In comparison to the previous numbers we have looked at, there are not as many instances of the number fifteen in our everyday lives. The most obvious is the quarter hour, which is made up of fifteen minutes. Sports fans will be quick to point out that there are fifteen players in a rugby union team and in tennis, the number fifteen represents the first point scored in a game. The chemists will also inform us that fifteen is the atomic number of phosphorus.
In my research, I came across the term quinceañera, which is the title given to a Catholic Latina girl on her fifteenth birthday. Another Spanish phrase, “la niña bonita”(the beautiful girl), is what Spanish Bingo callers announce when the number fifteen comes up.
There are three Jewish festivals that begin on the fifteenth day of the month. Passover (the Feast of the Unleavened Bread) begins on the fifteenth day of Nisan, the first month. Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) begins on the fifteenth day of Tishrei, the seventh month. Finally, Tu Bishvat begins on the fifteenth day of Shevat, the eleventh month.
Interestingly, the number fifteen does not follow the usual method of numbering in the Hebrew numbering system. Numbers are represented by letters and, whilst 13 is combined of 1 and 3, and 14 of 1 and 4, the numbers 1 and 5 spell out one of the Jewish names for God. Therefore, the number is written with the letters representing 9 and 6, instead.
It is thought that in the Bible the number fifteen represents rest after deliverance. This is based on the events that occur in Exodus when the Israelites were delivered from slavery. God had told Abraham in Genesis 15:12-16 that his descendants would be enslaved and mistreated, however, they will eventually be let free. In Exodus 12, the enslaved Israelites are instructed to put sheep or goat’s blood on their doors on the fourteenth day of the month, so when God passes through the land that night striking down all the firstborn sons, they will be spared. The very next day, the fifteenth day of the month, Pharaoh orders the Israelites to leave.
Exodus 12:41 says, “At the end of the 430 years, to the very day, all the Lord’s divisions left Egypt.” This is referring to the moment God told Abraham about the fate of his descendants. Not only were the Israelites freed on the fifteenth, but Abraham also received his message on the fifteenth. (The date was not recorded in Genesis because the Lord only established when the first month was at the beginning of Exodus 12.)
Another event that occurred on the fifteenth day of the first month, or Nisan, was the burial of Christ in the tomb. As the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John record, this was the beginning of the Jewish day of Preparation and the Sabbath was about to begin.
Although there are many references to Passover in the Bible, there are not as many occurrences of the number fifteen. I have, however, managed to locate a handful of examples. Not all of these have a correlation with the idea that the number fifteen represents rest after deliverance and, therefore, may not have a particular meaning.
To finish, I have found a few fun appearances of the number fifteen in scripture:
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon