[* The following writing can be found in pages 24-59 of the author’s book: ‘The Numerical Structure of Scripture’.]
THE SCRIPTURE NUMERALS
REVELATION, beloved brethren, I am happy to think that you will fully agree with me, is the key to every thing in nature. I do not mean, of course, that nature is absolutely dumb without it. If I said so, I should be contradicting revelation. “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork. Day unto day showeth speech, and night unto night telleth knowledge.” True, surely, all that is. What I mean is, that while parts of the lesson of creation are thus learned, they are but fragments of comparatively external knowledge. To the whole as a whole, and to the deepest, fullest, sweetest, of all its teachings we must remain strangers, except we will take revelation to introduce us to them. And if we would do this, what preachers would all things about us become? How would all things be transfigured for us!
Take one of the chief mysteries of creation. Ask the greatest of heathen sages, - ask the men whose glory it is to have emancipated themselves (vain thought!) from the Christianity they had inherited from their fathers, How is it that every where through creation death is the food of life? They will turn the question back to you with a sarcasm or a scoff. With the Mahometan, but without his reverence, they may say, perhaps, “It has so pleased God.” But revelation lights up the mystery. Yes, the wail of death is every where, true! It has pleased God, wherever we look, to hang out the warning before his eyes to whom death is a penalty and a dread. But it is not a lesson of judgment merely: “out of death, life” is the law of sacrifice. The Jewish altars do but repeat more solemnly the symbolism of nature. The Christian finds the veil removed in Christ.
Take another instance: “God,” says the apostle, “is light.” And the man of science preaches to us that light is a trinity of colour, bathing all nature with varied brilliance, according as each object reflects partially what it receives. For it receives it: the world’s light is from heaven, not self-developed; and practically from the sun. The sun, preaches the scientist, is the great reservoir of force to the globes which roll in their orbits round it, bound by invisible cords, which the faith permitted to men by science recognizes. But what is the sun? It is essentially, the same teachers tell us, what the earth is; but this the light clothes with its glory,- separable from it, but not separate. And God manifest in the flesh, says the Christian, that is Christ, the “Sun of Righteousness.”
How much of the mystery of things would pass into glory in which we should be worshipers, if only we realized that creation is a perpetual object-lesson of things which the Word of God alone reveals to us. But this is not an authority for men of science; they have given up “bibliolatry,” - the worship of a book. It is ruled out; and therein they have ruled out all their highest wisdom, and have fallen into folly.
When we take up the numerals, to ascertain from Scripture their significance, we shall find, on the other hand, what I have only recently begun in any proper way to realize, that this significance of theirs has its roots in nature. Scripture must control and guide our thoughts, or they will be what poor human thoughts are apart from God. Nevertheless, the spiritual does not abhor what is natural, except it be in the sense of what is fleshly, the product of the fall. The first four numbers, at least, are distinctly dependent for the meaning which Scripture gives them upon their natural significance; and from these, all others are built up. It is no great wonder this: it is simply to say that Scripture uses them as what they are. And this is just the beautiful harmony and propriety of Scripture. Everything is in its place: used of God, and illuminated by its use; not arbitrarily applied, and never perverted.
A word or two upon this, because of
its importance, before we go on. How wise and
appropriate are the Baptist’s words when the priests and Levites from
But to return to our numerals. It is only of late that I have seen how few the numbers are which need interpreting. Seven notes in music give us the capacity for the almost infinite variety and harmony of song. The eighth note is but the octave - a first repeated in a higher key. Just so there are seven numbers which have significance in Scripture. Seven is the number of perfection, and we cannot go beyond perfection; although, of course, there may be here, too, a lower and a higher scale. The number 8, at which we have already glanced, is that which we have seen to speak of a new beginning, which just shows the series to be finished. It is the spiritual octave.
We have seven numbers, then, really to consider. Of course I am aware that beyond this there are special numbers which have significance, as, for instance, 10, and 12, and 40. These we shall speak of, if the Lord will. But the meaning attached to them is really only the combined meaning of the numbers which are their factors; for instance, of 5 and 2; 12, of 4 and 3; 40, of 4 and 10. The meaning of these smaller numbers gives us, therefore, in reality, the whole meaning of the numerals of Scripture.
To begin, then, with the number 1. What does it stand for? When it is said, “Hear, 0
But this may be in two ways; in the two quotations just made, the difference is external: there is no other Lord, there shall be no other. It is an assertion of independency, as admitting no other; and implies, of course, a sufficiency which needs no other. To be in this way independent, sufficient to Himself, belongs to God alone. And thus, under this number 1, we begin with God. His title is, “The Beginning;” and Scripture, in fact, begins with Him. What can be right where we do not so begin?
But then this is not the only application. We shall find as we proceed with these
numerals that they are, in the case of every one perhaps, used in a bad sense
as well as in a good. This is true, not
only of the numerals, but of many types beside. Christ is a lion, and Satan is a lion; the birds
of heaven are wicked spirits, and yet the bird that dies in the earthen vessel
is again Christ. In the case of the
numbers we shall have abundant proof; and this does not alter in the least
their real significance.
But there is another way in which the number 1 may speak: it may exclude internal difference, may speak of internal harmony of parts or attributes, of self-agreement, perfection in that sense. That is not one which is internally divided, it is clear. “The dream is one,” says Joseph: there is complete agreement of meaning in it.
And this is, again, in the fullest and highest way, true of God alone. In His perfection there is no preponderance of any attribute, and no defect. His wisdom must be equal to His power; His love equal to His power and wisdom. Thus again this number speaks of Him; and in this way, although it may have a lower application, an evil sense is quite impossible.
Now if we turn from the cardinal number to the ordinal, the “First” is again a divine title. It speaks plainly of priority, whether in time or rank, of supremacy; as the Sovereign Beginning of all things, of the Creator, the Source of life. His is the will from which all proceeded; His is the plan according to which all is guided; His is the power by which all is executed: election, counsel, sovereign sway, are all His own.
Thus the number 1 has three meanings essentially, of independency, unity, and supremacy. These things are in the truest and highest way only true of God. We may find them, however, either united under it or separate, and in this latter way in lower applications, and even evil ones; although comparatively seldom in the latter. God and good are one. Evil is contradiction, discord; in the end, weakness and defeat. Blessed be God it is so!
Now before we take up other numbers, I desire to bring before you, in the briefest way, of course, as illustrating it, the character of the first book of the Pentateuch - Genesis.
It is plain that if there be any truth in that view of Scripture which I am here presenting, the five books of the Pentateuch ought to illustrate these numbers, and confirm our use of them. If they do not you will be entitled - nay, necessitated to set down this use as visionary and human merely. If they do, it will go far toward proving that they are divine. It will be important, therefore, to examine them.
Moreover, I am convinced, and fully hope to convince you, that the Pentateuch - assailed as it is by so many at the present day, - is in fact the very basis of the structure of the whole Bible. It is thus additionally a necessity to bring out the character of it, for with it we shall have to compare a large part of Scripture. At this time also the examination will help to fix upon our minds the significance of the numerals themselves, essential as this is to our whole examination.
Now what is the first thing that would strike any of us as to the book of Genesis? I suppose that it is, in it we find the story of creation. I need not say how fully this agrees with the number we have been considering.
How much this includes within it will be plain if we consider it: supremacy, election, counsel, are all implied, and Genesis in all its parts brings out these.
1. Supremacy. “The Almighty” is the name by which God revealed Himself to the patriarchs, as He declared to Moses (Ex. 6: 3). It is found six times in the book of Genesis, only three times in the Pentateuch beside. In the book of Job it is used largely, but only eight times in the Old Testament beside. It is clearly characteristic of the book, therefore.
2. Election. Genesis is surely the very book of election. I do not mean that the doctrine is found: we shall not find it in any
of these early books; but the fact is every where. Abraham (and
3. Counsel. Genesis has been often called the seed-plot of the Bible. Every thing almost in the revealed counsels of God finds its place in it in some way; and at the outset, in the six days’ work, we find prefigured, not only the work of God in individual souls, but the dispensational steps of blessing, closing with that which is beyond all dispensations - that rest of God into which we labour to enter.*
[* See Heb. 4: 8-11]
Again, the time of the Genesis-history is emphatically that of the age of promise. The promise of the woman’s Seed is what shines with star-like radiance over the first part, followed in the second by the covenant with Abraham, which, the apostle assures us, the law, coming four hundred and thirty years afterward, could never hamper with conditions. Sovereignty in blessing thus marks the period throughout.
It is evident that these are features of the book, as it is also that they answer to the numerical place of the book. The key fits the lock thoroughly. It is not that certain things in it can be taken and made to apply: that, no doubt, would be easy enough to do any where; but the point is, that the numerical structure brings out just what are its characteristic features. And so it is always, and this is what shows its design, and proves it to be of God. It could not be, unless it were designed to be.
We now come to the number 2, and here we have plainly the contrast and opposite of the first number. If 1 excludes difference, 2 affirms it. If 1 says there is not another, 2 says, of course, there is another. And this note of difference runs through all its meanings. “Difference” means, in some sort, contrast, easily passing into opposition, contradiction. Two is the first number that divides: hence it stands for enmity, conflict. When first studying the Psalms in this way it was that I first noticed how, commonly when I came to a second series, or the second psalm in a series, I found the subject to be the enemy. This was before I saw that it was a meaning of the number itself. Of course this is only one side of the number, the bad one.
The other side is essentially the thought of help, confirmation, fellowship. The fundamental text here is Eccles. 4. – “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. Moreover, if two lie together, then they have heat; but how shall one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him.” That is a thought which again is clearly native in the number; for we speak of “seconding” in the sense of “assisting.” I may add that there is involved in it the thought of taking an inferior place in doing so.
How beautifully all this unites in Him who is the second Person of the Godhead, who has taken, in order to befriend our souls, the place of deepest humiliation! In Him, God has laid help upon One that is mighty, and the Son of God has become Christ, the Saviour. Saviour, salvation, in some sense, is thus connected commonly with this number 2. We shall find abundant proof as we go on.
