Biblical Numbers and Numerology
Q: I read your earlier article regarding the number 40 and have a related question. I’m currently in Shanghai with my son who is receiving treatment for his eyes. We were planning to leave on the 28th of September but the acupuncturist told us that ideally the treatment would be 3 consecutive 7 day course treatment which incidentally comes out to 40 days (beginning on the 7th of September and ending 16th of October).
My husband feels that it’s not a co-incident that the treatment comes out to 40 days and encouraged us to stay through with the course of treatment. I, however would like to go home as soon as possible. My son is suffering from glaucoma and we’ve been praying for God’s intervention and this alternative treatment came just when he’s about to be operated on. He has had 4 surgeries done so far, which were attempts to “buy time” for his sight and were not meant to cure his eyes. I would like to hear what you’ve to say on this.
A: I’ll not presume to advise you on the details of medical treatment. Please be sure, however, that whether a treatment is “alternative” or “traditional,” it does what it’s supposed to.
As for the timing itself, I don’t look for any particular “magic number.” Yes, God often chose to reveal His work over periods of time involving the number forty. Of course, He also chooses to work within other numerical constraints, including three, six, seven, ten, twelve, one hundred forty-four, and the like. However, while He sometimes promises a specific duration for an event, He doesn’t always reveal the number until the time passes. Unless God specifically designates a time, we shouldn’t struggle to find numerical patterns in “random” events, nor should we impose our personal interpretations upon the existing patterns.
For instance, “The Lord said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark ... For in seven days I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights.’ (Genesis 7:1a, 4a)” When He called Moses up the mountain, the Lord gave no advance notice of the duration of the stay. Only afterwards does Scripture report that “Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18)” and that while “he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights ... he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant. (34:28)”
When Moses sent the spies into Canaan, no set time for their mission was commanded. Numbers 13:25 reports, “At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land.” However, because Israel believed the faithless spies, over Caleb and Joshua, God imposed His judgment: “[The Lord said,] ‘According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, a year for each day, you shall bear your iniquity forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ (14:34)”
With these examples in mind, my overall advice is, first of all, make sure that your son will receive the best possible treatment. If he were my son and I was confident in the treatment plan, I’d try to begin as quickly as possible and to stay with it until complete — no more, no less. Whether it involves fourteen, forty, or even four hundred days, know that our gracious God is with your son throughout his course of treatment. Secondly, I recommend trying to schedule the times so as to impose the least possible stress upon you and the rest of the family. In all of your planning and scheduling, remember James’ caution: “You ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ (4:15)” Or, as a recent folk saying puts it, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.”
God says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:15)” Cling to the promise that the Lord will shepherd you (cf. Psalm 23) “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ (Hebrews 13:5)” Remember the prayer our Savior taught us. Ask the Father that His “will be done” and that, according to His mercies, your son’s “daily bread” would include improved health.
May God bless this child and the rest of your family during these trying times.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #564:1