Well here’s a totally random thought: Why does the number forty keep coming up in the Bible so much? Coincidentally, the Sistine chapel (see above) happens to be forty feet wide and has forty sections in it! There are lots of ‘forty’s in the Bible; more than you might think! Consider these forty facts about the number forty:
- With Noah and family in the ark it rained for forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7)
- After forty days, Noah released the raven from the ark (Genesis 8: 6)
- Isaac married at age forty. (Genesis 25: 20)
- Esau married at age forty. (Genesis 26: 34)
- Joseph was embalmed for forty days. (Genesis 50: 3)
- When Moses was forty years old, he became a murderer. (Acts 7: 23)
- After that Moses took care of sheep in Midian for forty years. (Acts 7: 30)
- Moses was up on the mountain receiving the commandments forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24: 18; 34: 28)
- Aaron died forty years after leaving Egypt. (Numbers 21: 28)
- Joshua was forty years old when he explored the promised land. (Joshua 14: 7)
- The spies explored the promised land for forty days. (Numbers 13: 25)
- After rejecting it the Israelites wandered the desert eating manna for forty years. (Exodus 16: 35; Numbers 14: 33, 34)
- Forty lashes is too much! (Deuteronomy 25: 3)
- Forty thousand armed for war attack Jericho. (Joshua 4: 13)
- Forty years of peace for Israel. (Judges 3: 11)
- Forty more years of peace under Gideon. (Judges 8: 28)
- Abdon, judge of Israel had forty sons. (Judges 12: 13)
- Then Israel is delivered into the hands of the Philistines for forty years. (Judges 13: 1)
- Goliath taunted Israel for forty days. (1 Samuel 17: 16)
- Eli, priest of Israel, served for forty years. (1 Samuel 4: 18)
- Saul was made king of Israel when he was forty years old. (2 Samuel 2: 10)
- David ruled as king for forty years. (2 Samuel 5: 4; 1 Kings 2: 11; 1 Chronicles 29: 27)
- Solomon reigned over Israel forty years. (1 Kings 11: 42; 2 Chronicles 9: 30)
- Joash reigned over Israel forty years. (2 Kings 12: 1; 2 Chronicles 24: 1)
- David killed forty-thousand foot soldiers. (2 Samuel 10: 18; 1 Chronicles 19: 18)
- Forty silver bases, two for each stand were made for the Tabernacle. (Exodus 26: 19, 21; 36: 24, 26)
- The main hall of the temple was forty cubits long. (1 Kings 6: 17)
- Each basin of the temple held forty baths. (1 Kings 7: 38)
- Ezekiel’s temple: outer sanctuary: forty cubits long; inner court: forty cubits wide.(Ezekiel 41: 2; 46: 22)
- Included in Jacob’s gift to Esau: forty cows. (Genesis 32: 15)
- Hazael’s gift to Elisha: forty camel-loads of the finest wares of Damascus. (2 Kings 8: 9)
- The governor’s tax on each family in Israel: forty shekels of silver. (Nehemiah 5:15)
- Ezekiel’s prophecy: forty years of desolation for Egypt. (Ezekiel 29:10-12)
- Jonah’s prophecy: forty more days and Nineveh will be destroyed! (Jonah 3: 4)
- Crippled man healed by Peter and John was over…. forty years old! (Acts 4: 22)
- Moses went forty days and forty nights without food, twice! (Deuteronomy 9: 11, 18)
- Elijah went forty days and nights without food or water in the desert. (1 Kings 19: 8 )
- Jesus went forty days and nights without food or water in the desert. (Matthew 4: 2; Mark 1: 13; Luke 4: 2)
- Jesus was forty hours in the tomb? (Friday 3 pm -Sunday 7 am = 40 hours)
- After rising from the dead Jesus appeared to witnesses for forty days. (Acts 1: 3)
So what can be made of all this? Bible events lasting exactly forty days happened often in scripture. Consider this useless stat: There are eighteen separate events of duration greater than ten days, and 61% of them lasted forty days* Now I do think we can make any number interesting if we work hard enough at it (for example!?!) Never-the-less when Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, were transfigured together they at least had a forty day fast to talk about. (Matthew 17: 1-8; Mark 9: 2-8; Luke 9: 28-36) I’m sure Moses probably rubbed it in that he had done it twice though!
Seriously though, forty seems to be a time of testing. Forty days seems to be a time of trial. Moses spent forty years in exile; waiting on the Lord’s plan of redemption. Rejection of forty days of evidence of God’s providence earned Israel forty years in the desert. Fasting forty days is a trial endured by the great Law giver, the great prophet, and the great Messiah.
It is fitting then that Psalm 40 begins:
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.
Forty is a number of grace. After forty days and nights of rain, the earth is cleansed. A fast of forty days brings about the Law, God’s instruction for Israel. It also precedes Jesus ministry: God’s instruction for a new Israel. Christ resurrection is followed by 40 days of signs: proofs of Jesus’ triumph over death.
Now it is past my bed-time and I must be off. I need my forty winks!