Truth That Matters

"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?" - Jesus Christ

Numbers in the Bible

The Bible says that God the Holy Spirit directed the authors of the Bible. If this is the case, every aspect of the Bible deserves the most careful attention. Let's consider two illustrative examples that are relevant to numbers.

The Biblical narrative contains numbers - the number of people, the number of things, the length of an object, the duration of a time period, and so on. The Holy Spirit evidently chose these number containing facts deliberately, because there is so much else that is omitted (no narrative mentions everything). Therefore, it would be interesting to see in what contexts different numbers occur and look for patterns.

The Biblical text contains key words that are repeated. It would be interesting to see how many times different key words occur and look for patterns in these numbers.

This article will examine the above two categories of patterns in the Bible. Note that since the Bible was written over thousands of years by dozens of different people who did not know each other, such a search would be absolutely futile unless God were guiding all of them.

One

Let's look at some occurrences of the word "one".
  • God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4)
  • The husband and wife are to be one (Genesis 2:24)
  • When Christ sets up his kingdom on earth, there will be one lord (Zechariah 14:9)
  • Those in the true church have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, etc (Ephesians 4:4-6)
  • All of humanity is of one blood (Acts 17:26)
  • Christ has come once and for all (Hebrews 9:26)
  • Christ has died once and for all (Hebrews 10:14, Hebrews 7:27)
All these instances show that "one" can be associated with unity and focus. The first recorded words of the Son of God, both in eternity past (Psalm 40:7-8) and while on earth (Luke 2:49) reflect His unity of purpose with God the Father.

There are three words which occur only once in the Bible:-
  1. Kritikos (a discerner, critic or analyser) in Hebrews 4:12
  2. Kapaleuo (to corrupt, peddle or adulterate) in 2 Corinthians 2:17
  3. Doloo (handle deceitfully, enslave, trap or corrupt) in 2 Corinthians 4:2
Note the similar theme in all the contexts:-
  • In Hebrews 4:12, we see that the word of God is our critic (not the other way around!)
  • In 2 Corinthians 2:17 and 2 Corinthians 4:2 we are warned against corrupting God's word (which usually happens when one tries to critique it).

Two

The following are some occurrences of the word "two" or two things.
  • The testimony of two witnesses was considered as true (Deuteronomy 19:15)
  • There are two testaments in the Bible (Old and New)
  • Two companions can support each other (Ecclesiastes 4:9-11)
  • Two tables of stone were used to write the Ten Commandments
  • Many of the offerings required animals in pairs: two turtledoves, two pigeons, two goats, etc.
  • Solomon erected two pillars for his temple (1 Kings 7:15)
  • Jeroboam the evil king erected two golden calves (1 Kings 12:28)
  • Soon after, God sent two prophets to Jeroboam's kingdom: Elijah and Elisha
  • In Matthew 22:40 we learn that all of God's law hangs on two commandments
  • In the tribulation, there will be two witnesses (Revelation 11:3)

Here we see the number two associated with reinforcement or completeness, especially in testimony. The same theme occurs in connection with the Lord Jesus Christ

  • He is the second person of the Trinity
  • He is the second man (1 Corinthians 15:47)
  • He is the faithful and true witness (Revelation 3:14)
  • He was God and Man
  • His death demonstrated two things: man's guiltiness and God's grace
  • When he was speared, out came blood and water (John 19:34)

There are several things which occur in the Bible as pairs.

  • In Genesis 1:4, we have light and darkness
  • In Genesis 1:6, we have land and water
  • In Genesis 4, we read of two brothers: Cain who was bad, and Abel who was good
  • In Genesis 12 to 20, we learn of two followers of God: spiritual Abraham and carnal Lot
  • In Genesis 15 to 20, we learn that Abraham had two sons: Ishmael, who was the result of Abraham trying to "help" God, and Isaac, who was a miraculous result of God's promise
  • In Genesis 27 to 35 we learn of Isaac's two sons: Jacob the chosen one who thought he could get God's blessings by trickery and Esau, who had absolutely no time to think of God
  • The tabernacle furniture was made of two materials: gold and shittim wood
  • In Psalm 2, we see Jesus the Son, God's anointed king and also the rulers of the world, who don't want him to be king.

Here we see another recurring theme: the number "two" is used for contrast.

Three

Next to seven, it is the most commonly used number in scripture. We are immediately reminded of the Triune nature of God, and its relation to divine perfection. Thus, "three" suggests divine perfection and completeness. Indeed, we see further development of this theme:-
  • There are three all-embracing attributes of God: omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence
  • In the temple, the inner sanctuary was a cube, having equal length, breadth and height
  • Abraham is called the friend of God thrice (2 Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8, James 2:23)
  • In Numbers 6:24-26, we have God's three-fold blessing for Israel
  • Christ has three offices: prophet, priest and king
  • The word "holy" is mentioned thrice to express the absolute holiness of God (Isaiah 6:3)
  • The devil tempted Jesus in three things, and three times was reminded: "It is written..."
  • Daniel prayed three times each day (Daniel 6:10)
  • Three times did Jesus raise people from the dead: the young man at Nain, Jairus' daughter and Lazarus
  • Peter saw his vision thrice (Acts 10)
  • The call to walk worthy of one's calling is given three times to Christians (Ephesians 4:1, Colossians 1:10, and 1 Thessalonians 2:12)
  • Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11), the great shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), and the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5:4)
  • The heavenly Jerusalem is a cube (Revelation 21:16)
The number three also occurs with a negative connection:-
  • Peter denied Christ thrice (Mark 14:72) though he promised that he was ready to die for the sake of Christ: here we have an implicit echo of a prominent scriptural theme: the utter failure of man's best intentions.
  • There are three sources of evil that fight against the Christian: his own fleshly nature, the world, and the devil
  • Jonah the disobedient prophet spent three days and nights in the whale's belly
  • Jesus' title when he was crucified was written in three languages
  • Temptations fall into three categories (1 John 2:16)
  • The embodiment of evil is expressed in three persons: Satan, the beast and the false prophet (Revelation 20:10)
  • Those who reject the Bible for false Christianity are wrong in three ways (Jude 1:11)
  • There are three witnesses on earth that testify of the evil in the world (1 John 5:8): the Spirit, the water (a symbol for the Bible) and the blood (of Jesus).
We thus see that the number three appears in connection with divine perfection and completeness, and also in connection with Satan's counterfeits.

Four

Four comes after three; and thus if "three" stands for divine perfection, four stands for that which proceeds out from God - the creation (the physical world and man). The following are some occurrences of "four" in the Bible:-
  • Four "gospels" or biographies of the Lord Jesus in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) point man to God.
  • The fourth book of the Bible (Numbers) details the wanderings of the people of Israel in the wilderness (which symbolizes this spiritually barren world). The fourth book of the Psalms has the same theme.
  • God created the physical world in four days.
  • In Genesis 2, we read of a river splitting into four and fertilizing the earth.
  • The early humans are described in four phrases (Genesis 10:5)
  • The statue in Nebuchadnezzar's dream had four parts symbolizing four kingdoms
  • Daniel got a vision about the same four kings in the form of four beasts
  • The tabernacle and temple (God's dwelling places in man's midst) were rectangular in shape (having four sides).
  • In Ezekiel's visions, the theme was the utter failure of man before God: we have four living creatures, each with four faces and four wings. The four corners of the land are mentioned, four judgments, four winds, etc.
  • In connection with restored man, we have four tables (Ezekiel 40:41) and four corners of the altar (Ezekiel 45:19)
  • In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), four types of ground are used to illustrate the hearts of men.
Thus, we have a recurring theme of "four" representing man in weakness and the world.

Five

"Five" comes after "four", and thus stands for that which comes after man's weakness: God's gracious provision.
  • The first division in the Bible consists of five books that Moses wrote, describing God's remedy for man's failure.
  • Liberated by God, the people of Israel left Egypt harnessed (Exodus 13:18). The Hebrew word signifies a marching arrangement in ranks of five. In the same way they crossed the Jordan (Joshua 1:5).
  • In Luke 9:10-17, the Lord Jesus fed five thousand men by multiplying five loaves and two fishes.
  • The holy anointing oil (which symbolizes our saviour the Lord Jesus) had five ingredients (Exodus 30:23-24). Note also the multiples of five which occur in the amounts.
  • The tabernacle was the place where God graciously came to meet with man. The multiples of five abound in its dimensions, number of components, etc.
  • God promised Israel that if they obeyed Him, five of them (weak, but having God's help) would chase a hundred (Leviticus 26:8).
  • When young and inexperienced David killed Goliath the giant, he picked up five stones (1 Samuel 17:40).
  • In Nebuchadnezzar's dream, the fifth component is God's kingdom which destroys the evil kingdoms of the world.
  • The word "parakleetos" (comforter or advocate) occurs five times in the New Testament in connection with the help that Christ and the Holy Spirit provide to humans.

Six

Six lies beyond five; the evil of man who rejects God's help. Six is also one short of seven, the number of perfection. Thus six denotes imperfection, incompleteness or evil.
  • Six days are decreed for man's labors.
  • In Genesis 22, the term "burnt offering" occurs six times - the seventh, perfect burnt offering is the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus himself.
  • Solomon, the glorious but faulty king of Israel, had an annual revenue of 666 talents of gold; and his ivory throne had six steps leading to it.
  • The rebellious Israelites lusted after six pleasant things to eat from Egypt (Numbers 11:5)
  • At the "incomplete" wedding in John 2:6, we have six water pots
  • The antisemitic army of Gog consists of six parts, of which God spares one (Ezekiel 39:2).
  • Six times did people accuse Jesus of having a demon (Mark 3:22, Luke 11:15, John 7:20, John 8:48, John 8:52 and John 10:20).
  • Six witnesses testified to Jesus' innocence when he was crucified: Pilate (Luke 23:14), Herod (Luke 23:15), Judas (Matthew 27:4), Pilates's wife (Matthew 27:19), the dying thief (Luke 23:41), and the centurion (Luke 23:47).
  • When Jesus died on the cross, darkness came over the land during the sixth hour (Matthew 27:45).
  • In Revelation 13:11-18, the Beast (Antichrist) is associated with the number 666 (Triple six, or the fullness of evil).
  • Goliath, the evil giant who terrorized Israel, was six cubits tall, wore six pieces of armor, and had a spearhead weighing six hundred shekels of iron (1 Samuel 17:4-7).
  • Nebuchadnezzar, the evil emperor of Babylon constructed an idol to which everyone was forced to bow. Its height was 60 cubits and its breadth 6 cubits.

Seven

Seven is three plus four, the creator and the creation: perfection or completeness. It is the most frequent number in the Bible, and it appears more than fifty times in the book of Revelation, where things come to a climax. Here are some occurrences of seven:-
  • God rested on the seventh day of creation, seeing that it was perfect.
  • Enoch, the seventh from Adam (the first human being) was the closest to God among all the patriarchs.
  • Moses, the greatest of the prophets of Israel was the seventh from Abraham, the progenitor of Israel.
  • God's blessing to Abraham contains seven elements (Genesis 12:2-3)
  • In Exodus 6:6-8, we have a seven-fold "I will" as God purposes to bless Israel.
  • In Leviticus 14:7 the leper is sprinkled upon seven times.
  • There were seven feasts that God gave Israel, some of which lasted seven days.
  • When Balak wanted Balaam to curse Israel he offered seven bullocks and seven rams on seven altars (Numbers 23:29) [the perfection of idolatrous antisemitism!].
  • "Seven" occurs frequently in Israel's invasion of Jericho (Joshua 6:1 onwards).
  • God destroyed seven evil nations when Israel entered the Promised Land.
  • During the period of the Judges, God used seven lowly things when he delivered the Israelis from their powerful oppressors: a left-handed man (Judges 3:21), an ox-goad (Judges 3:31), a woman (Judges 4:4), a tent peg (Judges 4:21), a millstone (Judges 9:53), pitchers and trumpets (Judges 7:20), and the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:15).
  • Seventy sevens of years have been assigned by God to restore Israel
  • Christ cast out seven demons from Mary Magdalene.
  • The church at Jerusalem had seven servers (Acts 6:3)
  • Seven letters were sent to seven churches in the book of Revelation
  • Revelation also has seven angels, seven seals, seven trumpets, etc.

