Spiritual Meaning of

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 Three, Seven

That three and seven signify what is holy, is evident from the following passages in the Word. In Moses:--

He that toucheth the dead shall be unclean seven days; the same shall expiate himself therefrom on the third day, and on the seventh day he shall be clean; but if he expiate not himself on the third day, on the seventh day he shall not be clean. He that toucheth one slain with a sword, or a dead body, or a bone of a man, or a grave, shall be unclean seven days; the clean shall sprinkle upon the unclean on the third day, and on the seventh day; and on the seventh day he shall expiate him, and he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and shall be clean at even (Num. 19:11, 12, 16, 19).

That these things are representative, or that the outward things signify internal ones, is very evident, as that one would be unclean who had touched a dead body, one slain, a bone of a man, a grave. All these things signify in the internal sense things proper to man, which are dead and profane. So also the washing in water and being clean at even were representative, and also the third day and the seventh day, which signify what is holy because on those days he was to be purified and would thus be clean.

[3] In like manner concerning those who returned from battle against the Midianites:--

Encamp ye without the camp seven days; whosoever hath slain a soul, and whosoever hath touched one slain, ye shall expiate yourselves on the third day and on the seventh day (Num. 31:19).

If this were but a ritual, and the third day and the seventh were not representative and significative of holiness, or of expiation, it would be a dead thing, like that which is without a cause, and like a cause without an end, or like a thing separated from its cause, and this cause from its end, and thus in no way Divine. That the third day was representative, and thus significative, of what is holy, is very evident from the coming of the Lord upon Mount Sinai, for which it was thus commanded:--

And Jehovah said unto Moses, Go unto the people, and sanctify them today and to-morrow, and let them wash their garments, and be ready against the third day; for on the third day Jehovah will come down in the sight of all the people upon Mount Sinai (Exod. 19:10, 11, 14, 15).

[4] For a similar reason Joshua crossed the Jordan on the third day:--

Joshua commanded, Pass through the midst of the camp, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals, for within three days ye are to pass over this Jordan, to go in to inherit the land (Josh. 1:11; 3:2).

The crossing of the Jordan represented the introduction of the sons of Israel, that is, of those who are regenerate, into the kingdom of the Lord; Joshua, who led them in, represented the Lord; and this was done on the third day. Because the third day was holy, as was the seventh, it was ordained that the year of tithes should be the third year, and that then the people should show themselves holy by works of charity (Deut. 26:12-15); the tithes represented remains, which because they are of the Lord alone, are holy. That Jonah was three days and three nights in the bowels of the fish (Jonah 1:17) manifestly represented the burial and resurrection of the Lord on the third day (Matt. 12:40).

[5] That three signifies that holy thing is evident also in the Prophets, as in Hosea:--

After two days will Jehovah revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him (Hosea 6:2),

where also the third day plainly denotes the coming of the Lord and His resurrection. In Zechariah:--

It shall come to pass that in all the land two parts therein shall be cut off and expire, but the third shall be left therein, and I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried (Zechariah 13:8, 9),

where the third part, like three, denotes what is holy.

from AC 901

On the third day. That this signifies completeness, and the beginning of sanctification, is evident from the signification of the third day. Day in the Word signifies state (AC 23, 487, 488, 493, 893); as also does year, and in general all periods of time; as an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year, an age; as also morning, noon, evening, and night; and spring, summer, autumn, and winter; and when third is added to these, they signify the end of that state, and at the same time the beginning of the following state. As the Lord's sanctification is here treated of, which was effected by temptations, the third day signifies completeness, and at the same time the beginning of sanctification, as also follows from what has been already said The reason of this signification is that when the Lord had fulfilled all things He would rise again on the third day; for the things that were done, or that would be done by the Lord when He lived in the world, were in the representatives of the church as if already done (as also they were in the internal sense of the Word); for in God to be and to become are the same; indeed all eternity is present to Him.

[2] Hence the number three was representative, not only in the Ancient Church and in the Jewish, but also among various nations. (AC 720, 901, 1825). That this was the origin of the signification of three, is evident in Hosea:--

Let us return unto Jehovah, for He hath wounded, and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind us up; after two days He will revive us, on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him (Hosea 6:1, 2);

where the third day denotes the Lord's coming, and His resurrection. And from Jonah, that he was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (Jonah 1:17); concerning which the Lord thus speaks in Matthew:--

As Jonah was in the whale's belly three days and three nights, so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).

[3] Be it known that in the internal sense of the Word three days and the third day signify the same, as also do three and third in the passages which now follow. In John:--

Jesus said to the Jews, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up He spake of the temple of His body (John 2:19-21; Matt. 26:61; Mark 14:58; 15:29).

[4] That the Lord rose again on the third day is known. For the same reason the Lord distinguished the periods of His life into three, as stated in Luke:--

Go ye and tell that fox, Behold I cast out demons, and perform cures today and to-morrow, and the third day I am perfected (Luke 13:32).

His last temptation also, that of the cross, the Lord endured at the third hour of the day (Mark 15:25); and after three hours there came darkness over the whole land, or at the sixth hour (Luke 23:44); and after three hours, or at the ninth hour, the end (Mark 15:33, 34, 37). But on the morning of the third day He rose again (Mark 16:1-4; Luke 24:7; Matt. 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:18, 19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33, 34; Luke 18:33; 24:46). From all this, and especially from the Lord's resurrection on the third day, the number three was representative and significative, as may be seen from the following passages in the Word:--

When Jehovah came down upon Mount Sinai, He told Moses to sanctify the people to-day and to-morrow, and that they should wash their garments, and be ready against the third day, for on the third day Jehovah would descend (Exod. 19:10, 11, 15, 16).

