The Riveting Symbolism of the Number 12 in the Bible, Plus More Than 50 Incredible Examples

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When exploring which numbers in the Bible carry symbolic significance, number 12 in the Bible stands out as one of the most prominent in Scripture. In fact, it appears 187 times throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Other numbers with deep biblical significance include 3, 6, 7, and 40.

Before we dive into the significance of the number 12 in the Bible, I want to share a word of caution. We need to be careful about looking for hidden meanings, messages, or even codes in certain numbers of the Bible.

If you search “Numerology” on Google, you find the following definition:

“Numerology is the pseudoscientific belief in a divine or mystical relationship between a number and one or more coinciding events. It is also the study of the numerical value of the letters in words, names, and ideas. It is often associated with the paranormal, alongside astrology and similar to divinatory arts.”

If, however, we search for “Biblical Numerology”, we get a closer match:

“Biblical numerology is the use of numbers in the Bible to convey a meaning outside of the numerical value of the actual number being used. Numerological values in the Bible often relate to a wider usage in the Ancient Near East”

However, the results still show some new age meanings, so we need to view the results with discretion.

image of aged Bible for the post The Riveting Symbolism of the Number 12 in the Bible

That being said, there IS biblical significance to several numbers in the Bible, but we should be careful about self-interpretation of these numbers, including the number 12 in the Bible.

Ultimately, I believe God did have reasons for using certain numbers repeatedly in the Bible, but only He knows the true reasons.

The Riveting Symbolism of the Number 12 in the Bible, Plus More Than 50 Incredible Examples Click To Tweet

In this post, we’ll explore the number 12 in the Bible, its significance, and many instances where the number 12 appears in the Bible.

The Symbolism of the Number 12 in the Bible?

The number twelve in the Bible seems to be very important to God and it represents, in most cases, the number of perfection and authority.  It additionally signifies completeness.

It is often used in the context of government. For example, because Jacob has 12 sons, they form the 12 tribes of Israel. There are also 12 minor prophets in the Old Testament.

As mentioned above, the number twelve is found 187 times in the Bible and is particularly significant in Revelation, showing the authority and perfection in the New Jerusalem.  

Jesus chose 12 disciples and later replaced Judas Iscariot with Mattias to maintain 12 disciples. (Acts 1) This showed the perfection and authority of those who followed Jesus.

Similar to the number three in the Bible, not every instance of the number 12 in the Bible is a ‘good’ kind of perfection. For instance, Jesus healed a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, (Matthew 9:20-22).

The 12 years could signify how bad her condition was, signifying the malady as a ‘perfect storm.’ Or it might mean that this was the completion of a difficult period and God will do something new now.

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:20-22 (ESV)

In most instances, however, 12 in the Bible represents something good.

The Significance of Numbers in the Bible

Numbers in the Hebrew culture tended to have a deeper meaning than what we subscribe to about numbers today.

In most occurrences in the Bible, numbers have a literal and symbolic meaning (i.e. Jacob didn’t metaphorically have 12 sons, he literally had 12 sons), in other cases numbers may have only a symbolic meaning.

Six days of creation, seven including the rest day, may have been literal, but it also may have been simply symbolic. (Genesis 1). The number of saved souls in heaven will likely be more than 144,000 (Revelation 7), but 144,00 is 12 times the cube of ten—a quotient of perfection. 

While numbers in the Bible can give clues to readers into a deeper meaning in scripture, we need to ensure the context of the passage aligns with the typical symbolism attributed to the number.

We have to be aware that not every number has a biblical meaning.  For example, Seth may just have happened to live to the age of 912 and there may not have been any significance to his age.

Thus all the days of Seth were 912 years, and he died.

Genesis 5:8 (ESV)

53 Instances of 12 in the Bible

1. Jesus spoke in the temple at age 12.

Jesus first spoke in the temple with religious leaders at the age of 12 when he and his family had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover.

And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom. And the favor of God was upon him.

Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom. And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the group they went a day’s journey, but then they began to search for him among their relatives and acquaintances, and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, searching for him.

Luke 2:40-25 (ESV)

2. 12 cakes were placed in the Tabernacle.

An interesting use of 12 in the Bible is that the priests were instructed to place 12 unleavened cakes in the Tabernacle. The unleavened form of these cakes may have symbolized the same bread used in Passover when the Israelites left Egypt.