The Russian mathematician and agnostic-turned-Christian, Ivan Panin, found many more patterns of seven in the original Greek and Hebrew text of the Bible.

Eight

Eight comes after seven, and thus represents new beginnings.
  • After Noah's Flood, the human race was replenished by eight people.
  • Circumcision was done on the eighth day
  • The priests would begin discharging their priestly duties on the eighth day, after seven days of consecration (Leviticus 8:33).
  • Lepers had a new beginning on the eighth day (Leviticus 14:10-11)
  • On the last, or eighth day of the feast, Jesus cried out inviting people to obtain new life from him (John 7:37)
  • Jesus rose on the first day of the week, which is the eighth from his entry into Jerusalem
  • Eight days after he first appeared to the disciples, Thomas' doubt was resolved and his faith was renewed (John 20:26).

Nine

Nine is the last among the single digit numbers in the decimal system (which was used in ancient Israel) and thus speaks of finality or judgment.
  • The Israelis would eat old fruit until the ninth year (Leviticus 25:22)
  • God punished Israel in nine ways for their lethargy in connection with the temple (Haggai 1:11)
  • Nine persons in scripture were executed by stoning.
  • The Lord Jesus cried out to God in anguish in the ninth hour (Mark 15:34)
  • In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, we have nine original gifts of the Spirit
  • The fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) is nine-fold.

Ten

Ten is the beginning of a new series of numbers. It denotes divine order and man's consequent responsibility:-
  • Man has 10 fingers and 10 toes. We are responsible to God for our actions and walk.
  • In Genesis 1, the phrase "God said" occurs ten times - man has a responsibility to obey God's word.
  • In the days before government and police existed, God wanted people to live by their conscience. This responsibility existed during the lives of the 10 patriarchs from Adam to Noah.
  • When Pharaoh rebelled against God, he brought 10 plagues on himself and his kingdom.
  • God gave man the Ten Commandments which tell man how he is supposed to live.
  • In Numbers 14:22, we read that the Israelis tested God 10 times, thus failing in their responsibility.
  • The people of Israel were to offer one part out of ten to God.
  • The parable of the 10 virgins expresses man's responsibility to wait and watch for the return of Jesus Christ.
  • Jesus narrated 10 parables about the kingdom in Matthew 13, 22 and 25

Eleven

Eleven is one short of twelve, which symbolizes divine government. Thus, eleven stands for the imperfection in human government.
  • When Jacob's life was in a mess, his eleven sons are mentioned (Genesis 32:22)
  • There were eleven dukes of Edom (Genesis 36:43-46), Israel's hostile neighbor
  • Joseph spent eleven years as a slave in the house of Potiphar, the Egyptian official.
  • Joseph's dream which made his brothers hate him had eleven stars (Genesis 37:9).
  • The turbulent journey from Mt Horeb to Kadesh Barnea (just short of the Promised Land) was supposed to take eleven days (Deuteronomy 1:2)
  • During the haphazard time of the Judges (Judges 21:25), Judah had eleven cities in the mountains (Joshua 15:51)
  • The extremely evil king Jehoiakim and the weak and evil king Zedekiah both reigned for eleven years (2 Kings 23:36, 24:18)
  • Eleven kings were offended by God's servants when they told them the truth: Pharaoh (Exodus 10:28), Balak (Numbers 24:10), Jeroboam (1 Kings 13:4), Ahab (1 Kings 22:27), Naaman (2 Kings 5:12), Asa (2 Chronicles 16:10), Joash (2 Chronicles 24:21), Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:19), Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:21), Zedekiah (Jeremiah 32:3), and Herod (Matthew 14:3).
  • The workers in the parable remained idle until the eleventh hour (Matthew 20:6)
  • In Matthew 28:16, eleven disciples met the Lord Jesus. The missing one was Judas Iscariot.
  • They felt the incompleteness in the group and later added Matthias (Acts 1:26)
  • The earthly life of the Lord Jesus lasted thirty three years: three times eleven. Although he was the manifestation of God (the number three), his work is not yet over (Hebrews 2:8).

