Numerologists believe the number 23 is associated with bad omens. Some believe this is confirmed in scripture by the fact that the word hell appears 23 times in the Bible. But what does the Bible say about this number? Well, we know the number 23 is not very popular in the Bible as compared to other numbers. But it is still significant nonetheless.
The number 23 symbolizes war in the Bible. There are several instances where the number 23 is used as a symbol for war (or lack therefore). For instance, in Numbers 26, the number of Levites that were excluded from war was 23,000.
Let us consider more examples and illustrations of this symbolism below:
Bible symbolism of 23
There are several instances in the Bible where the number 23 is used in the context of war. In Numbers 26:1-2, God commanded Moses to do a census of all the men of 20 years and above who were legible for war. The census was done and a total of 601,730 men that qualified for war were counted. However, God had a special group of people that were exempted from participating in war – these were the sons of Levi. Levites were consecrated to serve in the priestly office. God used them as a substitute as was the case when he claimed the firstborns in Israel after saving them from the angel of death in Egypt during the 10th plague. After counting the Levites, it was discovered they were a total of 23,000 Levites (Numbers 26:62)
Jair is another example from the scripture of why the number 23 symbolizes war. According to Numbers 32:41 and 1 Chronicles 2:22, Jair forcefully took over 23 cities in the region of Gilead. Thai region had originally been given to the tribe of Manasseh as an inheritance and it was famous for its balm that was extracted from the balsam tree. After Jair took over, he renamed most of the 23 cities after himself.
The relationship between war and the number 23 can also be seen in the history of Israel. Mordecai, after getting permission from the king of Persia, issued a decree on Sivan 23 that gave Jews immunity from the looming destruction as planned by Haman (Esther 3:10-11, 8:9-11). Even though they were in a foreign land, the decree gave the Jews permission to defend themselves against as well as take spoils from anyone that would seek to harm them.
When King Josiah died in 609 B.C. his son Jehoahaz, who was 23 years old at the time, succeded him on the throne. Jehoahaz’s reign goes down in history as one of the shortest reigns in Judah’s history. After three short months on the throne. His kingdom was attacked by Pharaoh and the king was taken captive where he remained until his time of death (2 Kings 23:31-34)
Jezebel is arguably the evilest woman mentioned in the Bible. She led the entire of Israel astray which attracted judgment in the form of a severe drought that killed man and beast. Interstingly, Jezebel is mentioned 23 times in the Bible. For comparison, Mary the mother of Jesus is mentioned only 19 times. We may therefore infer that her name appears 23 times as a symbol of the evil she presented in the Bible.
The 23rd verse of Job is another interesting verse. For context, we will need to look at verse 22 as well.
“Have you entered the treasury of snow, Or have you seen the treasury of hail,
Which I have reserved for the time of trouble, For the day of battle and war? Job 38:22-23
The entire chapter is a response from God to Job and it is full of rhetorical questions. In the scripture above, God is asking Job if he has enough sense to know the treasury of snow and hair where God stores them for the day of trouble, battle, and war. Again, God hints at the connection between the number 23 and trouble or war.
New Testament examples
So far, the examples we have looked at are mostly drawn from the old testament. But the use of 23 to symbolize war can also be seen in the New Testament. The first example is from the Gospel of Luke.
This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse. (Luke 11:23, MSG).
Jesus was addressing an issue that came up as a result of his casting out demons. The Pharisees were not amused and they accused him of using the power of demons to cast out demons. Jesus explained that if that were the case, then it would indicate that the kingdom of darkness was fighting itself and it would therefore not stand. He then said in verse 23 that they could either choose to fight with him or fight for the kingdom of darkness.
This introduces a new dynamic to war. In the Old Testament, the war was mostly physical but in the new testament, the war is spiritual. In the words of scripture, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:14).
Another use of 23 to symbolize spiritual warfare is in the book of Romans.
but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Romas7:23
Paul makes it clear that there is a raging war between the flesh and the spirit. This is a spiritual war that is fought in the battleground of the mind. This is why Paul reminds the church at Corinth to “demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Cor. 10:4