to The Psalms
A STUDY OF THE NUMERICAL SYMBOLISM OF SCRIPTURE
THERE is, I suppose, no student of Scripture who has not
caught sight, to a greater or less extent, of a symbolism of numbers to be
found in it. He who has implicit faith in "all Scripture" being given by
inspiration of God will not doubt that the numbers in it, being part of it and
sharing its inspiration, must therefore be " profitable," as all else in it;
and spiritually, which is the profitableness which God has given it for us. But
a spiritual meaning attaching to the use of numbers can hardly be other than a
symbolic one; falling in thus with the general typical and parabolic language
of the Bible, which evidently pervades so much of it. Take the sevens of the
book of Revelation generally, or the twelves of the heavenly city, no one
could, probably doubt it; but upon all this I need not now dwell, the whole
present volume with others of the series being such an extended proof of
consistent meaning running through the numbers of Scripture, and imbedded in
the very structure of it as, if it does not satisfy any one who will patiently
examine it, as to its truth in the main, nothing else that I can say will be
likely to do so.
I say "its truth in the main," because it would be a very strange presumption to suppose that there were no blots or disfigurements such as are apt every where to affect all human work, and especially where it is employed upon that which is best and highest. Any one who would take such signs of human infirmity to invalidate the whole of that with which they are connected will have in consistency to reject almost all that man has ever put his hand to. And yet such arguments prevail with many, if not to disprove, at least to cast such doubt upon what is presented to them, as to prevent all real examination of the matter. The thing is shelved: if, with Gamaliel, they will not fight against it, lest haply they should be found to strive against God, like him too, they will leave it to prove this by its success elsewhere, and not trouble themselves in the meanwhile overmuch about it.
To those who are disposed to settle the matter by minute criticism of the kind referred to, I would suggest a consideration of the very opposite kind, an argument drawn not from particulars, but from a general view of the subject, and which ought to stand the more securely because of the breadth of its foundation. In the present volume the material of such foundation is gathered out of the whole book of Psalms, every psalm, every verse of every psalm, is cited in evidence; and that not in any disorderly manner, or with any fancifully devised arrangement of the proof; but taken from first to last in the very order of Scripture, and with jealous respect to every hint that can be gathered from any source, as title or alphabetic arrangement, or aught else. All this, remember, is taken together in the whole and in every part of it, not merely to prove a numerical structure of the book, which would be comparatively a small thing, but through this to show the meaning of the whole and of every part of it. Every division, subdivision, section, verse, must more or less contribute to this end. The numerical harmony must be the key to a spiritual harmony which emphasizes everywhere the distinctive features of each part in such a way as to combine them into an intelligible and intelligent whole. If this can be done, - if it has been with any success accomplished, - who can even imagine it to be a mere flight of fancy, working in obedience to a strong will to have it so, that has accomplished this?
If, on the other hand, there be no way of accounting for this, except by there being somewhere a Mind behind it, which has arranged these marvellous harmonies, then assuredly the book in which they are found is a book which has upon it the seal of its inspiration, not only as a whole but in its details, in such a manner as to bid defiance to all the higher criticism of the day to remove it from it. And this alone would make it of inestimable value to every truth-seeking mind: But not merely this: the seal is set at the same time upon the interpretation of the book. Granting, of course, that there may be mistakes shown here and there, as is fully admitted, yet, the main features cannot be a mistake; and even the details cannot be to any large extent: they are the artists strokes which combine to make the picture; and the truthfulness of the picture as a whole insures the general truthfulness of colour and shade.
However, my purpose now is to take up the numbers, and to inquire more fully than I have yet done into their symbolic meanings. These are the keys to the locks, for they are not one but various: and it will be understood that they need to be carefully modeled to the wards that are to receive them, if they are to turn without being forced. Much difficulty has arisen from lack of precision as to these meanings, while the positively contradictory ones advocated by different writers have been a stumbling-block with many as to any faith in them at all. I do not propose, however, to examine these differences, but to give the grounds only for those which satisfy myself; and which have abundantly proved themselves in experimental application. It will be found also that these meanings have their roots in nature as well as in Scripture, and are thus counter-checked on either side; while the numbers themselves are not indefinite, but few in number; the larger ones being but resultants of their factors, as 10, is 5x2, or of the addition of certain others together, according to warrant in Scripture itself; as 7 is 4+3 and 5, as will be shown hereafter, is 4+1. Plainly, without some Scriptural or natural warrant, the latter method would be quite unjustifiable, as any numbers might be arbitrarily taken in this way, and entire uncertainty of all meaning be the result.
The series of numbers which we may consider fundamental is, I believe, but seven: answering to the seven notes in music, which by their combinations produce all the various melody and harmony with which we are acquainted. Seven is the well-known number of perfection, which, taken from the completion of Gods six days work with the Sabbath of His approving rest, has been used for the division of time ever since, and in Israel was the basis of most of the larger divisions, except the year itself. Thus the months were lunar, (except the partial one intercalated to keep the year straight,) and the 7th month specially marked out by the day of atonement and the feast of tabernacles (Israels celebration of rest); while there was a sabbatic year as well as day, and a jubilee at the end of a week of sabbatic years - a still more joyous rest.
Consistently with this, the number 8 speaks always in Scripture of a new beginning - what is new in contrast with the old. But this I shall give proof of later, and it is largely accepted in this way. It needs only to be mentioned here to give definiteness to the assurance that in Scripture the numerical series is in fact of seven numbers only. All others seem to be but compounds of these.
Let us now take up the numbers separately.
The number speaks for itself of the ideas connected with it. They are rooted in all language, so that it cannot be hard to test the applicability of any that we attribute to it. Yet it is naturally one of the fullest in meaning in the whole series, and it will be seen how various are the applications that can be made of a few primary thoughts here: a thing of essential importance to any numerical structure, as every series of numbers must of course, begin with this, which must have, therefore, a largeness suited to such various connection. After the first two numbers we shall find this rapidly diminishing in proportion to their less constant use.
We may for lucidity divide the meanings of the number into subheads under which to group its different applications.
Soleness is the exclusion of another: as where Zechariah says of the day of the Kingdom soon to come: "In that day there shall be one Lord, and His Name one."
Under this head we may group also -
Solitarriness; which leads.on to -
Barrenness; the solitude of impotence.
In the opposite direction to this, however, soleness may imply-
Sufficiency, power; that which stands alone must have power to stand alone; thus -
Independency; admitting no other; which in a bad sense may be a mere synonym for -
Pride; and in a creature in his relation to the Creator -
But soleness may have also another set of meanings, as where I have to pronounce what are apparently two things to be but one, I affirm their -
Unchangeableness, consistency, perpetuity, are but identity in progressive time; and again -
Truth is the identity of an idea with fact or object; as -
Knowledge is but the identification of these.
Unity we may distinguish as the oneness which proceeds from the uniting of different elements, whether these be physical, mental, moral or spiritual. One cannot divide. Thus we have -
At-oneness, harmony, consistency, congruity, integrity, righteousness, which is consistency with relationship, and of which obedience to authority is only one form; concord, peace.
We may pass on now to thoughts which are connected with the ordinal form of the number, which here have special importance, as -
The first natural suggestion is that of -
Supremacy, headship, rule; -
Beginning; and putting these things together, the supreme, the absolute beginning is the controlling cause of all that exists beside (see Appendix I). We may put down therefore -
Cause, source, occasion (which is a lesser cause); and then - foundation, ground, (and so) plea.
Of course, it will be understood that not all these thoughts are synmymous with soleness, unity, primacy, as contained in this first number. But these three ideas naturally lead to them all, suggest them. A symbol is just that which in this way suggests what it does not explicitly convey. A cock crowing is not the symbol of a cock at all; but it may be a symbol of the dawn. The numbers come far closer than this to what they stand for. Their meanings have, as stated, their roots in nature, and have all been worked out in this very way. Thus when we find such things as these characterizing the first psalm of a series, or the first section of a psalm, or the first verse of a section, there can be no doubt that this fulfills the requirement of a numerical structure; nor, when we find such conformity continually maintained, that a numerical structure is in fact what we have before us.
But yet this does not complete entirely the range of thought which may be found under this number; as it is evident that there may be combinations of these thoughts which may equally find place under it. Thus-
Life is the great organizer, or cause of the unity which is every where found in the animal and vegetable kingdoms; while-
Personality is the proper unity of man as a spiritual being. Then-
Will is allowed to be that which gives us our original conception of cause, and is plainly the assertion of personal independence. Thus we reach -
Choice, Election. Then again, -
Grace is a state of favour (at-oneness) with God freely (i. e. sovereignly) conferred.
It is remarkable how the greater part by far of all these thoughts unite together to image God as the sole personal First Cause and Ruler of all, omniscient, almighty, unchangeable, eternal, righteous and yet gracious; God of the Old Testament and of the New, - Jehovah, Father. And this tends greatly to confirm the naturalness of this grouping as designed of God. Gathered together entirely without thought of this, we find that we have gathered a group of special witnesses, all giving testimony in one direction, and uniting to put God in the first place, which is always His! If we think yet that this is chance, what can we think when we find the second number as much bearing witness to the Second Person of the Godhead as the first to the First? Aye, and again the third to the Third? If this looks like arrangement, who has arranged it? If it be chance, does it not seem as if chance itself had become a worshipper of God? Let us worship Him in it then, too.
But this has been already taken up at more length (Appendix I). We must now go on to consider the number
If One points to the exclusion of difference, difference is the very thing which Two proclaims. This note of difference runs through all its meanings. We will group them, as in the former case, under subheads for better distinction.
With the thought of "another" there comes in necessarily that of relation. A second, if only as that, must have some relation to the first, If it be a true second, as we say, then it is a relation of -
Help, support, confirmation, assurance; and thus it is in Scripture the number of Competent testimony. We have this idea expressed in our word "seconding," and in Scripture in Ecclesiastes iv. 9-12. Already this supposes need and something adverse, and thus we are naturally led to the thought of -
Preservation, deliverance, salvation.
Another thought naturally contained in it is that of -
Then we have, as still connected, but in a more external way, -
Addition, increase, growth; and these lead on to -
Progress, movement, activity.
Spiritually, attachment is almost synonymous with love, near akin to which we have desire, the expression of which, to one thought able to grant it, is in prayer. Attachment, too, may be otherwise read as association, partnership, fellowship. In its ordinal form as -
The number is clearly expressive of -
Dependence, which leads naturally on to faith, which is dependent attachment. But otherwise it may be read in the sense of inferiority; and so lowliness, humiliation, subjection may be associated with it as ideas.
As the number which expresses -
It is very apt to connect itself with the thought of evil, whether moral or physical. Running through the grades of -
Diversity and contrast, it goes on to -
Contradiction, opposition, conflict, to enmity, and the enemys work.
And evil comes out again, unmistakably, in the thought of -
Doublemindedness, duplicity, deceit.
It is also the first number which divides, and so stands for -
Which we may have as -
Separation. Here it may be related to knowledge as analysis, differentiation, discernment; and so judgment, wisdom; in an external manner, sight.
But death also is separation, dissolution.
Combining such thoughts as these, we shall easily find, as already said, how they cluster round the Person and work of Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, God and yet Man, the Second Man, the Word of God, the true Witness, the Saviour, come down into the inferior place, to be the Minister and Servant of our need, serving even to death for this, and that death the death of the Cross. All through, the number two links itself with this, which covers, it is plain, both His Person and His glorious work. How unlike are all these things to what we had under the first number! what contrasts are contained in them! But it is the number of contrast, and all speak of Him. Let the reader pause again and consider here how the Lord the True Witness, puts His seal on the numerical system in all this. There is nothing in it that is recondite or hard to follow, surely; nothing that is forced or unnatural. If it speak, and speak truly, after such a fashion as this, how much may we expect from the use which the Spirit of God has made of it.
Two is also, as I take it, the number of the soul, the emotional part of mans nature, as the spirit is the mental and moral. This I have elsewhere spoken of,* and it does not seem so much to concern us here. It is also the number of the woman, full of contrasts, as she is: dependent on man, but his help-meet, the type of increase, yet through whom came sin and death, and yet again, through her victorious " Seed," salvation.
* "Spiritual Law in the Natural World," pp. 103, 109-113.
When we come to the number three, the help of language fails, for man has penetrated indeed but a little way into the divine mysteries of the book of Nature. We have no words that express the inner meaning of this number, as "unity" and "seconding" speak for the former ones. Nevertheless we are not left without efficient help for ascertaining this.
Three, the number of the Spirit, is revealed to us, like the Spirit Himself, by the work it does. The Lord shows himself to us in it, not merely as Master of arithmetic, but as the One to whom geometry bears equal witness. There seem to be just three things which mark respectively three groups of meanings. The first is that there are three dimensions to every solid body; the second, that it takes three straight lines to enclose a space; the third, that the third line of a triangle returns to the first. Let us look at them in this order.
According to the first of these, three is the symbol of cubic - that is, of solid measure; of solidity. Two dimensions give you a measure of surface only, length and breadth without thickness: but there is no such thing in fact: the thinnest line that you can draw upon paper is more than that.
Three is thus the symbol of reality, realization; of fulfillment, fullness, of manifestation, as the statue or the house manifests what is in the makers mind, - the telling out of the heart. Cubic measure is a measure not, of surface, but of content.
As the place of divine manifestation, the sanctuary, Gods dwelling-place, was a cube - of ten cubits in the tabernacle, twenty in the temple. So is the final city, which the glory of God lightens: "the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal."
The glory of God is but the manifestation of Himself; and "whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me," says the Lord Himself; (Psalm 1. 23): displays Him in His rightful character, as the "blessed God." To know Him really is to bless Him. Praise is thus the occupation of the sanctuary; not otherwise than freely, while and because necessarily.
Gods name, too, is the manifestation of Himself.
The Trinity is alone His full manifestation. The Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity, is He who manifests in the creature the counsels of God, whether in creation or in new creation.
It is remarkable how the meanings under the second head run into the first, though reached in such a different manner. Here, if three straight lines enclose a space, the number will speak of separation from what surrounds, but not (as the last number,) of simple division. Like the enclosure of a field, it speaks of setting apart for purpose, specialization, which, if we apply it Godward, we know as Sanctification, and in the spiritual result to be attained, as holiness. For, uniting the present with the former line of thought, let us remember that cubic measure is a measure of content and speaks of what is internal, as the Spirits work is. Specialization means here therefore transformation, as in some sort it generally does: sanctification of heart is holiness. Thus we are reaching the sanctuary from another side, and have the symbolism of the number doubly witnessed to. Both sides are needed: for the manifestation of things, which only the presence of God rightly gives, realizes the "truth," the maintenance of which in its full character is holiness - the "holiness of truth" (Eph. iv. 24).
The sanctuary is Gods dwelling-place; but as speaking of setting apart, the number is competent to symbolize the dwelling place in general, possession, portion, what is set apart to you. And so also of marriage, which is essentially the same idea. The ban, too, we must remember, was in Israel the setting apart of holiness, though in destruction, - the sanctification of God in judgment; and we find this, therefore, sometimes under the same number that speaks of the glory and praise of God.
The third head is that which most evidently furnishes us with the symbol of resurrection, - the return of the third line of a triangle to the first. Here it is most striking that "life "comes under the first number, "death" under the second, just as tho first two sides separate from one another. In the third line then, symbolically, death returns to life: we have resurrection. We see why in Scripture it is on the third day.
Return, remembrance, recovery, revival of every kind would be symbolized by it, of course, as fitly. One would suppose, reproduction.
And the triangle becomes as a whole a sort of mathematical trinity: the witness of how divine truth underlies every where the Kosmos - the ordered world.
That the Spirit of God, the Third Person of the Trinity, is borne witness to also in this number, there is no need to cite more than this in proof. But I may add that it is by the indwelling of the Spirit that our bodies are made the temples of the Holy Ghost, and the Church as a whole the "habitation of God."
That the first three numbers have this definite reference to the Persons of the Godhead, they being also all prime numbers, may prepare us to find in the following one the number of the creature, as in some sense it is generally, perhaps, taken to be. Its character is seen in this, that it is the first number that is not a prime: that is, it is the first number that is capable of division without remainder by some other than itself. Thus it speaks emphatically of weakness, which does not belong to God but to the creature in contrast with Him: of that which yields itself to be fashioned by the divine hand, and may yield itself, alas, to another. This yieldingness gives, I believe, the real significance of its symbolism whether good or evil.
In Scripture 4 divides thus in two ways; either as 3+1, the number of manifestation and that of divine sovereignty (and this is the good sense, when the creature reveals the divine hand that is over it); or else by true division, 2X2, which seems to be invariably significant of evil. Yieldingness may be on the part of man meekness or mercy; and the latter even on Gods part.
It may be failure under testing, of which last also the number is clearly competent to remind us. But failure is the sign also of transitoriness and change; and testing, the putting to proof, leads to experience, experimental knowledge.
These various thoughts with which 4 connects show it to be the world-number: and in Scripture it is that of the "four corners of the earth," of earthly completeness and universality, which thus has on it the stamp of weakness, whatever men may boast. It is the number of the "four winds of heaven"- the various and opposing influences of which the earth is the scene, and which so depict the moral contrasts and opposition which mark the fallen creatures ways. These ways of the creature are but the practical walk on earth; which typically the fourth book of Scripture (Numbers) presents as the people of God.
The connection with the number 2, of which it is the square, is seen all through, while yet it is sufficiently distinct from it.
In the cleansing of the leper and the consecration of the priest alike, the blood is put upon three parts of man: the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, the great toe of the right foot; and these three parts manifest man in his responsibility to God. The ear is to receive His word; the hand to do the enjoined work; the foot to walk in His ways. Each of these parts is connected with the number 5. The ear is one of five senses, the avenues of perception, by which as a rational being he can be appealed to.
The hand is that by means of which he moulds and fashions the natural world around him. It is the expression of active power, the four fingers with the opposing thumb, the consecrated, because the governing part. These on the two hands give ten, the number of the commandments in the two tables of the law, the measure of natural responsibility.
The foot, the expression of personal conduct (the walk) gives a similar division, much less marked, however, and the two feet a similar ten. Five stands thus as the number of man, exercised and responsible under the government of God.
Notice how carefully mans power is characterized as creature, dependent power. His hand is the sign of it as the vicegerant of God in the world: no beast has, in any proper sense, a hand. Yet the power is in no way like divine power,-simple and without effort, but a co-operation of forces, in which (as he recognizes) "union is strength;" the four fingers, every way significant of weakness, helped by the strong, opposing thumb; the two hands also assisting one another.
In perfect agreement with this, the Scripture commonly gives us 5 as 4+1, that is, man the creature in connection with God, his Ruler yet his Helper. Here the divine ways give him constant and needed exercise; and 5 will he found often associated with this thought of exercise under responsibility; and also with the kindred one, that mans way (4) under the control of God (1), according to its character leads to a corresponding end.
Capacity, as identified with responsibility, and leading thus to recompense are thus symbolized by the number 5: this as Gods governmental way, implying necessarily conditions. But man may be in relation to God other than governmental; and we shall find it not unfrequently spelling for us the blessed word "Immanuel," and pointing us directly once again to Christ. It is plainly seen in all this how the significance of the lower numbers enters into the higher; and when we rise to
We have only, so far as I can see, a 5 X 2, while-
FORTY. The number of probation, is only 4 X 10, or 4X (5 X 2).
