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Bible Dictionaries

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary


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A characteristic of languages in general is that they often use numbers in their idioms and figures of speech (cf. English: ‘two or three’, ‘by the dozen’, ‘a thousand times’). So it is with the languages of the Bible (Genesis 31:7; Leviticus 26:8; Amos 1:3; 1 Corinthians 14:19; Revelation 5:11). Other numbers seem to have been used as round figures, particularly the number forty (Judges 3:11; Judges 5:31; Judges 8:28; 1 Samuel 4:18; 1 Samuel 17:16; Jonah 3:4; Acts 1:3; Acts 7:23; Acts 7:30; Acts 7:36).

Modern research has still not discovered the full meaning of words that the ancient Hebrews used in counting and classifying large numbers of people. When more is known, it may help to explain some of the puzzling statistics recorded in the Old Testament (e.g. 1 Kings 20:29-30; 2 Kings 19:35).

In some cases numbers were used symbolically, especially where teaching was given through visions, as in the books of Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation. The number seven was a significant number in Hebrew symbolism. Much of the Hebrew social, cultural and religious system was from the beginning based on a unit of seven (Exodus 20:8-11; see SEVEN). The number ten was common. It was a natural unit for counting and helped produce a simple decimal system (Exodus 18:21; Exodus 26:1; Exodus 26:16; Exodus 27:12; Exodus 34:28; Leviticus 5:11; Leviticus 6:20; Leviticus 27:32). The number twelve most likely gained its biblical significance from the fact that Israel was built upon twelve tribes (Exodus 28:21; Numbers 1:44; Numbers 7:84-87; Joshua 4:8; Matthew 10:1-2; Revelation 21:12; Revelation 21:14).

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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Number'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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