Symbols

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A symbol is something which contains a meaning beyond what is regarded as the normal meaning. In the Bible symbols are most frequently found in the prophetic writings but they occur throughout the Bible and must always be interpreted with attention being paid to the context surrounding the symbol. Symbols can be of almost any form such as number, colour, appearance, and imagery.

Numbers - Numbers often used as symbols in the Bible, especially in the books of Daniel and Revelation. Below is a list of common interpretations of the symbolic value of numbers as they are used in the Bible (note that this list is not exhaustive, merely a guide):

1 – unity, independent existence, the number from which all others descend

2 – strengthening, confirmation, increase of courage and/or strength

3 – the divine number of God, symbol of the Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

3 ½ – incompleteness, unattained or anticipated fulfillment, imperfection; 42 months; 1,260 days; "times, time, and half a time" – see especially the prophecies found in the books of Daniel and Revelation for usage of this number

4 – representative of the world or mankind

5 – the number of the complete and normal human being

6 – incompleteness, one short of 7

7 – perfection (3 + 4), significant of the union of heaven and earth - predominant in Genesis and Revelation

10 – human perfection and wholeness (2 x 5)

12 – Christian endeavour in the world (3 x 4) – as in the 12 tribes of Israel

24 – perfection and wholeness of Christian endeavour in the world (2 x 12) – reflected in the 24 elders that bow before the throne of God in heaven, see Revelation 4:4

40 – a generation, human activity in the world, testing and/or judgement (4 x 10)

70 – very sacred, completeness and perfection (7 x 10)

1,000 – ultimate completeness and perfection (10 x 10 x 10)

144,000 – indicates the absolute security of the people of God of all generations (12 x 12 x 1,000)

Colours - Some interpretations of colours as symbols follow:

Black – famine/need/death (Rev. 6:5-6)

Red – war (Rev. 6:4)

White – conquering (Rev. 6:2), purity (Isaiah 1:18)

Objects - Objects, both living and dead, are often used to exemplify broad themse. The use of objects as symbols include:

Animal (often described as having horns) – Kingdom or nation (Dan. 8; Rev. 13)

Horn – King, emperor or ruler of a kingdom or nation, either physical or spiritual; size occasionally indicates significance, the horn representing Alexander the Great is described as "conspicuous" (Dan. 8:5)

Woman – Nation or people:

i) Whore or prostitute when describing an evil or fallen people (Rev. 17);

ii) Wife, bride or daughter when describing a holy, redeemed or chosen people (Rev. 19)

iii) Mother when describing the nation of Israel; specifically when portrayed as giving birth to one who would rule the nations (Rev. 12)