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Previous: 31. The Quarters Up: The Language of Parable Next: 33. Rocks

32. Numbers

Do we ever speak of "weighing " or "measuring "anything spiritual? We "weigh " one's reasons or arguments. We "take a man's measure " when we form our estimate of his character and abilities. The thought of spiritual weighing and measuring is always involved where the words are used in the Bible. So also "to number" in the Bible involves the spiritual idea of perceiving the quality of a thing, and arranging it in order. The psalmist prays, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." (Ps. xc. 12) The prayer is not merely that the Lord will help us to realize the shortness of earthly life in comparison with the eternal life, but that He will help us to see the nature and the purpose of the states through which we are passing, that we may use them wisely. (AE 453; AC 10217) Remember the words written by the hand on the wall of Belshazzar's palace. "This is the writing that was written, Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin. This is the interpretation of the thing: Mene; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. Tekel; thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. Peres; thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians." (Dan. v. 25-28) It meant that the Lord knew the wickedness of their ways, and that judgment was at hand. (AE 373; AC 3104, 10217) For another example, read the Lord's words in Luke: "Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God? But even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: ye are of more value than many sparrows." (Luke xii. 6, 7) These words declare the Lord's knowledge of even the least things of our life, and His Providence over them. (AE 453)

Remember the words of the Psalm: "He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite [or without number]." (Ps. cxlvii. 4, 5) We have already quoted the explanation: "Here, by telling the number of the stars, and calling them all by their names, is signified to know all goods and truths, and, according to their quality, to dispose them in heaven and the church." (AE 453; AC 10217; P. P) "The LORD spake unto Moses saying, When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them when thou numberest them." (Exod. xxx. 11,12) The ransom represents the acknowledgment that all things of heavenly life in us are the Lord's, and that He alone can know and order them. We number the people and pay no ransom to the Lord, when we self-confidently regard as our own the beginnings of heavenly life which we enjoy, and think that we can know them and Provide for their development ourselves. This self-confidence was represented by David's numbering of the people, which was accounted a sin and was punished by the death of seventy thousand men. (2 Sam. xxiv; A. E- 453; AC 10217, 10218; AR 364)

To number spiritually is to know the quality of a thing. We can go farther. We are taught that every number involves the idea of some special quality. (AC 648, 493, 10217; AR 348; AE 1253) We are taught that angels so clearly perceive the relation of numbers to human qualities that they can express thoughts in numbers, and that they have a kind of writing which consists of numbers alone. (HH 263; AE 429; AC 4495, 5265) The wise ancients also knew the spiritual ideas involved in numbers, and expressed by numbers the changing states of the church. (AC 487, 6175)

In the Bible, numbers are used in accordance with this ancient and heavenly wisdom, every number involving some idea of human quality. This fact explains the importance given to numbers in the Word; it explains also many numbers which can hardly be understood in a merely literal way - for example, the great age of Methuselah, nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and other ages recorded in the fifth chapter of Genesis. The names here refer not to individual men, but to successive developments of the church; and the numbers are used in the ancient way to express the spiritual quality of these developments. (AC 482) And again in the Revelation the dimensions of the holy city (Rev. xxi. 16) express not the physical extent, but spiritual qualities of the church which is symbolized by the city. (AR 909; AE 1318) And so throughout the Word, even where numbers are literally and historically true, as they for the most part are, they still always involve the idea of spiritual quality.

We must think of a few numbers, to learn in a simple and most general way what qualities they correspond to, and to see, if we can, that the correspondence is not arbitrary, but that the numbers are by ancient association and even by their very nature related to the qualities for which they stand as symbols in the Bible.

Take the number two. Does it convey any idea besides mere number? Does it not suggest that the two objects form a pair, related to each other as right and left, or as good and truth, or as husband and wife?

There is a doubleness throughout the universe, originating in the two elements, love and wisdom, which exist infinitely in the Lord, and from Him in all that He has made. In heaven there are the two kingdoms, celestial and spiritual, the one more open to the Lord's love, the other to His wisdom. (HH 20-27) In every mind there are the faculties of will and understanding, formed to receive love and wisdom from the Lord. (NJHD 28-33) The same two-fold character extends into natural things, causing the members of the body to exist in pairs (DLW 127, 409) , and producing a certain image of marriage throughout nature. (CL 84-87; NJHD I I-I3) The number two suggests the celestial and spiritual kingdoms of heaven; the union of affection and thought in our own minds, of charity and faith in religion; and it suggests the union of the Divine love on the Lord's part, with His truth as it is lived by men, which is the marriage of the Lord with His church. (AC 5194)

