Did you know the number twelve is the largest number in the English language to have only one syllable? I have found lots of other facts about the number, for example, it is the smallest number that can be divided by exactly six numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12). Before the metric system was introduced, the world used to divide weights and measurements by twelve, for instance, there are 12 inches to a foot. This is called the duodecimal system and has not yet been completely eradicated from society; we still buy eggs by the dozen or half dozen.
A twelve-sided shape is called a dodecagon. Dodeca-is the Greek pronoun meaning twelve and duodeca-is the Latin equivalent. Regular cubes have twelve edges and a three-dimensional shape with twelve sides is called a dodecahedron.
There are twelve months of the year and usually twelve full moons. It takes twelve Earth years for Jupiter to travel a full circle around the sun. There are twelve hours in a half-day and manual clocks are numbered from one to twelve. There are twelve signs of the zodiac, both Western and Chinese.
Twelve is the atomic number of magnesium. The human body has twelve cranial nerves. The duodenum is the name for the first part of the small intestine, which measures approximately twelve inches long (30 cm).
In music, there are twelve major and minor keys (not counting enharmonic). In art, there are twelve basic hues on a colour wheel: three primary colours (red, yellow, blue), three secondary colours (orange, purple, green) and six tertiary colours (yellow-orange, chartreuse green, blue-green, azure, violet, rose).
In myth and legend, there are the twelve labours of Hercules and twelve knights of the roundtable. The Norse god Odin has twelve sons. There are twelve days of Christmas.
In the Bible, it is thought the number twelve is used 187 times, 22 of which appear in Revelation. It is generally believed that twelve is a perfect number and symbolises God’s power and authority. One of the most notable instances of the number twelve is the Twelve Apostles: Peter, Andrew, James (son of Zebedee), John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James (son of Alpheus), Thomas, Simon, Jude Thaddeus and Judas Iscariot (later replaced by Matthias).
In the Old Testament, Ishmael, the first son of Abraham, has twelve sons who become twelve tribal rulers (Genesis 25:16). More importantly, however, are Jacob’s twelve sons, who are the forefathers of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. A good way to remember their names in birth order is the mnemonic “Repentant Sinners Love Jesus. Do Not Give Animals In Zoos Jelly Beans.”
As mentioned above, the number twelve is significant in the Book of Revelation. According to Revelation 7, twelve thousand from each tribe of Israel will receive salvation. This is a total of 144,000 men. Later, in Revelation 14, it is said the same amount will be taken from the earth in order to serve and follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
In Revelation 12, a woman “clothed with the sun” wears a crown of twelve stars on her head. In Revelation 21, there is a description of the new Holy City of Jerusalem. It has a high wall with twelve pearl gates. Each gate is inscribed with the twelve tribes of Israel and guarded by twelve angels. The walls of the city have twelve foundations and on these are the names of the twelve apostles of the lamb. The walls are 144 cubits thick, which is the sum of 12 x 12.
Let’s look at some examples of the number twelve in the other books of the Bible. As you will no doubt see, many of these allude to the Twelve Tribes of Israel established in Genesis.
There are twelve patriarchs from and including Noah’s son Shem up to and including Jacob:
Finally, my last instance of the number twelve to mention is that the first recording of Jesus’ words in scripture occurs when he was only twelve years old. “When Jesus was twelve years old, they went to the festival as usual.” (Luke 2:42, GNT)
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon