The number 40 holds particular significance in the Bible and refers to a precise number, not just a long period of time. There are at least ten instances in the Old Testament and New Testament where 40 occurs, either in years or days, e.g. it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, Moses was on the mountain 40 days and 40 nights, the Israelites wandered 40 years, Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days and was seen on the earth for 40 days after His crucifixion.
A 40-something time period, whether days, months, or years is ALWAYS a period of testing, trial, probation, or chastisement (but not judgment) and ends with a period of restoration, revival or renewal.
Thankfully, God is consistent, so the meaning of a number in Genesis remains the same all the way to the book of Revelation. Sometimes the spiritual significance is not revealed directly, but in the case of “40” and its many examples throughout the Bible, we can be certain of its importance and significance.
The number forty has long been universally recognized as an important number, both on account of the frequency of its occurrence, and the uniformity of its association with a period of probation, trial, and chastisement—(not judgment, like the number 9, which stands in connection with the punishment of enemies, but the chastisement of sons, and of a covenant people). It is the product of 5 and 8, and points to the action of grace (5), leading to and ending in revival and renewal (8). This is certainly the case where Forty relates to a period of evident probation. But where it relates to enlarged dominion, or to renewed or extended rule, then it does so in virtue of its factors 4 and 10, and in harmony with their signification.
There are 15 such periods which appear on the surface of the Scriptures, and which may be thus classified:—
Forty Years of Probation by Trial
- Israel in the wilderness, Deuteronomy 8:2-5; Psalm 95:10; Acts 13:18
(the third 40 of Moses’ life, 120 years).
- Israel from the crucifixion to the destruction of Jerusalem.
Forty Years of Probation by Prosperity in Deliverance and Rest
- under Othniel, Judges 3:11,
- under Barak, Judges 5:31,
- under Gideon, Judges 8:28.
Forty Years of Probation by Prosperity in Enlarged Dominion
- under David, 2Samuel 5:4,
- under Solomon, 1 Kings 11:42,
- under Jeroboam II. See 2 Kings 12:17,18, 13:3,5,7,22,25, 14:12-14,23,28,
- under Jehoash, 2 Kings 12:1,
- under Joash, 2Chronicles 24:1.
Forty Years of Probation by Humiliation and Servitude
- Israel under the Philistines, Judges 13:1.
- Israel in the time of Eli, 1Samuel 4:18.
- Israel under Saul, Acts 13:21.
Forty Years of Probation by Waiting
- Moses in Egypt, Acts 7:23.
- Moses in Midian, Acts 7:30
There are eight of such great periods on the surface of the Bible:
- Forty days Moses was in the mount, Exodus 24:18; and to receive the Law, Exodus 24:18.
- Forty days Moses was in the mount after the sin of the Golden Calf, Deuteronomy 9:18,25.
- Forty days of the spies, issuing in the penal sentence of the 40 years, Numbers 13:26, 14:34.
- Forty days of Elijah in Horeb, 1 Kings 19:8.
- Forty days of Jonah and Nineveh, Jonah 3:4.
- Forty days Ezekiel lay on his right side to symbolize the 40 years of Judah’s transgression.*
- Forty days Jesus was tempted of the Devil, Matthew 4:2.
- Forty days Jesus was seen of His disciples, speaking of things pertaining to God’s kingdom, Acts 1:2.
* Thus 40 becomes a number closely connected with Judah, as 390 (Ezekiel 4:5) is the number of separated Israel. The significance of this will be seen (on note on number 8), for 40 is a multiple of 8, and 390 is a multiple of 13. It may also be noted that 65 (5×13) is the number of Ephraim, while 70 is specially connected with Jerusalem.
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