Lesson 8: The Spiritual Meaning of Numbers in the Bible
The following is taken from Time Has An End by Harold Camping, copyright 2005 by Vantage Press, Incorporated, Chapter 8.
The Numbers of the Bible Do Not Appear by Happenstance
As we study the Bible, we occasionally notice that in the recording of certain historical events, a number appears to be featured. This is true, for example, of the numbers in connection with the accounts of the crucifixion of Christ. Remember, there were 3 crosses (Mark 15:27), 3 denials by Peter (Mark 14:66-72), 3 apostles were with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33), Jesus prayed 3 times in the Garden (Mark 14:32-41), the words “JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS” were on the cross in 3 languages (John 19:19-20), 3 groups of men — the chief priests, the elders, and all the council — wanted Him killed (Matthew 26:59), etc. Included are some larger numbers that feature the number 3. For example, 30 pieces of silver were paid to betray Him (Matthew 26:15), and there were 3 hours of darkness, from the sixth to the ninth hour (Matthew 27:45). Is the development of these events that surround the crucifixion of Christ — recorded so that the number 3 is repeatedly in view — accidental or incidental? Or is God, by the use of the number 3, conveying a great spiritual message that every thing that happened in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus was altogether in accordance with God’s unmistakable purpose and sovereign will? Similarly, we find the number 23 featured in places in the Bible where the judgment of God is definitely in view. For example, in Daniel 8:14, God teaches that the sanctuary and the host would be trodden underfoot 2,300 days. In I Corinthians 10:10, God speaks of a plague that killed 23,000 individuals in one day. That this is focusing on the number 23 as a number of judgment can be quickly understood because in Numbers 25:9, the Bible records that there were 24,000 killed in the plague. There is no contradiction between these two accounts. It is obvious that of the total number of 24,000 killed in the plague, 23,000 were killed in one day and that means an additional 1,000 were killed in a second day. However, God is particularly associating the number 23 with His judgment on sin. We thus learn that the number 23 can convey the spiritual meaning of God’s judgment or God’s wrath. If we look at many numbers of the Bible, therefore, we can see that they may be conveying spiritual truth as well as teaching simple numerical value. The number 2 is used frequently to describe those who bring the Gospel. Jesus sent the 70 out “two and two” (Luke 10:1). Revelation Chapter 11 describes the 2 witnesses who were killed and then again stood on their feet to bring the Gospel. In Acts Chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas were sent out together as the first missionaries. Thus, if the number 2 has symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would identify with those who are to bring the Gospel or who are the caretakers of the Bible. The number 4 identifies with the whole world. The Bible speaks of east, west, north, and south (Psalm 107:3). It speaks of 4 winds (Matthew 24:31) and 4 corners of the land (Ezekiel 7:2). Thus, if the number 4 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would identify with that which is universal or worldwide. But the number 4 is also used to convey universality in the sense of going all the way to the end. For example, Jesus waited until Lazarus was dead 4 days before he was raised (John 11:15-17). King Jehu’s dynasty was allowed to continue through 4 kings (II Kings 10:30; 13:1, 9-10; 14:16, 29; 15:8-12). Israel came out of Egypt in the 4th generation after being afflicted 400 years (Genesis 15:13-16). Abraham bought a burial ground for his wife Sarah for 400 shekels (Genesis 23:15) because she represents all true believers all the way to the end of time who expect with Sarah to receive their resurrected bodies. In all of these instances, the use of the number 4 indicates the extremity or the end of a period of time, even as it is used to point to the end of the world which is worldwide (II Peter 3:10). The number 5 very frequently identifies with salvation or judgment. Christ had to experience judgment to bring salvation so we are not surprised that both judgment and salvation identify with the number 5. The number 5 appears in the Bible both as ½ which is .5 and as 5 or 50 or 500 or 5,000, etc. We immediately think of the temple tax which was .5 shekel (Exodus 30:13), or of the 5,000 who were fed by Jesus (John 6:10-13), or of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins (Matthew 25:1-2), etc. Thus, if the number 5 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would be that of salvation or judgment. If the number 6 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it probably would identify with work. Jesus worked 6 days to create the universe (Exodus 20:11). The number 666 of Revelation 13:18 identifies with the unsaved who essentially are working to get right with God. The number 7 is used throughout the Bible in the sense of a completed cycle (7 days, 7 years), or in the sense of perfect completeness. For example, earlier we looked at forgiveness to be 70 x 7 times. The number 9 is 3 x 3. Therefore, symbolically or spiritually, it would signify purpose. The number 10, like the number 100, or 1,000 or 10,000, etc. signifies completeness. The Bible speaks of 10 coins (Luke 15:8), 100 sheep (Luke 15:4), 1,000 years (II Peter 3:8), 1,000 generations (Deuteronomy 7:9), etc. Thus, if the number 10 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would be that of completeness. The number 11 is frequently used in the Bible to convey the idea of defective fullness. For example, there were 12 tribes (actually thirteen tribes) of Israel, but after David pridefully numbered Israel, God speaks of 11 tribes (I Kings 11:31-32). When Judas Iscariot, who was one of the 12 apostles (John 6:70- 71), took his own life after he betrayed Jesus, there were 11 apostles left. Immediately, another apostle was chosen to bring the total back up to 12 (Acts 1:13-26). There are 11 millenniums from Creation to the first coming of Christ (see Chapter 9 of this book). But His coming is not complete (in that sense, defective) until He comes on the last day to finish all of His work that He has planned for mankind and this world (I Corinthians 15:24). The number 12 is used frequently to signify the fullness of whatever is in view. There were 12 tribes and 12 apostles, the Holy City is spoken of as 12,000 furlongs by 12,000 furlongs by 12,000 furlongs (Revelation 21:16), etc. Thus, if the number 12 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would be the fullness of whatever is in view. The numbers 7, 10, and 12, are, therefore, very similar to each other in signifying spiritual truth. The number 13 symbolically or spiritually signifies super fullness. Ordinarily, the Bible speaks of twelve apostles, but in actuality there were 13. The 13th was the Apostle Paul who insisted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that he met all of the qualifications of the original twelve (I Corinthians 9:1-2; 15:8-9; II Corinthians 12:11-12). The Bible ordinarily speaks of twelve tribes of Israel but in actuality there were 13 (Genesis 49:1-28; Numbers 32:33; Joshua Chapters 16 and 17). The universe has existed for slightly more than 13,000 years (see Chapters 2 and 3 of this book). Thus, if the number 13 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it identifies with “super fullness”. Curiously, we see this concept identified with the age of the earth. We have learned that the Old Testament era from Creation to the birth of Christ is almost exactly 11,000 years (11,006 years). We also can easily misunderstand the opening verses of Revelation Chapter 20 which speak of Satan being bound for a thousand years after which the end of the world would come. And 11,000 years + 1,000 years = 12,000 years, which symbolically identifies with complete fullness of time. But the New Testament era is about two thousand years. Therefore, the total time is very close to 13,000 years (13,023 years to be exact). And thus, we see again the concept of super fullness identified with the number 13. The number 17 is found in several places that identify with Heaven. For example, during the last 17 years of his life, Jacob lived under the complete safety of Joseph who was a portrait or type of Christ at the time he was used of God to save his family from starvation (Genesis 47:28). Jeremiah paid 17 shekels for a piece of land in Israel as a sign that God would again bring Israel into the land; the land signifies the eternal kingdom of God (Jeremiah 32:9). Thus, if the number 17 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would be that of Heaven. The number 37, like the number 23, signifies God’s judgment. Noah was in the ark for a total of 370 days at the time God’s judgment was on the earth (Genesis 7:11; 8:14-18). The army of Sennacherib that was destroyed by God in one night numbered 185,000 (II Kings 19:35). 185,000 = 5 x 37 x 1,000. The number 666, which is the number assigned to the unsaved who are under the judgment of God (Revelation 13:18), when broken down into significant numbers, is 3 x 6 x 37. Thus, if the number 37 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would be judgment. The number 40 is used repeatedly in the Bible to signify testing. Moses was 40 days on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:18). Israel failed the test of his absence and made the golden calf (Exodus 32:1-4). Israel was 40 years in the wilderness. They failed the test because almost none of them became saved (Hebrews 3:17). Jesus was tested 40 days and 40 nights by Satan (Matthew 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-2). Wonderfully, He did not fail the test (Matthew 4:3-11; Luke 4:3- 14). Thus, if the number 40 has any symbolical or spiritual meaning, it would be that of testing. The number 43 surfaces from time to time. For example, Israel was in Egypt for 430 years. The end of the 430 years brought judgment upon Egypt but freedom (a picture of salvation) to Israel. Thus, if the number 43 has any spiritual or symbolical meaning, it would be, like the number 5, that of judgment or salvation. The following is a summary of probable meanings of the numbers set forth above.
Number Symbolical or Spiritual Meaning
2 Caretakers of the Bible
3 God’s purpose
4 Universality or going all the way to the end
5 Salvation or judgment
7 Perfect completeness
11 Defective fullness
13 Super fullness
43 Judgment or salvation
These comments about God’s usage of numbers do not in any way insist that this, then, is the basis of recognizing the high possibility that A.D. 2011 may indeed be the year of the end of the world. If it were true that not a single number in the Bible conveyed any spiritual truth, the conclusions set forth in this study identifying with the unfolding of God’s salvation plan would not change at all.
However, it is true that as we understand God’s use of numbers in the Bible, we do have increased evidence that the timeline of history we have projected to A.D. 2011 has a great possibility of being correct.
. . . the numbers God has used in the Bible can have spiritual value, that is, they can be used of God to teach spiritual truth.
Now that we have learned that the numbers God has used in the Bible can have spiritual value, that is, they can be used of God to teach spiritual truth, we shall also learn that in the Calendar of History, major milestones are separated from each other in such a way that spiritual truth shines forth. For example, Israel was in the wilderness 40 years, from the year 1447 B.C. to 1407 B.C. As we learned, the number 40 spiritually signifies testing. In Deuteronomy 8:2 we read:
And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
This verse clearly teaches that the 40 years Israel was in the wilderness was a period of time set by God for Him to test them (see also Numbers 14:33-34). By this verse, we are assured that the duration of a time period set forth in God’s Gospel Calendar can be used to emphasize spiritual truth. Again, we have learned that Abraham was seventy-five years of age when he came into the land of Canaan and that he died at the age of 175 years (Genesis 25:7). We have learned that the land of Canaan symbolically represents the eternal kingdom of God. We have also learned that the number 10, 100, or 1,000 can spiritually signify completeness. Additionally, we know from the Bible that Abraham represents all of those who are true believers (Galatians 3:29). Thus, the 100-year period from the year 2092 B.C., when Abraham entered the land of Canaan, until the year 1992 B.C., when Abraham died, signifies the completeness of eternal life for all those who become saved. Fact is, God has structured the unfolding of His salvation plan so that as we discover the Calendar of History, we find two major principles to be in place:
1. The Gospel milestones in the unfolding of history are not in any sense haphazard or at random.
2. Frequently, the time duration between significant milestones convey important spiritual truth.
We should test these principles. We shall do so by listing a number of the significant milestones and then checking to discover if there is any possibility of spiritual meaning in the time segment between these milestones.