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What Is the Number 40 Meaning in the Bible?

What Is the Number 40 Meaning in the Bible?

The number 40 holds special significance throughout the Bible. But what exactly does this number represent, and why does it keep appearing over and over again across biblical stories?

Recurring Use of 40 in the Bible

Some key appearances of 40 in the Bible include:

  • It rained for 40 days and nights during the flood in Genesis
  • Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments
  • The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years
  • Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness before beginning his ministry
  • Jesus appeared to his disciples over a 40-day period after his resurrection

As you can see, the number 40 shows up repeatedly across various books and narratives, both in the Old and New Testaments. So clearly, the frequent reoccurrence of this number is symbolic in the Bible. But what exactly does it signify?

Symbolic Meaning of 40 in Biblical Numerology

When we analyze the holistic meaning of biblical numbers according to numerologists, the number 40 repeatedly represents a time of testing, trial, probation, or proving. For example:

  • During Noah’s 40 days of rain, the world was on trial or probation as sin was being washed away.
  • During the 40 years in the wilderness, Israel was tested in preparation to inherit the Promised Land.
  • During Jesus’ 40 days of fasting, Jesus was spiritually tested before starting his earthly ministry.

So in the Bible, the number 40 signifies a time of spiritual testing or purification to prepare someone or something for divine blessing, inheritance, deliverance, or leadership. It’s a time of shedding the old and being refined into something new. Let’s analyze this in more depth by looking at some specific examples.

The Flood Lasted 40 Days and Nights

In Genesis 7, we read about Noah and his family weathering 40 days and nights of flooding rains:

For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. – Genesis 7:17

This rainstorm lasted 40 days before God caused the floodwaters to start receding in Genesis 8. Here, 40 represents a “testing period” where the earth was judged for sin through violent cleansing rains before emerging anew. The number 40 here highlights both judgment and redemption.

Moses Was on Mount Sinai 40 Days and Nights

After freeing Israel from Egypt, Moses ascended Mount Sinai and stayed there for 40 days and 40 nights:

Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. – Exodus 34:28

Here God was establishing his covenant with Israel, but only after a 40 day test where Moses went without food or water in God’s presence. This 40 day period helped qualify Moses to then carry the “tablets of testimony” back down to distribute God’s laws.

Israel Wandered 40 Years Before Entering Canaan

Moses led Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus. But right afterwards, the Israelites lost faith and were made to wander the wilderness for decades before a new generation could enter Canaan:

For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you. – Numbers 14:34

The Promised Land was in sight but the Israelites failed their test of faith. As a result, they wandered 40 years before inheriting Canaan. This 40 year decomposition in the desert purified Israel’s faith before earning their inheritance.

Other Significant Uses of 40 in the Bible

Here are some other important biblical stories featuring the number 40:

Spies explore Canaan 40 days12 spies explored Canaan for 40 days before giving a bad report causing Israel’s faith to falter. (Numbers 13:25)
Goliath taunts Israel 40 daysThe giant Goliath taunted Israel and blasphemed God for 40 days before David defeated him. (1 Samuel 17:16)
Nineveh 40 day warningThe prophet Jonah gave ancient Nineveh 40 days to repent or be overthrown. (Jonah 3:4)
Jesus fasted 40 daysBefore starting his ministry Jesus fasted 40 days in the Judean wilderness while being tempted by Satan. (Matthew 4:2)
40 days before ascensionJesus appeared to his disciples over a 40 day period after his resurrection and before ascending to Heaven. (Acts 1:3)

In each case, the period of 40 is associated with testing and renewal. The 40 days of spying tested Israel’s ability to conquer Canaan. The 40 days of taunting tested Israel’s faith in God’s power. Nineveh’s test was whether their hearts would return to God. And Jesus modelled reliance on God’s Word during 40 days of extreme deprivation.

So in all these stories, 40 represents a fixed period to test allegiance, quality, or conviction both for punishment and refinement. Essentially it’s a “make or break” number.

Conclusion: Key Meanings of 40 in the Bible

Throughout the Bible, whenever the number 40 occurs, it signals a time of intense testing and purification in preparation for divine blessing and new beginnings. Specific meanings associated with the number 40 include:

✅ A set time of testing or judgment

✅ A period of probation, trial, or proving

✅ A time of purification or cleansing

✅ Preparation for divine inheritance, deliverance, or leadership

✅ The shedding of old ways and being refined anew

So in both symbolic and literal senses, 40 represents change and renewal – a process that’s only possible through intense crisis. The emergence of Noah from the flood, Israel from the wilderness, and Christ from the desert all establish 40 as a number signifying the testing of faith in the Bible. Where the number 40 occurs, radical spiritual transformation is on the horizon.

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