Q: #317. What is the significance of the number 12 (twelve) in the Bible?
A: First off, let me begin by saying that I think we need to be careful about searching for hidden messages, meanings, or codes in certain significant numbers in the Bible. If you put the word “Numerology” in a Google search, what you get for a definition is: “The branch of knowledge that deals with the occult significance of numbers.” Hence, “numerology” is associated with such things as the occult, the paranormal, astrology, paganism, divination, and wiccans.” But, if we put “Biblical” in front of “numerology” (“Biblical Numerology”), this is then supposed to make searching for the significance of number meanings in the Bible acceptable.
Now, I am not saying that there isn’t some significance to certain numbers in the Bible, all I am saying is that we should be careful about trying to interpret what these meanings are. Ultimately, I believe God did have reasons for using certain numbers over and over in the Bible, but only He may know the true reasons. Having said this, I do think it is fascinating to see how many times certain key numbers are used over and over in the Bible. In six studies, we will be looking at how six of what I believe are the most key numbers in the Bible are used: 3, 6, 7, 10, 12, 40.
In this study, we are looking at the number “12.” This number, along with 3, 7, and 10, is generally said to symbolize perfection or completion. Interestingly, the words “twelve” and “twelfth” are used 212 times in the Bible. A large majority of these uses are connected to, and point to, the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel, which formed the 12 tribes of Israel. The 12 sons/tribes begins in Genesis, and these “reminders,” pointing back to them, continue all the way to the last book of the Bible in Revelation. Following are most of the significant uses of “12” in the Bible.
The 12 sons/tribes of Jacob/Israel (Gen 35:22)(Gen 42:13,32)(Gen 49:28)(Lk 22:30)(Acts 7:8)(Acts 26:7)(James 1:1)(Rev 21:12).
God promised that 12 princes would come from Ishmael (Gen 17:20)(Gen 25:16).
At Elim, there were 12 wells of water (Ex 15:27)(Num 33:9).
There was to be 12 “cakes” (loaves of bread) in the Tabernacle (Lev 24:5).
During the dedication of the Tabernacle, the leaders of Israel made an offering of 12 oxen (Num 7:3).
The total of other offerings for the Tabernacle dedication was 12 silver platters, 12 silver bowls, 12 gold pans, 12 young bulls, 12 rams, 12 male lambs in their first year, and 12 kids of the goats (Num 7:84,87). These were brought over a period of 12 days (Num 7:78).
God ordered Moses to collect 12 rods, one from each of the 12 tribes, and place them in the Tabernacle. The rod that blossomed would be the man He had chosen (Aaron) (Num 17:1-9).
Twelve spies were sent to spy out the Promised Land (Num 13)(Deut 1:23).
Twelve stones were to be taken from the Jordan River to serve as a memorial that God had dried up the Jordan so that the Ark Of The Covenant and the people could cross it (Josh 4:1-9,20).
When the men of Gibeah killed a man’s concubine, he cut her body into 12 pieces and sent it throughout all the territory of Israel (Judg 19:29).
Solomon’s throne had 6 steps leading up to where he sat, and there was a lion on each side of the six steps (12 total) (1 Kin 10:18-20)(2 Chr 9:19).
Solomon appointed 12 governors over all of Israel (1 Kin 4:7).
A large basin called “the Sea” was built to hold water for the priests, and it was set upon 12 oxen statues (1 Kin 7:25).
The prophet Ahijah tore the garment he was wearing into 12 pieces (1 Kin 11:29-30).
Elijah built an altar with 12 stones (1 Kin 18:31-32).
Elisha was plowing with 12 yoke of oxen when Elijah called him (1 Kin 19:19).
Evil Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king (2 Kin 21:1)(2 Chr 33:1).
Nehemiah was appointed to be the governor in the land of Judah for 12 years (Neh 5:14).
Haman sought to destroy all of the Jews in the 12 month (Es 3:7,13)(Es 9:1).
God’s judgment fell on King Nebuchadnezzar 12 months after his dream (Dan 4:28-33).
Jesus chose 12 disciples (Mt 10:1-5)(Mt 20:17)(Mk 3:14-19)(Mk 14:17-20)(Lk 6:13-16)(Lk 9:1,12)(Jn 6:67-71).
The woman with the “issue of blood” had been bleeding for 12 years when she was healed by Jesus (Mt 9:20-22)(Mk 5:25-34)(Lk 8:43-48).
The daughter of Jairus, whom Jesus brought back to life, was 12 (Mk 5:42).
Jesus was 12 years old when He became separated from His parents after the Passover (Lk 2:42-43). (This is also the first time that Jesus speaks in the Bible (Lk 2:49).
After Jesus fed the 5000 men (and many more counting women and children) with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, there were 12 baskets of fragments left (Mt 14:20)(Mk 6:43)(Mk 8:19)(Lk 9:17)(Jn 6:13).
Jesus said that in the regeneration, the 12 apostles would sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel (Mt 19:28).
When Jesus was being arrested, He said He could call for more than “12 legions of angels” if He needed help (Mt 26:53).
Paul laid hands on “about 12 men,” and “the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied” (Acts 19:6-7).
The New Jerusalem will have a wall with 12 gates, and 12 angels at the gates, with names written on them which are the names of the 12 tribes of Israel (3 gates each on the north, south, east, west) (Rev 21:12). This wall will have 12 foundations, and on those will be the names of the 12 apostles (Rev 21:14). Each of the foundations will be adorned with 12 different precious stones (Rev 21:19-20). Each of the 12 gates will be constructed of one pearl (Rev 21:21).
There will also be a “tree of life,” which bears 12 fruits, one for each month (Rev 22:2).
The Bible is also filled with multiples of the number of 12. For example, when the Temple was built, its foundation was 60 cubits long (12 x 5) (2 Chr 3:3), the porch was 120 cubits high (12 x 10) (2 Chr 3:4), and the Holy Place was overlaid with 600 talents of fine gold (12 x 50) (2 Chr 3:8). When the Ark was brought into it, 120 priests were “sounding with trumpets” (12 x 10) (2 Chr 5:12). When dedicating it, Solomon offered a sacrifice of 120,000 sheep (12 x 10,000) (2 Chr 7:5).
In Revelation, we find multiples such as: 24 elders sitting on 24 thrones (12 x 2) (Rev 4:4), 144,000 Jews are sealed (12 x 12,000) (Rev 7:4)(Rev 14:1,3), the New Jerusalem will be 12,000 furlongs in length, breadth, and height (12 x 1000) (Rev 21:16), and its wall will be 144 cubits (12 x 12) (Rev 21:17).