The message of numbers


So here we are 11.11.11!

Like most people I have been fascinated by the pattern of numbers made by the calendar, ever since I used to date each page of painstaking work, top left hand corner, at Waterloo Grammar School, thousands of them.

And over the years we have had some beautiful patterns, peaking on 20.02.2002 – and especially if you included the digital clock using 100th of a second – 20.02 20.02 20.02.2002.  I seem to recall I marked the occasion in a forerunner of this letter.

But 11.11.11 has the purity of only using one number – provided you are prepared to overlook that we are in the 21st century, that it is 2011.  And because there are only 12 months, not 22, the next single number date is in 100 years time.

And what a more fitting way to mark this special day with our community’s act of remembrance at 11 am.  We mark the armistice, the cessation of hostilities on the Western Front which took effect at eleven o’clock in the morning—the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.

It was imperative – a matter of life and needless death – that the exact time of the armistice was easy to communicate and remember.

We enjoy numbers and the patterns they make.  I am half-way through the excellent biography of Apple genius, Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson.  To make a splash Jobs priced the first Apple computer at

$666.66 – without realising the Biblical connotation from the book of Revelation, the Mark of the Beast (which I recall was Bill Evans’ number for the Coniston 14 in – wait for it – 2002!)

You will know that the writers of the Bible enjoyed playing with

numbers:  the Jews loved it, not least because they wrote their numbers using letters and so a word could also represent a number.

Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is structured by the number 14 (which is

2 x 7, the perfect number).  The letters in Hebrew which make the name David add up to 14 and King David is number 14 in the list.  Which all goes to show that Jesus is the Messiah, the new King David.

Numbers were important to Jesus, two in particular.  12 and 70.  And here he is making a hugely important point.  The 12 disciples tie up directly with the 12 tribes of Israel, God’s covenant, his commitment, to his people come what may. The 70 disciples sent out to prepare the way of Jesus links up with the 70 nations of the world.

(For those of you who are sticklers for detail:  Yes- I realize it may be 72 as from the Greek Septuagint tradition. But the message is the same).

So 12 speaks of God’s faithfulness – he keeps his promises whatever the cost and 70, that this faithfulness is available to everyone, everywhere.  Good news indeed to a world torn and ravaged by sin.