Why is the number 12 such a significant number? God made a promise, covenant, with Abraham and this covenant was established and re-established with Abraham's son, Isaac, and then Jacob. Jacob (later named Israel) had twelve sons and this covenant was passed onto the nations of Israel, that is the nations derived from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Israel). The link between the twelve tribes of Israel and associated covenant that God made with them is then embedded in other areas where we see that number. Whenever we see that number, those writing and the readers, know that it is not only a factual number but symbolic of God's promise to them as God's people.
Throughout the Israelite history, we then see the number twelve and its multiples in many locations from the number of military divisions (1 Chronicles 27:1-15), to items for the tabernacle (Leviticus 24:5), and in other locations. Perhaps those establishing rules or numbers used this number to signify God's presence. It would be seen as advantageous, for example, to have such a significant number and presence on your side during battle.
When we cross into the New Testament, we see 12 in many locations there as well with the most obvious being "The Twelve!" or the disciples of Jesus. Also, remember in Mark when Jesus sets off to heal a daughter who was 12 years old and is stopped along the way by a woman who had been hemorrhaging for, wait for it, 12 years (Mark 5)? The intentional use of the number 12 in the New Testament carries over the symbolism of God's particular presence, a sign of God's continued promise, and the extension of that saving promise to all, inclusive of the gentiles. Israel is restored but is not limited to the geographical and tribal limitations as seen on the above map. It is now -re-established through The Twelve and carried out through Christ's church, established by Christ and carried out by such workers as the original 12 disciples and all of us today.
When Noah hit dry land, he placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of the promise made to him and we recall that promise when we see a rainbow. Biblical writers and even the people our stories have the number 12 everywhere as a sign of God's promise to all people completed in Christ. We carry this significant number over into our secular lives as a "dozen" is used as a prominent means of measurement (and likely originated from this promise!). Take note of 12 and its multiples in the Bible (and everywhere) and remember the significance of this number with promise and Presence by and with God extends to you and all of us today.
- Much of the research for this article came from Joseph F. Scrivner in his article "Twelve," in The New Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible.