Significance of ‘three days’ in scripture

The reference of ‘three days’ occurs 75 times in the bible.  Whereas it only refers to five days three times.  It’s always wise to notice when God places emphasis on something repetitively…and certainly 75 times is worth noticing!

In Scripture the number three is one of the so called “perfect numbers.” The other “perfect numbers” are seven, ten, and twelve.  In Scripture the number three signifies completeness or perfection and points to what is solid, real, and substantial.  As a number which indicates completeness, the number three always identifies some important event.

Of course referencing all 75 would make this too long a read to stick with, so for brevity I’ll mention only several.  For instance, the earth was separated from the waters on the 3rd day.  Moses requests of Pharaoh that he let Moses take his people on a 3 day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifice to their God (Exodus 3:18).  The Theophany at Sinai was on the 3rd day after the people arrived.  Jesus was missing for 3 days when He was twelve years old (Luke 2:46).  Jesus prophesied that He would arise from the dead on the 3rd day (Matthew 16:21: 17:23; 20:19; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; Luke 9:22; 18:33).  Saul was blinded for 3 days (Acts 9:9).

Gen 40:12  And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days.

Exo 5:3 And they said, God has met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the LORD our God; lest he fall upon us with pestilence, or with the sword.  Exo 10:22  And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.  1Sam 20:19  And when thou hast stayed three days, then thou shalt go down quickly, and come to the place where thou didst hide thyself when the business was in hand, and shalt remain by the stone Ezel.  1Ch 12:39 And there they were with David three days, eating and drinking: for their brethren had prepared for them.  Mat 26:61 And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days.

Sometimes this symbolic expression for divine intervention and restoration after a time of trial is expressed as “on the third day” and at other times as “after three days.”   Another reference to restoration on the third day is found in Hosea 6:1-2 where God tells His prophet a time will come when His covenant people will acknowledge their sins and seek redemption and restoration, as they cry out, Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up.  After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.   While the prophetic reference to “the third day” in Joseph’s prophecy in Genesis 40:12-23 may have been literal as well as symbolic, the prophet Hosea promised a third day restoration that is understood by the Old Testament faithful to be symbolic of God’s plan of salvation and redemption.  The Hosea passage was not concerned with a literal three day period but with a short period of intense trial followed by God’s divine intervention to bring about the restoration of God’s people in God’s own time.

A Bible pattern is when a spiritual truth stated in one part of the Bible is repeated in a similar fashion in yet another portion of the Bible. Examine the third day patterns. The first two days don’t tell the whole story – the third day is the conclusion.  Here are some others:

  1. On the third day — “the earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit.” (Genesis 1:12)
  2. On the third day — “Abraham looked up and saw the place [Mount Moriah] from afar.” There he intends to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering to God. Yet he assures his companions, “We will worship and return.” (Genesis 22:4-5)
  3. On the third day — Pharaoh releases his chief cup bearer from death-row. (Genesis 40:20-21)
  4. On the third day — Joseph releases his brothers from prison in Egypt. (Genesis 42:17-18)
  5. On the third day — The Israelites request Pharaoh’s permission to make a three-day journey to offer sacrifice in the desert to God. (Exodus 3:18)
  6. On the third day — Plague Nine, the Plague of Darkness, in Egypt ends, “though the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings.” (Exodus 10:22)
  7. On the third day — God descends to Mount Sinai in fire with the sound of a shofar. He then reveals The Ten Words, Israel’s constitution of new life as a nation after their resurrection from the death of slavery in Egypt. (Exodus 19:16-19)
  8. On the third day — Israelites are to purify themselves with water after being in contact with the dead. (Numbers 19:12)
  9. On the third day — After coming to the river and preparing themselves, the Israelites cross the Jordan “to enter and possess the land that the LORD [their] God is giving to [them] as a possession.” (Joshua 1:11; 3:2)
  10. On the third day — Joshua’s spies emerge from hiding from the Jerichoites, then return to their commander. (Joshua 2:16, 22)
  11. On the third day — a famine during David’s reign ends. (2 Samuel 21:1).
  12. On the third day — a famine called for by Elijah the prophet ends. (1 Kings 18:1)
  13. On the third day — after asking God for release, King Hezekiah is healed of his fatal disease and offers thanks in the temple. (2 Kings 20:5)
  14. On the third day — Jonah is expelled from the fish belly. (Jonah 1:17/2:1 Heb) (Matt 12:40; cf Matt 16:21; 17:23)
  15. On the third day — After fasting, Esther puts on royal apparel and enters the palace of the Persian king in order to thwart a death-plot against her people, the Jews. (Esther 4:16; 5).

The number three is used in the Torah to mediate between two opposing or contradictory values. The third value mediates, reconciles, and connects the two. Three is the number of truth.

Time is divided into three portions: The past, the present, and the future. The position in time that is most expressive of the non-physical is the present, because it is so fleeting and instantaneous. The function of that time, the present, is its service as connector. The number three expresses connection.

 According to Jewish law, once something is done three times it is considered a permanent thing. This is called a “chazakah[1]“. Once we have done something three times, we have connected to it and connected it to this world.

Other fun facts about the number 3 in scripture:

The Torah was given in the third month of the Biblical year, to a threefold people (Priests, Levites, Israelites), through the third born – Moses, who was the third child in his family (after Miriam and Aharon).

 We have the three Patriarchs: Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaaqov.

 The 3 mitzvot (deeds/blessings) of the seder (the lamb, matzah, and maror).

The Torah lists 3 animals that chew their cud but are unkosher because they do not have split hooves:

 The camel, it says in the present tense, “its hoof is not split.” The hyrax, it says in the future tense, “it will not split its hoof.” The hare, it writes in the past tense, “it did not split its hoof.”

And, finally, it’s 3am and time to complete this post!



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