Are you superstitious? Whenever I think about superstitions I can’t help but think of the Apostle Paul and his speech to the men of Athens. By all accounts, Paul was quite a character. I can just picture him standing on the ancient Areopagus (Mars Hill) of Athens nearly two thousand years ago calling out to those gathered at the famous altar to the Unknown God:
“Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.”
I admit, I would like to have been there for that speech. To see Paul in his billowing robes challenging the highly educated Atheneans about their unfounded superstitions would have been quite a sight. Anyway, Paul goes on to explain to the men of Athens that the God they ignorantly worship was the living God of the Bible. If the Apostle Paul was here today, I can just see him chiding our generation with similar advice.
Let’s take the number 13 for example. Even among Christians this number has a certain evil connotation about it. Have you ever wondered why the number 13 has such a superstitious aura? What if I told you, that like the ignorance of those men of Athens concerning the altar to their Unknown God, the superstitions surrounding the number 13 are but the vestiges of a similar story that involves that same “Unknown God”?
Back in Time
So let’s look for the Unknown God in the superstitions surrounding the number 13. To do that we need to go back in time. Back before Mary Kay become engrossed with the number 13; before Sarah Winchester spent her husband’s rifle fortune on a mansion with chandeliers of 13 candles and stair cases of 13 steps; before Napoleon Bonaparte, J. Paul Getty, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt became superstitious; before 13 became associated with American Masonic lore; before Jacques de Molay was murdered on Friday the 13th; before the Knights Templar; before Yeshua and His 12 apostles—back nearly five hundred more years to a biblical story of revenge, betrayal, murder, heroism, and the number 13.
You see this story begins nearly five hundred years before the apostle Paul stood on Mars Hill and challenged the superstitions of the Athenians. Our story begins with a bitter vengeful man named Haman casting pur (lots) in order to find a good day in which to kill the Jewish people. It began in the month of Nisan of the 12th year of a Persian King Ahasuerus and for the next 13 months, Haman sought the advice of the gods by casting his pur. Haman got his answer in the 13th year of Ahasuerus exactly 13 months after casting his first pur. It was the month Nisan, on the 13th day of the 13th year of the Persian King Ahasuerus and it was decreed throughout all the land of Persia that on the 13th day of the final month of that very same year, the Jewish people were to be destroyed.
And the letters were sent by posts into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, even upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to take the spoil of them for a prey. Esther 3:13
We all know how that turned out. The Jewish people are still here, despite Haman’s nefarious machinations, thanks to the courage of a young Jewish woman and the love of the living God of the Bible. You see the history of Jewish people forever changed on the 13th day of Adar. Thanks to the Persian queen Hadassah’s (Esther) heroism her people were given a mandate to defend themselves against the unjust hatred and jealousy of the culture of their day. For the past 2500 years they have honored those events with the celebration of Purim.
An April Fool
But there is more to this story. About the same time this biblical story was unfolding, Persian tradition records the commemoration of a day of ill omen and bad luck. The Persian New Year celebration of Nowruz, literally “new light,” begins in the spring about the time of the spring equinox. This New Year’s celebration is twelve days long, leading up to the 13th day of the Persian new year. On this day, Persians celebrated Sizdah-bedar, which literally means “getting rid of” or “getting past” 13. You see, they believed that if they could get past the 13th day without anything bad happening, they were home free for the rest of the year. In modern times, Persians celebrate the day by visiting the countryside and playing practical jokes on each other. This has led some to speculate that this day may be the origin of April Fool’s Day.
Then were the king’s scribes called on the thirteenth day of the first month, and there was written according to all that Haman had commanded…. Esther 3:12
In stunning irony, Sizdah-bedar was the very day upon which King Ahasuerus granted Haman permission to kill all the Jews of Persia. In true April Fool’s fashion, the joke was on Haman. An entire race of people (of 13 tribes) were marked for death on Sizdah-bedar, the day of “getting rid of 13,” due to the hatred of one man—a man we now know as history’s greatest April fool.
So next time April Fool’s Day and Sizdah-bedar comes around, give a thought to an ancient Persian superstition regarding the number 13 and how YHWH used a pur (a lot) to mark this day in infamy for the Persian people. A day meant for the death and destruction of the Jewish people instead became a celebration of deliverance that they have commemorated every year, for over two and a half millennia.
The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of YHWH. Proverbs 16:33
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13 and Jewish Tradition
But there is even more to this story. You see, to the Jewish people the number 13 has never been a superstitious sign of evil. Maimonides, one of the most respected rabbis of Judaism established 13 principles of the Jewish faith. His 13th principle is a “belief in the resurrection of the dead”.
In the Babylonian Talmud (the rabbinic writings that help explain the Torah), the number 13 is featured prominently, especially as it relates to the Torah and the temple service. Here are a few examples:
- Circumcision is mentioned 13 times in the Torah, and is in consequence regarded as the 13-fold commandment.
