The Numbers Forty and Twelve
The Number 40

This post will delve into some unusual numerology. Please bear with me. Let's start with the number forty. It appears often in Scripture.

What do these have in common? In every case, there was a period of fasting or suffering the wilderness or The Flood or some kind of desolation. They were each followed by something refreshing, some repose such as the Promised Land or God Himself. Forty represents human life. We suffer through this world and its ills, but at the end the faithful servant of God enjoys repose. Life is hard and it is best represented by fasting and wandering.

But why forty? How did this number come to represent our lives in the world? Itís a bit of geometry: what two numbers can be combined geometrically, that is by multiplication, to make forty? In this case, the answer is four and ten. Four is a fairly universal number in the ancient Middle East to represent the world. To them, the world was composed of four elements (earth, water, fire, air). There were four cardinal directions (north, east, south, west). In Gn 2:10, a river flowed out of the Garden of Eden and split into four rivers to water the earth. The Gospel was preached to the whole world via four Evangelists. The number ten, on the other hand, represents what is expected of us in life, our test, so to speak.

Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Misha-el, and Azariah; "Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's rich food be observed by you, and according to what you see deal with your servants." So he hearkened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's rich food. So the steward took away their rich food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. (Dan 1:11-17)

Note the underlined words. In this text, four youths are tested for ten days. Next, let's note that most well-known use of the number ten in Scripture: the Ten Commandments.

ďAnd he declared to you his covenant, which he commanded you to perform, that is, the ten commandments; and he wrote them upon two tables of stone. And the LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances, that you might do them in the land which you are going over to possess.Ē (Dt 4:13-14)

We note that God told Moses to teach the people of Israel statutes and ordinances Ė rules to live by. For the ancient Israelites, life was a test of following Godís Law.

When we see the number forty in Scripture, we should consider our difficult lives in this world.

The Number 12

Where do we see the number twelve in Scripture?

The Apostolic Church brings God to the world. Israel was the clear type of the Church in the OT. The number twelve represents God in the world. It is a counterpart to the number forty, which represents our human lives in the world. As forty = four x ten, so twelve = four x three. As previously described, four represents the world. And three represents the Triune God, as every Christian knows.

We can see other accounts of God working in the world.

As he went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They said to him, "We have only five loaves here and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. (Mt 14:14-20)

Note that Jesus had compassion on the people, arguably the greatest presence of God in this world being His compassion. They were hungry and God miraculously gave them bread to eat. So much that twelve baskets were left over. (Of course, we note the Eucharistic theme, which is the primary form of Godís Real Presence in the world today.)

And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day's journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously." And he said to them, "How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" 50 And they did not understand the saying which he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. (Lk 2:42-51)

This is the first related public act of Jesus, and it was at the age of twelve. Jesus is the truest presence of God in the world.

And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Rev 12:1)

This text from Revelation goes on to make it clear who this woman is: it is the mother of Jesus, Mary. She is crowned with twelve stars. As noted in another post, Mary is a type of the Church. As Mary brought God into this world in the Person of her Son, Jesus, so does the Church bring God into this world through the grace of the Sacraments.

When we see the number twelve in Scripture, we should consider God in this world.