Biblical significance of the number “40” (and others)

FORTY:  This number is recognized as an important number, both on account of the frequency of its occurrence and with the uniformity of its association both as a time of consecration and as a period of trial.

  • 40 day epic periods during the great flood (Gen 7:4, 12, 17,8:6)
  • 40 years was the age of Isaac when he married Rebekah (Gen 25:20)
  • 40 years of Moses in Egypt (do the math, see Ex 7:7; Dt 34:7; Acts 7:30 )
  • 40 years of Moses in Midian before his return to Egypt (Acts 7:30)
  • 40 years from the Exodus until Moses’ death (Dt 1:3; 34:7)
  • 40 years Israel ate manna (Ex 16:35; Dt 29:5)
  • 40 days Moses was on the Mountain to receive the Law of the Sinai Covenant (Ex 24:18)
  • 40 days the children of Israel were tested while Moses was on the mountain (Ex 32:1)
  • 40 days Moses was on the Mountain after the golden calf. (Ex 34:28)
  • 40 days after his birth a male child of Israel was dedicated to God at the Sanctuary (Lev 12:1-4)
  • 40 days the Israelite spies reconnoitered the land of Canaan (Num 13:25)
  • 40 years was Caleb’s age when Moses sent him to reconnoiter Canaan (Josh 14:7)
  • 40 years that Israel spent in the wilderness before they camped by the Jordan River (Num 14:33; Dt 1:1-3; 8:2)
  • 40 years from the giving of the Law at Sinai to the conquest of the Promised land (Josh 5:6)
  • 40 year intervals of peace in the age of the Judges (Judg 3:11; 5:31; 8:28)
  • 40 years Eli judged Israel (1 Sam 4:18)
  • 40 years of war between Israel and the Philistines
  • 40 years David ruled as King of Israel (2 Sam 5:5; 1 Chr 29:26-27)
  • 40 years of Solomon ruled Israel. (2 Chr 9:30)
  • 40 days Jonah was in the Assyrian city of Nineveh (Jonah 3:4)
  • 40 years Josiah ruled Judah (2 Kng 12:2)
  • 40 days Ezekiel lay on his right side to symbolize the 40 years of Judah’s transgressions (Ez 4:6)
  • 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before His temptation (Mt 4:2; Mk 1:13; Lk 4:2)
  • 40 days Jesus taught His disciples after the Resurrection.  On the 40th day He ascended to the Father (Acts 1:3)

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Why 40?

It is the number Forty that the Church now brings before us: – a number, as Saint Jerome observes, which denotes punishment and affliction [In Ezechiel, cap. xxix].

Let us remember the forty days and forty nights of the Deluge (Gen. vii. 12), sent by God in his anger, when he repented that he had made man, and destroyed the whole human race, with the exception of one family. Let us consider how the Hebrew people, in punishment for their ingratitude, wandered forty years in the desert, before they were permitted to enter the Promised Land [Num. xiv. 33]. Let us listen to our God commanding the Prophet Ezechiel to lie forty days on his right side, as a figure of the siege, which was to bring destruction on Jerusalem [Ezech. iv. 6].

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