Another meaning connected with it, intimately united with the thought of help, confirmation, is that of competent testimony. “The testimony of two men is true.” I would like you to notice also how still the thought of difference enters into this meaning. For what makes the competency of two witnesses more than one? It is just this, that the witnesses are different. In proportion as they are so - different in character, interests, prejudices and prepossessions perhaps, so is their testimony, if nevertheless agreeing, satisfactory and convincing. You may notice it even in God’s testimony in His Word. Our Bibles have two parts, - the Old Testament, or Covenant, and the New: these are God’s twofold, competent testimony to men; but how different! how contrasted, in many ways! Judaism, ritualistic, restricted, the vail over God’s glory in Moses’ face; Christianity, with its free grace going out to all, the vail rent, and the glory of God in the un-vailed face of Jesus! Yet this is what makes the testimony so complete. How they fit one another! How that old revelation in the hands of the Jew condemns him in rejecting this glorious lifting of the vail in Christianity!
And notice, the second Person of the Godhead is, again, the true Witness, and the Word of God.
If now we take the second book of the Pentateuch, the great
features of it are conspicuous enough, and conspicuously illustrate the
numerical law of Scripture. Exodus is
the book of salvation, which of course infers the enemy from whose power they
are delivered. After the blood has
Before we go on to the next number, I have again an illustration from natural things which has greatly interested me, and which I hope may have equal interest for you. Comparatively recently, I picked up at a bookstore, second hand, a book on the Geography and Classification of Animals, published in 1835. My interest in it was that I knew it contained what professed to be a Natural System of Classification, first brought forward by Mr. McLeay some sixteen years previously, but revised by his disciple, William Swainson, in the volume I speak of.
Now a truly natural system would give us the analogies and affinities of animals as they really exist, and thus the divine plan of creation to some extent; this was my interest in it. I knew it to be also a numerical system, and in this way also was interested in it.
Of the system itself I need say little. That there is truth in it, I believe, though with many defects, on the ground of one of which Agassiz, in his well-known Essay on Classification, sets it aside as unworthy of serious examination, - a judgment, I believe, too severe and sweeping, he himself commending the ability displayed in it (in matters essentially connected with its main subject) in other parts of the same essay.
Swainson’s view is, that there are throughout the animal kingdom, in every natural group, three divisions actually and five apparently. The three actual divisions are, the typical, the subtypical, and the aberrant. These stand, with him, as 1, 2, and 3; and while he sees nothing in the numbers as such, yet these are the characters he gives to his first two groups:-
“The first distinction of typical groups is implied by the name they bear. The animals they contain are the most perfectly organized; that is to say, they are endowed with the greatest number of perfections, and capable of performing to the greatest extent the functions which peculiarly characterize their respective circles. This is universal in all typical groups; but there is a marked difference between the types of a typical circle and the types of an aberrant one. In the first, we find a combination of properties concentrated, as it were, in certain individuals, without any one of these preponderating in a remarkable degree over the others; whereas in the second it is quite the reverse: in these last, one faculty is developed in the highest degree, as if to compensate for the total absence or very slight development of others” (page 2 42).
Let any one recall what has been said as to the number 1, and he will see how really this idea of a typical or first group agrees with what was stated then. This combination of balanced attributes is just what gives the thought of internal oneness: nothing in excess, nothing deficient. Yet Swainson says not a word, evidently has not a thought of this. But in his account of the subtypical or second groups, the numerical stamp as I have given it is still more striking, if not more apparent:-
“II. Subtypical groups, as the name implies, are a degree lower in organization than those last described; and thus exhibit an intermediate character between typical and aberrant divisions. They do not comprise the largest individuals in bulk, but always those which are the most powerfully armed, either for inflicting injury on their own class, for exciting terror, producing injury, or creating annoyance to man. Their dispositions are often sanguinary; since the forms most conspicuous among them live by rapine, and subsist on the blood of other animals. They are, in short, symbolically the types of evil; and in such an extraordinary way is this principle modified in the smaller groups, that even among insects where no other power is possessed but that of causing annoyance or temporary pain, we find in the subtypical order of the Annulosa, the different races of scorpions, acari, spiders, and all those repulsive insects whose very aspect is forbidding, and whose bite or sting is often capable of inflicting serious bodily injury” (pp. 245, 246).
Now it certainly seems to me that this coincidence of view proceeds from its being truth. My own was derived from Scripture simply, Mr. Swainson’s from nature only. He follows a numerical order without perceiving or imagining any thing in the numerals themselves. That there should be in these two cases so real an agreement is surprising, considering the different way by which they have been reached. And this may help, to fill the gap left in the proof of a numerical system as regards zoology.
We now come to the number -
And what does 3 intimate to us naturally? Suppose I were to write upon the board here any number you please, it may be 3 itself, and now I put on the right hand upper corner of this a little 3 what would every school-boy say I meant by it? He would say I meant 3 cubed: that little 3 stands for the cube - for cubic measure.
And what is cubic measure? It is solid measure, the measure of contents. Take any two dimensions, and multiply them together; what have you? A measure of surface merely. Take a third dimension; now you have more than surface: this third dimension strikes in deep below the surface, and gives you a measure of solidity.
Three stands then for what is solid, real, substantial, ‑for fullness, actuality. What are length and breadth without thickness? There is not such a thing in the world: a line that you draw upon paper is more than that. Therefore I say that 3 stands for actuality, reality, realization.
Three is the number of the divine fullness. And in Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; what, then, is the measure of the Man Christ Jesus? A beautiful figure of this you will find twice in Scripture. Abraham puts meal before his heavenly guests; and the woman of the parable puts her leaven into meal. Now what is the food which you can put before God Himself and expect Him to be at the table with you? It is Christ upon whom if we feed, communion with God is secured. Christ is the bread of life; and Christ is, as the Revised Version calls it very well now, the Meal-Offering. And what is it that is in the woman’s (the Church’s) hands, but just again this meal-offering.
But there was to be no leaven put into the meal-offering: she is putting leaven! What is just that which claims most decisively to be Church-teaching? Alas! it is leavened meal.
But what is the measure of Christ? Only a Man? No: you have no Christ if you have but that measure of meal. “Three measures of meal” in the woman’s hand: “three measures of meal” in Abraham’s feast; beside that young calf, tender and good, which had yielded up its life. “All the fullness of God” in the Man Christ Jesus; and His death our life!
Three is the number of the Trinity; and the third Person in the Godhead is the Holy Spirit. Note, then, that whether in creation or in new creation, He it is who realizes all the counsels of God. “By His Spirit He garnished the heavens.” When the deep lay over the waste and desolate earth, the “Spirit of God brooded over the waters.” When men are born again to God, the gospel comes to them, “not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost.” What is sanctification, as the work of the Spirit, but that in which salvation is actualized in the soul? Thus this number 3 has its significance all through, and without the work of the Spirit there is nothing but outside work: “that which is born of the Spirit is spirit;” that is the third dimension which every saint has.
And the sanctuary, God’s dwelling-place, - that too is a cube; ten cubits in the tabernacle; twenty in the temple. The final city, which the glory of God lightens, is a cube also: “the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal.” How strange for the dimensions of a city! How blessed to think of there the counsels of God now realized, the holiness He seeks attained!
In the sanctuary God manifests Himself; with the third Person of the Godhead, the Unity becomes a Trinity: Father, Son, and Spirit tell out for the first time fully God. And 3 is thus the number of manifestation. So resurrection is plainly that work of His where all human power is at an end; and thus resurrection is on the third day.
Now if we turn to Leviticus, the third book of the Pentateuch, we find full illustration and confirmation of all this. The tabernacle is just set up, and God speaks out of the “tent of meeting” where He meets and welcomes men. The theme of the book is sanctification, and thirty-nine times in connection with the precepts, of which the latter part of it largely consists, is appended the word, “I am Jehovah.” Seven times is it repeated, “Be ye holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.”
At the opening of the book the offerings are opened out, the beauteous picture of Him through whom all sanctification is attained, who is the pattern of it. In the middle of the book the holiest is opened, to sprinkle the precious blood upon the mercy-seat. Not yet - for these are but the figures of the true, - is the way made for all to draw near to God, but we have in type the foundation of it.
Thus Leviticus shows the numerical stamp as plainly as Genesis and Exodus. Our convictions that it is of God deepen as we proceed. And now we have God’s name fairly written out upon this book of His. When we would show a book to be our own, we write our name upon the opening page. God has written His in three successive pages in the beginning of His Word. In Genesis, we may say, we have the Father, the Life-giver; in Exodus, the Son, the Saviour; in Leviticus, the Spirit, the Sanctifier. God’s book is fairly claimed as His, and he who would erase the Name must answer it.
THE NUMERALS CONTINUED
We have looked at the first three numbers, then, beloved brethren; and these have a peculiar place and eminency in Scripture over the others. No wonder, if they signify what they do. Of course, as the commencement of the series, they must occur more frequently than the others. But that is not all, nor what I mean. There is this distinctive difference between these first three numbers and those which follow them: they are prime numbers: not simply in an arithmetical, but in a Scripture sense.
Of course, arithmetically they are prime numbers: they can be divided by no others; but this is as true of 5 and 7 which come afterward, and which are not prime numbers in the Scripture-sense.
For Scripture has its own method of division of these numbers, and we must pay the closest attention to all its methods, if we would obtain the insight into it that we seek. Thus 4, we shall find, divides here not only in the ordinary way, but as 3 and 1 also. Seven divides very commonly indeed into 4 and 3. Five, I believe, also, though the proof is more obscure, into 4 and 1. And the mere fact of the division is not the whole: the numbers obtain their significance from the combined meanings of those into which they divide. Thus the difference between the first three and the rest is as the difference between a primitive and a manufactured article. Very significant indeed it is, in view of what we have been considering, that those now before us have their meaning derived from the former ones, connected as they are with the display of God; for “of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
We shall find also that the meanings of these latter are less comprehensive by far. They are more definite, for to define is to limit. Thus a fourth section is perhaps the easiest of all to recognize. It appeals to us in a sadly intelligible way. Yet, as the minor notes in music, all this falls into the general harmony, and adds an expression to it very sweet and necessary. The shadows outline the landscape, and give it tone and tenderness. Such is God’s triumph over sin.