- There were 13 trumpet-shaped chests for offering in the temple court of the women.
- The 13th trumpet was for the free will offering
- The priests made 13 prostrations in the sanctuary. During the days of Gamaliel and Hananiah, 14 prostrations were made.
- 13 prostrations were made toward the 13 gates of the temple.
- There were 13 tables in the sanctuary.
- There were 13 kinds of mercy attributes to YHWH.
- In a leap year, there are 13 lunar months.
- There are 13 public and general feasts.
- The land of Israel will be divided among 13 tribes, with the 13th portion going to the “Prince of Israel . . . whom men of all the tribes will serve . . .” (The Babylonian Talmud, Annotated. The Publication Society of America 1895. Kindle Edition.)
13 in Biblical Tradition
It may come as a surprise to some, but seeing the number 13 in a positive light is not just a Jewish Rabbinic tradition. Sadly, the Christian scholar E. W. Bullinger in his popular book Number in Scripture poisoned the well for many Christians when he claimed that the number 13 was associated with rebellion in the Bible. What’s disappointing to me is that most stop reading there. Bullinger goes on to explain how the number 13 in the Bible is also associated with atonement. In fact it may shock some of you to learn that the very names of God as given in the Bible: YHWH, Adonai, and Ha-Elohim all are multiples of 13.
For those who may not be familiar with the subject, in Old Testament times they didn’t use Arabic numerals. Each Hebrew letter was assigned a numerical value. This gave each Hebrew word a numerical value in addition to its normal written meaning. For instance the personal name of God as used over 6500 times in the Old Testament has the numerical value of 26 or 2 x 13.
How many of you remember the Apostle John’s words that “God is Love”.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:14-16
Or how about the famous chapter on love in the Bible which ends with this wonderful summary:
And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
Did you know that in the Old Testament one of the Hebrew words for love is ahabah. Ahabah is first mentioned in the Bible in relation to Jacob’s service for Rachel because of the ahabah or love he had for her. Would it surprise you to learn that the Hebrew letters in the word ahabah equal 13?
And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love [ahabah—13] he had to her. (Genesis 29:20)
Yeshua as the Atonement Sacrifice
The New Testament writers make it very clear that because of His love for us Yeshua’s made substitutionary atonement and forever paid the righteous penalties for mankind’s sin. Did you know that the Biblical feast days of Unleavened Bread, Shavuot, Yom Turah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkoth each have 13 sacrifices associated with them in some way? I encourage you to check it out and see for yourself. The symbolism is amazing!
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Romans 5:10-11
The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. John 1:29
Matthew and the Lineage of Yeshua
You know it’s kind of ironic that for centuries scholars have argued about the supposed “mistakes” the apostle Matthew made when he wrote out Yeshua’s lineage in Matthew 1. You have to admit, they seem to have a legitimate concern. I mean Matthew did leave out four Old Testament kings from Yeshua’s lineage. But instead of a mistake, consider the implications if he did this intentionally? What if he was trying to convey a deeper symbolic truth? You see by leaving out four Old Testament kings from Yeshua’s lineage, Matthew made the list only 41 names long (41 is the 13th prime). This in turn has the effect of making Yeshua the 13th generation (what I call the 13th Enumeration). Here take a look:
Here’s the point. Matthew’s record of Yeshua’s lineage never was a mistake. He purposely arranged it to illustrate a greater symbolic truth. By making Yeshua the 13th Enumeration, Matthew illustrated with numbers that indeed Yeshua was the promised redeemer; that eternal sacrifice promised from the very beginning of the world.
And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began. Acts 3:20-21
YHWH is ONE
There are many other examples of this type of symbolism in the Bible, but I end this article with just ONE more.
There are few verses in the Old Testament Scriptures that have a more central role in defining the nature of YHWH, the living God of the Bible, than Deuteronomy 6:4. In Jewish tradition, this passage of Torah is recited every morning and evening as part of the “Shema, Yisrael” prayer:
Hear, O Israel: YHWH our God is one YHWH (Deuteronomy 6:4)
More literally, the verse above would read:
Hear, O Israel, YHWH our God, YHWH is One.
The Hebrew word for “one” is echad. Represented mathematically, echad has a numerical value of 13. YHWH has a numerical value of 26. “YHWH is one” has a value of 39 (3 x 13). Another way one might express this phrase is to say 39 equals 1.
For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one. (1 John 5:7, emphasis mine)
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Here is the numerical value of Yeshua’s full name written in Hebrew.
YHWH is 1 indeed!
Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus [Yeshua] every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus [Yeshua] Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9–11)
My dear readers, YHWH the living God of the Bible loves you. He became flesh as our Yeshua (Salvation of YHWH) so that He might reconcile all of us to Himself. We shouldn’t let our ignorance and superstitions blind us to how He reveals Himself in his word. I leave you with those now familiar words of the Apostle Paul to the men of Athens.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription,
TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.
Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you…
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