Numbers in the Bible

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There is only one God, one Savior and one plan of salvation, yet creation abounds with twos. Most living organisms are either male or female, temperature is measured in plus and minus; electricity in positive or negative, and we have light or darkness. We have one mouth and one nose, but two nostrils, two eyes and two ears. Internal organs and body parts come either singular or in pairs.

The Bible tells us that where two or three are gathered together in Christ's name, he is present. The Bible also speaks of the threefold witness, and God is revealed to us in the three persons of the Trinity. The wind blows in four directions and we have four seasons. There are a few interesting references to the number five in the Bible, but not enough for me to see any special significance. Joseph gave his youngest brother Benjamin five times as much food as his other brothers and five instead of one change of raiment. There may have been Egyptian reasons for that action, however. Egyptians placed great importance on numbers. The great pyramids were built based on the numbers three and six.

Theologians argue convincingly, that the number six is representative of man while the number seven represents God. Man was created on the sixth day and the seventh is the Lord’s. In my opinion, this is an over-simplification, but to ignore the significance of numbers in the Bible would also be a mistake.

Although Europe and much of the world now uses the metric system, many traditional measurements are based on the number six and the time of day or night is still universally measured in increments of six. The number of the antichrist is given as 666 and although much fantasy has grown from this fact, it is nonetheless scriptural. Six is basically the numerical representation of man without God, or imperfection.

The number seven is much better known to Christians. It is often called the number of “perfection,” “completeness” or simply as a “biblical number.” Seven is obviously of great significance in the Bible, but some religious groups spiritualize it while others build entire theological concepts around the number as if it somehow has divine powers. In the secular world, the number seven is thought to bring luck while thirteen brings misfortune. The most frequently used number on race cars and horses is the number seven and it is a favorite entry on lottery tickets.

I have observed that there is often a prophetical significance where the number seven appears in scripture. It normally looks forward to another time or fulfillment. The seven parables of Matthew 13 and the seven messages to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2 and 3 are good examples. They seem to have multiple interpretations. The letters to the seven churches were written to actual churches, but can also refer to churches of all ages and seem to show the course of church history. I am hesitant to speak dogmatically, but this idea has proved helpful to me in personal Bible study.

There is a special relationship between seven and fifty, which I will deal with later.

Number ten in the Bible seems to represent authority or discernment. Moses received ten commandments on Mount Sinai, which he in turn gave to the Israelites. The prophet Daniel said that the ten horns which King Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream represented kings; likewise the ten horns mentioned in Revelation. In the New Testament ten lepers were healed and only one returned to give thanks. Jesus told parables of the ten wise and ten foolish virgins, and of the ten talents.

Twelve is frequently mentioned in the Bible. It seems to be indicative of God’s selective grace. God promised that Ishmael would sire twelve princes and the Children of Israel were also composed of twelve tribes. Jesus chose twelve disciples and Revelation speaks of 144,000 (12x12,000) redeemed from every tribe of Israel.

If you have been keeping track, you might have noticed that I left out numbers eight, nine and eleven. I want to write about number eight last because it is in my humble opinion very significant! The nine and eleven may have some special meaning, but I haven't discovered them yet.

The number forty represents a period of trial or testing. Noah’s flood was preceded by forty days and nights of rain. The life of Moses is divided into three forty - year segments. He was forty years in Egypt, forty years in Mideanite country tending his father-in-law’s sheep, and he led the people of God forty years. He was also forty days and nights on Mount Sinai when he received the commandments. The ten spies returned after forty days in Canaan. Israel wandered forty years in the wilderness and the maximum punishment for transgressors was forty stripes (usually 39 to be safe). Jesus was tempted by Satan for forty days in the wilderness.

The first mention of the number fifty is found in the description of Noah’s ark, which was fifty cubits wide. Abraham’s argument with God for the salvation of Sodom began with fifty righteous. The wilderness tabernacle had fifty loops, fifty gold and fifty bronze clasps; the width of the walls was also fifty cubits.

I mentioned above that there is a special relationship between seven and fifty. The Jewish week had seven days and every seventh day was the Lord’s. Every seventh year was a Sabbath year, but at the culmination of seven Sabbath years, an extra Sabbath year was added, called the "year of jubilee" (49 +1 year =50). Although not faithfully kept by Jews throughout history, the rules pertaining to Sabbath years and years of jubilee are described in detail in the Bible and I believe we do well to pay special attention to this often neglected teaching. Israel spent seventy years in Babylonian captivity to make up for the 490 Sabbath years that they had neglected.

To fulfil the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed her sabbaths: for as long as she lay desolate she kept sabbath, to fulfil threescore and ten years. II Chronicles 36:21 (see also Jeremiah 25:11).

