The Number 40

The number 40 is significant in the Bible as it is the number of testing, preparation and leadership, as well as the harbinger of something new.

Why were the spies scouting the land of Canaan for 40 days?  Why not 30 or 7?

God instructed Moses to send one chieftain from each of the 12 tribes of Israel to scout out the land of Canaan.  Among the spies were Caleb, son of Jephunneh from the Tribe of Judah and Hosea (Hoshea), son of Nun from the Tribe of Ephraim.  Later, Moses changed Hosea’s name to Joshua.
When Moses sent out the spies, it was the season of the first ripe grapes.  They were to go in with courage and bring back a sample of the fruit of the Land.  They were also to assess the characteristics of the inhabitants, the fortification of the cities, and the existence of any trees.
After 40 days, they returned with a cluster of grapes from the Valley of Eshkol (cluster), which was so bountiful that they had to tie the cluster to a pole and carry it on their shoulders.  Here in Israel, the grapes will begin to ripen around mid-July in the heat of summer.  So it is likely that the spies went into the Promised Land around the end of July.
The number 40 is significant in the Bible as it is the number of testing, preparation and leadership, as well as the harbinger of something new.  (Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers)
We see this pattern many times in the Scriptures:
  • In a dramatic new beginning, rain fell for 40 days and nights during the Flood before the waters stopped and the world was repopulated. (Genesis 7:4)
  • Moses lived in Egypt for 40 years, was prepared for leadership in Midian for 40 years, and finally led the children of Israel in the wilderness for 40 years as a new nation.
  • Moses fasted on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights before he went down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. (Twice)
“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)
  • Goliath challenged the Israelites twice a day for 40 days before David defeated him, which began a great following by the people.  (1 Samuel 17:16)
  • Yeshua was tested by the devil in the wilderness for 40 days before He began His public ministry.
“Then Yeshua was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.  Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, ‘If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.’”  (Matthew 4:1–3)
  • The period from the resurrection of Yeshua to His ascension was 40 days, a period of preparing the disciples for the work that lay ahead. (Acts 1:3)
10 Spies Inspire Fear Rather Than Faith
“There we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”  (Numbers 13:33)
After 40 days, all 12 spies essentially testified to the entire Israelite community and Moses that the land “does flow with milk and honey!” just as God had promised. (Numbers 13:27)
Despite that, they also saw that the cities were fortified and that giants lived in the Land.
Rather than focusing on the great fruitfulness of the Land, they focused, instead, on the great size of the inhabitants in contrast to their own smallness.
Because of Moses’ intercession and appeal to God’s reputation and merciful nature, God relented from completely destroying the entire nation of Israel; nevertheless, He decreed judgment on those who refused to trust in God the way Joshua and Caleb trusted in God.
“I have forgiven them, as you asked.  Nevertheless, as surely as I live and as surely as the glory of the LORD fills the whole earth, not one of those who saw my glory and the signs I performed in Egypt and in the wilderness but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times — not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their ancestors.
No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.  But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.”  (Numbers 14:20–24) 
The entire generation (ages 20 and up) who had just been counted in the census would not enter the Promised Land they so feared.  instead, they would die in the wilderness; that is, all but Joshua and Caleb would live to enter the Land.
What lessons can we learn from this account of Israel in the wilderness?
First, we need to be people of faith, seeing ourselves as sons and daughters of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords — and not tiny grasshoppers to be crushed under some giant’s foot.  We need to believe that no matter what challenge we face today, we are “well able to overcome it” with God’s help.
This is the kind of faith that pleases God.  Without it, it is impossible to please Him. (Hebrews 11:6) 
Second, as people of faith, we need to guard our speech and speak forth faith-filled words.
Why did the whole community of Israel die in the wilderness?  They reaped the fruit of their faithless, fearful words.
The people said many times, “We will surely die in this wilderness,” and God allowed them to speak their own future into existence.
“Say to them, ‘As I live,’ says the LORD, ‘just as you have spoken in My hearing, so I will do to you:  The carcasses of you who have complained against Me shall fall in this wilderness, all of you who were numbered, according to your entire number, from twenty years old and above.”  (Numbers 14:28–29)
For each of the 40 days that the Israelites spied out the land of Canaan, the Israelites would wander in the wilderness a year until that generation died—40 years.  Only Joshua and Caleb, who had a different spirit and wholly trusted in the Lord would enter the Promised Land along with the next generation.
“According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.  I the LORD have spoken this.  I will surely do so to all this evil congregation who are gathered together against Me. In this wilderness they shall be consumed, and there they shall die.’”  (Numbers 14:34–35) 
Third, we need to repent of our unbelief and begin trusting in God or else we cannot move forward.  And sometimes, our lack of faith may prevent us from moving forward in a particular area even after we repent.
The Israelites were suddenly remorseful for their behavior and gathered up the courage to go up and take the Land, but it was too late.
Moses warned them, “Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, lest you be struck down before your enemies,” but they rebelled again, went up in presumption and were, therefore, defeated by the Amalekites and Canaanites.
Also, the ten spies who had brought back the evil report of the Land were struck down by the Lord in a plague; but Joshua and Caleb were left alive.
God had rendered His final decision; they were now “not able,” just as they had spoken over themselves.
Fourth, we should be a humble people given to intercession for others — from family members to complete strangers.  May we all be like Moses, who pleaded for mercy on behalf of his people.
Our faith matters to God!
The Word of God says that the power of life and death is in our tongues and we shall, in a sense, eat our words.  (Proverbs 18:21)
Yeshua said that it is by our words that we will be acquitted and by our words we will be condemned.  (Matthew 12:37)
May we be careful and deliberate in the words that we speak over ourselves and others, since faith comes by hearing.
May our words and actions be a testimony of the goodness and greatness of the God of Israel, and may we take hold of His promises by faith.
“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”  (Psalm 19:14)
As Abraham’s faith moved Him forward into the role of the Patriarch of the Chosen People and recipient of the covenant, so did Joshua’s faith move him forward into his role of a leader who, with God’s help, was “well able to overcome” all the obstacles before him and take possession of the Promised Land.
In this Haftarah, Joshua sends out two of his own spies into Jericho, in preparation for battle.
Although Jericho is a well-fortified city with a well-equipped army and great walls surrounding it, the spies tell Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.”  (Joshua 2:24)
Now in the land that their parents so feared, the next generation of Israelites witness God move and have great faith, being “fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises.  (Romans 4:21)
May we be fully convinced of that truth as well!
Now we have seen how God has used the number 40 let’s put together what it means shall we?