SIX. Six is the second number capable of true division. Divided, its factors are 2 and 3, which easily yield the thought of the manifestation (or fullness) of evil, or of the enemys work. But evil is weakness, as again this divisibility teaches; and as such it must yield to God. Read in a good sense, the number of conflict (2) brings forth from it sanctification and glory of God (3)
It is the number of mans workday week, the appointed time of labour for him, type of his life labour, his "few and evil" days, limited because of sin. It thus speaks plainly of limit, and of a limit which is Gods discipline, because of sin,- His curb and victory over it. It speaks thus of mastery, overcoming.
In the "number of the beast" (666) we find it in three successively higher powers,- evil in fullest activity, yet its feebleness ever apparent, and Gods hand controlling it: it increases only responsibility and judgment. It is but "the number of a man," vainly and impiously aspiring to be as God.
In the tenth Psalm is the description of this "wicked one" (vera. 2- 11). It is, conjointly with the preceding one, an alphabetic psalm, from which in this place exactly air letters (Mem to Tzaddf) are dropped out. Goliaths height is 6 cubits; a giant of his race has six fingers and six toes.
Nebuchadnezzars idolatrous image is 60 cubits high and 6 broad. One sixth of Gogs host is spared (Ezek. xxxix. 2.) That is, 6 parts are the spiritual measure of the host, of which God spares one in divine sovereignty.
Lastly, the darkness at the cross began at the sixth hour, and ended at the ninth (3 X 3)- God now fully displayed.
SEVEN AND TWELVE.
I put these numbers together because they are in some respects so much alike, and because in comparing them the character of each comes out the better.
Seven is well-known as the number of perfection and so of rest. But it may be applied to evil, and simply show "completeness" of any kind.
Twelve is in Scripture as commonly divided into 4x3 as seven is into 4+3. The factors are the same; but, whereas in the one case they are added, in the other they are multiplied. Seven and twelve should be, in some way therefore, allied in meaning. It is only in the relation of its factors that twelve differs from seven : * the nurnber of the world and of divine manifestation characterize it.; but these are not (as in 7) merely side by side. It is God manifesting Himself in relation to the world of His creation, as seven is, but now in active energy laying bold of and transforming it. Thus twelve is the number of manifest sovereignty w as it was exercised in Israel, for instance, by the Lord in the midst of them, or as it will be exercised in the world to come.
"Turn now to the complete rest of the people of God - to the New Jerusalem, which has the glory of God, whose light God is, and the Lamb the lamp of it, to which the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple. Here perfection and rest are found, if anywhere, the thought connected, as abundantly plain, with seven: yet what do we find? Look at the foundations of the city: they are twelve in number. Look at the gates: there are twelve gates. Measure the city: its length, breadth and height are equal - twelve thousand furlongs each. Measure the height of the wall, 144 cubits,-12 X 12. Behold the tree of life planted by the river that issues from the throne of God: it bears twelve manner of fruits, and yields its fruit every month,- twelve times a year. Everywhere this number twelve meets us where we would expect to find the seven. It has the factors of seven; it is, as it were, the - expansion of seven; and the spiritual idea that shines through it, that God is everywhere the manifest Ruler, what does it speak of to our hearts but that complete subjection to Him, which is indeed the perfection of the creature and its rest?"
The regular numerical series is here complete; the next number to seven,
simply showing that it is complete by indicating a new beginning, as the eighth day is the first of a new week. It thus speaks of what is new in contrast with the old, as the new covenant or the new creation. It will be noticed that this is closely akin to the meaning of two, and that eight is but the cube of two.
There is no difficulty with the number wherever we find it, except only that we must remember that here also the significance may be evil as well as good; and also that the overpassing of the week of time brings us to the commencement of eternity. Eight has not infrequently such a thought in it.
* "Spiritual Law in the Natural World," pp. 74, 75. The application of numbers to the interpretation of nature I have sought to give in the book quoted here.
Go to Appendix Three
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