The basic rules for the Sabbath and Jubilee years are found in Leviticus 23:15-16; 25:8-55; 27:14-24, Jeremiah 34:8, 14-17; and Isaiah 61:1-2. Once the Israelites entered and possessed the Promised Land, it became their obligation to observe these events.

The word “jubilee” comes from a Hebrew word that means to be “jubilant” and is related to the Hebrew word for ram’s horn or trumpet. The Jubilee year was launched with a blast from a ram’s horn on the Day of Atonement, signifying a call to joy, liberation, and the beginning of a year for doing justice and loving mercy. Like the Sabbatical Years, the Year of Jubilee was a year for neither sowing nor reaping (Lev. 25:11). The people were to live from what grew of itself and from previous harvests while the land rested. The sabbatical year and Year of Jubilee were characterized by celebration, rest and instruction in the Law (Deut. 31:9–13). The people learned that God’s command to love and obey Him was directly related to his concern for the welfare of Israel.

The Year of Jubilee was a special year in family renewal. Individuals who had incurred debts and had sold themselves as slaves or servants to others were released from their debts and were set at liberty. If any members of the family were bound, the entire family was set free. The 50th year became important in Israel’s economic life. If anyone wished to redeem a person in debt, the price for doing so was calculated on the basis of the number of years remaining until the next Jubilee.

Houses and lands could also be redeemed in the Year of Jubilee. Since all land belonged to God (Lev. 25:23), land could not be sold; but land could be turned over to others by reason of debt. In the Year of Jubilee such land was returned to the families to whom it originally belonged (inheritance).

Part of the reason why God established the Jubilee Year was to prevent the Israelites from oppressing one another (Lev. 25:17). The Jubilee was designed to prevent a permanent system of economic classes. The Jubilee had a leveling effect on Israel’s culture; it gave everyone a chance to start over, economically and socially. The Jubilee Year reminds us that God wants his people to be free (Luke 4:18–19). It also stands as a witness to God’s desire for justice on earth and calls into question any social practices that lead to permanent bondage and loss of economic opportunity. Jeremiah 34:8, and 14-17 warned Judah about taking away people’s liberty. Apparently, those who gained wealth and power in Israel did not observe this festival willingly.

Laws regarding the Year of Jubilee applied only to Jews and did not apply to Gentiles. Servants obtained by Israelites from the Gentile world were permanent slaves and property purchased from non Israelites was not redeemable.

The Jews were instructed to make every seventh year a Sabbath Year and let the land rest. After 7x7 years, came the Year of Jubilee - an extra eighth year. It is possible that the Lord's reading of Isaiah in the Synagogue, recorded in Luke 4:15-21, transpired in a Year of Jubilee. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.

Might 50x50 (2500 years) also have some special significance? Might the land rest for fifty years? I realize that this is all wild speculation, but I never cease to be amazed at the numerical precision of God's dealings with mankind.

One can see God’s provision for conservation and ecology in the Year of Jubilee. His call was for the land, and not just the people to rest (Lev. 25:11, 18–22). This would be a good practice for America to adopt! The people were not to extract the earth’s resources in a greedy manner. America will pay a high price for our present lax attitude toward conservation of resources and our disregard for the environment. In the mid seventies, America was a world leader in this, but today, we lag behind the rest of the civilized world.

There is a general outcry in America against terrorists who have vowed to destroy our great nation, but the real enemy of our nation is within. I am not speaking of radical Muslims or of illegal immigrants, but of greedy Americans, who are obsessed with obtaining personal wealth with no moral or spiritual considerations and a lack of concern for the welfare of fellow citizens.

There are now fifty states in our union and God’s message concerning the Year of Jubilee to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land” (Lev. 25:10) is inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia!

Although not as prominently known and recognized as the seven, the number eight is very important. God created heaven and earth in six days and rested on the seventh. World history began on the eighth day. We commonly read about the first and seventh days of the week, but the eighth day is also mentioned quite often. Boys were circumcised on the eighth day. God demanded the firstborn of the flock to be sacrificed to him on the eighth day. After Aaron and his sons were prepared for the priesthood, the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle and fire came down from heaven to consume the offering on the eighth day.

The three main Jewish feasts were of eight days duration.

The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread
The first great feast was the Feast of the Passover. Some argue that the Passover lasted only seven days, but this is due to a misunderstanding. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was celebrated seven days, from the 15th to the 21st of Nisan, but the Day of Preparation, the 14th of Nisan, was an important part of the Passover. Leviticus 23:5-6 says, In the fourteenth day of the first month at even is the LORD’S Passover. And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread unto the LORD. Jesus celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the 14th (after sunset) just before he was betrayed and led away captive. He was persecuted throughout the night and condemned to death the following day (still the 14th). Jesus was crucified that afternoon and buried before sunset.

The Feast of Pentecost
The Feast of Pentecost was celebrated 50 days after the Passover (7 weeks plus one day). For this reason it is sometimes called "The Feast of Weeks." It also lasted 8 days. God chose this feast for the birth of the Christian Church!

The Feast of the Tabernacles
The Feast of Tabernacles began on the 15th of Tisri (early October) at the time of the final harvest. It was a great celebration similar to our Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations combined. For seven days, the Jews lived in lean-to tents or booths made of palm branches, leaves and tree limbs. This was their way of remembering the forty years that their ancestors spent wandering in the wilderness. The people were brought close to nature during this time. I am reminded of the popular "Camp Meetings" of early America, especially during the 19th century.

During Israel's forty years of wandering, God prepared a table for his people. He gave them manna for bread and quail for meat. But it wasn't just food that God provided. He also gave them water. With desert sand, intense heat, flies and desolation all around, the people became thirsty and had no water. They accused Moses of bringing them into the desert so they would die of thirst. The Lord told Moses to take the same staff he used to part the Red Sea and hit the rock at Horeb. When he did, water gushed out. Clean, fresh, pure water, more than enough for all the people. It was mighty miracle - made even greater because the people had grumbled against God. He provided for them anyway.

For seven days during the Feast of Tabernacles, the priest would lead a procession from the Temple to the Pool of Siloam. There, he filled a golden urn with water and brought it back to the Temple. While he poured the water on the western side of the massive altar, a choir of 4,000 singers accompanied by 287 instrumentalists sang Psalm 118, which ends with the words: O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good; his love endureth forever. The priest repeated that ritual every day for seven days and the people rejoiced.

The eighth and final day of the last annual feast was a somber moment of high drama. On that day there was a solemn convocation and the priest did not go to the Pool of Siloam to draw water. After a week of feasting and celebrating, one would think that there should be a happy ending!

John 7:37-39 records an incident in the life of Jesus which has great significance. On the last and greatest day of the Feast [of Tabernacles], Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.

It was on that very day that Jesus stood up and spoke to the throngs of people crowding the Temple precincts. The fact that he stood would have gotten their attention since Jewish rabbis normally remained seated while teaching. The impact of his words on this particular day was enormous. On the eighth day when there was no water, Jesus said, If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The Jews understood him immediately. For Jesus was actually saying, “I am the rock that brought forth water in the wilderness. I am the true source of living water. Come to me, believe on me and I will give you living water from heaven.”

Eight symbolizes eternity with God in heaven!
It is the beginning of a new era. The Hebrew word for number eight means “super abundance" - "packed down, full, and running over". God’s grace is shed abundantly, far above and beyond what we deserve. The eighth day is a glorious eternity beyond world history and the millennium!

Ambrosias, Bishop of Milan, who died in 997, sought to direct Christians' attention away from themselves and the material things of this world and to remind them that they were pilgrims and strangers here on earth. Their eternal home was in heaven. For this reason, he built large eight -sided baptisteries, some of which exist to this day. The baptistery of St. John in Florence, Italy is one of the best known. I saw a large, adult-sized, eight-sided baptistery in a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Ephesus. Tradition tells us that John took the mother of Jesus to Ephesus and was the first pastor of the church in Ephesus.

Jesus Christ promises eternal life to all who believe. We are “born again” and become “new creatures”, baptized into death and raised up to life everlasting. We no longer live to self and for temporal things, but we live to serve God, to be witnesses of the salvation of Jesus and to love one another as Christ loves us. This new life extends far beyond this world and the grave.

The eight points to a future eternal life in heaven – beyond the scope of both the Old and New Testaments. We hear about the seven dispensations pertaining to this world, but we look forward to an eternal eighth dispensation!

Jews met on the seventh day, but Christians meet on the first day. Why?

I have heard various arguments and some of them are plausible. Most mention the fact that Jesus was raised from the grave on the first day and early disciples met on the first day (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2). I would like to add my own thoughts for what they are worth, but I don't claim inerrancy.

The overall objective of keeping the Sabbath and year of Jubilee is to provide a cyclical rest for the people and land, and at the same time, to spend quality time in worship and meditation. The seven-day interval of rest has proved itself valid and even indispensable in our world. The Communists tried to introduce ten-day work weeks, but discovered that the people were less productive. Those who have differing work schedules such as shift work that allows for longer work periods and then more time off have more medical issues. Our bodies and minds are apparently created to function harmoniously in a steady rhythm that is almost musical in nature. Eight hours of rest daily and a day off each week pays dividends that can not be made up by the supposed benefits of longer periods of labor. Nor do there seem to be many health benefits for a five-day instead of a six-day work week.

The Bible has much to say about keeping the Sabbath and more words are used for that commandment than any of the other nine. In the Old Testament especially, there are many reminders of the importance of keeping the Sabbath. Jesus accuses the Pharisees of adding unnecessary rules to this commandment, but nowhere does he negate the importance of keeping the Sabbath and Jesus honored it himself.

