The Biblical Number Seven

In our society, we can have an obsession with numbers and what they signify. Of course, six and 13 are numbers to stay away from, and seven is an excellent number. Almost everyone I’ve talked to will tell me 7 means perfection, wholeness, etc. They aren’t wrong but there is a meaning to the word that I think isn’t known that well.

I turn you to the Jewish calendar found in the old testament. Of course, every seventh day is the Sabbath day a day of rest, but this isn’t the only place seven shows up in the calendar. The seventh week after Passover (the beginning of the liturgical year) is Pentecost. The seventh month is the feast of trumpets, the day of atonement and the feast of tabernacles. Every seventh year is a sabbatical and every seventh seventh year aka every 49 years is the Jubilee.  Seven runs everything in the Jewish calendar. If seven only meant perfection, wholeness, etc. it wouldn’t fit what is going on here. (Note all this information I took from Alfred Edersheim The Temple.) 

I turn you to a relevant passage in the Pentateuch which speaks of the Sabbath as a covenant.

Exodus 31:16-17

Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.”

We can now turn to revelation where the number seven/seventh shows up 60 times, there are seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls of God’s wrath. I think it is possible that these could also be covenantal signs. Michael Barber, a key biblical scholar on the book of revelation, suggests that the scroll with its seven seals is a covenantal document.

As a part of my Bible study we talked about the seven seals that are to be broke open. We also talked about how revelation is liturgical. One of the ways I believe this liturgical aspect comes out is in the number seven. Seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls of Gods rath may all be liturgical. Now in a way, I’m just speculating but keeping mind the structure of the Jewish calendar and the significance of the number seven. I think it’s entirely possible that revelation is a vision of the covenant we will have with God in Heaven an eternal exchange of love. Our liturgy is a covenant with God and revelation is full of liturgical imagery.

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