Fun with Numbers: Context and Comparison


In today’s world, we are constantly hit with numbers. Whether reading a financial report or listening to the news, we seemingly fed a diet of numbers. For example:

Our financial services app tells us the Dow Jones fell 300 points. We can think, “there goes my retirement!” until we put that number in context—a 1.1% drop and not a big deal. Or, we make some comparison and discover that the Dow Jones is up over 4% from last year.

Or, we’re startled when a newscaster tells us that there are 3,200 cases of Covid-19 in our county. Then, we put the number in context, and that’s less than 1% of our county’s population. We compare the number of traffic deaths and how many people are fighting cancer where we live. Then, we rest a bit easier.

Raw numbers are just that—they often don’t tell us the full story. Context and comparison help us understand what the numbers by themselves don’t tell us.

We find many numbers in the Bible. No, I’m not thinking of the book of Numbers—when we read the Bible, we see lots of numbers. As we’re reading or studying the Bible, do we stop and ask ourselves what they mean? What’s the context? Or is there a comparison to some other place in Scripture? Unfortunately, we don’t often do this. We take the number at face value, or we may know what seven means, but we overlook other numbers.

What we may not realize is that in both Greek and Hebrew letters represent numbers. Neither language separates numbers from letters. And many times, numbers in the Bible have tremendous significance. Let me give you an example:

Daniel 8:13 reads, “Then I heard a holy one speaking and another holy one said to the one who was speaking, ‘How long will the vision last, the daily sacrifice be forsaken because of rebellion, the sanctuary be surrendered and the host be trampled?'” (TLV). Here, we find a particular saint or holy one made a specific future prophetic event, and “another” angel asked a question concerning numbers—”How long?” The Hebrew name of “that other holy one” is placed in the margin, with its meaning. His name is Palmoni, and it means “the numberer of secrets or the wonderful numberer.”

Therefore, numbers, and their secrets, hold an essential place in the Word of God. I’d encourage you that when you run across a number in the Bible that you stop and ask some questions: Why this number? What’s the context? And, what is a comparison in another part of the Bible?

Let me tease you a bit with just four numbers found in the Bible that deserve our attention:

  • Three denotes divine perfection.
  • Seven denotes spiritual perfection.
  • Ten denotes ordinal perfection.
  • Twelve denotes governmental perfection.

Did you ever wonder why there are Ten Commandments? Ten Plagues against Egypt? And God tested Abraham (Abram) ten times? In the Bible, the number ten tells us that nothing is wanting (The Ten Commandments were all they needed). Ten tells us that a cycle was completed—Ten plagues and ten tests completed a logical order. The Lord’s Prayer contains ten clauses. The tithe is 10%. Jesus tells us about the ten virgins. Search your Bible and find all the mentions of the number ten. You’ll discover how God’s order, God’s completeness, add depth, and supplement whatever you’re reading or studying.

How about three? It stands for what is solid, real, substantial, complete, and entire. All things that are specifically complete are stamped with the number three:

  • God’s attributes are three: omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.
  • Time has three divisions: Past, present, and future.
  • The Trinity has three members: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The number three, therefore, must be taken as the number of Divine fulness or perfection. Where else can you find three in your Bible? Here’s a hint to one, how long was Jesus in the tomb?

With all this in mind, when you find a number in Scripture, especially three, seven, ten, and twelve, stop for a moment. Then, seek to find it’s context within the Scripture you’re reading. Then, take the time to compare its usage in other places in the Bible. You’ll find a wealth of discovery when you study the numbers, compare, and find context.

Wayne Hastings is the author of several books including The Way Back From Loss: Reassembling the Pieces of a Broken Life


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