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BLAKE - I had the discussion that when reading numbers they should not be taken literally, but symbolically. For instance the number 40 is representative of purification. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights should not be taken literally, but that it is symbolic for how long it took the earth to be purified. This is the same for the 40 years that the Children of Israel were in the wilderness. In that same context however, I find it very interesting that it took 40 years for the Salt Lake Temple to be completed. My question was if you had any more information dealing with the numbers in the scriptures, or if you know of any source material that would help me further understand them.
JOEL - Sometimes when the scriptures say forty it means forty, but most of the time Bible scholars believe it is used as a nice round number that was symbolically assigned to give a value that represented "many" or "some", but it's not always easy to tell which is which.
In the Bible, next to the number seven, the number forty occurs most frequently.
It was the number of days God made it rain. (Genesis 7:4)
It was the number of years Israel ate manna (Exodus 16: 35)
It was the number of days Moses was with God in the mountain (Exodus 34:28)
It was the number of years the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness; (Numbers 14:33)
It was the number of days Christ fasted before beginning His ministry. (Matthew 4:2)
The risen Lord spent forty days with His apostles in Israel (Acts 1:1-3)
and many other places throughout the scriptures.
According to scripture scholars George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl:
"Sometimes the reader will be misled by the numbers of the Bible because he does not know how they originally were used. "Ten" sometimes stands for "several." "Forty," often means "many," "Seven," or "seventy," denote a large and complete number, although uncertain to the speaker." (Commentary on the Pearl of Great Price, George Reynolds and Janne M. Sjodahl, 1965)
For whatever reason it appears that it is God Himself who assigned this value(40) to whatever dealings He had with His children. Throughout the Bible the number forty seems to be associated with a period of preparation or trials or as you mentioned purification for the person or persons involved; forty days for an individual man and forty years for a nation. And I guess we could say it took 40 years for the saints of Salt Lake to be purified to prepare them for the temple once it was built.
I have a more complete listing below of some of the numbers used in scriptures along with their symbolical meanings:
In the scriptures "one" usually means the number one but when When employed as a symbol, it most often represents unity. That unity can apply to the Godhead, the Church, a group of people, or to married couples such as Adam and Eve. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24)
The number two has a dualistic meaning in scripture. Its first symbolic connotation is that of opposition, separation, or good versus bad. Its second meaning pertains to the law of witnesses; "In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." (2 Cor 13:1)
It can also be used regarding the creation and preservation of the two sexes. (Genesis 1:27; 7:2)
Next to the number seven, three is the most common symbolic number employed in scripture. It occurs more than 450 times in the Bible alone.
Whereas the number one reminds us of unity, including that which exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the number three emphasizes the distinct and separate nature of the three members of the Godhead. More than any other number, three symbolizes God. When the number is used in scripture, it frequently serves to emphasize divine involvement, backing, or influence.
THREE AND ONE HALF
The number three and one-half is sometimes given in scripture as "a time and times and the dividing of time" (Daniel 7:25; 12:7), or 1,260 (see Revelation 12:6). Being half of seven, its meaning is that which is "arrested midway in its normal course." John the Revelator speaks of two "witnesses," or prophets, who will prophesy in the streets of Jerusalem for forty-two months, or in other words, three and one-half years (see Revelation 11:3–14).
The number four symbolizes geographic completeness or totality. In other words, if the number four is associated with an event or thing, the indication is that it will affect the entire earth and all its inhabitants.
The river that flows forth from Eden and parts into four different directions implies that the issuance of Eden influences or affects all of the earth (see Genesis 2:10–14; Moses 3:10; Abraham 5:10). Zechariah 2:6 speaks of the lost tribes as being spread "abroad as the four winds of the heaven." In the parable of the sower (Matthew 13) there are four kinds of soil, apparently representing all the peoples of the earth and their attitude or receptiveness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Although the number five is not common in scriptural symbolism, two ideas are associated with it: God's grace and man in his fallen state.
Samuel the Lamanite prophesied to the people that in five years the ultimate grace of God would be manifest in the birth of the Messiah (see Helaman 14:2). David chose five stones for his sling as he prepared to battle Goliath (see 1 Samuel 17:40). This likely serves to emphasize the fact that David approached the task relying upon the grace of God to see him through (see 1 Samuel 17:46).
The number six is a very uncommon number in scriptural numerology. Its meaning is deficit, imperfection, or failure to attain completeness.It can also symbolize "opposition to and independence of God." Goliath was said to be six cubits and six inches tall (see 1 Samuel 17:4). He is described as wearing six pieces of armor (1 Samuel 17:5–7), of which was a spear whose head weighed six hundred shekels of iron (1 Samuel 17:7). The man was, no doubt, the height of opposition to and independence of God and served well as the proverbial manifestation of evil.
Seven is the most common of all symbolic numbers. It is employed more frequently, and with more consistency, than any other number, theologically or culturally. Seven symbolizes fulness, completion, entirety or totality, and spiritual perfection. As a rule, multiples of seven carry the same spiritual or symbolic significance.
In all four accounts of the creation we are informed that the great work of organizing this earth and its inhabitants to a state of completion, or perfection, took seven days or periods. Additionally, there are seven days in a whole week, both models implying a complete period or cycle. Noah was said to have taken seven of every kind of clean beast onto the ark (see Genesis 7:2).
In Pharaoh's dream, as interpreted by Joseph, it was foretold that Egypt would encounter seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine, a symbolic warning of Egypt's initial perfect state of plenty followed by a fulness of famine (see Genesis 41).
Matthew records Christ's command to forgive not seven times but seventy times seven (see Matthew 18:21–22). Christ's point is not that we should forgive 490 times, after which forgiveness is no longer required. On the contrary, his point is that we must forgive all men completely, every time we have reason to be offended. While nailed to the cross, Christ is said to have made seven significant statements (see Matthew 27:46; Luke 23:34, 43, 46; John 19:25–28, 30).
The number eight is associated with the concepts of resurrection, new beginnings, rebirth, and baptism. Because of its association with resurrection, it is sometimes also seen as the number of Christ. Additionally, some commentators call the number eight the sign of superabundance. Just as Noah and his family were "saved by water," those who accept Christ and his revealed ordinances—including baptism—are also "saved by water." Reference is made in the passage to the symbolic number eight, baptism, Christ, and, by default, a new order of things—as Noah and his family witnessed the destruction of all and began anew the human family.
According to the law of Moses, circumcision was to be performed on the eighth day (see Genesis 17:12).
Aaron and his sons were consecrated on the eighth day, after waiting "at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation day and night seven days" (Leviticus 8:35; Leviticus 9:1). the Jaredites prepared eight barges so that they could cross the waters and obtain the promised land (see Ether 3:1).
The number nine is occasionally used symbolically in scripture. When employed, it carries the meaning of judgment, finality, or completion
The judgments of God, as given in the book of Haggai, are enumerated in nine particulars, with drought being sent upon the land, mountains, corn, new wine, oil, produce of the earth, men, cattle, and the labors of all hands (see Hag 1:11).
Jesus healed ten lepers, but only one came back to acknowledge and thank him. Then asked Jesus, "Where are the nine?" (Luke 17:17). The numerology suggests they will be judged for their ingratitude.
The number ten denotes all of a part. In other words, it is a whole or complete unit existing within a greater whole.
Members of the Church are expected to pay 10 percent of their increase as a tithe to the Lord. That amount is not all of their income, nor, ideally, all of their sacrifice. Nevertheless, a tithe is a complete unit within the greater whole of the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the law of consecration.
Ten tribes of the house of Israel have been described as lost. They certainly are not all of covenant Israel, but they do form a distinct and separate unit within Israel's body and eschatology.
There are few examples of the number eleven in scripture. It symbolizes sin, transgression, peril, conflict, disorder, imperfection, and disintegration. Judas's betrayal left the Quorum of the Twelve with only an imperfect eleven members, necessitating a reorganization at a very difficult time in the Church's history.
The number twelve is a symbol for priesthood, including its power and right to govern. In Matthew 10:1–4 we are told that Jesus called twelve Apostles and gave them the priesthood. When he appeared to the Nephites, Jesus again called twelve men as ministers to the people and gave them "power and authority to baptize" (3 Nephi 12:1). In the dispensation of the fulness of times, the Lord has again called and commissioned twelve Apostles to further his work (see D&C 18:27). The number twelve in relation to the Apostles suggests that they are the epitome of priesthood authority and governance. The baptismal font (or laver) in temples, both ancient (see 1 Kings 7:23–26; 2 Chronicles 4:3–5) and modern, rests upon the back of twelve oxen facing the four cardinal directions. This signifies the fact that this is a priesthood ordinance necessary for all
John was shown the celestial kingdom, which he described as having twelve gates or entrances (see Revelation 21:12–14, 21). Symbolic of priesthood, the presence of twelve here reminds us that in order to gain entrance into the celestial world, we need the ordinances of the priesthood and associated covenants.
Some commentators interpret this number as simply meaning "a lengthy period of time." As it is applied to years, it is certainly that. However, the symbolism in the number goes beyond this simple definition. In scripture, the number represents a period of trial, testing, probation, or mourning.
In the days of Noah it is said to have rained some forty days and forty nights (see Genesis 7:12). This cleansing of the earth, both literal and symbolic, gave God and Noah reason to mourn (see Moses 7:27–38; Moses 8:22–30).
Israel's sojourn in the wilderness lasted forty years. In accordance with the law of Moses, no more than forty lashes could be imposed on an offender (see Deuteronomy 25:3). The number forty here is likely symbolic of both the mourning that will come to those who sin and refuse to repent, and possibly that trials and tests have their limits.
Jesus fasted for forty days and then was tempted prior to beginning his official earthly ministry. As evidence of his commitment to the Father and his divine plan, Christ passed the trials and tests put to him (see JST, Matthew 4:1–11).
Jesus spent forty days after his resurrection (see Acts 1:3) teaching his disciples and initiating them into the higher ordinances of the fulness of the gospel.
This number serves mainly to magnify or embellish that with which it is associated.the number one thousand evokes images of "power, strength, and magnitude. Anytime it occurs, by itself or as a multiple of another number, it symbolizes greatness and vastness. It traditionally represents a "multitude" or that which is "incalculable." Thus, this number may be used in scripture without literal intent, but rather in an effort to highlight an event or numerical symbol with which it is associated.
(Information taken from "The Lost Language of Symbolism" by Alonzo L. Gaskill)