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The Bible is full of numbers that are symbols of something spiritual rather than just measures of time, age, quantity or distance. Emanuel Swedenborg wrote extensively about the spiritual significance of numbers as in this extract when he comments about the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5000:

It is hardly credible that the numbers included in such details, since these belong to a historical narrative, have a spiritual meaning. That is, five thousand, the number of people, has a spiritual meaning; so does five, the number of loaves, as well as two, the number of fishes. A hundred, and likewise fifty, the numbers of people sitting down together, each have a spiritual meaning; and so lastly does twelve, the number of baskets containing broken pieces. Though it may seem incredible, every detail holds some hidden meaning. Every single thing occurred providentially, to the end that Divine realities might be represented by them.    Arcana Caelestia 5291

 

To give some idea of the Divine realities, spiritual meaning or spiritual significance of numbers and their symbols in the Bible here is a summary for some common biblical numbers followed by a deeper look at the spiritual wisdom contained in one of them. It should be noted that as with all correspondences in the Bible the words involved can have a positive or negative meaning.

1  One   

What is perfect     What is genuine

2  Two    

Goodness        Joining together        Joining together of Goodness and Truth        Joining together of love of God and love of the neighbour       

3  Three

Truth        What is Holy          A full and complete state         Truth in its entirety

4  Four

Similar to 2 (4=2x2) but to a greater degree or more completely

5  Five

What is little or a few         A sufficient amount

6  Six

Regeneration           A state of trial and combat           Truth and Good together (6=3x2)

7  Seven

Full and complete           What is Holy

10  Ten

Remains of Goodness and Truth     (Note: Swedenborg uses the word ‘remains’ to denote feelings of love and goodness and true ideas that are stored up in the ‘inner’ person from earliest childhood for use later in life)

A sufficient amount of goodness and truth joined together (10=5x2)

12  Twelve

All things of faith         All truth that comes from goodness (12=3x4)

30  Thirty

A full and complete state of remains (30=3x10) (See note on 10 above)

40  Forty

A full or complete state of temptation (temptation arises when what is good and true in a person is challenged)

 

In the story of Noah’s Ark we can find several references to 40 including:

For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground. Genesis 7:4

In the account of the journey of the Israelites from Egypt to the Promised Land there is this reference to 40:

The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan. Exodus 16:35

And in the description of Jesus in the wilderness we can also find 40:

And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. Mark 1:13

 

These are just a few examples of the use of 40 and at first sight they seem to have little in common. However in the last quotation there is a clear link between 40 and temptation – Jesus was in the wilderness forty days and he was tempted. Could this apply to the other quotations? Well, the Israelites spent 40 years going from Egypt to the Promised Land but it wasn’t an easy trip. At one stage they ran out of food and wondered why they had ever left Egypt, on another occasion they thought God had left them so they made a god out of a golden bull. In all sorts of ways they gave in to temptation and began to give up on their journey. Noah also had to make a journey but in his case it was in a boat for forty days and forty nights until finally he reached dry land. He was faced by a continuous deluge of rain and surely he too felt ‘tempted’ to give up and give in to the onslaught of the rain – but he didn’t.

Spiritually speaking we are all ‘tempted’ in some way when we are challenged to give up on the things we know are good and true and to give in to more selfish ways of living. And in the Bible a spiritual state of full and complete temptation is symbolised by the number 40. The spiritual significance of the number 40 is therefore 'temptation'.

For other symbols in the Bible click here:  Symbols in Sacred Scripture

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