Prophetic Counting

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. This article explains.


Many times 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.

8"We both had dreams," they answered, "but there is no one to interpret them." Then Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams." Genesis 40:89So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, "In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, 10and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh's cup and put the cup in his hand." Genesis 40:9-1112"This is what it means," Joseph said to him. "The three branches are three days. Genesis 40:12-15
(Genesis 40:8-12 NIV)

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 Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, "I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. 17In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head." Genesis 40:16-1718"This is what it means," Joseph said. "The three baskets are three days. 19Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat away your flesh." Genesis 40:18-19
(Genesis 40:16-19 NIV)

Here again three items, in this case three baskets become three units of time, in this case three days.

New Testament Confirmation

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:

1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. Matthew 20:1-23"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, `You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5So they went. "He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, `Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?' Matthew 20:3-67"`Because no one has hired us,' they answered. "He said to them, `You also go and work in my vineyard.' Matthew 20:78"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, `Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.' Matthew 20:89"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12`These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, `and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.' Matthew 20:9-1213"But he answered one of them, `Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?' Matthew 20:13-1516"So the last will be first, and the first will be last." Matthew 20:16
(Matthew 20:1-16 NIV)

In this parable the rate of pay for the laborers is "a denarius 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.

General Application

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. (Jer 25:11-12)(Dan 9:2) 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:

35Then the exiles who had returned from captivity sacrificed burnt offerings to the God of Israel: twelve bulls for all Israel, ninety-six rams, seventy-seven male lambs and, as a sin offering, twelve male goats. All this was a burnt offering to the LORD. Ezra 8:35-36
(Ezra 8:35 NIV)

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.(Ezra 7:8-9)

Census Counts

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:

Tribe Count
Judah 74,600
Issachar 54,400
Zebulun 57,400
Reuben 46,500
Simeon 59,300
Gad 45,650
Ephraim 40,500
Manasseh 32,200
Benjamin 35,400
Dan 62,700
Asher 41,500
Naphtali 53,400
Levites, Gershon 7,500
Levites, Kohath 8,300
Levites, Merari 6,200
Reuben 43,730
Simeon 22,200
Gad 40,500
Judah 76,500
Issachar 64,300
Zebulun 60,500
Manasseh 52,700
Ephraim 32,500
Benjamin 45,600
Dan 64,400
Asher 53,400
Naphtali 45,400
Levites 23,000
Plague on 24,000
Korah’s Rebellion: 252 * 5 = 1260
Korah’s Rebellion recorded again: 1260
Total: 1,276,800
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.