When they set forth from the mount of Jehovah on a journey of three days, the ark of Jehovah went before them a three days' journey to seek out a resting place for them (Num. 10:33).

There was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days, and they saw not one another for three days, but the sons of Israel had light (Exod. 10:22, 23).

[5] The flesh of the sacrifice of a vow, or of a free-will offering, was to be eaten on the first and second day nothing was to be left to the third day, but the remainder was to be burnt, because it was an abomination.

So too with the flesh of the peace-offering; and if it should be eaten on the third day it would not propitiate, but the soul should carry its iniquity (Lev. 7:16-18; 19:6, 7).

He that touched one dead was to purify himself on the third day, and on the seventh day he should be clean otherwise that soul should be cut off from Israel and one that was clean should sprinkle water upon him that was unclean on the third day and on the seventh day (Num. 19:12, 13, 19).

They who slew a person in battle, or touched one that was slain, were to purify themselves on the third day, and on the seventh day (Num. 31:19).

[6] When they came into the land of Canaan the fruit was to be uncircumcised three years, and was not to be eaten (Lev. 19:23).

At the end of three years they were to bring all the tithes of their increase in that year and lay it up in their gates, that the Levite, the sojourner, the orphan, and the widow might eat (Deut. 14:28, 29; 24:12).

Three times in the year they were to keep a feast to Jehovah, and three times in the year every male was to appear before the face of the Lord Jehovih (Exod. 23:14, 17; Deut. 16:16).

Joshua told the people that in three days they should pass over the Jordan and inherit the land (Josh. 1:11; 3:2).

[7] Jehovah called to Samuel three times, and he answered the third time (1 Sam. 3:8).

When Saul wished to kill David, David hid himself in the field till the third evening. Jonathan said to David that he would sound his father on the third day. Jonathan shot three arrows by the side of the stone, and David then fell upon his face to the earth before Jonathan and bowed himself down three times (1 Sam. 20:5, 12, 19, 20, 35, 36, 41).

David was to choose one of three things seven years of famine in the land; or that he should flee before his enemies three months; or a pestilence in the land three days (2 Sam. 24:12, 13).

[8] There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year (2 Sam. 21:1).

Elijah stretched himself upon the dead child three times and brought him to life (1 Kings 17:21).

When Elijah had built the altar to Jehovah, he told them to pour water upon the burnt-offering and upon the wood three times (1 Kings 18:34).

The fire twice consumed the commanders over fifty, sent to Elijah, but not him that was sent the third time (2 Kings 1:13).

It was a sign to king Hezekiah that they should eat that year what sprung up spontaneously, in the second year the after-growth, but in the third year they should sow, reap, plant vineyards, and eat the fruit of them (2 Kings 19:29).

[9] Daniel entered into his house and had the windows open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, and here three times a day he blessed upon his knees and prayed (Dan. 6:11, 14).

Daniel mourned three weeks of days, eating no pleasant bread, nor drinking wine, nor anointing himself, until the three weeks of days were fulfilled (Dan. 10:2, 3).

Isaiah went naked and barefoot three years, for a sign and a wonder upon Egypt and upon Cush (Isa. 20:3).

Out of the candlestick went forth three branches on each side, and three almond-shaped cups on each branch (Exod. 25:32, 33).

In the Urim and Thummim there were three precious stones in each row (Exod. 28:17-19).

[10] In the new temple there were to be three chambers of the gate on this side and three on that side, and they three should have one measure at the porch of the house the breadth of the gate should be three cubits on this side and three cubits on that side (Ezek. 40:10, 21, 48).

In the New Jerusalem there were to be three gates to the north, three to the east, three to the south, and three to the west (Ezek. 48:31-34; Rev. 21:13).

So in the following passages:--

Peter denied Jesus thrice (Matt. 26:34, 69-75).

The Lord said to Peter three times, Lovest thou Me? (John 21:17).

Also in the parable, the man who planted the vineyard sent servants three times, and at length his son (Luke 20:12; Mark 12:2, 4-6).

They who labored in the vineyard were hired at the third hour, the sixth hour, the ninth hour, and the eleventh hour (Matt. 20:1-17).

Because the fig-tree did not bear fruit for three years, it was to be cut down (Luke 13:6, 7).

[11] As a trine and a third were representative, so also was a third part; as that in the meat-offering of fine flour two tenths were mixed with a third part of a hin of oil and the wine for a libation was a third part of a hin (Num. 15:6, 7; Ezek. 46:14).

The prophet Ezekiel was to pass a razor upon his head, and upon his beard, and then divide the hair and burn a third part in the fire, and smite a third with the sword, about it (the city), and scatter a third to the wind (Ezek. 5:1, 2, 11).

In the whole land, two parts were to be cut off and the third was to be left but the third was to be brought through the fire and proved (Zech. 13:8, 9).

[12] When the first angel sounded there came hail and fire mingled with blood, and it fell upon the earth so that a third part of the trees were burnt up. The second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea, and a third part of the sea became blood because of which a third part of the creatures in the sea having souls, died, and a third part of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven burning like a lamp, and it fell upon a third part of the rivers the name of the star was Wormwood. The fourth angel sounded, and a third part of the sun was smitten, and a third part of the moon, and a third part of the stars, so that a third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night in like manner (Rev. 8:7-12).


The four angels were loosed to kill a third part of men (Rev. 9:15).

By these three were the third part of men killed, by the fire, and the smoke, and the brimstone, which proceeded out of the mouth of the horses (Rev. 9:18).

The dragon drew with his tail a third part of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth (Rev. 12:4).

A third part, however, signifies some, and what is not yet complete; but the third, and a trine, what is complete; and this, of evil to the evil, and of good to the good.

from AC 2788

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Author:  E. Swedenborg (1688-1772). Design:  I.J. Thompson, Feb 2002. www.BibleMeanings.info