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Assembly Title

Submitted by
S. Daly

Age Group

To investigate numbers in the Bible

Faith Group

Some of the objects mentioned in the song below could be held up at the relevant times
Large pieces of paper with numbers on could be held up at the relevant times

Other Details
This assembly is based on the traditional song "Green Grow the Rushes, O"

Today's assembly is about numbers.
You have probably heard people say, "third time lucky" or "unlucky thirteen". In these sayings three is used as a symbol for good luck - and thirteen as a symbol for bad luck.
Thousands of years ago, people thought numbers were magical. The people who wrote the Bible, therefore, included magic numbers in the Bible stories.

2. There is a famous folk song called "Green Grow the Rushes, O". Boy Scouts, amongst others, often sing it. It is actually a religious song; many people do not realise that. It has been sung for centuries.
Because the song is so old, some versions of it have slightly different words. People also interpret it in slightly different ways.
When you sing it, each verse is longer than the verse before, like in "The Twelve Days of Christmas".
The numbers from one to twelve are mentioned and each number refers to something religious.
Listen to the main part of each verse, then we will tell you the significance of each number.

3. I'll sing you one O
Green grow the rushes O
What is your one O?
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so

I'll sing you two O
Green grow the rushes O
What is your two O?
Two, two the lily-white boys
Clothed all in green O
One is one and all alone
And evermore shall be so

I'll sing you three O
Green grow the rushes O
What is your three O?

The verses then build up using the following:

Three, three the rivals
Four for the Gospel makers
Five for the symbols at your door
Six for the six proud walkers
Seven for the seven stars in the sky
Eight for the April rainers
Nine for the nine bright shiners
Ten for the Ten Commandments
Eleven for the eleven that went to heaven
Twelve for the twelve Apostles

4. Here is what the numbers could mean.
One is the perfect symbol for God. Christians believe that there is only one God and "evermore shall be so".

5. The two lily-white boys are Jesus and John the Baptist. They were cousins. Lily-white because they were good - and clothed in green, because green is a symbol for eternal life.
This number could also refer to holly and ivy, which now have Christmas connections.

6. Three is a symbol for God. The Greeks used it as a symbol for beginning, middle and end - and we say that God is, was and ever shall be.
Rival was an old word for partner - so the three rivals are God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit - the Holy Trinity.
Three is regarded as a solemn number, with a saving power. For example, Jesus rose on the third day. He also lived for thirty-three years and his public life lasted for three years.
Some versions of this song have the phrase "three arrivals" This could refer to the Magi.

7. Four is a symbol for completeness, for example, we talk about the four corners of the earth - because people used to think that the world was flat.
The four Gospel makers are of course Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, who wrote the Gospels.
'Gospel' comes from two Old English words 'god' and 'spel', meaning good news.
In most languages, the word for God has four letters, for example, in French God is Dieu, and we often call him Lord.

8. Five was a symbol for good. A five-pointed star was once believed to keep away evil spirits. Some people used to put this symbol on their front door to ward off evil spirits.
A five-pointed star is made up of three triangles and so is also another symbol for the Holy Trinity.

9. Six is connected with Jesus's first miracle, because he changed six pitchers of water into wine, at the wedding feast at Cana.
The six proud walkers could also be the six armed men involved in the punishment of Jerusalem, as described in Ezekiel chapter 9.

10. Seven is the most symbolic number of all. In early times, men thought there were only seven 'planets' besides earth, that is: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and the Sun and Moon.
When they wrote about God creating the world, they thought that he must have done it within seven days. This is why we have seven days in a week. (We also have seven colours in the rainbow and seven notes in a musical scale.)
Christians believe that the Holy Spirit can give seven gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, righteousness and reverence.
The symbol for the Holy Spirit is a seven-tongued flame.
There are also seven deadly sins and seven virtues.
Jesus is described as holding seven stars, in Revelation chapter 1. The seven stars stood for the angels of the seven churches.

11. The eight April rainers were the people on Noah's Ark: Noah, his wife, their three sons and their three wives.

12. The nine bright shiners are the nine different types of angel: Seraphim, Cherubim, Thrones, Dominions, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Archangels and Angels.

13. Ten is a round number, used many times in the Bible, for example: the ten lepers, the ten plagues, the ten talents and the ten commandments. It is a symbol for plenty.

14. The eleven who went up to heaven were the Apostles. There were twelve Apostles, but Judas betrayed Jesus.

15. Twelve was a symbol for life.
When the Israelites left Egypt, they were grouped in twelve tribes. So, when Jesus chose the Apostles, he chose twelve - to found the new Israel.

16. There are more numbers with religious significance. For example, thirteen is considered to be an unlucky number, because during the Last Supper there were thirteen people - Jesus and the twelve Apostles - and of course we know that Judas left the meal to betray Jesus.
Friday the thirteenth is thought to be very unlucky because of this and also because Jesus died on a Friday.

17. Forty is another number with religious significance. It is often mentioned in the Bible and is a symbol for preparation. For example, the Flood lasted for forty days. Moses led his people through the wilderness for forty years - and Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert.
Nowadays, we have forty days in Lent, (not counting the Sundays).

18. Seventy stood for everything. For example, Peter asked Jesus how often he should forgive someone. Jesus said seventy times seven. That means without limit.

19. Early people used numbers as symbols - or signs for other things - because they did not worry about exact numbers. They were more interested in good and evil forces.
They also loved stories and liked trying to explain things they did not fully understand.
So when we read the Bible we should keep this in mind.
We say that the people who wrote the Bible were inspired. This means that God helped them to write the right thing. But we still need to think about what is written in the Bible.

20. Let us now think for a while about any Bible story that we know... If you need a suggestion, think about Noah... (Silence).
We will now sing about the eight April rainers "Oh the Lord looked down" (Celebration Hymnal for Everyone number 569)

S. Daly 2000

Last updated 23-7-12.