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Spirituality

The Spiritual Significance of the Number 6

Ned Walker | Updated Jun 16, 2021

PART 4 IN SERIES Numbers and the Numinous

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Ned Walker | Jun 16, 2021

PART 4 IN SERIES Numbers and the Numinous

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

The number six symbolizes the intermediate and transitional condition of the human being, whether as an individual or humanity collectively, and it can have negative, neutral, or positive connotations.

RELATED: The Spiritual Meaning and Significance of the Number 9

This symbolism has its origins in the creation narrative of Genesis, where “man” appears newly on day 6, before the perfection of creation on day 7. The Hebrew Bible (or Tanakh) likens the human soul to a condition of slavery when its lower nature holds mastery over it. The Exodus account of slavery in Egypt provides a powerful allegory for this condition—in fact, the Tanakh indicates that a Hebrew slave shall be held for 6 years and set free in year 7, associating slavery with the number 6 in Exodus 21:2, Jeremiah 34:14, Deuteronomy 15:12.

RELATED: The Spiritual Meaning and Symbolism of the Number 5

The Exodus account, which some interpret as an allegory of the spiritual journey of the soul, indicates that “600,000 men on foot” left Egypt and entered the wilderness to wander for 40 years (see Exodus 12:37 and Numbers 11:21). Here, the numeral 6 in the number six hundred thousand may refer to the existential human, signifying a person leaving behind the bondage of self, symbolized by Egypt and its slavery. The “hundreds of thousands” accompanying that 6 might refer to multitudes, meaning the people of Israel, and really all of humanity when we consider Exodus allegorically. The number six appears in the Christian Bible as well, but wisdom sayings about marriage replace the slavery motif of the Tanakh.

Often in sacred scripture—as Abdu’l-Baha teaches in Some Answered Questions—the female image in a story represents the soul of man, whilst the male image represents the spirit of man, such as in the Genesis account of Eve and Adam. That allegory asks the question: is the soul wedded to its lower, material nature or to its higher, spiritual nature? In the wedding story at Cana (John 2:6), Jesus arrives as a guest and converts the water held in 6 jars into wine. John the Evangelist portrays the arrival of the Bridegroom—the universal messenger of God who brings the means to attain our higher nature—at a time when mankind is “wedded” to its lower (i.e., materialistic) nature, represented by these 6 jars and the stale water they hold.  

RELATED: Reading Scripture: Looking Beyond the Literal

Jesus then arrives as the true Bridegroom to replace this false husband, and in the story symbolically turns the water into wine, revealing that his word and the spirit it transmits are like a fine wine that inebriates the soul. Those 6 jars also represent the past religious dispensation, which has lost its savor. Jesus renews and restores, turning its mere water into satisfying wine. With this new spirit, he pulls the people out of their “stuckness” in their intermediate stage of 6 towards their higher stage of spiritual perfection.

A second story in the Gospel of John chapter 4, of the Samaritan woman drawing water at Jacob’s well, reinforces this view:

Jesus saith to her, `Go, call thy husband, and come hither; ‘the woman answered and said, `I have not a husband.’ Jesus saith to her, `Well didst thou say — A husband I have not; for five husbands thou hast had, and, now, he whom thou hast is not thy husband; this hast thou said truly.’ – John 4:16-18.

The text indicates that the interaction between Jesus and the woman took place at the sixth hour. The woman in this story, who represents the human soul, and in this sense humanity in general, has had 6 husbands: 5 in the past plus her current one, although Jesus tells her that she understands truly that none of them are her true husband. By implication, Jesus arrives to be the seventh and true husband to her, wedding his spirit of life to her thirsting soul at the sacred well, from which she can draw forth the water of life. John the Evangelist uses the number 6 to great effect in these two compact and subtle texts, one closely following the other in series.

In the Book of Revelation, the number of man is said to be 6:

Here is wisdom! He who has understanding, let him count [reckon] the number of the beast, for the number of a man it is, and its number [is] 666. – Revelation 13:18.  

The article “a” ahead of the word “man” is translator’s license, because the original Koine Greek text lacks it. Indeed, there are many translations and modified Greek sources of this text, some distorting the numerals. However, the simplest view is to think of the number as “6 6 6.”  One way we can interpret the text is to understand that the triplicated 6 refers to the existential human: the number of man.

In Some Answered Questions, Abdu’l-Baha spoke of the rise of the Umayyad clan within Islam, referencing the image of a multi-headed beast in Revelation 12: 3-4 as symbolizing that dynasty. This clan in the year 662 CE usurped the bloody succession after the Prophet Muhammad’s death by murder and treachery, claimed the Caliphate, and came to dominate much of early Islamic civilization and expansion, largely through a process of self-promotion and self-interest cloaked within the veil of religious and secular authority. Thus, the Umayyads can be likened to a beastly human symbolized by the number 6 (mentioned just one chapter later), because in reality they emphasized the beastly-human on the pretense of being an authority for the angel-human. In The Hidden Words, Baha’u’llah defines the nature of this beastliness succinctly:

O ye seeming fair yet inwardly foul! Ye are like clear but bitter water, which to outward seeming is crystal pure but of which, when tested by the divine Assayer, not a drop is accepted.

In the Baha’i writings, the number six appears rarely but poignantly at a great moment of transition: in the Baha’i Prayer for the Departed. The successive verses recited at the end of the prayer total six, each recited 19 times. This prayer, revealed by Baha’u’llah for congregational use at the time of funeral and internment, is the only Baha’i congregational prayer. Those 6 repeated verses symbolize the transition of the soul from this earthly life to its heavenly home.

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Comments

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  • Nava Sarracino
    Jun 20, 2021
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    Very interesting article and interpretation, something I had never thought about.
  • Jun 16, 2021
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    Ned, this is so well written. I am impressed with the thought and research that you must have exerted to write this article. Please keep writing on themes such as this. Thank you.🥀
  • Oct 14, 2016
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    Baha'u'llah states that the Hidden Word you have quoted, about those who are "seeming fair yet inwardly foul," who are like "clear but bitter water" - refers to the corrupt clergy of Persia, rather than to the generality of the human race or to the body of the believers. http://www.bahai.org/r/943085671
    It compares well with Christ's denunciation of the corrupt clergy of His Day in Matthew 23:23 ff.
    • Hooshang S. Afshar
      Oct 14, 2016
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      The Hidden Words is for all mankind and the world is full of corrupt people clergy or not.
      So corrupt clergy of Persia were also condemned then and now as well.
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