The number 4 is the first one capable of true division, and which the number 2 divides. This gives it its character. It is significant of that which yields itself up to this division, as material to the hand that fashions it. It is thus the number of the world, and implies weakness necessarily, therefore, which may give way under trial, and yield to another hand than the One who has title over it. And this the creature has done. Therefore the world is what it is to-day, and all the trial and evil of which it is the scene.
Thus we have “four corners of the earth,” and, as disturbing influences, the “four winds of heaven.” The way in which these are used may be well seen in that passage in the seventh of Daniel, in which he says, “Behold, the four great winds of heaven strove upon the great sea, and four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from the other.” It was indeed amid the encounter of the powers of the earth that the Gentile empires predicted here arose. And such still is the condition of the world through which we pass - a scene of various and constant strife, which is Satan’s sieve to sift us with, though God be over all. In this, failure and evil come out plentifully in us, and with this the number commonly, but not necessarily, connects itself.
As I have said, there are two ways in which it is divided in Scripture. Often, as in the four Gospels, it is divided into 3 and 1. The first three gospels are confessedly kindred in view, and widely different from John, which, in the character of truth, and even of its narrative, is a second division rather than a fourth. This we shall hope to examine at another time. A similar division we shall find in other cases. But here, the division of four, the world-number, brings out two of the specially divine ones: 3, the number of divine manifestation; 1, that of the Creator. And this is the ideal result of all the trial of the creature - the manifestation of the Creator. This is what, after all, we find in the world; it is its illuminated side, so to speak. And in a higher way altogether was it true of Him who as Man perfectly glorified God under every possible trial. This is the meaning of the four gospels, and of that division of the four which we have just glanced at.
On the other hand, the seven parables of the kingdom in the thirteenth of Matthew divide, as usually, into 4 and 3. The first four are given in the hearing of the multitude at large; the last three, to disciples in the house. The first four, in accordance with the significance of the number, give the world-aspect, in which the testing and failure of man are seen abundantly, the last three, in similar accordance, give the divine accomplishments, recognized by faith alone.
But these first four parables, as we might expect, are not divided as the gospels are. Here, that other division of the number which I have spoken of is found: the first two parables are clearly to be distinguished from the latter two; in the first, we have individuals simply; in the second, the collective whole. The division is the true division arithmetically, from which the significance of the number is derived, and which testifies to the weakness of the creature and the agency of evil.
The proof in all this will appear stronger the more it is considered. As we go on, we shall find it constantly receiving confirmation in ever-increasing proportion to the examples produced. Here, I must limit myself to one other illustration of the number before us, and that will be, as before, by the corresponding book of the Pentateuch, which is the book of Numbers.
Numbers is a book very clear in its general meaning, and its
witness for the numerical structure is so much the more evident. It is the history of the wilderness, as one of
its Hebrew titles indicates, of
This is in general the character of the book, which typically tells of our pilgrimage to our heavenly land, of the trials and the failure by the way, still of the Shepherd’s love and power for us no less, and of the priestly intercession of the One risen out of death, upon which all depends.
In the cleansing of the leper, and in the consecration of the priest alike, the blood is put upon three parts of man, which together manifest what he is, - the tip of the right ear, the thumb of the right hand, and the great toe of the right foot. By the ear he is to receive the word of God; with the hand, to do the enjoined work; with the foot, to walk in His blessed ways. This is evidently the man in his whole responsibility.
Each of these parts is stamped with the number 5.
The ear is the avenue to the higher part; and there are five of such senses, by which man is put in connection with the whole scene around: the avenues of perception, by which alone he can be appealed to.
The hand of man is that by which he moulds and fashions the natural world around him. It is the expression of active power; the four fingers, with an opposing thumb, the consecrated because the governing part. These on the two hands give 10, the number of the commandments in the two tables of the law, the measure of natural responsibility.
The foot, the expression of personal conduct, gives a similar division, much less marked however, and the two feet a similar 10. Five stands thus as the number of man, exercised and responsible, under the government of God.
The 4 and 1, so strikingly marked upon his hands, the instrument by which he takes hold upon the world around him, are striking figures, easy to be read in this connection. They speak of the created world submitted to its Creator, - of God’s government, in short, itself. Of this, man is in measure, as seen in his hand, the representative; while as the representative, he is pre-eminently the subject of it.
The exercise of which man is the subject is not alone as to the path before him, but often also as to the governmental ways of God with him; and although the Christian now knows God as his Father, yet the exercise remains and is needful. In God’s government still it is true that clouds and darkness are round about Him, and that we cannot meet Him face to face. Just on this very account most of all is it that “no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous; but afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby.” How profitable the earnest searching of heart and inquiry which may result from God’s hidden ways with us, we are often witness to ourselves.
Under the number 5 we shall find these exercises, then, and their fruit, - how “tribulation worketh patience, and patience experience, and experience hope.” Above all in those didactic books of the Old Testament, which are specially its human voice, in which we find just five books, often, as in the Psalms, dividing into just five books again, beautifully closing in this case with five halleluiahs. For thus our harps of praise are strung and tuned in sorrow.
But we must now learn a little to discriminate. Twelve has been mentioned before as a number speaking of divine government; here we find 5 to speak of it again; and yet again 1 would seem to be the rightful expression of divine supremacy. Is there no collision here? or does it not seem as if these numbers were thus capable of so much latitude as to take away the definiteness we might reasonably look for, and leave them to be moulded by the imagination at its will?
In fact, it is the very reverse, which a comparison of these numbers shows. They reveal, the more we examine them, a delicacy of application which will satisfy the observant mind of the reality of their indications. No doubt their meanings often approach one another, and this is only what we might expect; yet there is never wanting a real distinction which redeems them from all vagueness, and the examination of these three numbers will fully establish this.
One, then, is indeed the number which speaks of supremacy as
none else can. This is so obvious that
there is no need to dilate upon it much. It is the number, therefore, which speaks of
the government or
Five, as we have seen, contains this number, but as 4 and 1. This is seen in another way also than in that I have already indicated, and in a way more simply scriptural. For the usual division of 7 in Scripture is 4 plus 3; and here we have 4 as a first completed series, and the last three another, which therefore 5 begins. It would in this case be, of course, a 4 plus 1. No doubt the proof is here more obscure than usual. A further research may make it clearer, and I believe will.
For what is the meaning of this 4 plus 3? It is the world-number, and the number of divine manifestation added to it; and it is when God is thus manifested in connection with His works that He can rest; therefore the seventh day is the day of God’s rest, and His creation-rest is but the type of the full [millennial] rest to come.
But if, then, the last three in this 7 be the number of the Trinity - of God fully revealed - it would seem as if it would result that 5 would be a 4 plus 1; and 6, a 4 plus 2; and that here the former divine numbers would afresh reveal their significance. What can we have, in fact, more than God and the world? What can we expect, then, but a repetition here of the divine 1 and 2? And when this suits and illustrates as it does the meaning otherwise obtained, why should we hesitate to accept it as the true key?
But thus it is no wonder if a shadow of the first number be apparent in the number before us. Five has the meaning of 1 in it, just because indeed it is a 4 plus 1. Yet this does not make it a mere repetition. There is this number 4 which stands before it, the number of the world - the creature; and it is from the human side we have approached it therefore. It is, in fact, the human side of divine government that is conveyed by it, as the divine side is by the number 1. Thus it speaks, not so much of the throne as of the ways of God - ways which expressed in commandments, become the guidance and define the responsibility of the creature; while, as they are more strictly ways of a sovereign God, they give him needed exercise, humbling, and so blessing.
As to 12, it lies outside of the series we are considering, but finds its meaning in the numbers which are its arithmetical factors; and these are 4 and 3, not added, of course, but multiplied together. It is only in the relation of the two numbers, therefore, that it differs from 7: the number of the world and of divine manifestation prevail in it; but these are not side by side merely, but acting upon each other. It is God manifesting Himself in the world of His creation as 7 is, but in active energy laying hold upon and transforming it. Thus 12 is the number of manifest sovereignty, as it was exercised in Israel by the Lord in the midst of them, or as it will be exercised in the world to come, while 1 and 5 apply to His government all through the dispensations - to a throne which is never given up; for he who is not sovereign is not God.
Thus the three numbers have each their distinct sphere and meaning, and the examination cannot but deepen our sense of their precision and power of utterance. We have yet to look at the last book of the Pentateuch - Deuteronomy, and obtain its final witness of the numerical stamp upon it.
Deuteronomy is as plain as the other books. We have in it, first of all, the rehearsal of
Here the Pentateuch closes, then, and we shall have no similar book to illustrate the two final numbers. For Joshua is not a sixth book (in the sense we are considering), but a new first - the opening of a new series; neither does any book of Scripture go beyond a fifth. The Pentateuchal structure, as we may by and by see, is the structure of the whole Bible, - of the Old Testament and the New alike.
We come now to the number 6. According to the parallel of 5 and 7, it will consist of 4 plus 2, but its arithmetical division would be 3 X 2. It is a number which is thus, like 4, capable of true division.
Six days make up man’s week of labour - a labour which has come in through sin. This stamps his life, which also has its limit - narrow and fixed by God. Six speaks thus of divine limit imposed, of restraint upon man’s will, which breaks out against it and submits, as the sea against its margin of sand, which it cannot pass.
Thus, if 2 be taken here as the stamp of the enemy and sin his work, the arithmetical division, which is true division, speaks of God manifest in opposition to this - of His victory over it. But if 3 be taken as manifestation itself, not necessarily divine, then it may stand for the manifestation of the evil itself, which its end in due time brings about. On the other hand, if 3 stands (as we have seen it may) for fullness, then 6 may speak of the full development of evil, though always probably with this underlying thought of the divine control of it in spite of all.
The number of the beast, 666, whatever else it may have in it, would thus speak of the full development of evil in the very highest opposition to God; while also the stamp of vanity and weakness of the creature, limited and restrained by Him, would be only proportionately the more apparent.
In any case, the limitation, restraint, and perhaps judgment of evil seem to be inseparable from the number. Discipline would thus come under it.