There are two Great Commandments and two tables of the Ten Commandments. The second table contains the truth which men must live, and as they do so the Lord gives the love required by the first table. The two tables are therefore an expression and token of the union between the Lord and men. (TCR 456, 285; AC 9416) Remember how the Lord sent forth the apostles "by two and two." (Mark vi. 7) Does it not mean that love must be joined with wisdom in errands of service for the Lord? The Lord said, "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. xviii. 19) It means that if we do not rest content with knowing what is true and right, but by faithful life join with the knowledge love for good, the heavenly character is confirmed in us by the Lord. (AE 411, 696) The Lord said, "It is also written in your law, that the testimony of two men is true. I am one that bear witness of myself, and the Father that sent me beareth witness of me." (John viii. 17, 18) Both the intellect and the affections must be touched to bring conviction. The Lord by His words and acts appealed to men's intellects in an outward way, but they were not convinced unless their hearts were at the same time open to feel the Divine Father-love in all He said and did. (AC 4197; John vi. 44)

Keep this thought in mind, that two means the union of love with understanding, when you read of the widow's two mites (Luke xxi. 2); of the good Samaritan's two pence (Luke x. 35; AE 444); of the two little fishes with which the Lord fed the people (John vi. 9; AC 5 291; AE 430); of the two talents which increased for heaven while the one did not. (Matt. xxv. 14-25; AC 7770; DP 16, 17)

The number three carries with it a quite different thought. It reminds us of the three heavens - the inmost, the middle, and the lowest. (HH 29-39) There are three planes of affection and thought in every mind, more interior and more external. (DLW 236-241; AC 3691) There are also three degrees of structure in all things of the natural creation. For example, there are three atmospheres - the aura, the ether, and the air (DLW 184); the small fibers of muscle or nerve are gathered into bundles, and these again are gathered into the common protecting sheath. (DLW 190) The number, three suggests those degrees of structure, and therefore carries the idea of perfection or of completeness. (TCR 211; AE 532; AC 2788, 9825; SS 29) The tabernacle and temple were built with three parts - the most holy chamber, the holy chamber, and the court - to represent the three heavens and the three degrees of heavenly life in a man. (AC 9457 9 741; Chapter xli) It was commanded the Israelites, "Three times thou shalt keep a feast unto me in the year." (Exod. xxiii. 14) The three feasts represent the remembrance of the Lord at all times. (AC 2788) So Daniel "kneeled upon his knees three times a day." (Dan. Vi. 10) It represents complete and continual dependence upon the Lord. (AC 2788) "As Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matt. xii. 40) These words, and also the fact that the Lord was laid in the sepulcher until the third day, tell of the completeness with which the Lord endured all possible states of temptation, that He might bring new life into every human experience. (AC 2788, 4495; SS 29; AR 505; TCR 211; AE 532) Remember that three represents all, when you read that the Lord chose three disciples to be with Him in the house of Jairus, on the mountain of transfiguration, and in Gethsemane; and that He prayed three times in the garden. (Mark v. 37, ix. 2, xiv. 33-41; AE 820; TCR 211) Peter three times denied the Lord, and afterwards three times declared his love, expressing the complete failure of his faith and his thorough repentance. (Matt. xxvi. 74, 75; John xxi. 17; TCR 211; SS 29)

Four is two times two, and it contains the same idea of the union of truth and goodness, but in greater fullness; for all composite numbers retain the quality of the numbers which compose them. (AC 9103, 1856, 6175; AE 384) Four expresses the full working out of truth into goodness of life, till the character is four square, the length as large as the breadth; "the measure of a man, that is, of an angel." (AE 1314-1317; AR 905-908; AC 9717)

This symmetry of character is gained, this full union of good and truth in life, only through temptations; and so it comes about that four, or more usually forty, is in the Bible associated with temptations, as means to the full development of heavenly character. Thus forty means a state of temptation where we read of the flood, that "the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights " (Gen. vii. 12); where we read of the forty years wandering of the Israelites in the wilderness (Deut. Viii. 2-4); and where we read in the Gospel: "Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungered." (Matt. iv. 1, 2; AC 730, 8098; AE 633)

The number seven brings a quite different thought. It suggests the Sabbath, the day of rest after the labors of the week. Six is associated with states of labor and effort in living a heavenly life, and seven with the state of peace, when to do right is easy and delightful. Seven, from its meaning of finished labor, conveys an idea of completeness similar to that expressed by three, but it has also as its most characteristic quality a sense of the holiness of the Sabbath and heaven. (AC 716, 2044, 10360; AE 20, 257; AR 505 end ). The six days of creation are a grand picture of the steps by which the Lord forms a heavenly spirit in men, and the seventh day represents the attainment of the holy heavenly state. (AC 85, 87) The command to remember the Sabbath day shows our duty to keep sacred not only the seventh day, but all things which lead onward

to the Lord and heaven. (AC 8495; TCR 302) The message in the Revelation is sent to the seven churches (Rev. i. 11 ) because it is for all who are advancing towards the heavenly life, and who are therefore of the Lord's church. (AR 10; AE 2o) Peter asked the Lord: "Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven." (Matt. xviii. 21, 22) Forgive always; forgive till the desire to be unforgiving is gone, and the heavenly spirit of perfect forgiveness is gained. (AE 257; AC 433) "The days of our years are seventy years; and if by reason of strength they be eighty years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." (Ps. xc. 10, compare ver. 12) Life on earth, whether long or short, if faithfully lived, is seventy years, for it leads to the peace of heaven. The eighty years to which it may extend, suggests the greater opportunities with their accompanying temptations, which come to some men but not to all. Many other beautiful examples will come to mind, and some, perhaps, where seven means the completeness of an evil state.

The number ten we regard as a full, round number. Probably it has been so regarded from the days when people counted their fingers till one and then both hands were full. Ten has in the Bible the idea of all and an abundance. It has also special reference to the store of heavenly states laid up in every heart especially in childhood. Possibly. the fact that these heavenly states belong chiefly to the first ten years of life has helped to give the number ten this beautiful meaning. (AC 5 75, 576; AE 6 75; AR 101) There are ten commandments and ten blessings, meaning that they contain all truth relating to that innocence which the Lord stores up in the soul. (AE 675, 1024; TCR 286; AC 576) Read Abraham's entreaty for Sodom. (Gen. xviii. 23-33) It expresses the Lord's solicitude that every one in whom is anything of heaven shall be saved. After naming larger numbers which represent fuller developments of heavenly character, Abraham asked, "Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake." While something of childhood's innocence remains in the soul, it is the means of 'salvation. (AC 2284) "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you." (Zech. viii. 23) How plainly it tells of the drawing to the Lord's kingdom of all that remains of innocence which can be saved! (AE 433, 675; AC 3881) Remember the parables of the hundred sheep and the ten pieces of silver. (Luke xv. 4-10) Both tell of the store of innocence entrusted to each one of us in childhood by the Lord, and of the duty of guarding it and of restoring what has been lost. What form of innocence do the sheep especially represent? and what the silver? (AE 675) Five is half of ten, the fingers of one hand. It conveys the idea of fewness, but also, like ten, the idea of completeness and enough. (AE 548; AC 5291) Typical examples of the use of five are David's "five smooth stones out of the brook," with which he met Goliath (1 Sam. xvii. 40) , like the Divine unchanging truths which we take from the letter of the Word, which though few are enough for our defense; the five sparrows, so trifling compared with man, and yet objects of the Lord's care (Luke xii. 6, 7; AE 548); the five barley loaves with which the Lord fed the multitude, so little, yet enough and to spare, representing the little and simple spiritual nourishment which the people were able to receive, and yet with the Lord's blessing enough to strengthen them for heaven. (John vi. 9-11; AE 548, 430)

Let us give a thought to one other number, twelve. It is the product of four and three. Four suggested a full development of both good and truth; three adds the thought that the development is of every degree; upon every plane of life. Twelve therefore means goodness and truth of every kind and degree. (AE 430; AR 348; AC 7973) First of all we remember the twelve tribes of Israel, which represent all forms of goodness and truth which compose the Lord's church. (AC 3858) The Lord also chose twelve apostles, to represent all elements of His church. (AC 3858; AE 430) The twelve foundations of the holy city represent all particulars of doctrine from the Word, on which the church rests. (AE 1324; AR 915) The twelve gates of the city show that the Lord's church and heaven are open to people in every degree of love of good, and in every degree of wisdom. (AE 1310; AR 901) "And I heard the number of them that were sealed: and there were sealed an hundred and forty-four thousand of all the tribes of the children of Israel." (Rev. vii. 4) It means all in whom are heavenly love and faith. (AE 430; AR 348) The Lord said in that night in the garden of Gethsemane, "Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. xxvi. 53) "By the twelve legions of angels here mentioned, is understood the universal heaven, and by more than twelve, is signified the Divine omnipotence." (AE 430)


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32. Numbers

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