Biblical numerology for dummies

I don't even know what numerology is, much less the biblical version, but as I read Revelation 7 with a few high school kids we got talking about numbers.

In this chapter 12,000 comes up 12 times, adding up to 144,000. One of their questions is what's with those numbers? I told them,holding onto those numbers literally got the Jehovah's Witnesses in trouble in the early 1900's. They thought the end was near and only 144,000 would make it to heaven. But their recalculated dates kept passing with nothing happening except cause stress. Then they got more than 144,000 members. I then pointed out that the 12 tribes listed there aren't the 12 sons of Israel. In this list Dan is missing, and Joseph is listed as well as his son Manasseh, but not Ephraim. So I concluded with them that God likes certain numbers, more as themes than as headcounts. So with "twelve" there are a dozen sons of Israel, but when Levi's tribe didn't get an inheritance in the promised land, Joseph's 2 sons got tribal inheritances instead, preserving the concept of 12. Jesus picked 12 disciples. Twelve is also the number of months in a year. It takes 12 moon cycles, and change, for a complete year. So twelve seems to be a symbol for a complete entity.

There are other numbers. In our read through of Revelation, seven shows up many times. Here's a crazy example from Revelation 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.We concluded that Jesus is being represented by a zombie mutant sheep. But that's if you can't process metaphors. Seven days makes a week, which is almost a quarter of a lunar cycle. It's also a 40th of human gestation period. It's also a complete unit. For Jewish readers, the 7th day is God's day, the Sabbath, when God chilled out from creating and wants all his people to chill as well. So seven seems to be a number for worship.

Another frequent number is forty. It rained on Noah for 40 days. Moses and the children of Israel wander in the wilderness for 40 years. Jesus fasts and is tempted for 40 days before beginning his ministry. There are many more instances as well. But it's not unlike a human's 40 weeks of gestation. There's trial and tribulation then joy.

The links to the number stuff are included for funsies. These are molehills, not mountains. It's fun to read the Bible with goofy high school kids, while they mess around on their phones and throw stuff at each other, anticipating ice cream sandwiches and frisbee, but find gems together like this, that sometimes numbers are symbols.


Joe K said…
Sounds like you are having a lot of fun with the teens.

Here's some stuff I got from Google...

7 – represents perfection, and is the sign of God, divine worship, completions, obedience, and rest. The “prince” of Bible numbers, it is used 562 times, including its derivatives (e.g., seventh, sevens). (See Genesis 2:1–4, Psalm 119:164, and Exodus 20:8–11 for just a few of the examples.) The number seven is also the most common in biblical prophecy, occurring 42 times in Daniel and Revelation alone. In Revelation there are seven churches, seven spirits, seven golden candlesticks, seven stars, seven lamps, seven seals, seven horns, seven eyes, seven angels, seven trumpets, seven thunders, seven thousand slain in a great earthquake, seven heads, seven crowns, seven last plagues, seven golden vials, seven mountains, and seven kings.

12 – represents the church and God’s authority. Jesus had 12 disciples, and there were 12 tribes of Israel. In Revelation 12:1, the 24 elders and 144,000 are multiples of 12. The New Jerusalem city has12 foundations, 12 gates 12 thousand furlongs, a tree with 12 kinds of fruit 12 times a year eaten by 12 times 12,000 or the 144,000. (See Revelation 21.)

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