Friday, November 7, 2008

The Kingdom of God in Genesis

Alice C. Linsley

St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430) wrote: “Numbers are the universal language offered by the Deity to humans as confirmation of the truth.”

St. Augustine is not saying that numbers tell us truth, only that God uses numbers symbolically to confirm the truth. This is what St. Augustine argues against the Donatist, Tichonius, observing that "if Tichonius had said that these mystical rules open out some of the hidden recesses of the law, instead of saying that they reveal all the mysteries of the law, he would have spoken truth" (De Doctrina Christiana, III, xlii).

The Church Fathers condemned magical use of numbers in occult practices such as divination, but recognized the numerical symbolism of Scripture.

St. Ambrose, commenting on the days of creation and the Sabbath, explained: "The number seven is good, but we do not explain it after the doctrine of Pythagoras and the other philosophers, but rather according to the manifestation and division of the grace of the Spirit; for the prophet Isaias has enumerated the principal gifts of the Holy Spirit as seven.”

We see in Ambrose’ view a consideration of the consistency of biblical symbolism. The Church Fathers were not interested in philosophical speculation about numbers. However, they did wish to lift up the meaning of Scripture according to the tradition which the Apostles received from the Hebrew Bible, a tradition which Jesus Himself drew on; a Tradition rich in number symbolism and typology.

The Apostles did not invent the symbolism, nor did the Jews. The biblical number symbolism emerges out of the far more ancient Afro-Asiatic cosmology which assigned numbers and gender virtues to the north, south, east and west. Thus the number one is assigned to north, and north is associated with the heavens, God’s eternal throne. The number six is assigned to south, the earth and all fleshly concerns. The number nine represents the west, the future, and the bridal chamber.

When the number 3 is associated with south it signifies peace on earth or "thy kingdom come". This is evident in the description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. The city has twelve gates and sits on twlve foundairon stones (Revelation 21:12-14). Three face east, three face north, three face south, and three face west. We may illustrate this as follows

3→ 3↑ 3↓ 3← Notice that the third position faces south.

Compare this to the “bronze sea” in Solomon’s temple which rested on twelve oxen (1 Kings 7:23-26).

3→ 3↑ 3↓ 3← Notice that they coincide.

Numbers and Cosmology

The Afro-Asiatic cosmology is numerical (base nine) and spherical. Imagine a circle with the cardinal points north, south, east and west. These points are assigned number and gender symbolism as binary oppositions. North and east are dominant and associated with maleness. South and West are supplementary and associated with femaleness. Some of this mystical number symbolism is evident in the Ten Sefirot of Kabala.

Imagine a circle with north as a point at the top center. This also represents high noon, a time of no shadows. This position of priority is assigned the number 1, symbolizing the Uncreated Hidden God (Ain Soph). Directly opposite is the point south, assigned the number six. It is associated with mortality, marriage and fertility. When the positions of one and six are reversed in the text, it means that the fleshly principle is in motion: thus Abraham after receiving advice from the moreh (oracle) at the Oak of Mamre, heads south and takes Keturah as wife. It appears that by suggestion of this reversal, the text tells us what Abraham takes a second wife in order to establish himself with a territory. Afro-Asiatics chiefs had two wives, dwelling in separate settlements on a north-south axis. Two wives were necessary to gain a kingdom. (Likewise The Kingdom includes two who are married to Christ: the church and those who believed before Christ's incarnation.)

Now imagine a line running from north/1 to south/6, vertically dissecting the circle. The east side of the circle is associated with dominance/sovereignty/strength/judgment and is assigned the number four. The west side of the circle is associated with reproduction, new beginnings, compassion and tenderness and is assigned the number five. Here is where we see another reversal. The feminine virtues associated with east/4 are on the dominant side and the masculine virtues associated with west/5 are on the supplementary side. Reversals speak of oneness and supplementarity. Unlike Western metaphysics, which grants privilege to one side and marginalizes the opposition (as the Arabic-speaking Jew Jacques Derrida noted), the Afro-Asiatic system maintains the male and female principles as inseparable and supplementary.

The Afro-Asiatics perceived of a sacred center where the directional poles intersect. This “center” was also associated with mountain tops where God often self-revealed. Each tribal group had their own sacred mountain. The top of the mountain is exposed to the full blast of the sun, and for the Afro-Asiatics, the sun symbolized God’s dominion over all the earth. So Moses’ face radiated the divine light when he came down from the mountain, while those at the base of the mountain saw only a numinous cloud cover. At the sacred center we must remove our shoes for we are standing on holy ground.

The Number Nine and its Factors

The Afro-Asiatics had a base nine number system. The dynamic and comprehensive nature of Nine is evident in mathematics. In this system, three counts of three (3 3 3) symbolizes the fullness and oneness of creation or all reality (the pleroma of which St. Paul speaks). The number three consistently represents unity or shalom on earth, as noted above with the arrangement of the gates of the New Jerusalem and the bronze sea of Solomon's temple. So God was sometimes referred to as Baal Shalisha - the Three God, and tribal affiliations involve groups of three rulers:

Gen. 4 - Cain, Abel, Seth
Gen. 4 - Jubal, Jabal, Tubal
Gen. 7 - Ham, Shem, Japheth
Gen. 11 - Haran, Nahor, Abraham

The unity of three witnesses is especially binding, so St. John writes: "So there are three witnesses, the Spirit, water and blood; and the three of them coincide" (I John 5:7).

Whole Numbers and Letters

Whole numbers as well as the factors of numbers play a role in the interpretation of “as in the heavens so on earth.” The interpretation of numerical sequences was done by trained seers or prophets who gave counsel under trees. Abraham himself apparently sought advice from the moreh at Mamre. We are told that women as well as men served in this role. Deborah ‘judged’ from her palm tree between Ramah (meaning high or lifted up) and Bethel (meaning house of God). This was Deborah’s sacred center. We find a parallel in the account of Abraham who set up his tent at the Diviner's tree or “Oak of Moreh” between Ai and Bethel (Gen. 13).

With the emergence of the Hebrew alphabet, the number system of the Afro-Asiatics developed an additional layer of meaning. Each Hebrew letter was assigned a numerical value. This practice was paralleled by the Greek-speaking interpreters, who gave attention to numerals and to numerical totals of the letters written. Thus we find in the Epistle of Barnabas: “…Abraham who first appointed circumcision, looked forward in spirit unto Jesus when he circumcised, having received the ordinances of three letters. For the Scripture saith, And Abraham circumcised of his household eighteen males and three hundred.' What then was the knowledge given unto him? Understand ye that He saith the eighteen' first, and then after an interval three hundred.' In the [number] eighteen [the Greek IOTA] stands for 10, [the Greek ETA] for eight. Here thou hast Jesus [in Greek] IESOUS. And because the cross in the [Greek TAU] was to have grace, he saith also three hundred.' So he revealeth Jesus in two letters and in the remaining one the cross" (Epistle of Barnabas, ix).

Here the numerical value of the Greek iota and eta, the first letters of the Holy Name, is 10 and 8, for 18, while Tau, which stands for the form of the cross, represents 300. This is another layer of numerical interpretation, coming from the Greeks, who were much enamored of Egyptian mysteries and influenced by the “the doctrine of Pythagoras”, but failed to fully grasp the earlier Afro-Asiatic cosmology.

The number eight is the best known example of Christian messianic symbolism, as it represents Christ’s resurrection on the first day of the new week. In this sense the number eight equates to the number one. The eighth day looks forward to the ninth day, the day of Christ’s return and the consummation of the union of the Bridegroom and the Bride. This union leads to the tenth day which is 1 + zero: one represesnts God and the zero is a symbol of eternity. The number ten symbolizes the birth of the new eternal realm. This is the background to St. Paul's reference to the creation groaning with labor pains as we await the day of consummation (Rom. 8:22).

The Number Two and the Kingdom of God

In Genesis the numbers two and seven point to a kingdom given or revealed. We see this in the necessity for two wives to establish a kingdom and in the story of Joseph’s interpretation of dreams in Genesis 40-41. Here is the pattern:

2 years in prison awaiting his deliverance
2 royal officials
2 dreams involving the number 7
2 additional years in prison before Joseph receives a kingdom

Compare this to Luke 10:1-20 which uses two and seven to speak of The Kingdom:

70 + 2 appointed to proclaim The Kingdom
2 sent (in pairs) to declare peace to many households
2 cities: Chorazin and Bethsaida, where Christ perform miracles and none repented (Luke 10:13)
2 cities: Tyre and Sidon, where the Prophet Elijah performed many miracles. Jesus visited Tyre and Sidon (Matthew 15:21; Mark 7:24), and many came from these cities to hear him preach (Mark 3:8; Luke 6:17).

Both of these units of Scripture speak of a Kingdom given and received. We trace their parallelism through the number symbolism and find a consistent theme of a Shepherd who comes forth from Judah to whom is given an eternal kingdom. So Joseph tells his brothers to report to Pharaoh that they are shepherds from the land of Canaan, as was Joseph himself. So Samuel anoints David, a shepherd from Judah, as King in Israel. So Jesus Christ, the Shepherd of Judah, receives from the Father an eternal kingdom.

Related reading:  Yes, Georgia, There is a Kingdom; Jesus Christ in Genesis; Kushite Kings and the Kingdom of God

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