The number 40 occurs so often in the Bible in relation to God’s actions, spiritual fight and changes in general that it cannot be a coincidence. I do not want to involve you in any sort of numerology; nevertheless, the number 40 surely deserves our attention. Let’s take a closer look...
The first instance we find the number 40 is the flood. The rain of the flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights.
Genesis 7, 4: For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will obliterate from off the face of the earth all living substance that I have made.
Genesis 7, 12: And the rain was upon the earth forty days and forty nights.
Since the time the water began to recede and the highest tops of the mountains were seen, Noah waited for forty days.
Genesis 8, 5-7: And the waters continued to go and decrease until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen. And it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. And he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from off the earth.
Exodus 16, 35: And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came into the borders of the land of Canaan.
Nehemiah 9, 21: Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness. They lacked nothing; their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell.
Judges 3, 9-12: And when the children of Israel cried out unto Jehovah, Jehovah raised up a deliverer for the children of Israel, who delivered them: Othniel the son of Kenaz, Caleb's younger brother. And the Spirit of Jehovah came upon him, and he judged Israel. He went out to war, and Jehovah delivered Cushan-Rishathaim king of Mesopotamia into his hand; and his hand prevailed over Cushan-Rishathaim. And the land had rest for forty years. And Othniel the son of Kenaz died. And the children of Israel again did evil in the eyes of Jehovah. So Jehovah strengthened Eglon king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the eyes of Jehovah.
The same principle can be seen in other passages:
Judges 5, 31 - 6, 1: Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Jehovah! But let those who love Him be like the sun when it goes forth in its might. Thus the land was quiet forty years. And the children of Israel did evil in the eyes of Jehovah. So Jehovah delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years,
Judges 8, 28: Thus Midian was subdued before the sons of Israel, so that they lifted their heads no more. And the land was quiet for forty years in the days of Gideon.
Judges 13, 1: Again the children of Israel did evil in the eyes of Jehovah, and Jehovah delivered them into the hand of the Philistines forty years.
1 Samuel 4, 18: And it happened, when he made mention of the ark of God, that Eli fell off the seat backward by the side of the gate; and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy. And he had judged Israel forty years.
2 Samuel 5, 4: David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.
1 Kings 11, 42: And the days that Solomon had reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel was forty years.
2 Kings 12, 1: In the seventh year of Jehu, Jehoash became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem. His mother's name was Zibiah of Beer-sheba.
Ezekiel 29, 13: Yet, thus says the Lord Jehovah: At the end of forty years I will gather Egypt from the peoples there where they were scattered.
Acts 7, 23-30: Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to look after his brethren, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended and avenged him who was oppressed, and struck down the Egyptian. For he supposed that his brethren would have understood that God would deliver them by his hand, but they did not understand. And the next day he appeared to two of them as they were fighting, and urged them to peace, saying, Men, you are brethren; why do you wrong one another? But he who did his neighbor wrong pushed him away, saying, Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you not want to do away with me in the same way you did the Egyptian yesterday? Then, at this saying, Moses fled and became an alien in the land of Midian, where he had two sons. And when forty years had passed, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.
Genesis 50, 1-3: And Joseph fell on his father's face, and wept over him, and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were fulfilled for him, for such are the days fulfilled for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.
Exodus 24, 18: And Moses went into the midst of the cloud and went up into the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
The exploration of the promised land took forty days. And because of the negative report of the spies and the negative response of the Israelites, God got angry and pronounced a judgement:
Numbers 13, 25: And they returned from spying out the land at the end of forty days.
Numbers 14, 34: According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your iniquities one year; forty years; and you shall know My opposition.
Moses is an all-time record holder in strict fasting (without food and water). He spent forty days in God’s Presence without food and water and after he came back from the mountain he continued his strict fasting for another forty days, pleading to God not to destroy the people of Israel.
Deuteronomy 9, 11-25: And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that Jehovah had given me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant. And Jehovah said to me, Arise, go down quickly from here, for your people whom you have brought out of Egypt have acted corruptly; they have quickly turned aside from the way which I have commanded them; they have made themselves a molten image. Furthermore Jehovah spoke to me, saying, I have seen this people, and behold, they are a stiff-necked people. Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under the heavens; and I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they. So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain was burning with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands. And I looked, and behold, you had sinned against Jehovah your God, and had made for yourselves a molten calf! You had turned aside quickly from the way which Jehovah had commanded you. And I took the two tablets and threw them out of my two hands and broke them before your eyes. And I fell down before Jehovah, as at the first, forty days and forty nights; I neither ate bread nor drank water, because of all your sin which you had sinned in doing evil in the eyes of Jehovah, to provoke Him to anger. For I was afraid of the anger and fury with which Jehovah had been angry with you, to destroy you. But Jehovah gave heed to me at that time also. And Jehovah was very angry with Aaron to have destroyed him; and I prayed for Aaron also at the same time. And I took your sin, the calf which you had made, and burned it with fire and crushed and ground it thoroughly, until it was as fine as dust; and I threw its dust into the brook that was coming down from the mountain. Also at Taberah and Massah and Kibroth Hattaavah you provoked Jehovah to wrath. Likewise, when Jehovah sent you from Kadesh Barnea, saying, Go up and possess the land which I have given you, then you rebelled against the mouth of Jehovah your God, and you did not believe Him nor obey His voice. You have been rebellious against Jehovah from the day that I knew you. Thus I prostrated myself before Jehovah; forty days and forty nights I kept prostrating myself, because Jehovah had thought to annihilate you.
Leviticus 12, 1-7: And Jehovah spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman has conceived seed, and borne a male, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days when she is ill with menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. She shall then continue in the blood of her menstruation thirty-three days. She shall not touch any holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled. But if she bears a female, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation, and she shall continue in the blood of her menstruation sixty-six days. When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year for a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, to the door of the tent of meeting. And he shall offer it before Jehovah, and make atonement for her. And she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
God ordered to the Israelites that when a boy was born, the women should continue ‘in the blood of purification’ for forty days; if a girl was born, that period should last two times forty days – i.e. 80 days. Although I do not understand (for the time being at least) what the point is of this commandment, still we can see the principle of forty days applied here again.
1 Samuel 17, 16: And the Philistine drew near and presented himself morning and evening, forty days.
1 Kings 19, 8: And he (Elijah) arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.
Jonah 3, 4: And Jonah began to enter into the city a day's journey. And he cried out and said, Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!
Luke 4, 1-2: Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tried for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.
Acts 1, 1-3: The former account I made, O Theophilus, of everything that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.
In forty years of age:
Genesis 25, 20: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan, the sister of Laban the Aramean, as wife.
Genesis 26, 34: And Esau was forty years old when he took as wives Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.
2 Samuel 2, 10: Ishbosheth, Saul's son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. Only the house of Judah followed David.
2 Samuel 15, 7: And it came to pass after forty years that Absalom said to the king, Please, let me go to Hebron and pay the vow which I have vowed unto Jehovah.
2 Chronicles 27, 1: Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem.
It means that the change in Jotham occurred in his fortieth year.
The number of instances where the time period involved was 40 days or 40 years is so high that it cannot be a coincidence. From the given list we can see that often a change occurs after forty days or forty years. The forties day or the forties year often determines the future; the change is apparent on 41st day or in the 41st year. As I have said in the beginning, I do not want to drag anybody in any sort of numerology. The aim of my analysis and food for contemplation is to make you aware of the often used “principle” of forty days or years. It comes to my mind that in much the same way we people use time periods of an hour, a week, a month or a year in relation to a change, God often uses also the periods of forty days or years. So do not be surprised when you see the above-mentioned “principle” applied in your life or in histories of nations.
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