When Joseph interprets the cup bearer and baker’s dreams he reveals an important clue: Each time God speaks a number that number is a reference to time. Since the Bible is God’s word to us, all counts within the pages of the Bible are references to time.
Every time Jesus spoke in public he used parables. He revealed later that the reason he spoke this way was to veil his message from everyone except those who should understand. In private the disciples were taught by Jesus just as we are when we read and pray though the Bible.
The pattern exists to this day with many of the more important points veiled in prophetic language. Understanding what the Bible says still requires private consultations with God himself in order to understand what he means. In the case of the Bible those keys to unlocking his meaning are usually simply buried within the Bible’s own pages. Once such key is given in Genesis when Joseph interprets the cup bearer and baker’s dreams.
8And they said to him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no one to interpret it. And Joseph said to them, Look, the interpretations belong to god; tell them to me.
9Then the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, look, a vine was before me;
10and in the vine were 3 branches; and when it budded, its blossoms shot forth; and the clusters brought forth ripe grapes;
11and pharaoh's cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes, and pressed them into pharaoh's cup, and I gave the cup into pharaoh's hands.
12And Joseph said to him, This is the interpretation of your dream: The 3 branches are 3 days;
Notice something rather profound with Joseph’s interpretation. The three branches are symbolic for three days. One branch per day. Stated generally:
One item per unit time.
Joseph goes on to interpret a second dream and demonstrates the same principle.
16When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said to Joseph, I also saw in my dream, and look, I had, on my head, 3 baskets containing white bread;
17and in the uppermost basket there was every kind of food for pharaoh, prepared by a baker; and the birds of prey were eating it out of the basket on my head.
18And Joseph answered and said to him, This is the interpretation of your dream: The 3 baskets are 3 days;
19after 3 days pharaoh will have you beheaded, and then will crucify you on a tree, and the birds of prey will eat your flesh from off you.
Here again three items, in this case three baskets become three units of time, in this case three days.
The same principle can be seen again in the New Testament when Jesus uses currency within the same structure. Though the general principle includes counts of money, Jesus’ New Testament example reinforces the principle:
1For the kingdom of the skies is like a man, who is a householder, who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
2He bargained with the laborers for a denarius a day, and sent them to his vineyard.
3And he went out at the 3rd hour, and saw others standing idle in the market place.
4And he said to them, You also go to the vineyard, and I will give you what is right. And they went.
5And he went out again at the 6th and at the 9th hour, and did the same.
6And towards the 11th hour he went out and found others standing idle, and he said to them, Why do you stand idle all day?
7They said to him, Because no man has hired us. He said to them, You also go to the vineyard, and you will receive what is right.
8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, Call the laborers and pay them their wages; and begin from the last ones to the first.
9When those of the 11th hour came, they each received a denarius.
10But when the first ones came, they expected to receive more; but each one also received a denarius.
11When they received it, they murmured against the householder,
12saying, These last ones have worked only 1 hour, and you have made them equal with us who have borne the weight of the day and its heat.
13He answered and said to one of them, My friend, I am not doing you an injustice; did you not bargain with me for a denarius?
14Take what is yours and go. I wish to give to this last one the same as you.
15Do I not have the right to do what I wish with my own? Or are you jealous because I am generous?
16Even so, the last will be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few are chosen.
In this parable the rate of pay for the laborers is "a denarii a day" or one unit currency per unit time. This simply reinforces the principle of 1 count of anything mapping to 1 unit of time but it does pique our attention to look for other currency references. The best example is the Samaritan’s wages to the innkeeper though the principle applies across the Bible.
An interesting side note to this principle is that certain taxes were paid at the rate of 1/2 unit currency per person and so either the person count or the currency count (or both) could be applied to individual days.
As the Bible itself is God’s word to mankind, it is our collective dream, these examples suggest that every count given within the pages are references to time.
This is the principle that is required to fully understand the chronology implied at the time of Ezra and the Second Temple. Both Daniel and Jeremiah explain that the period of the exile between the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon and the return of a remnant will be 70 years. 12 Yet when we read the account in Ezra of the his return to dedicate the temple we find no specific date references. Instead we find references to animal counts. The following is the best example:
35Now these are the sons of those who had been carried away captive, who had come from captivity, who offered burnt offerings to the god of Israel, 12 bulls for all Israel, 96 rams, 77 lambs, 12 he-goats for a sin offering; all this was a burnt offering to Yahvah.
Here we see Ezra’s animal sacrifice activities and he is revealing the year of those actions through the counts of animals he uses. These counts are indicating the 96 years since the loss of sovereignty to Babylon and the 77 years since the loss of the city. Confirmation is found by adding 70 years, the number in exile to the year of Ezra’s return.3
Perhaps the most impressive confirmation of this principle rests in the main census counts conducted by Moses. Here we have some of the largest numbers recorded in the Bible’s pages. These counts also appear to be references to time.
The best way to see the significance of these census counts is to compare the total against the number of days in 3500 years. In both cases the result is the same:
|Korah’s Rebellion: 252 * 5 =||1260|
|Korah’s Rebellion recorded again:||1260|
|Days in a Jubilee, 50 years:||18,240|
|Number of Jubilees:||* 70 =|
|Total days in 70 Jubilees:||1,276,800|
The odds that these are simply the same by random chance is one part in the total, since this is the error, or 1 in over 1.2 million. This chart is the subject of an interactive tool that allows adjustments based on textual issues found in these census. See Moses’ Census Report to play with these numbers more and view them as date references.
The census counts from Numbers are indicating that the story of the people who left Egypt and entered Canaan has something to do with 3500 years.
The day-for-a-year time line is counting down to the 3500th anniversary to the very day from the Exodus from Egypt. The two are working to the same end.
From a logical perspective a generality like this is rather amazing. Does every reference to any count of anything indicate time? As one who has puzzled over nearly every such count I can say that my belief is that all counts really do work this way. Though I don’t know exactly when every such count applies in the overall time line, I don’t doubt that with enough study all such counts will be found.
Each time God speaks a number it is a reference to time.