Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Song of Sevens

Not that I want to slip into superstition about "lucky" or "magic" numbers, but the recurrence of certain numbers in Scripture does suggest that God has some fondness for them. Take the number forty, for instance: it rained forty days in the time of Noah (Gen. 7:11-12); Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:18); the Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness (Ex. 16:35, among other passages); and Jesus fasted forty days before His temptation (Mt. 4:1-2). Or consider the twelve tribes of Israel; twelve apostles; and twelve foundations and twelve gates of the Heavenly Jerusalem.

One number that appears in several significant Bible passages is a number that has acquired a general reputation for being lucky: seven. To the class of super-logical mathematicians (where I admittedly hold no membership), seven might seem a strange number to honor: it is neither small enough to be a basic unit like a two or a three, nor evenly divisible into any smaller units besides ones; and few extensively used larger numbers can be divided evenly by seven (even the seventy years traditionally estimated for the human life span now seems lost to an era of greater longevity). Why does seven, rather than a rounder figure like six or ten, so often seem to represent perfection in Scripture: seven days in the week; seven years of work for Jacob to marry each of his wives; seven days (ending in seven circuits around the city, led by seven priests) to bring about the fall of Jericho; seven deacons in the early Church?

Maybe I'm being whimsical here--and I definitely don't presume to be reading God's mind on the matter--but I wonder if He chose an odd number, and one not divisible without leaving something out, partly because He places high value on the oddball, the nonconformist, the person who always seems to be left out?

Certainly He has used many such people in amazing ways.

Seven were the days which God set for the week,
One set aside so His face we would seek.

Seven are the hues in the rainbow's bright gleam,
Set in the sky once the world was washed clean.

Seven were the times the troops circled around
Till Jericho's walls came a-tumbling down.

Seven were the foods Jesus blessed with head bowed--
Five loaves, two fish, fed a whole hungry crowd.

Seven were the deacons when the Church yet was new,
Servants who all would work hard as it grew.

Seven were the churches Christ named from His throne:
He Who is holy, is holy alone.

Seven are the verses in this song I have sung:
Let us give praise for the things God has done.

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