Every time I read through Genesis, the number’s give me pause. First, they seem too large because I have never met anyone who has lived longer than 105 years old, and according to the Guinness World Record, the oldest living individual, in 2019, is only 116 years old. Second, they seem too perfect. What do I mean? Genesis 5:5 says that Adam died at 930 years old. Genesis 5:14 says that Kenan was 910 years old when he died. Genesis 5:23 says that Enoch was 365 years old when God took him. Genesis 5:31 says that Lamech died at the age of 777. These numbers seem too neat and tidy. All over the place is number 30, the same with the numbers 60 and 70. Why is this? According to Carol A. Hill, “in the Mesopotamian world-view, numbers could have both real (numerical) and sacred (numerological or symbolic) meaning. The Mesopotamians used a base 60 system of numbers, [called sexagesimal], and the patriarchal ages in Genesis revolve around the sacred numbers 60 and 7.” Emphasis added.
This does not mean that the numbers should not be taken seriously or literally. It means the author intended a deeper meaning then simply so-and-so was 930 years old. The rest of this post I will focus on one number because as I researched more into this, I got sucked down into the rabbit hole and realized it is endless, which would greatly reduce my point as well as the impact of it.
One of the first things I did was research what the numbers mean in Hebrew. It turns out that every number in Hebrew has a meaning. Below is a brief chart of the numbers as well as the names associated with them. This chart is taken from the Grace In Torah website.
Every number in Hebrew is important. Some more than others. There are two numbers which are the most sacred. Those numbers are one and seven. Every time the Bible uses those numbers, there is a deeper truth being told. You may notice that the chart does not have zero on it. That is because zero does not have any word associated with it. The closest would be nothing, but that can be misleading. When placed next to another number, like 10, it acts as a magnifying glass which “level’s up” the number one.
Knowing what the number symbolizes can enhance one’s reading of Genesis. It allows the reader to get deeper into the story; to see what previously was veiled from the casual reader.
We do not have this in English, which is why it is so foreign and odd. Our numbers do not fit neatly in a chart with associated meanings tagged onto them. Sure we have associated a few numbers with meanings, but nothing at the depth of the Hebrew language. Take the superstition of the “5-second rule.” If food touches the ground, we have an imaginary timer that lets us know it is still eatable. We suspend our logic for that last bite of pie. We ignore Germ Theory to eat that tasty morsel resting at our feet. Deep down we know this is just folly and that there is no “5-second rule.” Yet, we still hold on to it.
The number five does not mean time or that food is good to eat as long as it has not been five seconds. The English language does not work like that. Happy does not associate with the number six, and holy does not associate with the number seven. (If it does, I do not know English as well as I thought)
Abraham is a very important character in the bible. So every time he came up in Genesis I was trying the best I can to pay close attention. When reading about his birth in Genesis 11:26, the age of his father jumped out at me. Te’rah was 70 years old when he had his son Abram (Abraham). If you will recall, the two most sacred numbers are one and seven. With the number 70, we have both one and seven. Let me explain. The number 70 is made up of three numbers. First, we get 70 from 10×7. From that, we can see the three numbers. We have the number one, zero and seven. The next step is to see what these numbers mean in Hebrew.
Zero is a magnifying glass, which “levels up” any number it is associated with. That is pretty straight forward.
Seven (Zayin) means spiritual perfection, completion, blessing, wholeness, stability or holiness. It is a connector, a bridge for relationships. Remember God rests on the seventh day after six days of creation. And like my last post A Divine Marriage pointed out, I believe the seventh day was never suppose to end because it was the beginning of the marriage covenant. Seven then means community as well.
One (Alef) means unity, divinity, oneness, not subject to division. God.
Seventy will often appear at the conception of a community that will establish justice and will be contrasted by an exceptional one.Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
When we look at the number 70 then, we could say it means the establishment of a community that correctly judges with good eyes. Judgment, not in a law/judge sense, but judge your actions righteously sense. Later we find out that Abraham is the father of the Jewish people as well as Christ, who is the epitome of one.
So when we read that Te’rah was 70 years old when he had Abram, we should also be seeing the deep theological truth of the initiation of a community that will not only have an exceptional one, but a community who will bless the entire world by judging righteously. Those are the promises God told Abraham later in the story. Genesis 11:23 is just a small snapshot of the larger story.
The number symbolism doesn’t stop here. It is all over the place if you look for it. Another place numbers jump out at me is during the birth of Isaac. Genesis 21:5 says that Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. Isaac is the son of promise and he is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Isaac, in his own right, is an exceptional one. Thus, I do not think that Abraham being 100 years old is a coincidence.
This is the way I read Genesis. It has enriched my understanding of the bible and caused me to dig deeper and ask more questions then what typically is taught in Christian circles. A cursory reading will miss these things as well as a completely literal reading. The veil will forever be over the reader’s eyes if they do not set aside their modern reading glasses.
This is how we should start to read the bible.
Dennis, Geoffrey. “Judaism and Numbers.” My Jewish Learning, https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-numbers/.
“Hebrew Numbers 1-10.” GRACE in TORAH, 28 May 2019, https://graceintorah.net/2015/06/15/hebrew-numbers-1-10/.
Hill, Carol. “Making Sense of the Numbers of Genesis” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith, https://asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/2003/PSCF12-03Hill.pdf
Introduction to Hebrew Numbers, https://www.hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_Eight/Introduction/introduction.html.
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David “Introduction.” The Meaning of Seventy – שבעים, http://betemunah.org/seventy.html.
Senda, Masakazu. “World’s Oldest Person Confirmed as 116-Year-Old Kane Tanaka from Japan.” Guinness World Records, Guinness World Records, 9 Mar. 2019, https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/news/2019/3/worlds-oldest-person-confirmed-as-116-year-old-kane-tanaka-from-japan/.