Sabbath means "seventh" and it normally refers to the 7th day of the week with Sunday being the first day, but I do not feel that the specific day of the week is of primary importance for Christians. Many people have to work on Saturdays and Sundays. Farmers must work every day, but they are among the most faithful in honoring the Lord's day. Priests and Levites had to work on the Sabbath. As a missionary, I worked most Saturdays and Sundays, so Monday was usually my day of rest. When we served with the Bible Institute, I battled with the Director for the need of students to have a day of rest. He would have worked them every day of the week and when I protested, he said, "As long as they can complain, they can still work!" I asked, "Are you an Egyptian taskmaster or Bible School Director?" Jesus admonished the Pharisees, saying that they would also work on the Sabbath if their ox or ass fell into a pit. They criticized the disciples for picking corn to eat on the Sabbath and would never have prepared a meal for themselves on a holy day! But they had no qualms about providing feed and water for their livestock on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15 and 14:5)! Actually, no one, even Seventh Day Adventists keep the Sabbath in its entirety today. Under the law, anyone who worked on the Sabbath was to be killed (Exodus 35:2)!

Jesus and the apostles often taught in the Synagogues on the Sabbath and this was a busy time for them. Although they generally kept the Sabbath like most Jews, it was mainly because they didn't want to cause offence. It is understandable that they would choose another day for rest and worship and the most likely choice would have been the day after the Sabbath. After the resurrection, the first day of the week became known as "the Lord's day." From John 20:19, Acts 20:7 and I Corinthians 16:2, it appears that believers were already meeting regularly on the first day of the week for fellowship and worship. They likely continued to refrain from strenuous activity on the Sabbath, for that would have caused conflict with devout Jews. It is interesting to note that nine of the ten commandments were repeated in letters to the churches, but there is no further command to keep the Sabbath. Christians met regularly, however, for worship and fellowship.

Differences Between the Old and New Covenants
If you have read much in your Bible, you have probably noticed that some things are different in God's dealings with Israel and with the church. Under the old covenant, God promised Israel to bless the womb, make fields productive and give victory over their enemies if they were faithful. In the New Testament, however, we read, He who will live godly shall suffer persecution. There are few references to heaven in the Old Testament, but the NT speaks repeatedly of the kingdom of heaven. We don’t work for rewards today, but serve God out of love and gratitude for his mercy and grace. We are "pilgrims and strangers" here on earth and our hope and reward is in heaven.

Old Testament believers put God last. After six days of work, the Jews came to the tabernacle or temple to worship God - on the last day. The tithe was calculated after the harvest had been measured and weighed.

Christians meet on the first day of the week to worship and then go into all the world to serve God. We don't just give a tenth of our income. We are to place our all on the altar (Romans 12:1-2)! Gods demands that his kingdom receive top priority! Jesus said, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [what we need] shall be added unto you (Matthew 6:33). We don’t work for rewards, but serve God out of thankfulness, love and obedience. Paul wrote, All things are yours; ye are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (I Corinthians 3:22). We serve in partnership with God.

The Jews attempted to please God by keeping the ten commandments. Jesus told his disciples that the first commandment is all they really needed to keep, Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. In doing so, we fulfill all the commandments. In speaking with Nicodemus, he elevated another obscure commandment (from Leviticus 19:18) into a close second place, love thy neighbor as thyself. Later on, in John 13:34, Jesus gave it a different twist; A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another as I have loved you.

I mentioned above that the tithe could only be calculated after one received wages. In actuality, one can never accurately calculate a tithe. It must be done in faith. After work is finished and the harvest brought in, the storage barn could be destroyed in a fire or storm. And after the crop has been sold, thieves could steal the money. Some Jews were very clever in using such arguments to excuse their paltry donations to the temple. They seldom tithed the part of the harvest which they consumed personally. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, who excused themselves from caring for their parents by claiming "corban" - that their possessions had been dedicated to God (Mark 7:11). Some Christians still live with that mentality. A missionary once told me that God didn't expect him to tithe because he was living on funds that had already been given to the Lord. Some theologians speak of living "under the law" or "under grace", but believers have always lived under both (Psalm 51:16-17). As the Apostle Paul stated, Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24, Hebrews 11:13). Children must first learn to obey and later we teach them to understand and trust us. Similarly, the law is designed to lead us into a personal relationship with God, so that we serve him out of love and trust. For God, the personal relationship with him is most important. Our motive for obedience is more important than the mere formality of keeping an observance (Deuteronomy 11:1; Leviticus 19:18). Christ fulfilled the law but didn’t do away with it.

Having shared these things, allow me to state that I am disturbed when some Christians claim that the Old Testament is just for Jews. Paul said that "all these things" -- that which is recorded in the Old Testament -- are for our benefit and edification (Romans 14:3; I Corinthians 10:6-11).

Ralph V Harvey, 2011