Numbers In Scripture: The Number 40

Landscape with Noah's Thank Offering (painting circa 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch)

Landscape with Noah’s Thank Offering
(painting circa 1803 by Joseph Anton Koch)

The Word of God is amazing. Throughout the scriptures, there is patterns and symmetry that prove that it is inspired. We can see God’s designs and patterns not only through types and parallels but also in numbers and the meaning of names of people and places. I believe these are part of the “deep things of God”:

1 Corinthians 2:7-10 (KJV) – “But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.

It is important to note that parallels and patterns should never be used to form doctrine. However, they should be used to support what has been already been revealed by God’s Spirit through the clear teaching of the Word.  In this series I want to explore the meaning and significance of numbers that have spiritual significance.  I happen to like the number forty!  Not so much the number itself but what it represents in scripture.

Forty – A Period of Testing

The number forty is mentioned 157 times in Scripture. The number forty symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation.

  • For example, Moses’ lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert. After which God selected him to lead his people out of slavery.
  • Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights receiving God’s laws. This happened on two separate occasions (Exodus 24:18, 34:1 – 28). Moses also sent spies, for forty days, to investigate the land.
  • For forty days, the prophet Jonah warned Nineveh, that because of its many sins destruction would come.
  • For forty days the prophet, Ezekiel laid on His right side. This was to symbolize Judah’s sins (Ezekiel 4:6).
  • Jesus was tempted by the devil, not just three times, but MANY times during the forty days and nights he fasted just before his ministry began. He also appeared to his disciples and others for forty days after his resurrection from the dead.
  • The number forty can also represent a generation of man. Because of their sins after leaving Egypt, God swore that the generation of Israelites who left Egyptian bondage would not enter their inheritance in Canaan (Deuteronomy 1). The children of Israel were punished by wandering in the wilderness for forty years. This was before a new generation was allowed to possess the promised land.
  • Just days before his crucifixion, Jesus warned his disciples that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed (Matthew 24:1 – 2, Mark 13:1 – 2). Forty years after his crucifixion in 70 A.D., the mighty Roman Empire destroyed the city and burned its temple to the ground. Not one stone was left upon another.
  • The book of Exodus has forty chapters.
  • Israel was ruled by judges from the time they entered the Promised Land to the time of King Saul. These judges had a tremendous influence on the nation of Israel. Judges who served forty years include Othniel, Deborah and Barak, Eli and Gideon.
  • The first three kings over the children of Israel, Saul, David and Solomon, each ruled for forty years (1050 to 930 B.C.).
  • After the United Kingdom had split into two separate pieces, King Joash served forty years as one of Judah’s better kings. (2 Chronicles 24:1)
  • Abraham pleaded with God NOT destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if forty righteous people could be found (Genesis 18:29).
  • Isaac and Esau were both married at the age of forty years (Genesis 25:20, 26:34).
  • God flooded the earth by having it rain for forty days and nights (Genesis 7:12).
  • After the patriarch Jacob (Israel) had died in Egypt, the Egyptians spent forty days embalming his body (Genesis 50:3)
  • Forty days after Jesus was born, He was presented at the Temple in Jerusalem for His legal purification, according to the established law (Luke 2: 22-40).
  • Forty days between the Ascension of Jesus and His Resurrection. (Acts 1,3)
  • Elijah walked forty days and forty nights to reach Mount Horeb. He fasted for forty days before beginning his public ministry. He remained forty days on the Mount Carmel. (1 Kings 19-8).
  • Isaac was forty years old when he married his wife, Rebekah. (Genesis 25-20)
  • The embalming of Jacob was prolonged for forty days. (Genesis 50-3)
  • It is interesting to note that forty different people wrote the Bible.

Olivet Discourse and the Number 40

One of the most important prophetic passages is found in Matthew chapter 24. This chapter contains detailed prophecies of Jesus concerning future events. Jesus delivered a speech during the last week of His life (around 30 A.D.) Jesus gave the Olivet discourse as He and His disciples sat on the Mount of Olives. From this mount, they could clearly see the city of Jerusalem and its magnificent Temple. The speech is recorded in three places: Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Shortly after Jesus would be led away and crucified.

Forty years after Jesus warned of the destruction of the Temple, Roman General Titus marched into Jerusalem with his army. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that over 1.1 million Jews perished in the siege of Jerusalem. The Temple was destroyed – not one stone was left upon another. This was just as Jesus had prophesied. It was only after the unbelievers of that generation had rejected Jesus that judgment came.

After Jesus’ death in 30 A.D. this unbelieving generation lived in sin for forty years (Matthew 23:31-39; Acts 2:40). Judgement came in 70 A.D., forty years later. The unbelievers of that generation perished in the flood waters. This is similar to what happened to the unbelievers of Moses’ day. The unbelievers died in the wilderness while the believers were left behind to live in God’s promise. A similar judgement is seen during Noah’s flood. The unbelievers were taken away in the flood, but the believers were saved alive and were “left behind” to live and repopulate the earth (Matthew 24:3-42: Luke 17:26-27).

Summary

Numbers play an important role in scripture. The number forty represents a time of testing, trial or probation. Of all the types and shadows of the Old Testament, none is as pervasive and important as the shadows revealed in the relationship between “forty,” and the fulfillment of promises.

The forty days of rain in the days of the flood were the judgments of God. The forty day periods of fasting, testing, and communing with God that were faced by Moses and Jesus were a form of God’s judgments. The forty years that the Israelites spent in the wilderness were also the judgments of God. Various leaders in Israel, who reigned for forty year periods, were put there BY God according to His Will and Judgments. Egypt was left desolate for forty years because of God’s judgments. There is a consistency and pattern that is revealed in scripture.

Related articles: Numbers in Scripture – The Number 1000

Scripture

Ron

Managing Editor at Scripture Revealed
I’ve studied and taught the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom since 1985. My goal is to reveal the biblical truths I’ve come to see through prayer and study. I believe that the scriptures are revealed to those that study and rightly divide the "Word of Truth.”
Ron
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