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[Topics] > The Biblical Meaning of the Number Seven

The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

Psalm 12:6

From the Seven Days of Genesis to the Seven Seals of Revelation, Scripture is saturated with the Number Seven. Essentially all Biblical scholars, regardless of their stance regarding the meaning of numbers in Scripture, have recognized its special symbolic significance. Simply stated, it is impossible to miss. God laid the foundation of its meaning when He introduced this number in the context of His finished Work of Creation (Gen 2:2f):

And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.

God introduced the Number Seven as a symbol of the completion of His initial creative act. But the work that He ended on the Seventh Day in the First Book was really just the beginning of the Biblical revelation of all history that He consummated in the Last Book. And it is here that we see the Divine consistency of the Number Seven as a Biblical symbol; God used it with exactly the same meaning when He revealed the end of time, described as the completion of the "mystery of God," in Revelation 10:5ff:

And the angel which I saw stand upon the sea and upon the earth lifted up his hand to heaven, And sware by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things that therein are, and the earth, and the things that therein are, and the sea, and the things which are therein, that there should be time no longer: But in the days of the voice of the seventh angel, when he shall begin to sound, the mystery of God should be finished, as he hath declared to his servants the prophets.

The word translated as finished is the Greek teléo, which generally means to bring to a close, to complete, to end, to fulfill. This word appears again in Revelation 15:1 which explicitly states the reason for seven angels with seven plagues:

And I saw another sign in heaven, great and marvelous, seven angels having the seven last plagues; because in them is filled up (teléo) the wrath of God.

This verse displays a double emphasis on temporal consummation; the word translated as last is eschatos, whence eschatology, the study of the end times. God reiterated its connection with the Number Seven a third time in Revelation 16:17:

And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.

This is characteristic of the Bible; most symbols are clearly defined in the text and used quite consistently from Genesis to Revelation. The Number Seven, the numerical symbol of Fullness, Completion, and Perfection, is a prime example of this consistency, as illustrated by this entry from the Tyndale Bible Dictionary This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window (emphasis added):

In Scripture, seven symbolizes completeness or perfection. On the seventh day God rested from his labors and creation is finished (Gn 2:2). Pharaoh in his dream saw seven cattle coming from the Nile (41:2). Samson’s sacred Nazirite locks were braided in seven plaits (Jgs 16:13). Seven devils left Mary of Magdala, signifying the totality of her previous possession by Satan (Lk 8:2); "seven other devils" will enter the purified but vacant life of a person (Mt 12:45). However, on the positive side, there were the seven spirits of God (Rv 3:1). In the seventh year the Hebrew slave was to be freed (Ex 21:2), having completed his time of captivity and service. Every seventh year was a sabbatical year (Lv 25:4). Seven times seven reiterates the sense of completeness. In the Year of Jubilee (at the completion of 7 x 7 years = the 50th year), all land is freed and returns to the original owners (Lv 25:10). Pentecost, the Feast of Weeks, is seven times seven days after Passover. "Seventy," which is literally "sevens" in Hebrew, strengthens the concept of perfection. There are 70 elders (Ex 24:1) in Israel. Israel was exiled to Babylon for 70 years (Jer 25:12) to complete its punishment. "Seventy times seven" (Mt 18:22) reiterates this still further. The Lord was not giving Peter a mathematical number of times that he should forgive another person, but rather was insisting on limitless forgiveness for a brother’s sin.

With this understanding, we can now see the Number Seven as a fourth independent symbol declaring of the completion and perfection of the whole Bible displayed in the sevenfold symmetry of the Canon Wheel. After clearly defining the meaning of the Number Seven throughout the text of Scripture, God then plainly applied it to the design of its large-scale structure. Thus we see that God took four independent yet harmonious symbols and forged them in the furnace of His Infinite Wisdom into a single multifaceted compound symbol declaring with one voice the Divine Perfection of His Holy Word! This is the overwhelming wonder of it all; the symbols God embedded in the design of His Word continue to build one upon the other, endlessly and effortlessly amplifying their mutually coherent implications. Each independent thread in this Divine Tapestry strengthens every other thread until they unite to form an absolutely unbreakable cord.

This complex simplicity and unity in diversity is the hallmark of Divine Wisdom. The Bible Wheel – the Seal of God’s Word – is an exceedingly dense compound of four heterogeneous elements that burns like the nuclear furnace of the sun. And just as the four symbols are mutually integrated, so also each symbol carries multiple symbolic overtones within itself. We saw this with the Alpha Omega which bears the ideas of the beginning and end, eternity, everything created, the Word of God, and God Himself. The Number Seven carries a corresponding depth of composite meaning within itself, as we shall presently see.

A Compound Symbol of Completion and Sanctification

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed [sanctified] it.

Exodus 20:8ff

When God introduced the Number Seven as a symbol of the completion of His Work of Creation, He also associated it with sanctification (holiness), declaring that He "blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it." Thus God laid the foundation for its application throughout the rest of Scripture. It is a double symbol signifying both completion and sanctification. These ideas natural cohere because sanctification denotes the setting apart or separating of a person or thing as wholly devoted or completely given over to God, as when He separated the Levitical Priests saying "they are wholly given unto me" (Num 8:16), or again when Paul prayed that "the very God of peace sanctify you wholly" (1 Thes 5:23). This is the essence of the Fourth Commandment which mandates the complete cessation of all mundane work and the complete devotion to the things of God. The Christian fulfills this through faith in the finished work of Christ, our eternal Sabbath (Hebrews 4:10).

The Fourth Commandment permanently embedded the threefold association of completion, sanctification, and the Number Seven into the fundamental rhythm – the very heartbeat – of Jewish life. Just as God ceased His Work on the Seventh Day, so the Jews rest from their work on the Seventh Day and sanctify it unto God. This set the basis of God's sacred pattern of time that completely dominates the Old Testament calendar. It is the origin of the seven-day week now common to the entire world. Obviously, it is very important to God that we recognize and understand the meaning of this number. He used it reiteratively on multiple scales (days, months, years) throughout His ceremonial laws and in His design of the Jewish religious calendar. The Lord ordained seven days for the sanctification of the altar (Exo 29:37), seven days for the sanctification of the Priests (Lev 8:33), and a series of weeks for the cleansing of leprosy (13:1). Likewise, the sanctifying blood of the sacrifice was sprinkled seven times (8:11, 14:7), and following the pattern of the weekly Sabbath on a higher scale, He ordained every seventh year as a sabbatical year when the land was to lay fallow (25:2).

The Seven Feasts of the Lord

The Seven Feasts of the Lord exemplify God’s reiterative application of this number in the structure of His ceremonial circle of time. It begins with the Feast of Passover on the fourteenth day (2 x 7) of the first month followed immediately by seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Feast of Pentecost then comes fifty days (7 x 7 + 1) after the first sabbath following Passover, a pattern God repeated on a higher scale with the Year of Jubilee set for every fifty years (7 x 7 + 1). The whole cycle of Seven Feasts culminates with three connected "holy convocations" of the seventh month, beginning with the Feast of Trumpets followed by the great Day of Atonement which God integrated with the Year of Jubilee and the numerical pattern of "seven times seven" (Lev 25:8f):

And thou shalt number seven sabbaths of years unto thee, seven times seven years; and the space of the seven sabbaths of years shall be unto thee forty and nine years. Then shalt thou cause the trumpet of the Jubilee to sound on the tenth day of the seventh month, in the Day of Atonement shall ye make the trumpet sound throughout all your land. And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family.

God designed the Seven Feasts to accomplish a variety of purposes. They exemplify the symbolic meaning of the Number Seven and indelibly imprint it on the mind of all who read the Bible. They also reveal a prophetic calendar that now stands as an eternal memorial of the great Work of Christ. Three of the primary events of the New Testament – the death of Christ on Passover (1 Cor 5:7), His resurrection on Firstfruits (1 Cor 15:20), and sealing of the newborn Church by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost – were anticipated by them (Bible Wheel book, pg 83).

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