306 – 40 Days – Part 3
Matthew 4:1-2 (NKJV)
4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.
Mark 1:13 (NKJV)
13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan, and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to Him.
Luke 4:2 (NKJV)
2 being tempted for forty days by the devil. And in those days He ate nothing, and afterward, when they had ended, He was hungry.
We’ve been exploring the question, “is there a significance to the number forty in the Bible?”
It’s a fair question because we do see it show up twenty-two times in as many verses. Any time we see something repeating in the scriptures it is worth exploration. Additionally, our attention is drawn to the number forty because it shows up during some pretty significant biblical events. The flood was a forty-day event. Noah was on the ark for forty days. The spies spent forty days assessing the promised land. Moses fasted from food and water (twice!) up on the mountain with Yahweh for forty days when he received the ten commandments. Yahweh caused the nation Israel to wander the wilderness for forty years because of their disobedience, and on and on it goes.
We are going to explore the few New Testament scriptural references to the number forty but first, I want to pose an additional question about the number forty for the back of our minds. The question is, “are we curious about the number forty because we want to understand the Bible better, or is it because we want to know if it has significance to us today?”
According to the Logos Bible search I executed, the first time we run into a reference to the number forty is the temptation of Christ. What God in the flesh subjected Himself to on our behalf is nothing short of incomprehensible. It isn’t the events that are incomprehensible, but rather the idea He subjected Himself to these tortures out of loving obedience to our and His Heavenly Father. We, a most undeserving people, were and are the beneficiaries of His humble earthly subjugation. This is nothing short of a powerful demonstration of the grace of Yahweh to mankind.
Now we come to the last New Testament reference I found to “forty days”.
Acts 1:3 (NKJV)
3 to whom He [Jesus] 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.
I looked at both the previous and subsequent verses surrounding Acts 1:3 to see if the Scriptures provide any insight into why Jesus chose to interact with His disciples for exactly forty days, instead of some other number of days. But alas, there is no indication as to why forty. Before we move on in the discussion, I should tell you I broadened the search parameters. I had originally searched for “forty days”, which yielded only twenty-two hits in twenty-two verses. What would happen, I wondered, if I just searched for “forty”? The answer is 155 results in 142 verses! Should we visit each one of those references before we conclude our discussion on the number forty? I think not, but I will share a few facts about those other references. Some of them are references to other numbers such as “forty-five” (for example: Genesis 18:28), some refer to a person’s age when a certain event occurred (for example: Genesis 25:20, Genesis 26:34). In some of the search results the “forty” referred to a count of something, “he had forty cows” (Genesis 32:15).
Some of the search results for the number forty are indeed referring to a number of years whereas our first search was specific to a number of days. Ok, so maybe we should again narrow our search results. A Logos Bible search of the New King James Version yielded 44 results in 44 verses.
Joshua 14:7 (NKJV)
7 I was forty years old when Moses the servant of [YHWH] sent me from Kadesh Barnea to spy out the land, and I brought back word to him as it was in my heart.
Well, that’s an interesting tidbit! Joshua was forty years old when as a spy spent forty days in the promised land. What does that mean? Resist the temptation to force it to mean something. Maybe it does have significance, but if we are unable to discover meaning we dare not make something up!
Let me share just two more verses with you. Then I’ll tell you my conclusion (I hope you will reach your own based on your study).
Acts 7:23 (NKJV)
23 “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his [Moses’] heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.
Acts 7:30 (NKJV)
30 “And when forty years had passed, an Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush, in the wilderness of Mount Sinai.
I know this study was far from exhaustive, but it’s my hope we did just enough to not only reach a reasonable answer to our question, but also to demonstrate some Bible study method. Based on the study I have done of “forty” I think I see the number forty, whether days or years, generally, but not always, presenting the theme of testing and trial as referenced in Hebrews 3:9.
Hebrews 3:9 (NKJV)
9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me,
And saw My works forty years.
Israel tested and tried Yahweh, not in a good way! Yahweh then says, “ok, you tested and tried me wickedly, I will in turn test and try you righteously!”
A proper Bible Study method would at last, after Observation; Interpretation; and collation, and probably before Application, consult solid Biblical references such as commentaries and Bible dictionaries to compare the scholars’ conclusions to our own. I leave that work to you.
God is a God of order and detail. Nothing escapes His notice, and nothing is beyond His sovereign hand. He has very lovingly and graciously packed the Bible full of wonderful information for our consumption and benefit. Yahweh and Yahweh alone is worthy of all our praise, worship and adoration!