“You shall take fine flour and bake twelve loaves from it; two tenths of an ephah shall be in each loaf.

Leviticus 24:5 (ESV)

3. 12 of several items were instructed to be place in the Tabernacle

12 silver plates, 12 bowls, 12 bulls, 12 rams, and 12 male lambs. (Numbers 7)

4. Several biblical figures had 12 princes.

Jacob isn’t the only descendant of Abraham to have 12 princes (tribes) come from his line. Ishmael, Abraham’s son through his servant Hagar, also had 12 princes come from his line.

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.

Genesis 17:20 (ESV)

5. 12 spies scouted the Promised Land.

The Israelites, when they were wandering in the desert after escaping from Egypt had 12 spies go out and scout for them. (Numbers 13).

6. Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was fulfilled after 12 months.

Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that was interpreted to mean he would act like an animal for a while. The prophecy ended up being fulfilled just one year later (Daniel 4).

7. 12 thousand men came to battle.

The Israelites were faced with an impossible decision when they were surrounded by Midianite soldiers. They could choose to lay down and die or fight back.

The twelve thousand men came together as one force ready for battle against these much stronger enemies. This may be a case where there weren’t exactly 12,000 men, but the writer simply indicated that a vast number showed up to the battle. (Numbers 31)

8. 12 baskets remained full.

When Jesus performs the miracle of feeding 5000 people, there were 12 baskets full of leftover food.

And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over

Matthew 14:20 (ESV)

9. 12,000 people died in Ai.

Ai is destroyed in Joshua 8, with 12k people falling that day. Their deaths of them showed complete and perfect destruction for all the inhabitants of Ai

Ai might’ve had more than 12 thousand residents but when they were killed it meant an end to their city as well (Joshua 8)

10. Solomon appointed 12 governors.

Solomon appointed 12 district governors to govern the land. The number of governors points to the symbolism of 12 in the Bible, especially as it relates to government.

Solomon had twelve officers over all Israel, who provided food for the king and his household. Each man had to make provision for one month in the year.

1 Kings 4:7 (ESV)

11. Elisha worked with 12 oxen.

Elisha, while plowing 12 oxen, is called into his prophetic ministry by Elijah.

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.

1 Kings 19:19 (ESV)

12. 12 priests were chosen by Ezra

When Israel returns after their captivity, Ezra sets apart 12 priests (Ezra 8).

13. The Tree of Life in Revelation will bear 12 fruits.

In New Jerusalem that God will bring at the end of time, there is a tree with 12 fruits. One fruit for each month in a year!

Then the angelshowed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.

Revelation 22:1-2

14. Jesus chose 12 disciples who later became the 12 apostles. (Acts 1:23-26).

15. There are 12 gates that descend out of heaven in the New Jerusalem.

These gates are guarded by 12 angels.  Each of the gates have been named for one of the 12 tribes of Israel.

It had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels, and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed—

Revelation 21:12 (ESV)

16. 12 thousand people from each of the 12 tribes will be saved near the end of the present world.

And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:

12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed,
12,000 from the tribe of Reuben,
12,000 from the tribe of Gad,
12,000 from the tribe of Asher,
12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali,
12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh,
12,000 from the tribe of Simeon,
12,000 from the tribe of Levi,
12,000 from the tribe of Issachar,
12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun,
12,000 from the tribe of Joseph,
12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.

Revelation 7:4-8 (ESV)

17. The walls of the New Jerusalem will be 144 cubits high (12 x 12).

The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.

Revelation 21:16 (ESV)

18. 12 precious stones will be used as the foundation of New Jerusalem.

 The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with every kind of jewel. The first was jasper, the second sapphire, the third agate, the fourth emerald, the fifth onyx, the sixth carnelian, the seventh chrysolite, the eighth beryl, the ninth topaz, the tenth chrysoprase, the eleventh jacinth, the twelfth amethyst.

Revelation 21:19-20 (ESV)

19. Each of the 12 foundations of the city of New Jerusalem was named for each of the 12 apostles.

And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

Revelation 21:14 (ESV)

20. 12 thousand people will be taken from the earth to serve the Lamb of God, Jesus.

21. The high priest’s breastplate had 12 precious stones embedded within them.

You shall set in it four rows of stones. A row of sardius, topaz, and carbuncle shall be the first row; and the second row an emerald, a sapphire, and a diamond; and the third row a jacinth, an agate, and an amethyst; and the fourth row a beryl, an onyx, and a jasper. They shall be set in gold filigree.

Exodus 28:17–20 (ESV)

 22. There are 12 Minor Prophets in the Old Testament. 

They are called minor, not because they are less important than the Major Prophets, but because they are considerably shorter than the Major prophets!

23. There are 12 historical books in the Bible.

 Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 Sam, 2 Sam, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther.

24. There were 12 men who laid 12 stones in building a monument to the Lord.

and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’”

Joshua 4:3 (ESV)

25. The Book of Chronicles contained 12 great priests.

26. Twelve curses were announced for disobedience to Israel. (Deuteronomy 27).

The form you have selected does not exist.

27. A young Israelite male took 12 years before he could be dedicated as a “son of the law.”

28. There were the 12 sacrifices of animals that were to be given (Numbers 7, 29).

29. At Elim, there were 12 wells of water.

Then they came to Elim, where there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they encamped there by the water.

Exodus 15:27 (ESV)

And they set out from Marah and came to Elim; at Elim there were twelve springs of water and seventy palm trees, and they camped there.

Numbers 33:9 (ESV)

30. During the dedication of the Tabernacle, the leaders of Israel made an offering of 12 oxen.

and brought their offerings before the Lord, six wagons and twelve oxen, a wagon for every two of the chiefs, and for each one an ox. They brought them before the tabernacle.

Numbers 7:3 (ESV)

31. 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. That man would turn out to be Aaron.

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying,“Speak to the people of Israel, and get from them staffs, one for each fathers’ house, from all their chiefs according to their fathers’ houses, twelve staffs. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each fathers’ house.Then you shall deposit them in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout.

Numbers 17:1-4 (ESV)

32. Twelve stones were to be chosen from the Jordan River to act as a memorial that God had dried up the Jordan in order for the Ark Of The Covenant and the Israelites to cross it.

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’” Then Joshua called the twelve men from the people of Israel, whom he had appointed, a man from each tribe. And Joshua said to them, “Pass on before the ark of the Lord your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take up each of you a stone upon his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the people of Israel, that this may be a sign among you. When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.”

Joshua 4:1-7 (ESV)

33. 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.

And when he entered his house, he took a knife, and taking hold of his concubine he divided her, limb by limb, into twelve pieces, and sent her throughout all the territory of Israel.

Judges 19:29 (ESV)

34. 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).

The king also made a great ivory throne and overlaid it with the finest gold. The throne had six steps, and the throne had a round top, and on each side of the seat were armrests and two lions standing beside the armrests, while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. The like of it was never made in any kingdom.

while twelve lions stood there, one on each end of a step on the six steps. Nothing like it was ever made for any kingdom.

2 Chronicles 9:19 (ESV)

35. A large basin called “the Sea” was built to hold water for the priests, and it was set upon 12 oxen statues.

It stood on twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east. The sea was set on them, and all their rear parts were inward.

1 Kings 7:25 (ESV)

36. The prophet Ahijah tore the garment he was wearing into 12 pieces.

And at that time, when Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had dressed himself in a new garment, and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces.

1 Kings 11:29-30 (ESV)

37. Elijah built an altar with 12 stones.

Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord came, saying, “Israel shall be your name,” and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two seahsof seed.

1 Kings 18:31-32 (ESV)

38. Evil King Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king.

Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah.

2 Kings 21:1 (ESV)

39. Nehemiah was appointed to be the governor in the land of Judah for 12 years.

Moreover, from the time that I was appointed to be their governor in the land of Judah, from the twentieth year to the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes the king, twelve years, neither I nor my brothers ate the food allowance of the governor.

Nehemiah 5:14 (ESV)

40. Haman sought to destroy all of the Jews in the 12 month.

In the first month, which is the month of Nisan, in the twelfth year of King Ahasuerus, they cast Pur (that is, they cast lots) before Haman day after day; and they cast it month after month till the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar.

Esther 3:7 (ESV)

Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with instruction to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all Jews, young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

Esther 3:13 (ESV)

41. God’s judgment fell on King Nebuchadnezzar 12 months after his dream.

All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?”While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.

Daniel 4:28-33 (ESV)

42. The woman with the “issue of blood” had been bleeding for 12 years when she was healed by Jesus.

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:20-22 (ESV)

43. The daughter of Jairus, whom Jesus brought back to life, was 12.

And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.

Mark 5:42 (ESV)

44. Jesus said that in the regeneration, the 12 apostles would sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Matthew 19:28 (ESV)

45. When Jesus was being arrested, He said He could call for more than “12 legions of angels” if He needed help.

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

Matthew 26:53 (ESV)

46. Paul laid hands on “about 12 men,” and “the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied”.

And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.There were about twelve men in all.

Acts 19:6-7 (ESV)

47.      The Bible is also filled with multiples of the number 12.

For example, when the Temple was built, its foundation was 60 cubits long (12 x 5), the porch was 120 cubits high (12 x 10), and the Holy Place was overlaid with 600 talents of fine gold (12 x 50).

These are Solomon’s measurementsfor building the house of God: the length, in cubits of the old standard, was sixty cubits, and the breadth twenty cubits.

2 Chronicles 3:3 (ESV)

The vestibule in front of the nave of the house was twenty cubits long, equal to the width of the house, and its height was 120 cubits. He overlaid it on the inside with pure gold.

2 Chronicles 3:4 (ESV)

And he made the Most Holy Place. Its length, corresponding to the breadth of the house, was twenty cubits, and its breadth was twenty cubits. He overlaid it with 600 talentsof fine gold.

2 Chronicles 3:8 (ESV)

48. When the Ark was brought into the Most Holy Place, 120 priests were “sounding with trumpets” (12 x 10).

and all the Levitical singers, Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun, their sons and kinsmen, arrayed in fine linen, with cymbals, harps, and lyres, stood east of the altar with 120 priests who were trumpeters;

2 Chronicles 5:12 (ESV)

49. When dedicating the Ark of the Covenant, Solomon offered a sacrifice of 120,000 sheep (12 x 10,000).

King Solomon offered as a sacrifice 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep. So the king and all the people dedicated the house of God.

2 Chronicles 7:5 (ESV)

50. 12 people were anointed for special service

Twelve people are specifically noted in scripture as being anointed for a unique task or responsibility.

They are Aaron and his four sons to serve as priests (Exodus 29:7 – 9) and Saul (1Samuel 10:1), David (1Samuel 16:13), and Solomon (1Kings 1:39) to serve as kings over a united Israel.

51. Only 12 people in the Bible have names with just two letters.

12 names in the Bible have only two letters. They are Ai (Joshua 7:2), Ar (Num. 21:15), Ed (Joshua 22:34), Er (Genesis 38:3), Ir (1Chronicles 7:12), No (Jeremiah 46:25), Og (Num. 21:33), On (Num. 16:11), Pe (Psalm 119:129), So (2Kings 17:4), Ur (Genesis 11:28) and Uz (Genesis 10:23).

52. Twelve patriarchs from and including Shem (one of Noah’s sons saved in the Ark) to Jacob (Israel) are Shem, Arphaxad, Salah, Heber, Peleg, Reu, Serug, Nahor, Terah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

53. Christ’s bride in Revelation 12, the church, wears a crown containing twelve stars.

And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.

Revelation 12:1 (ESV)

God uses numbers to bring about his kingdom and reveal himself. We have 12 months in a year, and the number 12 in the Bible is also used for governments in the past and the future.

The more we catch these significant numbers throughout Scripture, the stronger our faith in God’s plan becomes.

God used numbers for symbolism in the past, as we see with the number 12 in the Bible, and He will continue to use them in the future.

.Of all the numerals found in scripture, twelve and three, six, seven, and forty are unmistakably used symbolically in God’s word.

Have you ever noticed the prevalence of the number 12 in the Bible? There are dozens of instances where this number is used as a symbol for perfection or completion.

I’ve just scratched the surface here, but I hope you will take some time to look up more examples of 12 in Scripture. As you do, ask God to reveal what He wants to say to you through His beautiful symbolism.

When you see how often God employs numbers as symbols in His Word, it becomes clear that He is a God who delights in using intricate details to communicate with us. The next time you come across the number 12 in your reading, stop and spend some time meditating on what message God might be trying to say.

You may enjoy this video by Troy Brewer and Troy Brewer ministries about 12 in the Bible.

Or one of these recommended resources for further study:

Numbers in the Bible : God’s Unique Design in Biblical Numbers by Robert D. Johnston 

Prophetic Numbers of the Bible: The Numbers in the Word of God by Charles E. Rhone Sr.

Number in Scripture: Its Supernatural Design and Spiritual Significance by E. W. Bullinger

 

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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