Bible Articles on the Topic of Numbers

The following articles have been compiled and indexed by inWORD Bible software.

Large Numbers in the Old Testament

The exceedingly high numbers of the able-bodied men over the age of twenty conscripted into the armies of Israel, as recorded in Numbers 1:26, continue to trouble modern scholars. The numbers of soldiers in each listing total in excess of 600,000 (603,550 in Numbers 1:46; 601,730 in Numbers 26:51). These numbers of men mustered for warfare demand a total population in excess of 2 million. Indeed, perhaps a population of 3 or 4 or even 5 million might be required to supply a conscripted army of 600,000 able-bodied men over twenty years old. Such numbers are exceedingly large for the times, for the locale, for the desert wanderings, and in comparison to the numbers of the inhabitants of the land of Canaan whom the Israelites set out to conquer.

The Statistics of the Exodus (I)

The matters dealt with in our special Moses number have created very great interest and discussion. Naturally, the details of Israel’s departure from Egypt, the epoch making event which was the nucleus of their national memory, have come under consideration, and it has become evident that there are widely dissimilar views on the subject of date, route and statistics. We believe that it will be advantageous to explore these problems thoroughly, and we are therefore proposing to publish special articles written by correspondents who have made certain phases their exhaustive study. Dr. W. J. Young discusses the statistics of the Exodus in this number. J. G. M. Thorne will examine the theories as to the route, and the present writer hopes to deal with the date. —H. A. Thompson

The Statistics of the Exodus (II)

I have been aware of this difficulty over numbers—such as it is—for many years. I have twice read Dr. Young’s argument in MS., the first time some years ago. Earlier I had read what Dr. Garstang has to say on the subject, for I bought a copy of his “Joshua Judges,” in the year of its publication. Much earlier still—at least thirty years ago—I was aware of the uncertainty of the higher numbers in Hebrew records and of the great disparity in this matter between our version of the Old Testament and the Septuagint rendering. Difficulties have to be faced as they arise but I have never regarded it as part of my duty to advertise them.

The Miracle and Numbers of the Exodus

Dr. W. J. Young’s article in last month’s issue was unusual in that few students ever face the task of working out the Exodus statistics and their implications; but it lacked completeness in that the true value of this exercise and the light it sheds on Israel’s experiences were apparently overlooked by the writer. Unfortunately, the article merely dealt with statistics and did not take into consideration the miraculous and the Divine. Figures alone are by no means conclusive—and at times can even be misleading! On mere statistics, it could even be argued that the Feeding of the Five Thousand was unproved, if not impossible! Yet the Exodus and Israel’s journey to Canaan is as much a Divinely performed miracle as Christ’s feeding of the multitudes! The true value of Dr. Young’s arguments is readily evident, if we accept fully the large numbers indicated in our Bibles and calmly face the resultant implications. He has fully shown that the Exodus and wilderness sustenance of Israel cannot be explained statistically on mere human lines; and that is not surprising at all, for the circumstances of the whole Exodus narrative can only be placed reasonably and honestly in the category of the miraculous and the Divine.

The Statistics of the Exodus and the Half-Shekel Tax

The article by W. J. Young in the August Testimony has performed a useful service in drawing attention to the existence of these problems, but it does not follow that W. J. Y.’s theory provides the correct solution.

Read Scripture: Numbers

Watch the book of Numbers come to life in this animated sketch of its literary design. Israel leaves Mount Sinai and travels through the wilderness on the way to the land promised to Abraham. The trip goes horribly as Israel rebels, and reveals how God shows both justice and mercy on his people.

Torah Series: Numbers

Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Apparently, the Israelites. This video relates the epic journey of God’s chosen people as they bungle their way to the promised land. From Mt. Sinai to Moab, we see the Israelites behaving in disobedience to God (shocker) and doubting His plan (you don’t say?). Responding to the continued mutiny of His people (even Moses—say it ain’t so!), God eventually grants them what they want: exile. Yet despite their rejection, God continues to protect them, illustrating the Torah’s interwoven theme of His faithfulness (promise?).

Greek alphabet

The Greek alphabet has been used to write the Greek language since the 8th century BC. It was derived from the earlier Phoenician alphabet, and was the first alphabetic script to have distinct letters for vowels as well as consonants. It is the ancestor of the Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Apart from its use in writing the Greek language, in both its ancient and its modern forms, the Greek alphabet today also serves as a source of technical symbols and labels in many domains of mathematics, science and other fields.

Significant Numbers: Four

Numerical symbolism, that is, the use of numbers not merely, if at all, with their literal numerical value, or as round numbers, but with symbolic significance, sacred or otherwise, was widespread in the ancient East, especially in Babylonia and regions more or less influenced by Babylonian culture which, to a certain extent, included Canaan. It must also be remembered that the ancestors of the Israelites are said to have been of Babylonian origin and may therefore have transmitted to their descendants the germs at least of numerical symbolism as developed in Babylonia in the age of Hammurabi. Be that as it may, the presence of this use of numbers in the Bible, and that on a large scale, cannot reasonably be doubted, although some writers have gone too far in their speculations on the subject. The numbers which are unmistakably used with more or less symbolic meaning are 7 and its multiples, and 3, 4, 10 and 12.

Significant Numbers: Seven

Numerical symbolism, that is, the use of numbers not merely, if at all, with their literal numerical value, or as round numbers, but with symbolic significance, sacred or otherwise, was widespread in the ancient East, especially in Babylonia and regions more or less influenced by Babylonian culture which, to a certain extent, included Canaan. It must also be remembered that the ancestors of the Israelites are said to have been of Babylonian origin and may therefore have transmitted to their descendants the germs at least of numerical symbolism as developed in Babylonia in the age of Hammurabi. Be that as it may, the presence of this use of numbers in the Bible, and that on a large scale, cannot reasonably be doubted, although some writers have gone too far in their speculations on the subject. The numbers which are unmistakably used with more or less symbolic meaning are 7 and its multiples, and 3, 4, 10 and 12.

Significant Numbers Ten:

As the basis of the decimal system, which probably originated in counting with the fingers, 10 has been a significant number in all historical ages. The 10 antediluvian patriarchs (Genesis 5; compare the 10 Babylonian kings of Berosus, and 10 in early Iranian and far-Eastern myths); the 10 righteous men who would have saved Sodom (Genesis 18:32); the 10 plagues of Egypt; the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:2-17 parallel Deuteronomy 5:6-21; the 10 commandments found by some in Exodus 34:14-26 are not clearly made out); the 10 servants of Gideon (Judges 6:27); the 10 elders who accompanied Boaz (Ruth 4:2); the 10 virgins of the parable (Matthew 25:1); the 10 pieces of silver (Luke 15:8); the 10 servants entrusted with 10 pounds (Luke 19:13 ff), the most capable of whom was placed over 10 cities (Luke 19:17); the 10 days’ tribulation predicted for the church of Smyrna (Revelation 2:10); the use of “10 times” in the sense of “many times” (Genesis 31:7; Nehemiah 4:12; Daniel 1:20, etc., an idiom met with repeatedly in Tell el-Amarna Letters); and the use of 10 in sacred measurements and in the widely diffused custom of tithe, and many other examples show plainly that 10 was a favorite symbolic number suggestive of a rounded total, large or small, according to circumstances. The number played a prominent part in later Jewish life and thought. Ten times was the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) uttered by the high priest on the Day of Atonement; 10 persons must be present at a nuptial benediction; 10 constituted a congregation in the synagogue; 10 was the usual number of a company at the paschal meal, and of a row of comforters of the bereaved. The world was created, said the rabbis, by ten words, and Abraham was visited with 10 temptations (Ab v. 1 and 4; several other illustrations are found in the context).

Significant Numbers: Three

Numerical symbolism, that is, the use of numbers not merely, if at all, with their literal numerical value, or as round numbers, but with symbolic significance, sacred or otherwise, was widespread in the ancient East, especially in Babylonia and regions more or less influenced by Babylonian culture which, to a certain extent, included Canaan. It must also be remembered that the ancestors of the Israelites are said to have been of Babylonian origin and may therefore have transmitted to their descendants the germs at least of numerical symbolism as developed in Babylonia in the age of Hammurabi. Be that as it may, the presence of this use of numbers in the Bible, and that on a large scale, cannot reasonably be doubted, although some writers have gone too far in their speculations on the subject. The numbers which are unmistakably used with more or less symbolic meaning are 7 and its multiples, and 3, 4, 10 and 12.

Significant Numbers: Twelve

The 12 months and the 12 signs of the zodiac probably suggested to the old Babylonians the use of 12 as a symbolic or semi-sacred number, but its frequent employment by the Israelites with special meaning cannot at present be proved to have originated in that way, although the idea was favored by both Josephus and Philo. So far as we know, Israelite predilection for 12 was entirely due to the traditional belief that the nation consisted of 12 tribes, a belief, it is true, entertained also by the Arabs or some of them, but with much less intensity and persistence. In Israel the belief was universal and ineradicable. Hence, the 12 pillars set up by Moses (Exodus 24:4); the 12 jewels in the high priest’s breast-plate (Exodus 28:21); the 12 cakes of showbread (Leviticus 24:5); the 12 rods (Numbers 17:2); the 12 spies (Numbers 13); the 12 stones placed by Joshua in the bed of Jordan (Joshua 4:9); the 12 officers of Solomon (1 Kings 4:7); the 12 stones of Elijah’s altar (1 Kings 18:31); the 12 disciples or apostles (26 t), and several details of apocalyptic imagery (Revelation 7:5 ff; 12:1; 21:12, 21:14, 21:16, 21:21; 22:2; compare also Matthew 14:20 parallel Matthew 19:28 parallel Matthew 26:53; Acts 26:7). The number pointed in the first instance at unity and completeness which had been sanctioned by Divine election, and it retained this significance when applied to the spiritual Israel. Philo indeed calls it a perfect number. Its double in Revelation 4:4, etc., is probably also significant.

Bamidbar

Numbers

Numbers

Numbers

Book of Numbers

The Book of Numbers (from Greek Ἀριθμοί, Arithmoi; Hebrew: בְּמִדְבַּר, Bəmiḏbar, “In the desert [of]”) is the fourth book of the Hebrew Bible, and the fourth of five books of the Jewish Torah. The book has a long and complex history, but its final form is probably due to a Priestly redaction (i.e., editing) of a Yahwistic source made some time in the early Persian period (5th century BCE).

Roman numerals

The numeric system represented by Roman numerals originated in ancient Rome and remained the usual way of writing numbers throughout Europe well into the Late Middle Ages. Numbers in this system are represented by combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet. Roman numerals, as used today, are based on seven symbols: