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Dictionaries :: Four

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Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


for ('arba?; tessares): "Four" (cardinal number) was a sacred and complete number with the Hebrews, as well as with several other peoples. It occurs very frequently in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

(1) It indicates completeness. We have the four rivers of Paradise (Ge 2:10); the four winds of heaven (Eze 37:9; Da 7:2; 8:8; 11:4; Zec 6:5, the Revised Version, margin "spirits"; #/APC 2Esdras 13:5); "the four winds" (Mt 24:31; Mr 13:27); "the four corners of the earth" (Isa 11:12; Re 7:1; 20:8, the King James Version "quarters"); "the four corners of the house" (Job 1:19); Jephthah's daughter was bewailed four days a year (Jud 11:40); "four cities" are several times mentioned in Jos in the allotment of inheritances (19:7; 21:18, etc.); Nehemiah's enemies sent to him "four times" (Ne 6:4); "four kinds" (the Revised Version, margin "families" of destroyers were threatened, Jer 15:3); Yahweh's "four sore judgments" (Eze 14:21); "four generations" were seen by Job (Job 42:16).

(2) "Four" is frequent in prophetic visions: Daniel saw "four.... beasts" arise, representing four kings (7:3,17); "four notable horns" (Dan 8:8,22; compare #/APC 2Esdras 11:39); "four gates" (#/APC 2Esdras 3:19; four wings, 12:2 the King James Version); "four horns" were seen by Zechariah, as the powers that had scattered Israel, and "four smiths" (Revised Version) as powers that would cast the four horns down (1:18-21); "four chariots and.... horses" represented the "four spirits," the King James Version and the Revised Version, margin (better than "winds"), that went "forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth" (Zech 6:1-5); in the visions of Ezekiel, "four living creatures," each with four faces, four wings, etc., were the bearers of the throne of God (1:5 f, 23); so, in the visions of John there were "four living creatures" before and around the throne (Re 4:6; 5:6,8,14; 6:1; 15:7; 19:4); John saw "four angels" of destruction loosed for their work (Re 9:14).

(3) "Four" occurs frequently in the measurements of the sacred buildings, etc.

(a) of the tabernacle (Ex 25; 26; 27; 28:17; 36, etc.);

(b) of Solomon's temple (1Ki 7:2; 1Ch 9:24);

(c) of Ezekiel's temple (Eze 40:41; 41:5; 42:20; 43:14).

(4) "Four" is used as an alternative with "three" (Pr 30:15,18,21,24,29); we have "three or four" (2 Esdras 16:29,31); "the third and.... the fourth generation" (Ex 20:5; 34:7; Nu 14:18; De 5:9).

(5) Ten times four, or forty is also a special and sacred number, e.g. forty years did Israel eat manna (Ex 16:35); forty years in the wilderness (Nu 14:33; 32:13); "the land had rest forty years" (Jud 3:11; 5:31); Israel was delivered unto the hands of the Philistines for forty years (Jud 13:1); Eli judged Israel forty years (1Sa 4:18); Moses was forty years old when he visited his brethren (Ac 7:23); the flood continued for "forty days and forty nights" (Ge 7:4); Moses was in the Mount "forty days and forty nights" (Ex 24:18; 34:28; De 9:9); Jesus fasted in the desert forty days and nights (Mt 4:2); He remained with His disciples forty days after His resurrection (Ac 1:3).

(6) Fourscore is also frequent (shemonim) (Ex 7:7; Jud 3:30; Jer 41:5, etc.; ogdoekonta, Lu 2:37; 16:7).

(7) Four hundred represents a large number, e.g. the years of the oppression in Egypt (Ge 15:13); Esau's company (Ge 33:1); the men with David (1Sa 22:2; 25:13; 30:10,17); the prophets of Baal "four hundred and fifty," of Asherah, "four hundred" (1Ki 18:19,22); the prophets of Israel (1Ki 22:6). Four thousand represents a larger number, e.g. the musicians and porters of Solomon's temple (1Ch 23:5); the stalls for horses in Solomon's stables (2Ch 9:25); the Assassins who made insurrection under an Egyptian (Ac 21:38); Christ fed "four thousand men, besides women and children" (Mt 15:38). Four hundred thousand represents a very large number, e.g. the congregation of Israel that gathered at Mizpah, "four hundred thousand footmen that drew sword" (Jud 20:2,17); Abijah's army (2Ch 13:3; Jeroboam's, twice that number).

(8) The fourth part also frequently occurs (Ex 29:40; Le 23:13; Nu 23:10; Re 6:8, etc.).

Written by W. L. Walker


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.