Life begins at forty, so the saying says and there are lots of instances of the number in the Bible. First, let’s look at examples of forty in everyday life. Forty is the atomic number of Zirconium. Negative forty is the unique temperature at which the Fahrenheit scale and Celsius scale overlap. In other words, -40 degrees Fahrenheit is the same temperature as -40 degrees Celsius.
Those who have been married for forty years will be celebrating their Ruby Wedding Anniversary. After celebrating, they may find themselves in need of “forty winks”, i.e. a short nap.
There are forty squares on a standard Monopoly board. There were forty thieves in the story Ali Shar and Zumurrud (Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) from the stories of Thousand and One Nights. There are forty weeks in an average human pregnancy term. The trademark name WD-40 is an abbreviation of “Water Displacement, 40thformula”.
According to the Arabic proverb, “to understand a people, you must live among them for forty days.” The number forty as written is the only number to be spelt in English with its letters in alphabetical order.
Typically, the number forty is used to represent a large, approximate number. In these cases, it is a synonym for the word “umpteen”. As a result, the number forty appears multiple times in many religions.
In Islam, Muhammad was forty years old when he first received the revelation from the angel Gabriel. Non-believers were banned from entering the Holy Land for forty years. Musa, who we know as Moses, spent forty days on Mount Sinai where he received the Ten Commandments. Muhammad prayed and fasted in a cave for forty days. Muhammad had forty followers who helped to spread the religion of Islam.
In Judaism, a mikvah (a ritual bath) consists of 40 se’ah of water, which is equivalent to approximately 760 litres. A man is expected to study Kabbalah until he is forty years old.
In Christianity, one of the most important festivals of the year is the season of Lent, which lasts for forty days. The reason there are forty days in Lent is that the Bible records Jesus fasted for forty days and nights. "After fasting forty days and fortynights, he was hungry." Matthew 4:2 (NIV). As we know, the forty days of Lent led up to Jesus' crucifixion, which is swiftly followed by his Resurrection. Another link appears in Acts 1:3, which records that Jesus visited his Disciples to prove to them he had risen from the dead. This took place over a forty-day period until his ascension.
Due to the forty-day periods either side of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the number forty has come to symbolise the death of the body and spiritual rebirth. Several theologians have attributed the number to the cycle of the world, a repetitious circle of birth and death throughout the universe.
In the Bible, there are nearly one hundred mentions of the word forty. I will not list them all but let’s have a look at the most significant ones.
So, Jesus’ fast in the desert lasted forty days. The flood of Noah lasted forty days. Elijah walked for forty days. Moses resided on Mount Sinai for forty days. The Israelites were in the wilderness for forty years. Several leaders and kings ruled for forty years. Are these coincidences, approximations or a symbol of something much bigger?
There are a number of events that are not directly written about in the Bible, however, have come to be believed by various groups of Christians. Some of these also involve the number forty. Some say that Jesus preached over a period of forty months. Between his death and resurrection, he spent forty hours in the tomb. According to the Roman Catholic writer Maria Valtorta (1897-1961), Jesus received forty lashes during his whipping. This, however, is disputed by the earlier visions of Mary of Jesus of Ágreda (1602-1665) that claimed Jesus received 5115 blows of the whip.
According to an old prophecy, no man or animal would have crossed Egypt for forty years. In the Book of Secrets of Enoch written in 1896 by Robert Charles (1855-1931), the four rivers in the Garden of Eden were subdivided by forty and surrounded the entire planet. According to the Gospel of Barnabas written by a man claiming to have been one of the original disciples, at the end of the world, there is going to be a forty-year period of darkness.
Returning to the Bible, the Book of Exodus, which is the seventh longest book in the Bible, contains forty chapters. The number one is mentioned forty times in the Gospel of John alone. The term “City of David” is used forty times in the Old Testament. Finally, the word “adore” appears forty times in the New Testament.
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Rev'd Martin Wheadon