Category: Biblical Hebrew
Numbers Tell their Stories, Part 2
In the previous part of this two-part series we investigated the meaning of the numbers one to five, and the stories which they tell. We conclude this series with numbers six to ten. Numbers in Hebrew have both masculine and feminine genders. In the context of this article we will pause again to look only at the masculine form of the numbers.
Six - Shisha
Shisha (×Š××Š×) is number six. According to the New B.D.B. Hebrew and English Lexicon1, its three-letter root, in other Semitic languages, is shinâdaletâshin (×Šâ×â×Š) which is rather obscure. According to Strongâs Concordance (#8337) the word points to the simple fact that it is âbeyond five.â The same source also connects it to the word sis (×Š××Š) (#7797). In Hebrew the sound âsâ and âshâ can both be signified by the letter shin. The word sis means gladness, joy, cheerfulness etc. âI will rejoice greatly in the Lord,â (Isaiah 61:10) is one of many examples of its usage. This progression, âmoving beyondâ and âjoyful emotion,â seems to indicate that every addition speaks of a movement from one âstate of beingâ to another. With this in mind, was it the exceeding joy of the giant Arba (four) upon the increase of his family that caused him to name his firstborn son Sheshai? (See Joshua 15:14)
Seven - Shiv'ah
We will not pause to examine the great significance attached to this number shivâah (×Š××˘×)âseven. The etymology of the word will in itself be revealing. The root of shivâah is shinâvetâayin (×Šâ×â×˘). It is also the root of the words: adjure, charge, oathâshâvuah (×Š×××˘×) and satisfaction, to have had enough (especially food) to fill one upâsovâah (×Š×××˘).
The number seven is so indicative of fullness and completeness, that a solemn promise such as an oath could be guaranteed simply by repeating it seven times (or by using a multiplication of seven). The connection between the two words âsevenâ and âoathâ is well illustrated in the story of Abraham and Abimelechâs settlement (Genesis 21:22â34). Abraham placed seven ewe lambs in front of Abimelech, as a witness to the fact that he had dug certain wells that were under dispute. Following that incident, âhe called that place Beersheva, because there the two of them took an oath.â In Matthew 18:21 we see Peter deeming that forgiving up to seven times is the ultimate number (sufficient, satisfactory, complete). Yeshua, of course, goes beyond that, but He too stays within the realm of seven, saying: â…up to seventy times seven.â
âThe words of the Lord are pure words; as silver…refined seventy timesâ (Psalm 12:6). The figure 70 tells us that His words promise to guarantee full satisfaction. âOn the day when the Lord binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted…the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven daysâ (Isaiah 30:26b, 26a). Again the guarantee of fullness, in the form of sevens, renders it like an oath.
The sunrise and sunset dictate the formation of the day. The respective cycles of the moon and the sun control the length of the month and the seasons of the year. The seven-day week, having no natural explanation, seems to be quite arbitrary—but is it? God chose to create the world in six days and then to add another, which He set apart for rest, remembrance, and declaration. In dedicating the seventh day, and in commemorating the number seven by calling the week shavua (×Š×××˘), the language points to the fullness and completeness of what God has done, and its guaranteed fulfillment. âIn Your presence there is fullness (sovaâ×Š×××˘) of joy; I will be satisfied (××Š××˘×) with Your likeness when I awakeâ (Psalm 16:11; 17:15). These fulfilling delights can certainly be experienced on the seventh day, Godâs day of rest.
Eight - Shmona
How is shmona (×Š××× ×) linked to its predecessor? If shivâah is fullness, can anything else be added to it? The answer is only âfatâ—excess. The root letters shinâmemânun (×Šâ×â× ), also form the word for oil (shemen), which is an extraction of the fat. Because we are dealing with excess, âgrowing fatâ is used a number of time with negative connotations. âBut Jeshurun grew fat and kicked…â (Deuteronomy 32:15). Rebuking the House of Jacob, in Jeremiah 5:28, the Lord says: âThey are fat, they are sleek, they also excel in deeds of wickedness.â When Isaiah is sent by God to speak to Israel, He tells him: âRender their heart insensitive…â or literally, âMake their heart fat.â
Years later, after the feast of Succot, the Children of Israel gathered under Ezra and Nehemiah, and as the Levites were recounting the history of the nation they said: âAnd they [the Israelites] captured fortified cities and a fertile (fat) land. They took possession of houses full of every good thing; hewn cisterns, vineyards, olive groves, fruit trees in abundance. So they were filled, and grew fat, and reveled in Your great goodnessâ (Nehemiah. 9:25). When they were filled, vayisbeâu (remember seven?) their hearts grew fat, vayashminu (eight). But all is not lost; with repentance and reform come also the blessings: âThen He will give you rain for the seed which you will sow in the ground, and bread from the yield of the ground, and it will be rich (fat) and plenteous…â (Isaiah 30:23). In the progression from seven to eight, fullness to fatness, there is a valuable lesson to be learned.
Nine - Tish'ah
The meaning of tishâah (×Ş×Š×˘×) is not entirely clear. According to Strongâs Concordance it is possibly connected to the primal root: shinâayinâheh (×Šâ×˘â×) (#8159) which means âto gazeâ and, by implication, âto consider, regard and respond.â Certainly engaging in excess and rebellion will bring about a response on the part of God. However, the verb shaâah does not introduce us to Godâs responses, but to those of the prodigalâs—possibly in reaction to Godâs loving, disciplinary measures. When the fat (mishman) of Jacobâs flesh âwill become lean…in that day man will have regard (yishâeh) for his Maker…and will not have regard (yishâeh) for the altars, the work of his handsâ (Isaiah 17:4, 7, 8). When the prodigal reflects and responds in repentance, then comes Godâs comforting response: âDo not fear, for I am with you, do not anxiously look (tishta) about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help youâ (Isaiah 41:10).
Ten - Asara
Many know that in Jewish tradition a minimum of ten men (a minyan) is required for public prayer. We find the latter day version of this in Zechariah 8:23: âIn those days ten men from the nations of every language will grasp the [corner of the] garment of a Jew….â Since Abba is not confined to the realm of time, this could be what He had in mind when, at the end of Abrahamâs negotiations with Him, He promised not to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if perchance ten righteous men were found therein (Genesis 18:23-32).
Eser, the root of asara, is made up of the letters ayinâsinâresh (×˘â×Ąâ×¨) and means an assembly or a gathering together from which we get the noun âwealthâ—osher (×˘××Š×¨). Once again, the letter shin can be pronounced both ways, as âshâ and as a sin, âsâ. There are many references to osher in the Tanach, both as a blessing connected to wisdom (Proverbs 3:16) and as a reward (e.g. Solomon, who sought wisdom rather than riches, see 1 Kings 3:11). But osher is not to be desired, or to be trusted in (Proverbs 11:28; Jeremiah 9:23). Concerning the ones who have no fear of God in their hearts, Jeremiah 5:27â28 tells us that âtheir houses are full of deceit; therefore they have become great and rich (yaâashiru). They are fat (shamnu—remember eight?).â
Numbers have a way of being âhiddenâ in the narrative. This is well illustrated in Ecclesiastes 4:8: âThere was a certain [one] man, without a dependent [a second], having neither a son nor a brother, yet there was no end to all his labor. Indeed, his eyes were not satisfied (tisba, seven) with riches (osher, ten).â It never occurred to this poor soul that all his labor was in vain, and that âtwo are better than one…â (verse 9) for a number of reasons which are here specified. But the conclusion is that even better is the âthree strand cord, [which] is not quickly torn apartâ (verse 12). Regarding hard labor and those who desire the riches and the blessings that follow; this is what the God who does not change (shaniti, remember the number two?) has to say: âBring the whole tithe into the storehouse…â (Malachi 3:10). The tenth part, a tithe, is a maâaser (××˘×Š×¨). The connection therefore, between osher (wealth) and maâaser (tithe) is apparent.
We have seen that each individual number—mispar (××Ą×¤×¨)âhas it own story, or sipur (×Ą××¤××¨), to tell. When linked together, the individual stories enhance one another by lending additional meaning and volume to the message.â
1 New B.D.B. Hebrew and English Lexicon. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass. USA.1997.
Adapted from Bikurei Tziyon #63. ÂŠ 2012 First Fruits of Zion. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share this material with your friends for further personal study. However, this material may not be republished, in print, electronically, or any other form without our prior permission.
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