Twelve

Twelve speaks of perfect, divine government or administration.
  • God led the people of Israel to a refreshing oasis called Oasis which had twelve wells of water (Exodus 15:27).
  • There were 12 tribes of Israel.
  • In David's roster of service for the temple there were 24 groups of Levites, each consisting of 12 members (1 Chronicles 24:7)
  • Twelve oxen bore the sea in Solomon's Temple (1 Kings 7:25)
  • In future, when Jerusalem becomes the world headquarters, it will have twelve gates (Ezekiel 48:31-34).
  • In future, the twelve apostles will sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
  • When Jesus was being crucified, he mentions access to twelve legions of angels (Matthew 26:53).
  • Twelve abounds in the description of the heavenly city of Jerusalem, the centre of God's eternal government.

Seventeen

Seventeen symbolizes security
  • Young Joseph was nourished by his loving father for seventeen years (Genesis 37:2).
  • Joseph took care of his aged father for seventeen years (Genesis 47:28)
  • Noah entered the ark (which protected him from Noah's Flood) in the seventeenth day of the month (Genesis 7:11)
  • The ark rested on the ground on the seventeenth day (Genesis 8:4)
  • Related to the security of Christians in God's love, seventeen things are mentioned in Romans 8:35 and Romans 8:38-39.

Forty

Forty symbolizes probation, trial and testing.
  • Isaac spent forty years single.
  • Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh's palace, trained in Egyptian expertise. Then God made him spend forty years in the obscure wilderness. After that, God made him lead the people of Israel out of Egypt for forty years.
  • Moses spent forty days on Mt Horeb before receiving the Ten Commandments.
  • The twelve spies spent forty days exploring the Promised Land (Numbers 13:25)
  • The Israelis spent forty years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land.
  • The first three kings of Israel, Saul, David and Solomon ruled for forty years.
  • The Egyptian captivity was to last for forty years (Ezekiel 29:13)
  • The Lord Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness before his public ministry.
  • After his resurrection, the Lord Jesus appeared several times to his disciples over a period of forty days (Acts 1:3), preparing them for their future mission.

Conclusion

Given that most Biblical authors didn't know each other, it was impossible for them to construct these numerical patterns. Moreover, some details of the pattern, such as the day on which it rained, or the number of children in a certain family, were out of the control of any human agent. The existence of numerical patterns in the Bible is proof of its divine origin. Books have been written on numerical patterns in nature. The simultaneous existence of numerical patterns in the Bible makes perfect sense when we perceive that the same God who created nature also composed the Bible.

Acknowledgment: Most of the information of this article has been taken from "Numbers in the Bible" by Robert Johnston, John Ritchie Publications.

Acrostics

Psalm 119 consists of 22 sections of 8 verses each. Each section is titled according to a Hebrew letter in order (the Hebrew alphabet consists of 22 letters). Each verse of each section begins with the appropriate Hebrew letter. Thus, verses 1 to 8 begin with Aleph, the first Hebrew letter. Verses 9-16 begin with Beth, the second Hebrew letter, and so on.

The following passages of the Bible are acrostics: that is, they consist of 22 verses, each of which begins with a Hebrew letter: the first with Aleph, the second with Beth, and so on: Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, 145, Proverbs 31:10-31, Lamentations 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.