“Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures; yet the best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” - Psalm 90:10 (NIV)
In some Asian cultures, the age of seventy is called the Rare Age of the Olden Times. It is represented by platinum in wedding anniversaries. Copyrights generally expire after seventy years.
Seventy is the atomic number of ytterbium. In archery, the archers stand seventy metres from the targets. Both the Canadian and Hungarian Grand Prix contain seventy laps. Seventy miles per hour is the national speed limit, although I am sure some drivers appear to be unaware of this! The Earth’s oceans and seas cover approximately seventy per cent of the planet.
In the Bible, the number seventy appears at least sixty times and is considered to be a sacred number. It is made up of the sum of two perfect numbers: seven, which represents perfection, and ten, representing God’s law. As a result, some theologians say the number represents the universe.
The first time the number seventy appears in scripture is in chapter five of the book of Genesis. Here, in verse twelve, we are told that Kenan was seventy years old when he became the father of Mahalelel. Later, in chapter eleven, it is revealed that Terah was seventy when he fathered Nahor, Haran and Abram, subsequently renamed Abraham.
Some sources say that the Ancient Egyptians took seventy days to embalm a body. In the Bible, however, we are told the time required for embalming was forty days. This is written in Genesis 50:1-3 following the death of Jacob (Israel). It is reported that the Egyptians mourned him for seventy days.
Several times in the Bible, it is recorded that there were a total of seventy descendants of Jacob in Egypt:
Another important mention of the number seventy is in relation to the amount of time the Israelites were held in captivity by the Babylonians. The people of Judah were also in captivity for seventy years. In the book of Daniel, Jerusalem was given seventy weeks to put an end to their sins. Records of these are found several times in the Bible. Here are a few:
There are many other mentions of the number seventy but I could spend all day telling you about each one. I have selected a few more verses in addition to those already mentioned to give you a flavour of the significance the number held. Only once is the number seventy mentioned in the New Testament.
Saint Augustine of Hippo (345 AD – 430 AD), a Roman African philosopher, associated the number seventy with the totality of an evolution, i.e. a life cycle being completed. This was mostly in relation to the cosmos, however, other thinkers have connected this theory with the years the Israelites spent in Babylonian captivity followed by the seventy years that Jerusalem thrived.
The fact that the number seventy appears so frequently in the Old Testament suggests that there ought to be a particular reason for its use. Sceptics, however, point out that it could be a rough number to indicate that there were a lot of years, people etc. involved.
What do you think? Does the number seventy hold special meaning in the Bible? I welcome your thoughts.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon