“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)
In our study of Scripture, we might notice the frequency with which certain numbers occur. Their appearance does not seem coincidental.
Although numbers for the most part are considered mundane, in Judaism numbers are linked with the universal truths of the Torah (first five books of the Bible). Still, the pattern of numbers in the Torah continues in the writings of the Prophets and the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).
In an earlier Messianic Prophecy Bible feature, we discussed the numbers 1 through 7, describing their significance in the Bible and Jewish thought.
Several of our readers have expressed interest in this subject, and in this feature, we will examine 8 through 12.
Please note that although some numbers in the Bible do hold great significance, and in Judaism are regarded as representing spiritual forces that mold reality (Chabad), they are not to be treated as having magical powers. That is not God’s intent in providing us with these numerical patterns.
To properly interpret the Scriptures, however, we must examine the literal as well as symbolic, which includes Biblical numerology.
Shemonah (שְׁמֹנֶה or ח / Eight)
“For though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again, but the wicked stumble when calamity strikes.” (Proverbs 24:16)
For instance, there are seven days in a week, seven years in the Shemitah cycle, and the seventh day of the week, the Shabbat, which symbolizes the sanctification of the natural world. (Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers)
The number 8 (Shemonah), of course, comes after 7, hinting at the reality that is above the natural order and its limitations.
Shemonah (שְׁמֹנֶה) relates to shooman (שׁוּמָן) or fat, conveying the idea of having more than enough. A related word is the Biblical word for oil, שֶׁמֶן (shemen), and so we see during Hanukkah that a single-day supply of oil defied the laws of nature and miraculously lasted eight days until more sanctified oil could be created for the Temple menorah.
In Judaism, 8 is the number of transcendence.
It symbolizes rising above the limitations of the physical realm, living extraordinary lives that do not conform to the natural order. We can look at it as symbolizing our citizenship in Heaven, living in the world, but not truly belonging to it.
Those who are in covenant with God can rise above the laws of nature. This reality is meant to infuse and permeate our natural environment, not separate us from it.
For example, the eighth-day covenant of circumcision binds the Jewish person to God. This covenant reveals that the Jew is a servant of God and not nature, confirming this idea of transcendence.
In Hebrew, this is called brit milah (covenant of circumcision).
The brit milah serves as a physical sign in the flesh that Jews are the people of God and that we have a special covenantal relationship with Him. We serve Him both in the spiritual and physical realms.
God made a covenant of circumcision with the Jewish People through the patriarch Abraham. On the eighth day, God said that every male child, “whether born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner, they must be circumcised.” (Genesis 17:13)
This command to circumcise the male offspring originates in the book of Genesis. God appeared to Abraham when he was 99 years old and told him to circumcise himself, his 13-year-old son Ishmael, and all the men of his household.
“For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised. … My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.” (Genesis 17:12-14)
The enactment of this covenant on the eighth day is so important that it is performed even if it falls on Shabbat or a holiday, including Yom Kippur.
The number 8 has several connections to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Kodesh HaKodashim (Holy of Holies). Of course, if there is any place that God instituted on this earth where the laws of the natural realm were to be transcended, it is in His dwelling place.
Therefore, in Leviticus 9:1–11:47, which is the Torah reading of Parasha Shemini (Eighth), we read that one year following the Exodus from Egypt, the inauguration of the Tabernacle took place on the eighth day, following seven days of preparation. On the eighth day, the Lord’s Shekhinah came down and rested on the Mishkan so that His Divine Presence dwelled amid the Jewish People.
This eighth day speaks, perhaps, to the Israelites having reached a new height of spirituality and relationship with God, in which they embraced the fact that life is more than needs and wants. It underscores that we must prepare and reach higher than the natural realm to transcend it and achieve the destiny for which we were created.
Shemonah (8) also has significance in connection with the celebration of the Temple service on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) when the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was allowed to enter the Kodesh HaKodashim.
Included in the service was the sprinkling of blood: once upon the ark cover and seven times before the ark cover. This made a total of eight sprinklings instead of the usual seven. If this was not performed correctly the High Priest risked death.
This number also relates to the specific garments worn by the priests and the High Priest when ministering in the Temple. Four of these were common to all priests while an additional four were unique to the High Priest, making eight in all.
“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for dignity and for beauty.” (Exodus 28:2)
The following vestments were common to all priests:
- The michnasayim (linen pants), which reached from the waist to the knees.
- The ketonet (priestly tunic), which covered the entire body.
- The avnet (priestly sash), with the common priests wearing white while the High Priest’s was embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet threads.
- The mitznefet (priestly turban), with the High Priest’s being larger and bearing a golden plate with the words “Holiness unto YHWH.”
Those vestments unique to the High Priest were as follows:
- The me’il (priestly robe), which was sleeveless, blue in color, fringed with small golden bells from the lower hem alternating with pomegranate-shaped tassels.
- The ephod (an embroidered vest), which has two engraved onyx gemstones on the shoulders, on which names of the tribes of Israel were engraved.
- The hoshen (priestly breastplate) that had 12 gems, each one with the name of a tribe.
- A pouch containing the Urim and Thummim fastened to the ephod.
Among other Temple items bearing a connection to 8 are the sacrificial offerings. An animal could only be accepted as an offering from the eighth day onward.
“When a calf, a lamb or a goat is born, it is to remain with its mother for seven days. From the eighth day on, it will be acceptable as a food offering presented to the Lord.” (Leviticus 22:27)
As well, Ezekiel states that atonement was to be made for the altar for seven days, and then from the eighth day forward, the priest could offer the burnt offerings.
“‘For seven days they shall make atonement for the altar and purify it; so shall they consecrate it. When they have completed the days, it shall be that on the eighth day and onward, the priests shall offer your burnt offerings on the altar, and your peace offerings; and I will accept you,’ declares the Lord God.” (Ezekiel 43:26–27)
Just as the week is seven days long, and the eighth day is the start of a new week, the number eight can also be viewed as the number of new beginnings, renewal, and perhaps, salvation.
For example, there were eight people (four men and four women) on the ark who survived the flood and repopulated the earth (Genesis 7:13, 23).
As well, David, who was the eighth son of Jesse, gave the kingship a new beginning for Israel. But David speaks of an even greater new beginning that comes through his seed to the King of Kings: Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah).
In Jewish tradition, the Messianic Era will happen in the seventh millennium, the universal era of rest. This will be followed by an eighth millennium: Olam Ha-ba (the World to Come), a time when the physical reality of this world will be transformed by Divine reality.
Tisha (תֵּשַׁע or ט / Nine)
The use of nine in Scripture is fairly rare. The first use of the Hebrew word for nine—תשע, tisha, is found in Parasha Bereisheet: “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.” (Genesis 5:5)
In Galatians 5:22–23, Paul speaks of nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
1 Corinthians 12:7–10 lists nine gifts of the Spirit: word of wisdom, word of knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and interpretation of tongues.
Tisha (תֵּשַׁע) is derived from the root sha’ah, which means turning or facing. So nine, rather than being characterized as a final destination, can symbolize development (as in the nine months of human gestation) or turning toward something greater.
It is represented by the ninth letter of the Hebrew alphabet ט (tet), which has an inverted appearance that is thought to suggest hidden goodness, much like those who believe in Messiah carry God’s goodness inside them through the infilling of the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit).
The letter tet has a connection to creation as it first appears in Genesis 1:4 in the word tov, regularly translated good, but better translated perhaps as beneficial.
“God saw that the light was good [tov], and He separated the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:4)
In the Talmud (the rabbinical book of learning and discussion of the Torah), Rabbi Joshua says that one who sees the letter tet in a dream may consider it as a sign of beneficence, since it is the first letter of the word tov. (Baba Kama 55a)
But nine can also symbolize damaged relationships, turning away from one another, and judgment, caused by turning away from God.
Perhaps nowhere in Judaism is this turning away from God and the subsequent judgment more evident than in Tisha B’Av (9th of Av), the most tragic date on the Jewish calendar.
On this day many calamities befell Israel, including the Jewish People being led into exile by the Babylonians during the time of the First Temple, and by the Romans during the time of the Second Temple.
And although the Jewish People remember this day of destruction through fasting, they also pray that this day will become a Yom Tov (Good Day) when peace will reign throughout the earth, as Zechariah prophesied:
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘The fasts of the fourth, fifth [Tisha B’Av], seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.’” (Zechariah 8:19)
Eser (עֶשֶׂר or י / Ten)
The number 10 is a very significant number in the Bible. The word eser (עֶשֶׂר) is almost identical in Hebrew spelling to osher (עֹ֫שֶׁר) meaning wealth, which gives this word a strong link to the tithe, the tenth part that is dedicated to God.
The original meaning of the word is thought by some to be gathering, collection or union.
In rabbinic thought, 10 relates to an integrated system: a full set of individual parts combined to make up a communal whole, typifying holiness and the resting place of the Shekhinah, the presence of God.
It is considered the number of divine perfection. Much in Scripture and Jewish tradition also suggests the meaning of eser to be completion and perhaps order, law and responsibility.
Consider, for instance, the following:
- 10 things were created on the first day of creation, and ten things were created on the sixth and final day of creation.
- 10 generations passed from Adam to Noah and ten generations from Noah to Abraham.
- 10 plagues went forth in Egypt before God freed the Hebrews from their enslavement.
- 10 commandments were given by God on Sinai. (Exodus 20:1–17)
- On the 10th of the first month, the Passover lamb was selected. (Exodus 12:3)
- 10 times 10 silver sockets formed the foundation of the Tabernacle. (Exodus 38:27)
- The 10th (tithe) is holy to the Lord.
- 10 days of Awe or Repentance fall between Rosh Hashanah (the Festival of Trumpets on Tishri 1) and the holiest day of the year on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement on Tishri 10). During this period, we seek forgiveness for our sins from God and man, as well as wisdom as to how we might lead better lives.
- 10 toes in Daniel 2 and 10 horns in Revelation 13 and 17 symbolize the final ruling kingdom of man.
- Daniel and his three friends were 10 times better than the magicians and astrologers (Daniel 1:20).
“And in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm.” (Daniel 1:20)
- 10 men are necessary to form a quorum for Jewish group prayer and worship, indicating a communal whole. In Hebrew this is called a minyan and it comes from the Hebrew root maneh (מנה), meaning to count or to number.
- 10 assembled Jews creates a unity called Knesset Yisrael (Congregation of Israel), and 10 are required to be present when something is to be publicly witnessed. This gathering of 10 is called a tzibbur. Perhaps that is part of the reason why the evil report of the 10 spies, who failed to see God’s power and provision, held more weight than the report of Joshua and Caleb:
“And they gave the children of Israel a bad report of the land which they had spied out, saying, ‘The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people whom we saw in it are men of great stature.’” (Numbers 13:32)
- 10 lepers cried out to Yeshua (Jesus) for healing, and He sent them to the priests in order that they could be declared clean.
“As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, ‘Yeshua, Master, have pity on us!’ When He saw them, He said, ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were cleansed.” (Luke 17:12–14)
- In John, Yeshua underlined the pattern of ten found in the Bible by progressively making 10 “I Am” declarations:
- I am the Bread of Life (6:35, 48);
- I am the Bread that came down from heaven (6:41);
- I am the Living Bread (6:51);
- I am the Light of the world (8:12);
- I am One that bears witness of Myself (8:18);
- Before Abraham was, I am (8:58);
- I am the Door of the sheep (10:7, 9);
- I am the Good Shepherd (10:14);
- I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (14:6); and
- I am the True Vine (15:1, 5).
Echad Eser (אחד עשר or יא / Eleven)
“Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:26)
The number eleven, which occurs a few times in Scripture and Judaism, is the number of disorder, imperfection, incompleteness and perhaps excess, since it is one more than 10, the number of divine perfection, and one less than 12, the number of governmental perfection.
For instance, after Judas removed himself from Yeshua’s group of talmidim (disciples) by betraying Yeshua and then committing suicide, it was necessary to replace him since the 12 disciples represented the 12 tribes of Israel. Without him, there were only 11.
Having only 11 talmidim left the group in a state of incompleteness. To solve this dilemma, two men were nominated to take over the apostolic ministry of Judas: Joseph called Barsabbas (Justus) and Matthias. After prayer, they cast lots, and Matthias “was added to the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:26)
Also, in Deuteronomy 1:2, the children of Israel are on the east side of the Jordan, having made an 11-day trip from Mount Sinai. Because of disorder in the camp, however, what could have been a 12-day journey into the Holy Land turned into a 40-year trek.
The number 11 seems to characterize disorder in Jacob’s life as well. In Genesis 32:22, he returned with his 11 sons to Canaan to confront Esau. With the birth of Benjamin there were 12 sons, but when Joseph’s brothers sold him to slave traders, the number returned to 11.
Shnayim-Eser (שְׁנֵים-עָשָׂר or יב / Twelve)
“It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Revelation 21:12)
The number 12, which is one of the numbers symbolizing perfection, is unmistakably important in Scripture. It appears throughout the Tanakh (Old Covenant) and the Brit Chadashah (New Covenant).
In Judaism, this number symbolizes totality, wholeness, and the completion of God’s purpose. It is considered the number of governmental perfection as it symbolizes God’s power and authority.
Here are some places in Scripture in which the number is seen:
- Jacob (Israel) had 12 sons (Genesis 35:22–27), each of whom became the founder of one of the 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 49:28; Numbers 33:54; 36:3–9).
- In Numbers 1:2–16, God selected 12 men to conduct a census of the tribes.
- In Numbers 7:10–83, 12 princes of Israel brought gifts over 12 days to the Sanctuary for the dedication of the altar.
“The total number of animals for the burnt offering came to twelve young bulls, twelve rams and twelve male lambs a year old, together with their grain offering. Twelve male goats were used for the sin offering.” (Numbers 7:87)
- In the Tabernacle, there were 12 loaves of showbread (לֶחֶם פָּנִים). As well, on the High Priest’s breastplate, there are 12 stones, each representing a tribe of Israel.
- There were 24 classes of priests and Levites (1 Chronicles 24:4) which is a multiple of 12, and 48 Levitical cities (Numbers 35:7), which is also a multiple of 12.
- The Land of Israel was divided into 12 parts.
- Elijah used 12 stones to build an altar on Mount Carmel.
- Luke 2:42–49 records the first words of Yeshua. He was 12 years old.
- Yeshua selected 12 apostles (Matthew 10:2–4) to bear witness of Him. They became the founders of the earliest assemblies of Believers.
The number 12 is also linked to the concept of time; for example, the ancient Israelites marked 12 lunar cycles representing the 12 lunar months of the year. They divided the day and the night into 12-hour periods.
In the Book of Revelation, the number 12 is connected to the salvation of God’s people. There are 24 elders around the throne of God and 144,000 Jewish Believers in Yeshua, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes (Revelation 4:4, 7:4).
This number is also connected to the idea of borders. The perfection, symmetry and borders of the new Jerusalem are seen in its 12 gates, each in the form of “a single pearl,” and its 12 foundations, each lined with jewels. Its circumference is 12,000 furlongs, and its walls are 144 cubits high, again multiples of the number 12. (Revelation 21:10–21; Ezekiel 48:30–35)