Numbers in Biblical times were often symbolic of a deeper meaning. The number seven is especially prominent in Scripture, appearing over 700 times. From the seven days of Creation to the many “sevens” in Revelation, the number seven connotes such concepts as completion and perfection, exoneration and healing, and the fulfillment of promises and oaths.
While the Bible abounds with examples of the number seven’s use, this article discusses the following three categories in which the number often appears.
1. Completion and Perfection
In Scripture, seven often symbolizes completion or perfection. Genesis tells us that God created the heavens and the Earth in six days, and, upon completion, God rested on the seventh day (Genesis 1; 2:1-2). Based on this cycle of work and rest, God commands us to also labor for six days and then complete the week by resting on the seventh day, the day God set apart as the holy Sabbath (Exodus 20:9-11).
The number seven also denotes completion at the Crucifixion, when Jesus spoke seven statements in agony from the Cross at the completion of His earthly duties:
- “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34);
- “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43);
- “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:26-27);
- “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46);
- “I thirst,” (John 19:28);
- “It is finished” (John 19:30); and
- “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46).
In the context of perfection, Jesus spoke in a grouping of seven when He was asked how we should pray (Matthew 6:9-13). In response, Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer, surely a perfect way to pray considering that the words came from Christ Himself! Notably, the Lord’s Prayer contains seven petitions:
- Hallowed be thy name;
- Thy Kingdom come;
- Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven;
- Give us this day our daily bread;
- Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us;
- Lead us not into temptation; and
- Deliver us from evil.
Jesus again spoke in a grouping of seven when He used seven metaphors to describe Himself as the path to salvation, the perfect reward for a good and faithful servant. Jesus tells us He is:
- The bread of life (John 6:35);
- The light of the world (John 8:12);
- The gate to salvation (John 10:9);
- The good shepherd (John 10:11);
- The resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26);
- The way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6); and
- The vine (John 15:5).
In addition, King David referenced the number seven in describing the perfect nature of God’s words when he wrote that the Lord’s words are flawless, “like gold refined seven times” (Psalm 12:6). Likewise, when the prophet Isaiah described the coming Messiah, he listed seven qualities that the Savior would embody (Isaiah 11:1-2).
2. Exoneration and Healing
The number seven is also linked to exoneration and healing. Deuteronomy tells us that on every seventh year, the Israelites were to cancel all the debts they had made with each other and free their slaves (Deuteronomy 15:1-2, 12).
We further see seven’s connection with exoneration when Peter asks Jesus how many times we are to forgive each other and Jesus replies, “seventy times seven” times (Matthew 18:21-22). In that instance, Jesus isn’t telling us to literally forgive someone 490 times. Instead, Christ is instructing us to forgive each other wholly, as His Jewish audience would’ve understood the emphasis on the number seven in this teaching to indicate complete forgiveness.
In the context of healing, the prophet Elisha referenced the number seven when he directed Naaman the leper to bathe in the Jordan River seven times to be healed (2 Kings 5:9-10, 14). Moreover, we see a link between seven and healing in the seven healing miracles that Jesus performed on the Sabbath, or, the seventh day of the week. Specifically, Jesus healed the following seven people on the seventh day:
- A man with a deformed hand (Matthew 12:9-13);
- A man possessed by an unclean spirit (Mark 1:23-26);
- Peter’s mother-in-law with fever (Mark 1:29-31);
- A woman crippled by a spirit (Luke 13:10-13);
- A man with abnormal swelling of the body (Luke 14:1-4);
- A lame man by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:5-9); and
- A man born blind (John 9:1-7).
3. Fulfillment of Promises and Oaths
The number seven also frequently accompanies the fulfillment of promises or oaths. In fact, the Hebrew word for swearing an oath (shaba) and the Hebrew word for seven (sheba) both derive from the Hebrew word meaning satisfaction or fullness (saba).
In Genesis, God promises not to destroy the Earth again with a flood and memorializes this covenant with the rainbow, which is comprised of seven colors (Genesis 9:8-15). Later in Genesis, we learn that Abraham swore an oath of ownership over a certain well of water (Genesis 21:22-31). Abraham satisfied the oath with a gift of seven lambs and named the site of the oath “Beersheba,” which interchangeably means “well of the oath” or “well of seven.”
The Book of Joshua gives us another example of seven’s correlation with promises. There, God promised Joshua that He’d bring down the fortified walls of Jericho if Joshua and his army marched around the city once for six days and seven times on the seventh day with seven priests blowing seven trumpets. After Joshua followed the Lord’s commands exactly, the walls of Jericho fell, just as the Lord had promised (Joshua 6:1-20).
Seven is also associated with promises in the Book of Revelation. In particular, we read of seven letters addressed to seven churches (Revelation 2-3). In the letters, Christ assures each church community that if its members repent and live according to Jesus’s instructions, each community will receive its promised reward.
Further, Revelation often invokes the number seven in its discussion of God’s promise to save those whose names are written in the Book of Life and condemn those whose names aren’t (Revelation 20:15; 21:1, 27). The fulfillment of this divine promise is ushered in by groups of seven: seven seals, seven trumpets sounded by seven angels, and seven bowls of God’s promised wrath carried by seven angels (Revelation 6, 8, 11, 16).
What Does This Mean?
The Bible’s extensive use of the number seven, in connection with such concepts as completion, exoneration, and the fulfillment of promises, suggests that God ascribes a sacred nature to the number. However, we must balance this conclusion with the fact that not every mention of the number seven in Scripture has a divine implication attached. In that regard, while it’s reasonable to draw inferences in studying Scripture, we must be mindful that just as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are the Lord’s ways higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).
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Dolores Smyth writes about her life’s passions — faith and family. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online publications. You can read more of her work on Twitter @LolaWordSmyth.