Numerology plays an important part in Scripture. Under certain conditions numbers were used in the place of words. They were used to depict symbols of moral or spiritual truth.
(1) Men saw a single object and came to associate with the number 1 the idea of unity or independent existence. One came to stand for that which was unique and alone.
(2) Amid the dangers of primitive life, with a fear of wild beasts or of hostile attack by his enemies constantly before him, man gained courage in companionship. Two were far stronger and more effective than one. Thus the number 2 came to stand for strengthening, for confirmation, for redoubled courage and energy. There was a symbolic significance in the fact that Jesus sent His disciples out two by two. Two witnesses confirmed the truth, and their testimony which otherwise would have been weak was made strong.
(3) Man found in his primitive home the most divine thing that life had to offer him – father love, mother love, filial love. He found God reflected in the interplay of love and kindness and affection in his own household and began to think of the number 3 as a symbol of the divine. In his more thoughtful moments he carried that idea back into his conception of God. For this reason there appear glimmerings of a Trinity not only in the theology of the Hebrews but also in the dreams of the Greeks. The most divine thing in life was “3” and the divine origin of life was “3.” Here in the ultimate world ground were father love, mother love, and child love. Here, too, were the glimpses of the great mysteries which we express in the terms Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three came to carry the thought of the divine.
(4) When man went outside his home and looked about him, he had no concept of the modern world as we know it. No Copernicus had ever opened his eyes to the vast significance of the universe. To him the world was a great flat surface with four boundaries—east, west, north and south. There were four winds from the four sides of the earth. Four angels, he thought, governed the four winds. In the town he placed himself within the limit of four walls. Thus when he thought of the world he thought in terms of four. Four became the cosmic number. The world in which men lived and worked and died was conveniently symbolized by “4.”
(5) Next, man turned from the study of his home and the world about him to study himself. Perhaps our decimal system arose from the intensive study by a man of his own fingers and toes. That was a crude and cruel age where many were maimed and crippled through disease, accident, or warfare. A perfect, full-rounded man was one who had all his members intact. So the number 5 doubled to 10 came to stand for human completeness. The whole duty of man was summed up in Ten Commandments. As a multiple, “10” occurs also in many of the higher numbers found in the Book of Revelation; “70” = a very sacred number, “1000” = ultimate completeness – completeness raised to the nth degree, etc.
(7) When man began to analyze and combine numbers, he developed other interesting symbols. He took the perfect world number 4 and added to it the perfect divine number 3 and got 7, the most sacred number to the Hebrews. It was earth crowned with heaven – the four-square earth plus the divine completeness of God. So we have 7 expressing completeness through union of earth with heaven. This number runs throughout the book of Revelation. There are seven Spirits, seven churches, seven golden candlesticks, seven stars, seven sections to the book, each, save the last, divided into seven parts. The sacred number, multiplied by the complete number 10, resulted in the very sacred 70. There were seventy members of the Jewish high court; Jesus sent out seventy prepared workers. In a sweeping figure he presented the idea of an unlimited Christian forgiveness when he told a disciple to forgive his brother seventy times seven.
(12) In the field of multiplication, “4” was multiplied by “3,” and the resultant “12” became a well-known symbol. In Hebrew religious thought it was the symbol of organized religion in the world. There were twelve tribes of Israel, twelve apostles, twelve gates to the Holy City in Revelation. This number was reduplicated to 144,000 when the writer of Revelation wanted to picture the security of a perfect number sealed from the wrath of God to be visited upon the world.
(3½) In the realm of division the perfect number “7” was cut in half. The resulting “3-1/2” came to express the incomplete, that which was imperfect. It symbolized restless longings not yet fulfilled, aspirations unrealized.
(6) One last number must be treated in this study of symbolism. To the Jew the number “6” had a sinister meaning. As “7” was the sacred number, “6” fell short of it and failed. “Six” was the charge that met defeat, with success just in its grasp. It had within it the stroke of doom. It had the ability to be great but failed to measure up. It was for the Jew what “13” is for many today – an evil number. Some buildings skip from floor twelve to fourteen because 13 is a bad rental proposition. Many hotels have rooms 12, 12A, and 14, but no 13, because no one wants to sleep in that room. It is possible that the dread of this number goes back to a night when thirteen men broke bread at the same table. From that room went one to commit the blackest betrayal in history and one to make the supreme sacrifice of history. Thus “6” was an evil number for the Jews. For instance, if “7” represents completeness and “3” the divine number, then “777” would equal complete divinity. Likewise, if “6” represents failure and “3” the divine number, then “666” would equal total failure to achieve or equal divinity.
[For additional information on Biblical Numerology, consult Revelation: An Introduction and Commentary by Homer Hailey, pages 41-47 and Worthy Is the Lamb by Ray Summers, pages 20-26.]