It has been said that when one learns and understands the meaning of symbols in the scriptures, it’s like reading them in wonderful color when they used to seem black and white.
As is evident in the scriptures and the Holy Temple, the Lord reveals Himself and the principles of His gospel almost exclusively through symbolism – as He has said, they are received “line upon line, and precept upon precept.” Thus “those who have ears to hear” will hear, and “those who have eyes to see” will begin to understand the mysteries of God as they learn the ways in which He teaches us.
With the lens of symbolism, what can be learned from the use of certain numbers in the Old and New Testaments or other ancient Hebrew texts? Quite a lot!
Take for example the number 40 – Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights. In the Book of Mormon, Ammon and his brethren were lost forty days. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years. Or did they? A study of The Bible shows a total of thirty-eight and half years, not forty! Is the Bible misleading us?
Not really. Because to the Lord’s people during that time, numbers have meanings as symbols and are not always meant to be taken exactly literally. “Forty” to a Hebrew means “a long time.” So when Moses went into the mountain for forty days, it means he was up there “a long time.” When the Israelites are said to wander in the wilderness for forty years, it means they wandered in the wilderness “a long time.” And so forth.
Here are a few more examples: