Christians don’t practice numerology for divination, but numbers in the Bible do have consistent meanings, and there are number types in Torah that add an additional layer of understanding to scripture. Certain numbers just come up more in the Bible. Let’s find out why.
In addition to forming the building blocks of words, Hebrew letters each have an independent meaning and numerical value. Take for example the letter H. Hay or Heh is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, but it is also the number five. Heh is the letter of breath, as in the breath of life. When the Lord added the letter heh to Abram and Sarai’s names, they became Abraham and Sarah.
What did this name change mean? Ab-ram means “exalted father.” So does Ab-raham, except that the exalted part is now very exalted. Sarai was born Yiscah, but Abraham called her Sarai, which means “my princess.” Sarah means an actual Princess. Since the letter heh connotes the “breath of life,” I think it means that when the Lord gave them new names, they began a new life. Christians can compare it to being “born again” of the Spirit by the breath of God.
Number Five is Alive!
Creation week is the mother-lode of Bible typology, and provides a solid foundation for number types in the Bible. It is so packed with them that I soon become overwhelmed with rabbit trails. Going back to the letter heh as five or the breath of life, let’s look at Day Five:
And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And evening and morning were the fifth day.
– Genesis 1:20-23 NKJ
When the Lord added the letter heh to Abram and Sarai, he added the Fifth Day to them, so that Sarah’s womb brought forth abundant life. This life was destined to fill heaven as well as earth. Her descendants in Israel would inhabit the land forever, and by adoption, believing Jews and Gentiles would inhabit a city in heaven forever. God also blessed them, meaning that the effects of any curse would be lifted.
Later in the Law, we have clean and unclean sea animals. We also have clean and unclean birds. Why does the law distinguish some for food, and some not? Israel was blessed, but not all of them. Gentiles were blessed, but not all. What we eat becomes what we are, so we feed on Jesus when we take communion. To recap, Five is new and abundant life in the spirit.
The Lord mentions great whales – which seems unusually specific – until considering the typology of Day Five. Every church kid knows about Jonah and the Whale. He was born again to a new and abundant life when he came out from the belly of the great fish the Lord prepared. He saved so many by his preaching, that they were never counted.
One and Three
My paraphrase: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. He spoke light into existence, saw it, and called it good. He divided it from the darkness, calling the light Day and the darkness Night. Evening (Erev) and morning (boker) were Day One.
“One” speaks first about God. For Israel, “one” calls to mind the Shema:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
– Deuteronomy 6:4 NKJ
Based on these two passages alone, we have the number one associated with the Lord our God, with light, with the first mention of anything “good,” and with the naming of two spiritual states or kingdoms: Day and Night. In Semitic thought, darkness has no independent existence. There is only the light God created, or darkness left by its absence. Light is One, and darkness is Zero. One plus zero still equals one. Put this in your heart and chew on it for awhile. Jesus constantly tells us not to fear Zero, but to believe in One.
Erev translates “evening,” but also means something obscure, that you can’t make out yet. Boker translates “morning” but also means something that is understandable and visible. There is a sense in which each day of creation moves things from being unseen and unknown to being complete and known. Note that erev and boker are missing on Day Seven, in which God rested.
The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, aleph (or “one”) is silent when used in a word. Jews also do not say the name of God.
The number one is paired with love, both in the Shema of Deuteronomy 6, and in the list of spiritual fruit from Paul:
But the fruit of the Spirit is 1. love, 2. joy, 3. peace, etc.
- Ephesians 5:22-23 NKJ
Paul emphasizes love as the first among virtues:
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
– 1 Corinthians 13:13, NKJ
I am struck by the number of “one” passages that contain three elements. The Lord our God is One Lord, but he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Love is the greatest of abiding virtues, together with faith and hope. We are to love the Lord our God with heart, soul, and might. Each time I find a reference to the number one, I begin looking for the number three within it. When a passage consists of three elements, I consider how – together – they form a unity.
For example, family is a unity. The Biblical family is father, mother, and children. In Bible stories where a married woman is childless, she is in distress. If a widow, she is also in distress. Adam isn’t complete without Eve, nor is she without him (1 Cor. 11:11), but they need a child to express the fruit of their oneness. As the image of our Creator, we were meant to experience relationship in communities of three. Extended families are three generations, so we have the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The third day of creation week goes like this:
And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and morning were the third day.
– Genesis 1:9-13
If the fruit of marriage is children and family life, then the fruit of the earth is grain (a type of grass), vegetables (herbs), and, well, fruit. This sets our physical bodies on a parallel with the earth as a type, with Adam being formed from the dust of it.
Paul mentions someone being caught up to the third heaven in 2 Cor. 12:2-4. The Biblical heavens are plural except when speaking about only one of them: there is the heaven where birds fly, the heaven where sun, moon, and stars give their light, and the heaven of God. He did not know whether it was in the body or not, suggesting a near-death episode. Commentators suggest it was Paul, who may have left his body when stoned, returning into it when believers prayed over him (Acts 14:19-20).
The pattern assigned to three is earth emerging from the waters, which is like a baby being born from the womb. We also have the fruits of the earth, and the fruits of our labors. Three makes a physical reality from things that were previously only potential ones. Three is also a picture of certain unities. Without the Son and Spirit, we can not know the Father.
The resurrection of Jesus was on the third day, on the Feast of First Fruits. Resurrection is an antitype of the First Fruit offering in which soul, spirt, and body reunite into an eternal unity – or if I may use the word here, a trinity.