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The number 40 is a number that holds great significance in the context of various religious texts. Though referenced in many Islamic, Jewish and Hindu texts among others, this article will focus on its significance in the Holy Bible.

The number 40 in the bible means a great deal, this is apparent with the numerous instances I which the number 40 has been mentioned. The number 40 in the bible has been used to designate important time periods in its writings. Like many other scriptures, the number 40 in the bible is also used to represent a large, approximate number.

However, the most common use of the number 40 in the bible is to signify a period of trials and tribulations where the character is being tested. The abundant examples where this is proven shall be cited below and evaluated in this article. With the help of these examples, we will be able to uncover how the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation. The purpose of these trials was more often than not a test of faith; After all, how strong is a faith that has not been tested.

Significant Instances Involving The Number 40 In The Bible

  •  Testing the Israelites:

Once the Israelites were freed from Egypt, God wanted to put them through a test. The Israelites were not unwavering in their faith and were not content with what God provided for them. The purpose of this 40-year trial to wander in the wilderness was to filter out the unfaithful. The Israelites tested God and hence God tested them. God wished for the Israelites to find the promised land, but those that faltered in their faith never did. Living on manna, the patient faithful experienced God’s true divine will.

  •  40-day fasts in the desert:

For the Ten commandments, Moses wanted to prove his loyalty to God in the ultimate test of his faith. Moses fasted for 40 days atop Mount Sinai, where he neither ate bread not drank water. Another notable figure that also fasted for 40 days was none other than Elijah, who had one meal that gave him strength for 40 days. Confused and at the end of his rope, Elijah turned to God and by proving his faith, he gained knowledge to lead the people of Israel. These Biblical greats turned to God in a time of confusion and in passing these trials, showed their unwavering faith in him. This show of their faith allowed them the knowledge to overcome their hardships and sin.

  •  The Temptation of Christ:

Jesus Christ resisted the temptations of Satan for 40 days and 40 nights to taste the strength of the appetite of man. Having survived for 40 days and 40 nights without any food or water, Jesus’ biggest test was yet to come. Jesus was tempted by no other Satan after completing his fast. Jesus was tempted with three temptations – hedonism, egoism, and materialism. However, Jesus being who he is, never faltered in his faith, not even for a moment. In doing so, Jesus Christ gave Satan a taste of his own medicine.

  •  The 40-day flood:

God noticed that man had become arrogant and their sins had become too shameful. Sins and evil were growing and intensifying at an alarming rate. The earth had become corrupt. God told his ardent worshiper Noah to build an ark, an ark big enough to house two of every living creature on earth. Nobody headed Noah’s warning of the inevitable flood on judgement day. For their lack of faith, on judgement everyone paid with their lives save for those on his ark. Once again, we see the number 40 in the bible, as the colossal body of water flooded land for 40 days and nights. Noah’s Ark did find land but it took them non less than 40 days to do so.

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  •  Ezekiel laid on his right side for 40 days:

The bear the iniquities of Judah, God instructed the prophet Ezekiel to lay on his right side for 40 days. The days corresponded to the number of years the kingdom of Judah insulted the name of God by rebelling, defying, sinning and being evil. This came after the 390 days he lay on his left side to atone for the sins of the kingdom of Israel. Ezekiel suffered greatly for the sake of the sins of his ancestors, but the knowledge he gained helped prepare the Israelites for the coming of Jesus.

  • Kings that reigned for 40-years:

There were 3 prominent Hebrew kings that ruled for 40 years. In the Bible, 40 years is considered to be a generation. The great King Solomon, King David and King Saul were all said to have ruled for 40 years, no less and no more. These 40 years of rule were also marked by the two polarizing aspects of ruling. Each King spent half of their rule being prosperous, while the other half of their reign suffered an age of disintegration and despair. Another recurring theme in these kings’ rule was that they eventually bit off more than they could chew. Each king took more from the people, than they gave back.

  •  Goliath toyed with Israelites for 40 days:

The armies of Philistine and Israel stood opposite each other for 40 days. Every new day meant that another Israelite soldier would step forth to take on the famed Goliath. A gargantuan soldier, Goliath was a philistine that took a liking to humiliating Israelites. Goliath made light work of a new Israelite soldier with every passing day for 40 days. After 40 days, a humble shepherd from Bethlehem who went by the name of David was sent by God. David defeated Goliath is a legendary battle that is fresh in our minds to this day. This victory marked an era in which the Israelites were able to solidify their kingdom.

Other Instances of Its Significance

  • In the bible the number 40 has been mentioned 146 times.
  • The bible was written by 40 different people.
  • The Holy Place of the Temple Sanctuary was 40 cubits long.
  • After coming back from the dead Jesus Christ stayed for 40 days.
  • Abdon, the Eleventh Judge of Israel had 40 sons.
  • Eli was a Judge of Israel for 40 years.
  • The son of King Saul came to power when he was 40 years of age.
  • Jehoash of Judah’s reign lasted for 40 years.
  • The maximum number of whips allowed as a penalty was 40 whips.
  • Moses sent spies into the promised land, they returned with a report after 40 days and 40 nights.
  • Abraham pleaded with God not to kill Gomorrah and Sodom if they could find 40 righteous people.
  • Egypt laid desolate for 40 years.
  • If they failed to repent, the prophet Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh in 40 days. Fortunately they heeded his warning and the city was spared. 
  • The book of Exodus has 40 chapters.

To this very day, God still tests us on a daily basis, even though we may not realize it. Although it can be hard to understand at first, one must realize that we are being tested for our own good. The trials and tribulations associated with the number 40 in the bible is no different from the trials and tribulations God puts us through today. Much like the tests in the bible, we are being tested to see if we still seek God and have faith in him when life gets us down. What is important is for us to ride the punches and grow from these hardships both spiritually and in our faith. As mentioned earlier, what good is a faith that has not been tested?

Although there is no doubt that the number 40 is of significance in the bible, one must not think too much of biblical numerology. Sure, there are some patterns that can be drawn from it, at the end of the day the number 40 is just that, a number. Making appearances in multiple religious texts, the significance of the number 40 in the bible and other religious texts simple cannot be denied. With so many instances involving the number 40 in the bible, it’s hard to chalk it up as being a mere coincidence. But it is also wrong to obsess over it looking for some kind of deeper meaning within the scriptures and writings. More often than not, the bible says what the bible means to say.

It is worth noting that the bible never assigns any exclusive meaning to the number 40, it simply cites instances. What we choose to learn from it is completely up to us. There is a lot one can learn from these instances in terms of qualities, these instances can also show us different ways to learn and grow spiritually. For the non-spiritual it can also act as a gateway to becoming more in touch with the spiritual side our ourselves.