While I was doing research for this sermon, I learned some interesting things about the number 40.
• There is an Arabic proverb that goes: “to understand a people, you must live among them for 40 days.”
• There is an American saying: “Life begins at forty.”
• The expression “forty winks” means one slept for a short time.
• There is a radio program most of us are familiar with called the American Top 40.
• There are songs named 40 by the Dave Matthews Band, U2, and Franz Ferdinand, but I don’t believe any of those songs hit the top 40.
• The highest number ever counted to on Sesame Street is 40.
• The time a woman carries a baby to full term is 40 weeks.
• And, there are 40 spaces on the Monopoly board.
40 is a number rich in meaning today and it has long been significant in the Bible.
I can’t believe how many times
the number 40 appears in the Bible.
My search shows that the number 40
appears in the Bible 102 times;
as important as 40 is,
it is not among the top 5
numbers used in the Bible.
Here are some ways the number 40 is used:
• Israel wondered in the wilderness for 40 years after leaving Egypt
• After Moses killed an Egyptian, he fled to Midian for 40 years.
• Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days to receive the 10 Commandments. He ascended the mountain for another 40 days after he destroyed the first tablets.
• Moses sent spies into the land of Canaan for 40 days. (Numbers 13)
• According to the Law, the maximum number of lashes a man can receive for a crime is 40.
• A ritual cleansing bath called a mikvah is to be 40 se’ah of water.
• During the time of the Judges, under the judgeship of Othniel, Barak, and Gideon each enjoyed 40 years of peace.
• The kings of Israel, Saul, David, Solomon, Jeroboam II, Jehoash and Joash each reigned 40 years.
• Goliath challenged King Saul’s army for 40 consecutive days before David stepped up to slay him. (1 Samuel 17: 16)
• God sent Jonah to preach repentance to Nineveh for 40 days.
• Jesus was in the desert 40 days when He was tempted by the Devil. (Matthew 4: 2)
• Jesus was with the Disciples following the resurrection for 40 days. (Acts 1: 3)
The New Testament letter to the Hebrews (3: 8 – 10)
and the time the Hebrews
spent in the wilderness
suggests 40 years is a generation.
However, 40 is more significant
than the passing of a generation.
A period of 40
whether it be days or years is a period of trial or probation
and always ends
with a period of redemption.
The Flood story in Genesis
is the first time the number 40
appears as a number
symbolizing God’s judgment and redemption.
Let’s look at the story to see
what it conveys about the number 40.
Chapter 6 of Genesis begins the story of Noah.
The first verses of the chapter
tell of wickedness in the world.
The greatest crime was that
known as Nephilim or sons of God were breeding with daughters of men,
that is human women.
Sin was so rampant among humans
that God regretted creating humans.
God grieved and was deeply troubled,
and wanted to redeem the people from their sin.
God planned to destroy
humans and animals
but save Noah
who found the Lord’s favor.
The Flood was God’s plan
to correct a creation corrupted
by human sin and violence.
Though the plan started with destruction,
it was always God’s plan
to redeem the righteous.
It’s important in this story to remember
that God grieved human sin;
God was not angry.
God did not destroy
the earth out of rage. This was God’s plan
to redeem the world from sin, not punish the people for their sins.
The Flood was about cleansing the world of sin.
God asked Noah to build an ark made of wood
to survive the floodwaters
God would sent upon the earth.
The ark would be big enough
to carry 2 of every animal
and 7 of every clean animal
as well as Noah, his wife,
their 3 sons and their wives.
Noah did as God instructed.
Then, God told Noah to get everyone on board
because rain would fall on the earth
for 40 days and 40 nights.
Noah did not know what rain was.
Until this point,
the earth was watered from springs
below the earth.
Genesis says that before
it rained 40 days and 40 nights
the floodwaters rose up
when the springs of the great deep
The earth remained flooded for 150 days.
The ark was a vessel of protection
for those God found to be righteous.
In the ark,
the family was safe from God’s cleansing.
Outside, God’s judgment literally
rained down from Heaven
wiping all humans and animals
from the face of the earth.
Outside, there was no hope of survival. Inside, there was God’s protection
and hope for a new world free from sin.
Inside, Noah and his family endured
a spiritual preparation for a new life with God.
After 150 days, the waters began to recede.
Noah knew the flood waters were receding
when the ark came to rest
on the mountains of Ararat.
The flood waters continued
to recede over the next 3 months. 40 days after the mountain tops
Noah sent a raven out of a window.
Then, Noah sent out a dove,
but the waters had not receded enough
for the dove to find a place to perch.
2 more times Noah sent the dove out – the third time it did not return
signaling to Noah that waters had receded.
Once the earth was completely dry,
God told Noah to come out of the boat
with his family and all the animals.
I find it interesting that God said come out of the boat rather than go out of the boat.
This suggests that God was not in the boat
but in the earth among the destruction.
This first thing Noah did
was to build an altar to the Lord
and sacrificed a burnt offering.
This pleased the Lord.
God promised Noah that the Lord
would never again curse the ground
and will never again destroy all living things.
The Lord allowed all living things to Noah
as food as long as they didn’t eat meat
with blood in it.
Noah and his family
was admonished to be fruitful
and fill the earth with children.
God then established
the first covenant with humanity.
The covenant included the promise
that God would never again destroy
the earth by flood.
God set a rainbow in the sky
and said it would be a sign of God’s covenant.
This is a story that we first learned as children.
I’ve shared a few details
that we don’t cover in Sunday school
Our teaching children this story
focuses on the rainbow
and the promise of new life.
The promise of new life is the same message for us.
Of all the times the number 40 appears in the Bible,
it is always about redemption.
In some instances, 40 years is a period of peace and prosperity
when a nation was led to do what is right
in the sight of the Lord
under the rule of a judge or king
showing that they had turned
from their sin.
In most cases, 40 days or years
is a time of testing, trial, cleansing of sin,
trouble, or hardship.
These periods of 40 days or years
ends in redemption.
In the case of the Flood, 40 days of rain marked cleansing the earth of sin followed by the redemption of the righteous. In the mikvah bath, a person is cleansed of their sin by 40 measures of water. Moses was spiritually prepared for 40 years in the land of Midian to save his people from slavery in Egypt. In 40 days, Moses was spiritually prepared to deliver the Law which would teach the people to do what was right. A generation, 40 years, passed away in the wilderness as God prepared the people to enter the land of salvation.
Jesus represents the ultimate plan of redemption. Jesus began and ended his ministry with 40 days. Jesus prepared for his ministry by 40 days of fasting and prayer after which he was tested by the Devil. Jesus needed no redemption after testing because He is the Redeemer. After God overcame the power of death by the resurrection of Jesus, He ended His ministry with 40 final days with the Disciples. Finally, their was a 40 day period between Easter and Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Disciples.
The number 40 carries meaning into our observance and Lent and Pentecost. Easter is set each year by the vernal equinox. And, Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent, is 40 days from Easter, plus the Sundays of Lent. Lent is a time to spiritually prepare and confess our sins as the redemption of Easter dawns.
I wonder if life really does begin at 40. Perhaps the first 40 years of life are preparation for a new way of being with God.