Symbolic Use Of Numbers In The Bible

Q. Although I notice how often numbers are used in the bible, I can’t say I really understand the significance of them – so have some more work to do to grasp their meaning and what they are communicating.

In a reading of Mark 6:30-44, 8:1-21, it looks like Christ is using the number 12 to designate Israel in the feeding of the 5000 and the number 7 to designate Gentiles in the feeding of the 4000. Can you elaborate a bit on why there are 12 baskets left over for the Jews and why there are 7 baskets left over for the Gentiles? Do the numbers 5000 and 4000 have any significance in understanding this scripture? Do they 5 loaves and 2 fishes versus 7 loaves have significance as well?

A. The study of the symbolic use of numbers in Scripture is a fascinating one, but is unfortunately too complex to go into here. A book called “Numbers in Scripture” by E.W. Bullinger can explain it to you and is an excellent resource.

In the feeding of the 5000 the use of the number 5 denotes God’s grace in providing the Messiah to supply all of Israel’s needs. 12 baskets left over signifies that His provision was sufficient for all the 12 tribes of Israel.

In contrast, feeding the 4000 was aimed at the gentiles. 4 is the number of the Earth, since as of day four the Earth’s creation was finished, days 5 and 6 being devoted to its inhabitants. Seven is the number of divine completion, so having 7 baskets left meant that the Lord’s provision was also sufficient for the whole world.

This is consistent with a prophecy from Isaiah 49:6 Speaking of the Messiah, the Lord said, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

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