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70 / 72 – Disciples, Elders of Israel, Sanhedrin

70 / 72

Just as Jesus selected 12 apostles representing the 12 tribes of Israel, he also appointed 72 other disciples. Some manuscripts give the number seventy in the place of 72. The numerals 72 and 70 have much significance in the Old Testament.

While Noah’s descendants settled in Shinar, they built a city and a tower with its top in the sky to make a name for themselves and stay as one nation with one language (Gen 11:1-4). The LORD confused their language and scattered them over all the earth, forming multiple languages and nations (Gen 11:7-9). Genesis chapter 10 gives the list of 72 (70) races emerging from the three sons of Noah that filled the world. They are 15 from Japhet, 30 from Ham, and 27 from Shem, according to Septuagint, the Greek translation. Some manuscripts count 14 from Japhet, 30 from Ham and 26 from Shem, thus 70. Hence, the number 72 or 70 represents all races or nations in the world. “These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their origins and by their nations. From these the nations of the earth branched out after the flood” (Gen 10:32). God assigned angels to each nation. “When the Most High allotted each nation its heritage, when he separated out human beings, He set up the boundaries of the peoples after the number of the divine beings” (Deut 32:8). When Jesus appointed 72 (70) disciples, they represented the future spread of the gospel to all the nations on the earth.

Jacob and his descendants, who migrated to Egypt, were seventy. “Together with Joseph’s sons who were born to him in Egypt–two persons–all the people comprising the household of Jacob who had come to Egypt amounted to seventy persons in all” (Gen 46:27). This implied that the chosen people of Israel represented the 70 nations scattered all over the world.

Moses, at the advice of his father-in-law, Jethro, had appointed minor judges to help him in settling disputes. He said to Moses, “You should also look among all the people for capable and God- fearing men, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain, and set them over the people as commanders of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. Let these render decisions for the people in all routine cases. Every important case they should refer to you, but every lesser case they can settle themselves. Lighten your burden by letting them bear it with you!” (Ex 18:21-22) Thus, Moses selected trustworthy representatives from the tribes to help him in the administration.

God acknowledged the representatives Moses selected to help him and gave them the spirit to share power with Moses – “Then the LORD said to Moses: Assemble for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be elders and authorities among the people, and bring them to the tent of meeting. When they are in place beside you, I will come down and speak with you there. I will also take some of the spirit that is on you and will confer it on them, that they may share the burden of the people with you. You will then not have to bear it by yourself” (Num 11:16-17).

Besides Moses and Aaron, they were 72 elders. “Moses himself was told: Come up to the LORD, you and Aaron, with Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel. You shall bow down at a distance. Moses alone is to come close to the LORD; the others shall not come close, and the people shall not come up with them” (Ex 24:1-2). “So Moses went out and told the people what the LORD had said. Gathering seventy elders of the people, he had them stand around the tent. The LORD then came down in the cloud and spoke to him. Taking some of the spirit that was on Moses, he bestowed it on the seventy elders; and as the spirit came to rest on them, they prophesied but did not continue. Now two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in the camp, yet the spirit came to rest on them also. They too had been on the list, but had not gone out to the tent; and so they prophesied in the camp” (Num 11:24-26). Thus, God anointed seventy-two elders. Representing them, Jesus selected 72 disciples to help him during his public ministry. Keeping the same number was symbolic of making his association with Moses and the continuity of the elders of Israel in his New Israel, the Church.

The Sanhedrin which ruled Israel during the Second Temple era comprised 70 plus the president. They added another at times to keep them 72. The Jewish leaders fixed the number of members in the Sanhedrin on the assumption that they were the successors of the elders Moses had appointed.

When Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt (285-246 BC) took the initiative to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek in Alexandria, he assigned with the support of the high priest Eleazar, 72 translators, six elders representing each tribe. The translation is known as Septuagint, which means 70 in Latin.

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