Mentioning 146 times in Scripture, the number 40 generally symbolizes a period of testing, trial or probation. During Moses’ life he lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before God selected him to lead his people out of slavery. Moses was also on Mount Sinai for 40 days and nights, on two separate occasions (Exodus 24:18, 34:1 – 28), receiving God’s laws. He also sent spies, for forty days, to investigate the land God promised the Israelites as an inheritance (Numbers 13:25, 14:34).

The prophet Jonah powerfully warned ancient Nineveh, for forty days, that its destruction would come because of its many sins. The prophet Ezekiel laid on His right side for 40 days to symbolize Judah’s sins (Ezekiel 4:6). Elijah went 40 days without food or water at Mount Horeb. Jesus was tempted by the devil not just three times, but MANY times during the 40 days and nights he fasted just before his ministry began. He also appeared to his disciples and others for 40 days after his resurrection from the dead.

The number forty can also represent a generation of man. Because of their sins after leaving Egypt, God swore that the generation of Israelites who left Egyptian bondage would not enter their inheritance in Canaan (Deuteronomy 1). The children of Israel were punished by wandering the wilderness for 40 years before a new generation was allowed to possess the promised land. Jesus, just days before his crucifixion, prophesied the total destruction of Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1 – 2, Mark 13:1 – 2). Forty years after his crucifixion in 30 A.D., the mighty Roman Empire destroyed the city and burned its beloved temple to the ground.

Appearances of the number forty

The book of Exodus, with its 40 chapters and 1,213 verses, is the seventh longest book. The longest is the Psalms.

From the time they entered the promised land, to the time of King Saul, Israel was sporadically governed by a number of individuals known as Judges. Though they did not rule like a king, they nevertheless had a tremendous influence on the people, as they represented God and were inspired to execute his will. Judges who served 40 years include Othniel, Deborah and Barak, Eli and Gideon.

The first three human kings over the children of Israel, Saul, David and Solomon, each ruled for forty years (1050 to 930 B.C.). After the united kingdom split into two separate pieces, King Joash served forty years as one of Judah’s better kings.

Abraham tried to bargain with God to NOT destroy Sodom and Gomorrah if forty righteous people were found (Genesis 18:29). Both Isaac and Esau were forty years old when they were first married (Genesis 25:20, 26:34).

God flooded the earth by having it rain for forty days and nights (Genesis 7:12). After the patriarch Jacob (Israel) died in Egypt, the Egyptians spent forty days embalming his body (Genesis 50:3).

How does the number 40 relate to humility?

God allowed the ancient Israelites, from time to time, to be harassed and dominated by certain enemies in order to chastise and humble them for their sins. The Philistine’s, in the southern and western parts of Israel’s land, harassed them from 1105 to 1065 B.C. God’s resolution to the harassment was Samson (see Judges 13:1, 1Samuel 7:13, 15 – 17).

Additional info on the Biblical Meaning of 40

The Bible was written by forty different people. Those called of God NOW are under probation, or judgment, based on how they live by every word of God.

So Please come to Jesus Christ before Your time is up!

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Filed under God's Usage of Numbers, House of the Nazarene's Posts

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