Forty Days

 •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 8
There are hardly any who have read the scriptures, with even a small measure of intelligence, who will not have remarked how constantly the period of “Forty days” occurs. Various interpretations have been suggested as to the typical meaning of the number “forty” — composed as it is of the multiple of “four” with “ten.”1 However, without dogmatizing on it, it is happy to be able to draw some real spiritual lessons from the places where the “Forty days” occur in the word of God, remembering that our God has deigned to use these periods Himself, with profound wisdom, and for the blessing and instruction of His people, in that book which contains the revelation of Himself, and His ways for the glory of His Son.
The number “Forty,” then, is, I judge, intimately connected with the probation or testing of man; as also with the penalty, or confession, or punishment of sin under the government of God. We read of the “forty days and forty nights” of the temptations of Christ; of the “forty days and forty nights” that the waters of the flood prevailed on the earth (Gen. 7.); of the “forty years” that Israel was condemned to wander in the desert for their sin (Num. 14); of the “forty stripes” an offender against the law of Moses, in certain matters, was to receive (Deut. 25; compare 2 Cor. 11:2424Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. (2 Corinthians 11:24)). Egypt was to be desolate for “forty years” (Ezek. 39). Moses, too, intercedes for Israel for “forty days” (Deut. 9) The Ninevites proclaim a fast for “forty days” (Jonah 3). Ezekiel must bear the transgression of Judah “forty days” (Ezek. 4).
Many other cases might be cited, leading to the conclusion that this typical number is always connected with the probation or testing of man; and having reference to sin, and the condition into which sin had brought man, with the confession of it; its penalty or its punishment.
There is one very remarkable feature, however, in this interesting study; we find these instances of “Forty days” begin at a certain moment in the history of man in scripture, and end at another of remarkable significance.
The first time “Forty days” is spoken of is at the waters of the flood. “Forty days and forty nights” the rain was upon the earth; a moment which was marked by this awful judgment of God.
The last time we find these “Forty days” in scripture was after the resurrection of Christ, and is bright with hopes of better things; when He remained on earth amongst His disciples, “being seen of them forty days” (Acts 1). Within, and comprising these two cases, the sevenfold series of “forty days” is found, presenting a picture of the whole moral relations of God with man, and man with God. A well-ordered and comprehensive picture, which cannot fail to strike us as designed and planned by the Author of scripture Himself, in His infinite wisdom and grace.
Let us enumerate the instances where they are found:
1st. We have the “Forty days” of the flood, which are characterized by sin and its judgment.
2nd. Next we have the “Forty days” of Moses on Mount Sinai, at the giving of the law (with the second “Forty days” of his intercession for Israel). This may be characterized by law and mercy.
3rd. We have after this the “Forty days”‘ searching of Canaan (Num. 13;14), which speak to us of faith and unbelief.
5th. In the “Forty days” of Nineveh (Jonah 3), repentance and forgiveness.
6th. The “Forty days” of the Lord’s temptation present most blessedly conflict and victory.
7th. And the “Forty days” after the resurrection, redemption and glory.
Thus the picture is complete: the utter corruption of the world opens the sequence of these “Forty days”; they run their course through scripture, presenting the varied claims of God, His ways of mercy and forgiveness, and the exercises of heart of His people; until, fittingly, the blessed Lord’s own conflicts and sufferings close them when, as Man, He takes His place at God’s right hand in glory.
1. “Four” signifies typically, finite perfection; “Four winds”; “Four empires”; “Four beasts”; “The city lieth four square,” &c. “Ten” seems to me to imply the outward expression of inward perfection, whether in good or evil; “seven” being spiritual completeness; and “ten” is that which is administered from such perfection. Thus we have “seven heads and ten horns” upon the beast. It is not “twelve,” which would be earthly perfection.