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Symbols

10th March 2010, hej

 

1) Bible Numerology

There is great significance in some numbers used in the Bible.

However, there are whole theories of meaning based on the numerical value of words in Hebrew. Whereas they may be interesting, there is no indication in the scriptures themselves that the human reasoning on such a level is of importance. The simple literal message must be understood first.

There also are many cultural meanings attached to numbers, which have nothing to do with the Bible.

Lucky numbers

Many people have 'lucky' numbers. If the person thinks that number brings them luck, then they are giving that number more power than God. The bible says that there is such a thing as time and chance (Ecclesiates 9:11), but, we cannot ascribe power for good or evil to anything but God. When people ask for good from their idols, while believing if they do things for them they would give good luck, they are assuming the idol has power. So altering our behaviour to suit a number, to bring us good luck, is very close to idolatry. For example buying only a house with a street number or unit number 8, 80 or 88 and believing it will bring wealth is very different to, after buying a practical house, valuing it's street number because God values that number.


Numbers in the Bible

The Bible is its own best interpreter, and what numbers mean in our culture may be a long way from what God thinks. To determine what a number means all instances of the number are investigated and compared. A pattern may emerge. The following will show instances that numbers are used and summarise the pattern of meaning that emerges. Some numbers have a stronger and more striking meaning than others.


1. One

One always relates to unity. One excludes all differences and indicates harmony and the absense of conflict. One is also about beginning and the first in importance.

Many of the references to 'first', refer to God.

Some refences to first refer to Jesus' exaltation,


2. Two

Two is about difference. However if two agree in in their testimony the facts they agree on are conlusive.

Two implies oposition eminty and division. The 2nd book of the bible begins with the opression of by enemy of Israel. The second book of Psalms (Psa 42:9) begins with the opression of an enemy. This pattern is also in 1st and 2nd Corinthians and 1st and 2nd Peter.


3. Three

Three lines is the first number that can make a geometrical shape. Three is a number used and valued by God. The third book of the bible is Leviticus which sets out the laws. On the third day of creation the earth was caused to rise out of the water, whih relates to Jesus' resurrection when he rises from the grave. Three seems the first measure of completeness.


  • 4. Four

    Four is often used to relate to aspects of the order of creation on the earth, and by extension it relates to cities and government of people (the figurative earth. See Symbolism)


  • 5. Five



    6. Six


    7. Seven


    8. Eight


    9. Nine


    10. Ten


    11. eleven


    12. twelve

    13. Thirteen

    17. Seventeen

    40. Forty

    Forty is often related to trial and to a separation or preparation.


    144. One hundred and Forty four


    153. One hundred and fifty three

    Used twice.


    365. Three hundred and Sixty five




    2) Bible Symbolism


    The bible mostly uses very straightforward language. The majority is a simple communication. Error is often made when people 'interpret' according to their theories, out of context, the simple communication as symbolic. To further confuse, some others may interpret prophetic 'symbolic' language as literal.


    Bible symbolism is consistent and, once understood, is easily recognised. Bible symbolism is not any different to ordinary English use of metaphor as illustration.


    Some examples we have no trouble understanding are:

    People may say anything, from a bank to a boat, is "Steady as the rock of Gibraltar."

    We don't mean the bank is steady in the same way as the rock is. The 'image' or symbol of the rock of Gibraltar gives a multitude of other subtle ideas to the idea of 'steady'.

    We might say of a lost object- “it's a needle in a haystack!”.

    We don't mean it really became a needle, we mean that all the issues of finding a needle in a haystack are present in the situation. The picture or symbol of the needle in the haystack in a few words gives a lot of information.


    In just such a way Bible symbol is shorthand for conveying a multitude of characteristics. A comprehensible, understood, thing is used to explain another. The mental outline, picture or “figure” of one thing is used to communicate characteristics regarding another thing, usually more complex. Just as English is rich with such 'picture' language, or figurative language, so was Hebrew.


    Prophetic Symbolism (figurative language)

    The Bible does not aim to speak about science, or observation of the natural world. It is the record of God's interaction with humans. It is about humans and relationships. It speaks of how people are to treat each other and how they form a relationship with God. This is why the Bible never dates, as human nature, and interaction, hasn't changed over time. The Bible therefore comments on politics, as politics is the relationship of people at a national level.


    In Isaac Newton's 'Observations on the prophecy Daniel', he stated, “For understanding the prophecies, we are, in the first place, to acquaint ourselves with the figurative language”

    Isaac Newton with his scientific mind clarified the definitive basis of prophetic symbolism.

    “This (figurative) language is taken from the analogy between the world natural, and an empire or kingdom considered as a world politic”

    Newton said that after studying the Bible he could see clearly that there is a pattern where a natural visible features of the physical world is used to describe some aspect of the political intangible 'world' of nations. This is especially evident in the prophets. He then goes on to explain each. The following uses Newton's order and goes to the Bible to show examples.

    Heavens and Earth:

    The heavens and earth encompass our whole experience of the natural world. In analogy, in prophecy, they relate to the whole political world. The aspects of the political world, the focus of the bible prophecy, are related to aspects we understand of the natural world. In the political world some are elevated above others into ruling positions. Those great ones that rule are 'high' above the ordinary person and are said to be in 'the heavens'. The Hebrew for 'heaven'(shâmayim) is from a word for 'lofty', or 'high'. One can rise in power into the political heavens, and likewise descend. The ordinary person is said to be of the earth. In Hebrew a word for 'earth' (ădâmâh) is related to the name Adam.


    Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice. (Psalm 96:11)
    Hear, heavens, and listen, earth; for Yahweh has spoken: (Isaiah 1:2)
    Sing, you heavens, for Yahweh has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth! (Isaiah 44:23)

    In all of these instances the heavens and earth have human emotions, and skills, which inanimate nature cannot have. They are poetry and prophecy are analogy. Isaiah particularly uses this analogy

    Sing, heavens; and be joyful, earth;
    for Yahweh has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his afflicted. (Isaiah 49:13)

    Isaiah is both poetry and prophecy. Note the poetic pairs: heavens - people, earth - afflicted.


    In any instance when you read 'heavens' in a prophetic book, or a prophetic song, where it is speaking of the fate of nations, think first it means political heavens. There may be some instances where prophets speak of the natural world, but they will be rarer.

    Hell

    As an extension, of the idea of ' the heavens' being those people elevated and the earth being the ordinary people, hell is the lowest parts of the earth, and is used in prophetic language to illustrate those who are miserable, and subjected to slavery or other political subjection.


    That thou shall take up this proverb against the king of Babylon, and say, How has the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased! The LORD has broken the staff of the wicked, and the sceptre of the rulers. .... thou shall be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit. (Isaiah 14:4-15)


    The king who put people into slavery and subjected them to a living death, is to be removed from power and himself and his rulers subjected to hard slavery. This analogy is used in common language when people say after a very bad experience “It was hell!”

    Heavens Shake & Earthquake

    In the natural world the heavens do not shake. Bit in the political 'heavens' large events can 'shake' the political structure. Isaiah uses this image, note how the shaking is the result of God's anger. God is not angry at the natural world, rather at the people who live on earth.


    Therefore I will shake the heavens, and the earth shall remove out of her place, in the wrath of the LORD of hosts, and in the day of his fierce anger. (Isaiah 13:13)


    If the earth are the common people a great earthquake, is an event that like a natural earthquake changes their political world. This symbol or analogy is also used throughout the western world.

    An example from a source which is not religious at all is the 'Socialist Review, No.126, December 1989, pp.11-14', by Tony Cliff titled “Earthquake in the East”

    We are witnessing the most massive earthquake of the social and political order in Eastern Europe. It is on a scale reminiscent of 1848 and 1917.....To understand an earthquake you have to look at the pressure inside the system. It is summed up with Marx’s statement that when the social system becomes a brake on the development of the productive forces, the epoch of the social revolution starts.

    Note Tony Cliff does not explain he is using an analogy- he uses the word 'earthquake' as synonymous for revolution, assuming his audience understands. In revelation, this analogy of an earthquake is used a few times,


    The smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. (Rev 8:4-5)


    There is no way in the natural world a fire will cause the earth to quake! This is symbolic of people. We will return to other symbols in this verse.


    Sun & Moon

    Just as the sun dominates the heavens of the natural world, so the sun is emblematic of the supreme ruler in the political world. The moon is the lesser ruler. Jacob had not trouble understanding his son Joseph's dream.

    “Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.”He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves down to you to the earth?”(Genesis 37:9-10)


    In the tribe of Israel now numbering many people in the extended family, Jacob was the supreme ruler, and his wife was secondary by virtue of reflected glory. Isaiah is clearly not speaking of the natural moon and sun, when he writes,


    Then the moon shall be confounded, and the sun ashamed; for Yahweh of Armies will reign on Mount Zion, and in Jerusalem; and before his elders will be glory.(Isaiah 24:23)


    There is no reason for the natural moon to be without words, if Deity rules as a king from Jerusalem. But we can easily understand how the religious authority, who are secondary to the national leaders and secondary in the political 'heavens', like the moon, will be put to silence by such an event.


    In prophecy we should readily see the analogy of 'the sun' to kings. The sun is accepted as the symbol for a king from Ancient Egypt, to ancient Ceylon, to France. In ancient Egypt Aten a sun deity was pictured as a king and considered father to the king (Pharaoh). From approx 160 BC Kauravas of Sir Lanka used the sun and moon emblems to represent the two royal clans. http://www.karava.org/sun_and_moon. One king, Louis XIV reigning 72 years in France called himself the 'Sun king' and surrounded himself with images of the sun. Historians are happy to retain the analogy in Louis' self title as he was an absolute ruler for much of his reign and considered beneficial to French culture. The analogy to the sun carries all the ideas associated with our experience of the natural sun.


    Just as the natural sun and moon set and rises, so do kings and religious powers. They can be covered or wane. They can also be 'turned to blood', which means they are attacked violently and wounded.


    Stars

    We understand this word, thanks to Hollywood's use of the term in the early 1900's, before electric light spillage prevented us from seeing stars and Satnav replaced all navigation by stars. If someone says “for the stars, silver is the new black”, we would not look with concern to the heavens, but rather conclude famous people were wearing silver in preference to black. Stars in prophetic analogy also are famous people. They may not be political rulers, though some have such a personality they become stars. Some stars become political rulers. Daniel explains the analogy

    Those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the expanse; and those who turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever. (Daniel 12:3)

    The wise shall have influence or 'shine' so we know of them like we see natural stars. Deborah uses this rich language in her song of victory


    “The kings came and fought, then the kings of Canaan fought at Taanach by the waters of Megiddo. They took no plunder of silver From the sky the stars fought. From their courses, they fought against Sisera.(Judges 5:19-20)

    Sisera was not defeated by stars doing strange things. If we read the parallel account, he was defeated by the kings of Canaan. Notice the poetic links: kings came = from the sky, Kings of Canaan = stars, and, waters = courses.


    Fire & meteors

    In the natural world a fire consumes. In the political world a war will in s similar way devastate a nation. Fire is warfare in analogy. Due to gunpowder this is now literally as well as figuratively true. But in the image the picture of random nature of a driven fire captures how a war can kill people in its path. And war, like fire, is fought until it is burnt out or put out.


    Through the wrath of Yahweh of Armies, the land is burnt up;
    and the people are the fuel for the fire. No one spares his brother.(Isaiah 9:19)

    If it was a fire in the natural world you would need a lot of people to be its fuel, this speaks of how in war the Israelites were defeated (burnt-up). The destruction was worse as traitors helped the enemy by giving their brethren to the enemy as 'fuel' to help the enemy's warfare or 'fire'.


    A meteor is a fire that descends rapidly from the sky, as such in analogy it is warfare by a remarkable leader. As such being in a 'furnace' is like being in slavery to another nation.

    Scorching of the sun is like a pointless and un-winnable war or persecutions by a tyrant king.


    Thunder, Lightning, Rain

    For a king to 'ride on the clouds' means they in an exalted place reign over many people.

    For the sun to be covered by cloud, or by smoke speaks of oppression of a great king by enemy armies.

    Tempest or great wind speaks of wars, and storms.

    Thunder for the voice of a multitude (causing fear).

    Storms with thunder, lightening and hail signify a powerful exalted enemy coming in war 'down on the heads' of their enemies.

    But if the rain is moderate, it speaks of blessing of the 'living water' of the word of God.

    Dew then is the early blessing of the doctrine of the Spirit

    Drought symbolises spiritual barrenness(or the lack of hearing of God's word).


    Some other pictures and analogies used throughout scripture.

    Light and Darkness

    The most easily understood analogy is that light equals knowledge and darkness equals spiritual ignorance.


    The Woman, Wife

    Isarel is likened to a woman who is married to God. The principle of unity in marriage is articulated in Genesis

    The Harlot

    Israel when they serve many gods is likened to an unfaithful woman.


    The Beast

    There is a contrast between enlightened humans and base humans, where base ones are likened to a beast

    Man held in honour, and who understands not, is like the beasts that perish. (Psalm 49:20)

    Nebuchadnezzar when he is consumed by pride is turned into a beast until he learnt that the Most High rules in the kingdoms of men.

    3) Heavens and Earth in more detail


    Previously the idea of how in prophecy (and some poetry) there is an analogy used where the Heavens is a 'picture' speaks of rulers and 'the earth' refers to the people. For some reason this idea is often poorly understood. We will examine some more instances in greater depth.

    For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth;

    and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.

    But be you glad and rejoice forever in that which I create;

    for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. (Isaiah 65:17-18)


    See how Isaiah repeats “for behold” making poetic pairs: heavens - Jerusalem, earth - her people


    Isaiah says the Jerusalem that Yahweh creates (in the future- see context) is like a 'new heavens'. It is a new political heavens as Jerusalem is the political centre of Israel and the Jewish diaspora. He says that when, in the future, Yahweh makes the people of Jerusalem a joy, it is like having a 'new earth'. At that time people will experience relationships with each other that will be like making a new order in animal creation. Isaiah is in an analogy trying to make people see how it will appear and feel so greatly different.

    “Be astonished, you heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid. Be very desolate,” says Yahweh. “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the spring of living waters, and cut them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jer 2:12-13)



    “For my people are foolish, they don’t know me. They are foolish children, and they have no understanding. They are skillful in doing evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.”I saw the earth, and, behold, it was waste and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. (Jer 4:22-23)



    Son of man, take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt, and tell him, You were likened to a young lion of the nations: yet you are as a monster in the seas; and you broke out with your rivers, and troubled the waters with your feet, and fouled their rivers. Thus says the Lord Yahweh: I will spread out my net on you with a company of many peoples; and they shall bring you up in my net. I will leave you on the land, I will cast you forth on the open field, and will cause all the birds of the sky to settle on you, and I will satisfy the animals of the whole earth with you. I will lay your flesh on the mountains, and fill the valleys with your height. I will also water with your blood the land in which you swim, even to the mountains; and the watercourses shall be full of you. When I shall extinguish you, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give its light. All the bright lights of the sky will I make dark over you, and set darkness on your land, says the Lord Yahweh. I will also trouble the hearts of many peoples, when I shall bring your destruction among the nations, into the countries which you have not known. Yes, I will make many peoples amazed at you, and their kings shall be horribly afraid for you, when I shall brandish my sword before them; and they shall tremble at every moment, every man for his own life, in the day of your fall. (Eze 32:2-10)


    “Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, ‘I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations. I will overthrow the chariots, and those who ride in them. The horses and their riders will come down, everyone by the sword of his brother. (Hag 2:21-22)


    men fainting for fear, and for expectation of the things which are coming on the world: for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (Luk 21:26-27)


    whose voice shook the earth then, but now he has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heavens.”[8] This phrase, “Yet once more,” signifies the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Therefore, receiving a Kingdom that can’t be shaken, let us have grace, through which we serve God acceptably, with reverence and awe, (Heb 12:26-28)


    But the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word have been stored up for fire, being reserved against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2Pe 3:7)


    But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.(2Pe 3:13)


    They overcame him because of the Lamb’s blood, and because of the word of their testimony. They didn’t love their life, even to death. Therefore rejoice, heavens, and you who dwell in them. Woe to the earth and to the sea, because the devil has gone down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has but a short time.”(Rev 12:11-12)









    4) Conclusion


    Every symbol/analogy is specific and is determined from the context as to whether it is literal or a a symbolic analogy. The analogies are meant to make the picture of events clearer to ordinary people. There are no 'hidden' symbols or mystery. One may need great worldly intelligence to obfuscate and confuse, but those who approach prophecy with the simplicity of comprehension of the richness of imagery in ordinary English will understand it. Unfortunately for our ready understanding of the analogies we do not live so close to the natural world, but the bible was written for all people ancient and modern. It was not until the last 100 years that people were no longer for example reliant on sun and moon light. It was only recently people were no reliant on stars for navigation. Once the natural world was so much part of life that its experience came readily as analogy and imagery in language and culture. Once we understand the analogy of the natural and political world, we understand the analogy/ imagery/ pictures of the Bible prophets.

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