1 Kings 7:23
— Numbers in the Bible —
Numbers in the Bible
Many that are intrigued by Scriptures' use of numbers dive head-first into numerology. But by nature of God and the Word of God, we can be sure that there are no secret codes or specifically hidden meanings anywhere in the Bible. Any meaning is openly addressed and clearly displayed.
"It is not in heaven, that you should say, "Who will go up to heaven for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?" Nor is it beyond the sea that you should say, "Who will cross the sea for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?" But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it."—Deuteronomy 30:12-14.
It is commonly believed that the number sequence is a natural phenomenon, and that it was created in the Beginning, when everything else was created. But this isn't so. The number sequence the way we know it came forth from the axioms set by Euclid in the second century BC, and that's the number sequence we've been studying ever since; it's a man-made tool that's shown to be very handy for all kinds of applications, but it's realness is disproved by the fact that only an infinitely infinitesimal amount of the numbers that are made possible by Euclid's axioms, are applicable to nature.
On the other side of the spectrum is the natural animal number sense. In the animal world there are roughly three numbers: one, two and many, which obviously also fail to cover all natural phenomena.
In between these two failing ways sits the Biblical number sense: non-Euclidean and trans-animal. Numbers in the Bible often serve to simply state a quantity, but these quantities are by no means so fixed as to sic Euclidean algorithms on. In rare occasions, we can actually prove that a number is designed to a quantity that's other than the number. An example are the camels of Abraham, with which Eliezer sets out to search for a wife for Isaac. In Genesis 24:10 it reads that Eliezer took 10 camels from the herd, "and left and all the goods of his master were in his hand". The 10 camels were representative for all Abraham's estate and the number 10 stands for completeness; the whole of it.
The 10 commandments are another example. There are many more than 10 commandments to be found in the Bible, but the big 10 represent them all. Later, Jesus actually compresses them even further when he states that loving God completely sums up the law. And equal to this is loving our neighbors. Euclidianized this says x=10=1=2; x being a finite natural number larger than 10. And this obviously misses the Biblical point.
Where the number 10 has the Biblical tendency to represent amounts that are mathematically larger, the number 3 sometimes occurs to represent something that is one or one-ish. The Godhead, for instance, is 3 is 1. The singular sheep-skin trial of Gideon happens as a threesome. Jesus' singular temptation by satan was a tri-fold attempt.
Euclidian intuition dictates that 30 = 3 x 10, but the Biblical qualities of number 30 are not that easily deducted. In fact, the relation between 30 and 3 is much more obvious than the relation between 30 and 10, as the word that means thirty is the multiple form of the word for three: threes. The Hebrew word for ten comes from a verb that means gather, unite, and means a collection or union. The word for twenty is the plural of ten: tens.
But the differential pinch between Euclidian and Biblical number usage is much more fundamental then infinite accuracy versus reality. Logic dictates that bigger is better; a bigger army is stronger than a smaller army. A bigger wallet is more powerful than a smaller wallet. A bigger temple belongs to a stronger god than the god of a smaller temple...
The Bible does not agree.
All things being equal, it's duly called for to make some scientific calculations before commencing a project (Luke 14:28-32), but the Bible teaches that things are not always equal. In 2 Samuel 24, David is curious to know how large his army actually is, and orders a census. His commander in chief Joab asks, "...why does my lord the king delight in this thing?"
With a census itself is nothing wrong; God orders one in Numbers 1, and the count of every tribe is a round number expressed in units of 100, except the tribe of Gad, which counts 45,650 men. But the count of all first-born males yields an unusual exact number: 22,273 (Numb 3:43). Since the Levites served in the place of Israel's first born males, and there were 22,000 Levites, a group of 273 first born males remained for which a monetary ransom had to be surrendered.
What exactly the purpose of this census was is not told. All we know is that God wanted one. David, however, acts on his own. And the reason is that he wanted to know how large his army was. Bigger is stronger, after all. And that's the kind of reasoning that cancels God out of the equation. The result of cancelling God out, is demise of the very strength that the calculations were to establish, and 70,000 men died.
The Bible is full of military strategies that we won't hear off at West Point. When Gideon is called to engage the Midianite Eastern Alliance, lying in the valley as numerous as locusts, about 135,000 men (Judges 7:12; 8:10), God says, "Surely, I will be with you and you shall defeat Midian as one man." (6:16). Gideon puts the word out and 32,000 men report for duty. "And the Lord said to Gideon, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel becomes boastful, saying 'my own power has delivered me.'..."" (7:2). A few rounds of decimation ensue and when Gideon finally heads out towards the Midianites, he has a mere three companies of one hundred men each under his command. By the end of the day, 120,000 enemy soldiers are dead.
The men of Israel liked some more of the same and assumed that Gideon did it all. They like him to rule over them, but Gideon refuses and says, "The Lord shall rule over you."
Numbers are real and their power is formidable. But they have by no means the last word in the universe. Any system that only counts on numbers, will fail. And that is much less religious than it sounds. Since mathematics is the language of science, and mathematics must remain incomplete, science must remain incomplete. In other words: you never know what you don't know, and an extremely rare natural event may occur smack in the middle of your scientific predictions and throw your time-honored theory unceremoniously off reality's track.