3 minute read

God Counts

By Rev. David Petersen 

The Bible is full of numbers. At the very beginning, God was counting. The first thing He did in creation was to create light and count the first day. The creation came about in a very orderly, structured, even mathematical way—one day upon another until six and then seven was reached. God reveals something of Himself in this counting: He cares about details. He leaves nothing to chance. Thus, our Lord’s report in Matthew, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered”(10:30).

Our God does not love us the way that some people love cats or chocolate. It is not a generic or even a general love. His love is intimate, precise, and individually specific. It is fatherly love, custom-made for each child, accurately cut and fit to each personality. Every hair on your head counts to God. It counts to Him even more than it counts to you. And so, troubling though it is, bothersome and cumbersome nonetheless, He counts it. He loves you more than anyone else does. He even loves you more than you love yourself—right down to the very last hair.

The Greek word for “numbered” or “counting” in Matthew’s Gospel is the word behind our word “arithmetic.” We might say: God does the math. He even does the math when it is impossibly hard. In Psalm 40, King David cries out that his troubles are without number and his sins are more than the hairs of his head. Yet the Lord is pleased to save him (Psalm 40:12- 13). He is David’s help and deliverer (40:17). And David has a new song to sing (40:3) because sins and trouble beyond the reckoning power of men have been counted and forgiven by the Deliverer born in David’s town out-of-doors.

Think also of the sinner who poured ointment and tears on our Lord’s feet in Luke chapter seven. She wiped them with the “hairs of her head” (Luke 7:38). Every hair counted as it brushed across those dirty feet, for they were soon to be pierced and bleed the blood that would wash her clean. Indeed, she loved much, but not as much as the One who counted and loved those hairs. She went in peace because He went to the cross, anointed by oil, tears, and hair to be her forgiving King.

One of the ways this counting God reveals Himself and His love for us is through numbers. It is not the only way. It is not even the chief way. But it is an important way. Besides showing us that God cares about the details, the numbers in the Bible also show us a pattern to God’s care for us. The numbers in the Bible are not always precise measurements of the physical reality. They are sometimes symbols of Divine counting. For instance, we know that the 144,000 of Revelation 7:4 is not an exact count of the elect. We know there will be far more than that in heaven, more than any man can number (but which are all numbered, nonetheless, by God). We recognize that 144,000 represents not only the great number of saints but, more significantly, the fullness of that number, the totality of the elect.

To this end there is some basic symbolism in Biblical numbers. The numbers one and three are God’s numbers because of the Trinity. The numbers two and four are man’s or creation’s numbers. They represent man and wife, children, the four corners of the earth. When these numbers are combined, either added or multiplied, or have zeros attached, they indicate fullness. Thus we see a repetition of the numbers one, two, three, four, five, seven, 10, 12, and 40 throughout the Scriptures. It is never an accident because our God always counts. All these numbers in the Scriptures desire to show you the love of God in Christ Jesus. He cares about the details. He cares about you.

Rev. David Petersen is pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana and on the editorial board for Higher Things. His email address is david.h.petersen@att.net.
The above is taken from the introduction to a Bible study soon to be published by Concordia Publishing House entitled Fusion: Numbers.