Noah to gather the animals in the ark, he was told to take 7 of every clean animal, 2 of the unclean. God gave it seven more days before the rains came (Gen.7). The number 7 being used as a commemoration of the creation account where on the 7th day God rested.
Gen.4:15 whoever kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” To be avenged seven-fold’ is to be avenged fully a complete measure. (the rabbis believed this meant 7 generations would pass before he would be killed) God protected him by marking him so that no one else will take justice on him.
The Babylonians regarded 7 as the number of totality, of completeness as it was presented in Genesis. Seven was the expression of the highest power to them so they built the 7-storied tower of Babel, a Ziggarut which represented the universe.
The Bible mentions 7 years of famine Gen 41:46-57 the 7 years of plenty (Gen. 42:28), Jacob's 7 years' service for Rachel (Gen. 29:20; compare Gen. 29:27). Joshua’s 7 days' march with the 7 priests blowing 7 trumpets as they went around the walls of Jericho, and the 7-times march on the 7th day (Neh. 9:6). The 7 sons of Jesse (Ps. 21:6), the 7 sons of Saul (Ps. 78:33), the 7 sons of Job (Job 1:2; compare Job 42:13). The leper Naaman was ordered to bathe 7 times in the Jordan (2 Kings 6:15). In cases of real or suspected uncleanness through leprosy, or the presence of a corpse, or for other reasons, 7 days' seclusion were required (Lev. 12:2, etc.). An animal must be 7 days old before it could be offered in sacrifice (Ex. 22:30).
In the New Testament –there were 7 ministers in the church at Jerusalem (Acts 6:3), there are the 7 sons of Sceva who tried to cast out demons (Acts 19:14). There are seven beatitudes, seven petitions in the Lord's Prayer; The 7 parables of the Kingdom in Mt 13:1-58; the 7 woes pronounced on the Pharisees by Jesus (Mt
23:13,15-16,23,25,27,29), in the Fourth Gospel of John he presents the 7 signs- 7 discourses- 7 I Am statements by Jesus. seven loaves, and seven phrases Jesus uttered from the cross.
The 7-fold use of the expression “the voice of Yahweh” in Ps. 29:1-11, which has caused it to be named
“The Psalm of the Seven Thunders.” The candlestick (menorah) or lampstand in the tabernacle and the second temple each had 7 lights (1Chron. 6:47; Zech. 4:2). The 7 descriptions of the Divine Spirit in Isa. 11:2, form the lampstand in the tabernacle; which are the 7 spirits of God (Rev. 1:4; 3:1; 6:12); or attributes of God - the fullness of the Spirit.
In the book of Revelation the number 7 is prominent throughout with 7 seals (Rev 7:2); “the seven stars are the angels of the Seven Churches; and the seven lamps are Seven Churches”(Rev. 1:20). There is a lamb with 7 horns and 7 eyes (Rev. 7:7); 7 angels with 7 trumpets (Rev. 8:2); 7 thunders (Rev 10:3); a dragon with 7 heads and 7 diadems (Rev 13:3); a beast with 7 heads (Rev19:9); 7 angels having the 7 last plagues (Rev 15:1); and 7 golden bowls of the wrath of God (Rev 15:7) and a scarlet-colored beast with 7 heads (Rev 18:17) which are 7 mountains (Rev 18:23) and 7 kings (Rev. 18:24).
The number Forty-nine, or 7 X 7, occurs in two regulations of the Law. The second of the three great festivals took place on the 50th day, one day after the days of unleavened bread (Lev. 23:15), that is, after an interval of 7 X 7 days.
The number 8- Eight begins a new era; a new beginning after the seven has been completed (Ex 22:30; Lev 9:1; 22:27). Eight souls were saved by the ark. Lepers are reinstated on the eighth day (Lev 14:10; 15:13,29). Circumcision took place after 7 days (Gen.17:12; Lev. 12:3) on the eighth day begins a new life in the covenant. The eighth day after the seven day of the feast of tabernacles (Lev 23:36).
John 20:26 It mentions “after eight days His disciples were again inside, with Thomas and Jesus appeared to them all.
From the eighth day, when the firstfruit sheaf was waved, the seven sevens were counted; and on the 50th day - Pentecost (the eighth day after seven) a new era began (Lev 23:11,15-16; Acts 2:1). Lev 25:8-9, type of the eternal sabbath, the new era of a regenerated world (Rom. 8:21; Isa. 61:1; Acts 3:21).
