Why 40?

Todays Scripture:  Psalm 25:1-10; Gen 9:8 – 17, 1 Peter 3:18 – 22, Mark 1:9 – 15

It seems like the Bible gives significance to the number 40. The preparation time for a big change or event that God is launching seems to be either 40 days or 40 years. The Bible is littered with the number 40, to the point of that we need to ask why? Look at the following examples.

It rained for 40 days and 40 nights when God wanted to cleanse the world and start over.
(Gen 7:12 ) Noah waited another 40 days after it rained before he opened a window in the Ark. (Gen 8:6 ) Embalming required 40 days (although this was an Egyptian custom, the Egyptians recognized the period of 40 for the preparation of going into a new life, what they called the afterlife) (Gen 50:3 ) Moses was on the mountain with God for 40 days (TWICE) (Exo 24:18 ) (Exo 34:28-29 ) Moses’ face shone after the 40 days on the mountain. (Exo 34:29 ) It took the spies 40 days to search out the promised land and bring back fruit (Num 13:25 ) The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness, one year for each day they explored the Promised Land. (Exo 16:35 ) (Num 14:33-34 ) Goliath came for forty days before being killed by David (1 Sam 17:16 ) Elijah strengthened by one angelic meal went forty days to Mount Horeb where the Lord passed by and he heard the voice of God (1 Ki 19:8 ) Jonah warned the City of Nineveh they had 40 days until God would overthrow the city. The people repented in those 40 days and God spared the city. (Jonah 3:4 and 10 ) Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before going out in the world to minister. (Mark 1 :9-15 ) Jesus was seen in the earth 40 days after His crucifixion (Acts 1:3 )

Now I am not a Biblical literalist in the sense of that I believe that when Jesus says that “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed” that this means that the Kingdom of heaven really is a mustard seed. Or when St John speaks about that the streets in heaven are made out of gold that this is actually gold. Rather I think that those words try to describe something which our minds, stained by sin, has a hard time comprehending. But when I see a pattern like this in the Bible I do believe that it has spiritual significance. The number 40 is established as a spiritual measure of time. The number of years that represents a generation in the Bible is also 40. So, is it by chance that Lent, still to this day consists of 40 days? No, off course not. There is spiritual significance here. Many therapists and doctors say that if you can stay of your addiction for 40 days you are able to stay off forever. Be it cigarettes, alcohol or medication. Many of them testifies that this is the period of time the body requires to clean itself from every toxin (based upon that you don’t put more toxin in). If you can do something for 40 days you can do it forever.

I think that this particular amount of time deserves our attention. Can the divided, deprived state the church are in (small c) maybe be a consequence that we have ignored the spiritual time that is required before we launch major changes? I do not know about to many congregations fasting and praying for 40 days before making a big decision. If the church, that has been split in to many pieces, would have discerned for 40 years before a division took place I do not think we would even be close to the 38.000 different denominations we have in the world today. What happened to fasting, discernment, prayer, patience and faithfulness? Did these characteristics of the first 500 years of the Church (when it was undivided) disappear at the same pace as people started to read the Bible apart from a church community? Did they disappear as a result of a falling community and increased individualism? Did they fail becuase the proper use of Lent, the 40 days, got forgotten and abused? I don’t know, but those are interesting questions.

For sure it is beneficial to read the Bible on your own, but when it comes to interpreting it we need community. How can we understand what God, Who Is in eternal communion, want to say, as individuals? We need godly community to even hope to understand what He wants to communicate. We need community and we need time. (I think  about 40 days would be a good figure…)

“My child, night and day remember him that speaks the Word of God to you, and thou shalt honour him as the Lord. For in the place where lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord. And you shall seek out the faces of the saints daily, so that you may rest upon their words. (ch. 4)

You shall not long for division, but shall bring those who contend to peace. (ch. 4)”

– The Didache 80 – 160 AD

I dont know why it is 40 days or years, you can draw your own conclusuions (with the help of your brothers and ssters in Christ). But I know that 40 it is…

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob


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