A few years back (around 2005) I purchased a book entitled “Number in Scripture,” by E.W. Bullinger. As I began to read it, and open my mind to the concepts therein, I was particularly struck by the practice known as Gematria, where the letters in Hebrew or Greek are assigned corresponding numbers. Numerology was still foreign to me and it was vaguely classified in my head as a taboo subject matter. If Bullinger had not been its author, a respected and sound theologian (to my perception and recollection anyways), I would not have purchased it.
But as I began to peruse its contents and sat back to meditate on what I was reading I heard an audible voice speak into my spirit: “Damascus!” My perusal had just begun, but now I redoubled my efforts to understand exactly what God was saying to me. I quickly found the place where Bullinger called Damascus the “oldest city in the world” and that “The number of its name is 444.” As I was thinking about these things, I got up to get a cup of coffee; as I swiveled off my desk chair and directed myself toward the kitchen, I was struck by the emblazoned numbers 4:44 staring back at me from a clock on the wall. I felt that unique “whoosh” of God’s confirming Presence, like a sudden breeze, but in another realm (hard to explain it if you never felt it) wash over me: a sudden Holy Ghost moment of clarity and realization.
The voice I heard and the confirmation surrounding the word Damascus was real; as I studied out its meaning throughout Scripture I came to realize its tremendous significance, and especially in relationship to the number four.
Before we look at the specific significance of Damascus, however, we need to understand the significance of the number four (4) and also what a triplicate number like 444 or 666 means. Basically, the number four is about God’s creative works. Bullinger said, “It is the number of things that have a beginning, of things that are made, of material things, and matter itself. It is the number of material completeness. Hence it is the world number, and especially the ‘city’ number.” Bullinger then cited some examples of four in scripture and experience: 4 great elements (earth, air, fire and water), 4 regions of the earth (north, south, east and west), 4 divisions of the day (morning, noon, evening and midnight), and 4 seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter).
Ed Vallowe, in “Biblical Mathematics,” said, “The world in which men lived and worked and died, was conveniently symbolized by FOUR. A number of further divisibility, FOUR stands for WEAKNESS found in the world and man. In common parlance we speak of “the FOUR corners of the earth” and “the FOUR points of the compass.” Important is the indirect meaning of trial, testing, and experience, derived from the fact that the earth is the scene of man’s testing. FOUR is the number of CREATION and mark’s CREATIVE WORKS. It is the signature of the world.” Also, R.T. Naish, in “Spiritual Arithmetic,” explained that the Greek word “therison” means “reap” and has a value of 444; this is taken from Revelation 14:15 wherein the hour had come for an angel to put in his sickle and “reap” the harvest of the earth.
Turning now to the principle in Gematria which intensifies the significance of any single digit number exponentially by placing two more digits of the same number beside the first one, let us see how this works by looking at how Bullinger treats the number six (6). He said: “If six is the number of secular or human perfection, then 66 is a more emphatic expression of the same fact, and 666 is the concentrated expression of it; 666 is therefore the trinity of human perfection; the perfection of imperfection; the culmination of human pride in independence of God and opposition to His Christ.” Likewise, four is the number of his created works, and 44 a more emphatic expression of them; 444 is, therefore, the culmination, highest, or most concentrated expression of his created works.
If four is “the signature of the world,” as Vallowe contends, then Damascus epitomizes that signature intensified; it is “the concentrated expression” of material completeness, and more specifically, material completeness as structured by human hands, hands which build cities. Damascus is first mentioned in Genesis 15:2. God is about to redeem mankind and to create a child of promise, first in type (Isaac) then in actuality (Jesus); but just before God states this promise and cuts an irrevocable deal (covenant) with Abram, Abram spills his guts, laments and says, “O Lord God, what wilt thou give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” (Genesis 15:2). Eliezer, whose name means “God of help,” appears to be the inheritor, but God assures Abram that he is not. Likewise, Ishmael, whom Abram sired later, is also not the inheritor. Abram, by trying to help God, birthed a “wild ass of a man”—God’s description of Ishmael—and by doing so, created perpetual contention between Ishmael’s descendants of flesh and Isaac’s descendants of spirit.
It is noteworthy that Damascus is founded and maintained by the descendants of Ishmael, and being the oldest continuously occupied city in the world speaks to the intractable entrenchment of flesh. The world number is therefore also the number of presumptuous and unbridled flesh that thinks to help God. Eliezer, in the subservient posture of flesh—in servanthood—is forever associated with his place of birth, Damascus. “God of help,” is closely related to Damascus. But erroneous is man who thinks to help God. The Tower of Babel is a prime example of man deigning to help God. In flaming hubris—not in flaming Holy Ghost fire atop their heads like in the Upper Room—mankind thought to build into the heavens and make a name for themselves and secure their future by the mere sweat of their brows. How foolish is man—who cannot help himself—yet thinks to help Almighty God? Damascus of Syria is like the Tower of Babel in that it represents the industry of man devoid of spiritual light. Before I get too harsh, let me digress and identify the essential nature of a few things and peoples.
First off, the literal meaning of Damascus—though somewhat uncertain and not well specified—is “the town of Adama (Lord Ham)” or “silent is the sackcloth weaver” or “dwelling” or “of his donkey” or “land mask (red).” Even “caravan city” has been suggested. Fortunately, I see enough commonality in these descriptions to tie them together and give some illumination. If Damascus is, indeed, the town of Ham, it is a town of servants; the silent sackcloth weavers seem to suggest an unwillingness to put on humility and repentance; donkeys (wild, stubborn and uncontrollable), red (filled with one’s native nature), masks (perpetually hiding one’s true nature), and land (constitutionally made up of terra firma), all depict elements of natural man. A caravan city is likened to a tent city and a tent represents the outer-skin of things; thus an accumulation of tents compacted together is the scene or town of superficiality and temporariness. It is noteworthy that other forms of the word Damascus also suggest a kind of superficiality or shallow ornamentalism. According to Noah Webster (in his 1828 dictionary) damask is “to form flowers on stuffs; also, to variegate; to diversify; as, a bank damasked with flowers; also, “to adorn steel-work with figures.” Webster defined damaskeen as making incisions, carvings, and adornments into and upon steel and iron works. Another form of the word “damask” was about raised patterns of flowers and other figures on silk stuffs manufactured in Damascus. Inferences to putting on a pretty face, adding colors to mimic animation, and hiding beneath a bank of flowers, are all examples of superficiality.
Secondly, the nation of Syria (which means “high” or “elevated”), and Damascus being its capital city, makes the shallow ornamentalism of man’s flesh the capital idea. Servanthood is an honorable profession, but not in ascendency. Arthur C. Custance, in his book, “Noah’s Three Sons,” posited the idea that God, through Noah’s sons—Shem, Ham and Japheth—not only repopulated the earth, but met the needs of mankind on “three fundamental levels—the spiritual [Shem], the physical [Ham], and the intellectual [Japheth].” Custance further elaborated that Ham’s “contribution to human civilization in so far as it has to do with technology [as applied to practical ends] has been absolutely unsurpassed. The contribution of Japheth has, by contrast, been essentially in the realm of thought [philosophies and science directed toward intellectual satisfaction]. The contribution of Shem, in terms both of true and false religious conceptions, has been in the realm of spirit. Where Japheth has applied his philosophical genius to the technology genius of Ham, science has emerged. Where Japheth has applied his philosophical genius to the insights of Shem, theology has emerged. The interaction of these three contributions is the theme of history. Human potential reaches its climax when all three brothers (in their descendants) jointly make their common contribution with maximum effectiveness.”
Thirdly, Ham being about man’s physicality, his body (or flesh), makes him especially unfit to lead man into transcendency. Though it seems the hierarchy of man ought to be, in descending order: spirit, soul and body, it is clear from scripture that Shem (representing spirit) is first, then Ham (representing body/flesh) second, and lastly, Japheth (representing soul). Either way, it is clear that spirit is to be man’s transcendent trait. Lord Ham, and allusions to donkeys (stubborn asses), is very suggestive. Ham was the third and youngest son of Noah and the father of Canaan; Ham dishonored his father Noah by seeing him naked and not taking proper measures to cover him up. Ham’s inadvertent happenstance—to come upon Noah in a vulnerable state of nakedness—was not sin; his publishing the news of Noah’s nakedness—to magnify Noah’s shame and indignity—was a gross and malevolent sin. Exposure for the sake of exposure is always harmful and unredemptive in nature; we are called to cover a multitude of sin. Exposure before the entire congregation is proceeded by the private appeal of one, then by two or three, and only then, before all. Noah consequently cursed Ham’s own son Canaan and said the Canaanites would be a servant to servants, serving within the tents of the descendants of Japheth and Shem. This may explain why Ham is sandwiched between Shem and Japheth in scriptural accounts.
Some final thoughts. Saul—who later became the apostle Paul—in his headlong pursuit to serve God in his own way of thinking, breathed out “threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” as he pressed to Damascus. But “As he traveled and was nearing Damascus, a light from heaven suddenly flashed around him” (Acts 9:3). We know the rest of the story. Just as a flaming sword and a cherubim guard the tree of life so as to keep fallen man from eating its fruit and sealing his fate in that fallen state of existence, so God blocked Saul/Paul from sealing his fate atop the superficial heights of Damascus realized. Ham in ascendency—Damascus realized—is fallen man in the full powers of his person (666); man fully developed after the image of the first Adam is—as Bullinger put it—“the perfection of imperfection; the culmination of human pride in independence of God and opposition to His Christ [antichrist].”
Also of interest, is some more thoughts on the number four. Creative works, which marks four (more specifically the fourth day of creation), did not include animals and humans; they were created on the fifth and sixth days of creation. Material completeness is therefore completeness devoid of animation or metaphysical properties. Even “vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit, with seed in them, after their kind” (Genesis 1:11) formed in the third day, was not yet animated or activated; no rain had fallen and no man was around to cultivate the ground until the sixth day. Thus animation, the spirit behind material, is not a part of the number four, and makes four a most illusory or deceptive number; to be four-sided or cubed is considered a fully dimensional object in time. It is deemed by human or natural perception to be the fullest expression of dimension: all three space dimensions (length, width, and height) seen in one precise time dimension. It is the fullness of the natural eye, the extent of its natural ability to perceive material reality. Also, of primary significance regarding four, is the idea that on the fourth day of creation God separated the light from the darkness, and the day from night, and he did so to be “for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14). Again, 444 seems indicative of the end of this age in its present construction; the kingdom of God on earth must shortly manifest—at least to the degree of observation. Also, looking again at Naish’s statement, “that the Greek word ‘therison’ means ‘reap’ and has a value of 444,” and combing that with where he got it from—“taken from Revelation 14:15 wherein the hour had come for an angel to put in his sickle and ‘reap’ the harvest of the earth”—well, it seems the hour is mightily late!