The Number Seven

The Prominence of Seven

The number seven is the most prominent number throughout the whole Bible. The word “seven” (or derivatives such as “seventh”, “seventy”, etc.) appears in the Bible 562 times. The book of the Bible that uses the word “seven” most frequently is Revelation, where it appears 55 times. One cannot read Revelation without being struck by the heavy repetition of seven. There are seven churches, seven lampstands, seven stars and a seven-fold spirit — and that’s just the first chapter! Later there are seven messages to the churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls, seven thunders, seven heads, and seven mountains, among others.

Why does the number seven occur so frequently in Revelation?

I can only think that seven is mentioned so frequently for the sake of emphasis. Revelation is practically screaming at us to notice the number seven. If the number seven has any special significance, it must be particularly relevant in Revelation.

The Special Significance of Seven

The prominence of seven in scripture is not due to some strange coincidence. It is used so frequently because it carries meaning beyond just the numerical value itself. To understand why, one needs know a bit about the Hebrew language used by the Jewish people.

The Hebrew language is structured such that most words are based on three-consonant root words. Adding vowels to these root words produces other derived words that have different meanings, and yet these derived words remain related because the share the same root word.

One specific Hebrew root word is (sh-v-a), and one word that is derived from it by adding a vowel is “sheva” (Strong’s #7651), which is the Hebrew word for “seven”.

From the Hebrew perspective, this word “sheva“, which means seven, is therefore related to other words that derive from its same root word. Two other such words derived from sh-v-a are:

  1. soba” (Strong’s #7647), which carries the meaning of fullness, wholeness, abundance, completeness.
  2. shaba” (Strong’s #7650), which means swearing an oath.

Because of this relationship, scripture uses the number seven as an idiom that implies these other meanings. We see this idiom used frequently in Hebrew scripture (e.g. Gen 7:2, Ex 22:30, Josh 6:4, 2 Kings 5:10).

Therefore, the number seven, when used in scripture — and especially when referring to pronouncements from God — often carries with it the meaning of “wholeness” and of a “sworn oath“. A seven-fold entity in scripture generally refers to the wholeness of that entity from start to finish, and it comes as an oath from God. A seven-fold entity may thus be understood to be one whole entity revealed in seven stages. For example, creation is one whole event that was revealed in scripture as seven days.

There are even some cases in scripture where the word “seven” is used even though the numerical value isn’t even the primary purpose of the word. For example, when Jesus said to forgive someone “seventy times seven times” (Matt 18:22), he didn’t mean 490 times. His repeated references to “seven” were for the sake of emphasis, and His point was that we should forgive completely and in abundance. His Jewish audience would have understood this meaning because they were familiar with the idiomatic usage of seven.

Application to Revelation

These insights into the number seven are very useful in understanding the frequent references to “seven” in the book of Revelation. Generally speaking, the references to seven in Revelation really do refer to seven (numerical) things, but they also imply that those seven things comprise the wholeness of something, and that they are solemnly sworn to be true. This implication is surprisingly useful for helping us understand Revelation.

One more observation about the number seven is that in scripture, when we see a series of seven things, the final (seventh) thing is often “special” in some way, different from the first six. We see this in creation where God worked in the first six days, but He rested on the seventh day and declared that day holy. In several cases, we can also see this “special seventh” aspect in Revelation.

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