Of the temple, Its archways faced the outer court had eight steps.(this is repeated numerous times Ezek 40:31,34,37,41)
2 Chron. 29:17 they sanctified the house of the LORD in eight days” the 8th day is the first day of the week as a new beginning. We have the octave in music, and colors.
The number 10- has been a significant number in all historical ages. The 10 antediluvian patriarchs (Gen 5:1-7:10; Abraham last asked of there being 10 righteous men who would have saved Sodom from being destroyed (Gen. 18:32); there were 10 plagues on Egypt; there were 10 commandments given to Moses on Mt. sinai (Ex. 20:2-17 parallel 2 Chron. 20:32-21:10; there were 10 servants of Gideon (Job 16:3); the 10 elders who accompanied Boaz (Job 37:15); there is the parable of the 10 virgins (Mt. 25:33); the 10 servants entrusted with 10 pounds (Luke 19:13), the most capable of whom was placed over 10 cities (Luke 19:17). There were 10 days' tribulation predicted for the church of Smyrna (Rev 2:10); Ten times was the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) uttered by the high priest on the Day of Atonement; 10 persons must be present at a nuptial benediction; 10 men are needed to begin a congregation in the synagogue; 10 was the usual number of a company at the paschal meal, and of a row of comforters of the bereaved.
The number 12 - orders or government
12 tribes In Israel; 12 Apostles, 12 Elim wells; the 12 pillars set up by Moses (Ex 24:4); 12 stones in the high priest's breastplate (Ex 28:21); 12 cakes of showbread (Le 24:5); 12 rods (1Chron. 15:15); 12 spies (1Chron. 9:21-11:27); the 12 stones placed by Joshua in the bed of Jordan (Neh. 7:59); 12 officers of Solomon (1 Ki 5:5); e 12 stones of Elijah's altar (1Ki 18:31); 12 patriarchs; 12 apostles; 12 foundation stones; 12 gates; 12 angels; 12,000 furlongs of New Jerusalem (12X12) cubits (Rev. 21:16-21; 12:1). Twelve tribes multiplied by 12,000, gives 144,000, the sealed Israelites (Rev 7:4). The 24 elders are the 12 heads of the Old Testament and the 12 of the New Testament churches combined, (“elders” is the term for ministers) David appointed the 24 courses of priests anticipate the final combination of the two, Jews and Gentiles, made one new man in Christ (Rev 4:4).
The number 40- is the number of testing, trial or judgment.
The number 40 is mentioned in Gen.7:4 when God caused it to rain 40 days. The number 40 begins here with a long history of significance. After 150 days of a flood (Gen. 8:6) at the end of 40 Days he opens the window for the first time in almost a year.
The embalming of Jacob occupied 40 days Gen. 50:3. Moses on Mount Sinai fasted when he received the law Ex. 24:18; 34:28 a second 40 after Israel's sin of the calf (Deut. 9:18,25);- Israel wandering in the wilderness - Spies in the land of Canaan Num. 13:25-Goliath's defiance lasted 40 days 1 Sam.17:16, Elijah's meal lasted 1 Kings 19:8. Jonah's warning concerning the destruction of Nineveh Jonah 3:4. Ezekiel (Ezek 4:4-6) lay on his right side 40 days a day for a year, which with the 390 on his left side makes the 430 of Israel's sojourn in Egypt (Ex 12:40-41;
Moses was on the mount for 40 days (Exodus 24:18); Jesus was tempted for 40 days (Mt.4:2).
Christ appeared 40 days after the resurrection, until He ascended Act 1:3. 40 years after Jesus Christ was introduced to Israel and rejected (70 ad) Israel was judged (as they were judged 40 years in the wilderness).
These are but a few examples of the application of numbers that are repeated in the Scripture. Some numbers are used intermittently, others are very consistent in their use. Some numbers are not used at all, symbolically nor allegorically. This is by no means an exhaustive compilation. The most common repeated numbers are ‘7’ and ‘40’. Many find that other numbers hold meaning, so far as I can tell these are the most consistent in their usage. We should remember that not every number is assigned a biblical significance and should be careful not to assign meanings to them or make a code for words when there is no reason to.