This is but a meagre account, no doubt, and further research would assuredly enlarge our conceptions; yet it is a number which Scripture seems to avoid, if one may so say, and we shall have comparatively few examples of it in what is before us.
Last of the series, we have the number 7, whose significance has been already noted. The division of 7 almost always is into 4 and 3, as also we have seen. The number of divine manifestation is added to the world-number, - God is made known in connection with the work of His hands: then He rests. Seven is thus the number of perfect divine accomplishment.
Thus the series of numbers is manifestly complete. God is the beginning and end of it, the “First and with the last.” There is room for nothing more. There is nothing that may not be resolved into what is contained herein. All higher numbers, - save one, which, as we have seen, is added to give confirmation, as it were, of the fact that the series is finished, - are but multiples of the lower ones, and as already said, gain their meaning from these which are (not merely arithmetically) their factors. We have seen 12 to be thus 4 x 3, and 10 to be a 5 X 2. Forty, again, the number of complete probation, is thus obviously only 4 x 10. There are few other of the larger numbers which seem to have any special prominence in Scripture.
Seven is the number which in its full sense speaks of the perfect accomplishment of the divine work. But we must not suppose that it is, any more than the others of the series, to be read only in this way. It seems indeed always to speak of perfection in some sense; but the sense is often a much lesser and lower one. Nor only so, it is occasionally used even in application to what is evil, as in the case of the man out of whom the unclean spirit had departed, but who returns with “seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there.” Now here, it seems to me that 6 is not used, as we might have expected, just because 6 implies, as we have seen, the control of the divine hand over the evil; and this, in such a warning as the Lord is giving, would not be in place. The man is given over to them; although, of course, there is, in another sense, and always, divine control.
The seven heads upon the apocalyptic beast have again a different meaning. They express only a complete phase of the beast’s existence, which gives place to that under the eighth head, in which all the full height of spiritual evil is reached. Thus the 7 here is not the stamp of perfect evil, plainly.
This book of Revelation is full of sevens, as we must be all aware. The seven candlesticks, which are the seven churches, give us the light for the earth; in responsibility, a perfect testimony. The seven addresses give us the perfect judgment of how that responsibility has been discharged. The seven spirits before the throne represent the plenitude of the Spirit’s energy. The seven seals and trumpets both terminate in the complete accomplishment of God’s purposes as to the earth. In the seven vials, “the wrath of God” is expressly said to be “filled up.” These will give us sufficient illustration of the use of the number 7, which is in general no very difficult one. Every application, indeed, requires careful consideration, and from this we shall never be released in studying Scripture. It is the labour in which assuredly there is profit.
Thus the numerical series ends, for of the number 8 all has been already said that need be said. As expressing (as in the first day of a new week) what is new, in contrast with the old, now passed away, it marks the former series as complete. It is the stamp of the new covenant, new creation, only characterizing them as that. It adds, therefore, no thought morally or spiritually; all this is summed up in the previous series.
We have, then, the series complete, however little the interpretation may be. Yet true, I believe it is, and while already there has been given some proof of this, it will be tested abundantly in that which lies before us. Certainly it is of a nature to expose itself in the fullest way to testing. We have yet to find also how the numerical division of Scripture works practically in bringing out its meaning; as only now are we furnished for this inquiry. The practical test is the great one. Is the metal gold, or a counterfeit? Yet if it be in Scripture, its genuineness and its profit are alike assured us. “All Scripture ... is profitable.”, If God has been pleased to stamp all Scripture with this numerical stamp, how great must be the profit intended for us in it!
Now I propose, if the Lord enable me, to take up, in the lectures following this, the Bible as a whole, and to show how this numerical key opens to us its structure, the meaning of its individual books, and their relation to one another. I desire to show how the seal of perfect inspiration is thus set upon every part, that there is nothing in excess, nothing lacking, so that every stone in the building being in its place, filling exactly the place appointed it, its symmetry and beauty shall be apparent to every eye opened of God to see spiritually. This is much to do assuredly. If it be done, will not the numerical structure approve itself, not only as a fact, but one of immense importance?
But before we proceed to proof upon this larger scale, let us, for the remainder of this present lecture, attempt it upon a smaller one. And let us take up some part sufficiently known to be grasped with some ease in its main features, then let us apply to it the law of Scripture which we believe we have discovered in it - that every part is marked with some number which conveys to us its real significance, and let us see what the result may be.
And for this purpose we will take up a passage which shall exhibit to us the whole series of numbers we have had in consideration,- a passage which divides into seven main parts, as well as whatever number of smaller parts. The Sermon on the Mount, familiar as it must be to all of us, will be in this way as suitable a passage perhaps as could be found.
In speaking of these divisions, let me remark that, in order that they may be clearer to us, and for this reason only, I shall call the largest portions of all, divisions; the portions of these, parts; and of these again, sections. When we have to go further than this, we shall speak in the same arbitrary way of subdivisions, and of subsections. This will have the advantage of enabling us without confusion to keep the rank of these various portions in our mind, and therefore I shall adhere to this language with scrupulous exactness.
