Thirty-eight is mentioned five times in the Bible. Well, 1 Chronicles is 38,000 but that still counts because it is 38 x 1000. Notes on the verses are below.
If you do an internet search, it is obvious that there are many thoughts about this number. The people who wrote about thirty-eight have done some impressive research. I guess I am taking a slightly different thought toward it, so please add this post to the mix. Numbers in the Bible are part of the Father’s creation and He uses them in His story (history)! I have always wanted to do that:)
So, please do not try and have numbers direct your life; His peace and righteousness is God’s gift for direction in your life.
I have grouped the thirty-eights into three groups – Deuteronomy/Numbers and John, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 Chronicles. Why! Because this number, like many other numbers God uses, has several thoughts associated with it.
The best place to start is at its first mention/reference in Numbers 14. Okay, anybody with a concordance knows that thirty-eight is not mentioned in Numbers. But it was in God’s heart! The number that is mentioned is forty (verses 33 + 34), but Deuteronomy 2: 14 explains how God carried out His plan. There are four different viewpoints in Deuteronomy that need to be looked at:
- The People – Predictably they rebelled, but they had already done that. (Remember, they had tested God ten times.) Now, there are two sets of people in this group. The twenty an older group who were being held accountable and the nineteen and under who were going to suffer for the first group’s grumbling. Knowing teenagers, they would have been in on the complaining, but God drew His line at nineteen years of age. The thought of going back to Egypt dissolved when they thought about slavery and that they were not allowed to go into the Land. (Timeline for the 38 Years in the Wilderness)
- Joshua and Caleb – they were in the “right” and would still have to wait to get their promises from God. If anybody had the right to be mad it was these guys! But since they had better spirits than the others I want to imagine they started working with the youngsters.
- Moses, Aaron, (Miriam) – Once again they fell to their knees, but you have to think they may have been annoyed with the people. The people had already tested God ten times and this refusal to go into the Land was serious. The brothers stood in the middle of this scene and worked for the people.
- God – Mad, yes! Out of love for Abraham, He listened to Moses. He said forty and gave them credit for the first two years. Or, He cut it short for the sake of the spies. 40 – Joshua and Caleb = 38. (Well, it makes sense if it was common core math.). In his viewpoint, there is mercy and cleansing in this number.
John –The man at the pool was there for thirty-eight years. That number directed Jesus’ actions for him. Like the people in the wilderness, he was “sick” and had a death sentence. Verse fourteen is a warning that he “stop sinning”, which is pretty much what the nineteen and under group had to do. I have mixed feelings about the fact he told on Jesus, was this bragging or trying to get favor? (See Psalm 95: 10.)
At the end of these thirty-eights, there were better times and promises ahead.
1 Kings 16: 29 and 2 Kings 15: 8 have many similarities besides the number thirty-eight. Both of these verses are timestamps of when kings of the northern tribes (Israel) came into power. 1 Kings tells of Ahab (Israel) becoming king in the thirty-eighth year of Asa (Judah). 2 Kings is the story of Zechariah (Israel) and Azariah (Judah). Both of the kings of Judah “did what was right in the eyes of the Lord”. These two kings had a severe illness at the end of their reigns. Neither of the kings of Israel did what was “right” in eyes of the Lord.
Asa– His story is recorded in 1 Kings 15: 9-24 and 2 Chronicles 14: 2- 16: 14. I will use the later reference for now. Asa had everything going for him until he made a deal with Ben-Hadad of Aram. God lifted His protective covering from Asa as a warning/lesson for later kings. Asa contracted a disease in his feet (possibly gout). His treaty with Aram probably took place in the thirty-eighth year of his reign, and he went from a good king to a bad king. 16: 12 says that is when he became ill and refused to seek God. For thirty-eight years he was walking in blessings and then he shut God out!
Azariah/Uzziah– His story is in 2 Kings 15: 1-7 and 2 Chronicles 26. 2 Chronicles 26: 16 talks of pride and unfaithfulness in a king who had been doing right and was blessed. He also had the Lord’s shield lifted from him and developed leprosy. I have no clues to support this, but this could have happened in his thirty-eighth year. The thirty-eight of Uzziah is for Zechariah of Israel, who is the fulfillment of the promise to Jehu.
1 Chronicles 23: 3 is part of the preparation David made for the Temple that Solomon was to build. Well, it is 38,000 but David requiring that the Levities once again take part in the worship of God is a major development. In Judges, it seemed that only the sons of Aaron were working with the Ark and worship of God.
Reflections– People like definite answers for things – that will not work here! Numbers frequently have more than one aspect to them and thirty-eight is no different. Having pondered this for a while the best idea, I have, is that thirty-eight signals A SHIFT! This may be for the better or for the worse. Group 1 and 2 easily show a shift. Group 1 went to a better state, while Group 2 declined. Group 3 is a shift back to the way it was.
The nineteen-year-olds had thirty-eight years to THINK, listen to Joshua and Caleb, or the now regretful older generation. Some believed Joshua and listened, looked, and learned, some did not. But the new generation knew where the Promised Land was and that they would get back there. They even got their own “Red Sea” experience – see Joshua’s Passover.
Deuteronomy 2: 14 – This passage in Deuteronomy is a recounting of the journey to Promise Land. It was thirty-eight years from when the spies brought the bad report to them getting ready to enter the land. The reason for the delay was the “fighting men” of the camp had to die off. The number forty is associated with wandering. I feel God gave them credit for the two years of battle training, constructing the Ark, and seeing miracles when He handed out the sentence.
1 Chronicles 23: 3 – David was preparing for the Temple. He counted 38, 000 Levites and divided them into working units – 24,000 for working on the Temple, 6,000 for officials and judges, 4,000 for gatekeepers, and 4,000 to praise the Lord. This was done while he was alive before any work began on the Temple.
1 Kings 16: 29 – In the thirty-eighth year of Asa, Ahab became king in the Northern Kingdom. Asa was a king who did what was right and Ahab was not. Ahab was the seventh king of Israel during the reign of Asa (Jeroboam to Ahab).
2 Kings 15: 8 – in the thirty-eighth year of Azariah, Zechariah became king of Israel. He is the grandson of Jehu (2 Kings 9 to 10) and completes the prophecy in 2 Kings 10: 30. (See 2 Kings 15: 12). Azariah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord- 2 Kings 15: 3.
John 5: 5 – Jesus was at a Feast of the Jews (vs. 1). He healed a man of the Sabbath, who had been paralyzed for thirty-eight years. Jesus told the man to take his mat and walk. The man was caught and threatened by the Jews for breaking the Sabbath, carrying the mat was work. Verses 14 and 15 end the story with the man being warned and then he tells the Jews who healed him.