364. "To number," in the spiritual sense, signifies to know the quality, because a "number" in the Word does not signify a number, but its quality (n. 10); in this passage therefore, by "a great multitude which no one could number," in the natural sense, is meant what the words import, that there was an immense multitude; but in the spiritual sense, is meant that no one but the Lord alone knows their quality. For the Lord's heaven consists of innumerable societies, and these societies are distinguished according to the varieties of affections in general; in like manner all in each society, are distinguished in particular. The Lord alone knows the quality of the affection of each individual, and disposes all in order according thereto. By "numbering," the angels understand, to know this quality. The same is meant, in the Word, in these passages:
When Belshazzar drank wine out of the vessels of the temple of Jerusalem, there was written upon the wall, Thou art numbered, thou art numbered (Dan. 5:2, 5, 25).
I shall go to the gates of hell, I am numbered (Isa. 38:10).
A voice of the tumult of the kingdoms, Jehovah of hosts numbereth the host of war (Isa. 13:4).
See, who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number (Isa. 40:26).
Jehovah who numbereth the host of the stars (Ps. 147:4).
The flocks shall pass again under the hands of him that numbereth (Jer. 33:13).
My steps are numbered (Job 14:16).
The houses and towers of Zion and of Jerusalem are numbered (Isa. 22:9-10; 33:18-19; Ps. 48:12-14).
To "number" is to know the quality. From the signification of "numbers" and of "numbering," it may appear why punishment was denounced against David for numbering the people or the tribes of Israel, and why he said to the prophet Gad:
I have sinned greatly in what I have done (2 Sam. 24:1, to the end).
And why, when the people were numbered by Moses as to all their tribes, it was commanded that:
Everyone should give an expiation of his soul to Jehovah in numbering, that there be no plague among them in numbering them (Exod. 30:12).
The reason was, because "to number" signified to know their quality as to their spiritual state, thus as to the state of the church meant by "the twelve tribes of Israel," which the Lord alone knows.