The gospel of Matthew has for its theme what is only in it called the “kingdom of heaven.”
The first division introduces the King Himself, in two parts: His title; and the testimony to Him rejected by the people, and His glory vailed because of their unbelief. This occupies the first two chapters.
The second division occupies chaps. 3.- 7. It treats of the “announcement of the kingdom,” and divides into three parts. In the first, the King comes forth and receives the Father’s acknowledgment at His anointing with the Holy Ghost. In the second part, we have the testimony of the King Himself. The third part occupies from chap. 5.- 7., and here we have our subject - the Sermon on the Mount.
It is a true third part, treating as it does of the sanctification belonging to the kingdom, and this throughout.
The Sermon on the Mount divides into 7 sections, as already said, a number which stamps it with the perfection necessary to it as that which is the code of heaven’s kingdom, from the lips of the Holy One of God.
The first section gives (5: 1‑16) the beatitudes; which reveal in fact, the principles of the kingdom, as seen in the character of those who enter it. The blessings are pronounced upon them in three characters: first (1‑9), as what they are personally, their righteousness, the kingdom controlling and forming them, as chap. 6: 33; secondly (10‑12), as persecuted by a world in opposition to them; thirdly, as salt amid the corruption, and light amid the darkness of the world.
The second section is a longer one, and has seven subdivisions. It occupies the rest of the chapter, and in it we find the law confirmed, expanded and supplemented. Observe, too, how there runs through the whole the contrast between what was said to them of old time and what He now says. In all of this, a second section is manifest.
The first subdivision (17‑20) gives the maintenance of its authority, with the whole authority of the kingdom itself.
The second (21‑26) begins the expansion of it with that of the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill;” forbidding the enmity of the heart in its least outflow, and establishing the law itself as the adversary to be reconciled by one against whom his brother thus has ought.
The third (27‑32) goes to the heart and the root of lust there, while in the revision of the law of divorce it forbids one being the occasion of it in another.
The fourth (33‑37) forbids oaths in recognition of the place of the creature before God, and of creature-weakness.
The fifth (38‑42) treats of legal recompense on the principle of ver. 5, meekness, not resisting evil, an appeal and a submission, in fact, to divine government.
While the sixth (43‑47) enjoins love to enemies the truest and highest victory over evil, in imitation of God’s own patient goodness toward such.
And the seventh (v. 48) closes with a plain injunction to perfection, even as our Father in heaven is perfect.
Thus to the end of this second section the numerical structure is clear and manifest, and points out the special features of every part. The closer the attention given to it the more manifest it will be.
The third section occupies the first eighteen verses of chap. 6. It treats of righteousness in the presence of the Father, who seeth in secret: practical righteousness, of course. (The Revised Version rightly reads this instead of “alms” in the first verse.)
This divides into three subdivisions - three different examples of what righteousness is, very different from any thing man would have given: first, alms, the expression of mercy, goodness undemanded save by the misery it relieves. This is the imitation in a creature of God’s free bounty. Secondly, prayer, the expression of dependence, of the inferior place; thirdly, fasting, the keeping under of the body, and bringing it into subjection - the expression of sanctification as led of the Spirit (Rom. 8: 12‑14).
The fourth section fills the rest of the chapter. It gives the remedy for the cares and temptations of the world. First, in having one only place for heart and treasure; secondly, in refusing divided service, the darkness of an evil eye; thirdly, in the assurance of being under a Father’s eye.
The first fourteen verses of the seventh chapter, as a fifth section, give results in government. First, of the measure you mete, which will be measured to you again; secondly, of not dividing between holy and unclean; thirdly, you must ask to rcceive, seek to find, knock that it may be opened, and a Father’s love will give good gifts; but fourthly, take care you do what you would have done; and fifthly, only the strait gate and the narrow way lead to life.
The sixth section is a warning against false prophets - whose end shall be according to their works: a double exemplification of the number as it seems to me, for the false prophet is surely himself covered by it (7: 15‑23).
Finally, the seventh section puts the seal upon Christ’s teachings: His perfect words are a rock-foundation for one that builds upon them; when the final storms come, his building shall not be overthrown. This is the seal eternity will set upon Christ’s word. Meanwhile, the authority of the Speaker shines through His decisive, inimitable sayings. This is the present seal: “He spake as One that had authority, and not as the scribes.”
This is but the skeleton of a living and breathing reality. Still even a skeleton may exhibit something of a symmetry of structure which in fact we are now seeking to point out. Surely I have succeeded in showing that the numerical stamp is on this whole discourse of our Lord, and that it gives the real significance of the various parts. A closer examination would show this better, but it must suffice me for the present to have shown it.
And if this be shown as to these chapters of Matthew’s gospel, then there is no shadow of reason for doubting that the numerical structure pervades all Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. The chapters we have looked at have been chosen out of hundreds of others merely because they are a completely marked off subject, furnish examples of all the numbers, and are quite familiar, it is supposed, to all of us. They may be safely taken as illustrations of a pervading law; which, binding Scripture as it does together, we may challenge the keenest scepticism to dissolve its organic unity, or untie the knot of its perfect inspiration.*
*Will be continued if requested, D.V.