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What significance does the number 40 have in the Bible?

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Some of the earliest books in the Bible, including the Books of Genesis, Exodus and Judges, began as oral traditions that were only written down during the first millennium BCE. To assist the tradents who passed the traditions on to the next generations, multiples of the number 20 were commonly used for periods of time, and personal names often had meanings that helped in reminding the tradents of the storyline. For example, we have 40 days and nights of rain, Moses spent 40 days fasting on the mountain, the Exodus lasted for 40 years. The period of influence for each of the major judges in the Book of Judges was a multiple of 20.

In the New Testament, Jesus fasted for 40 days, to reflect the period that Moses was said to have fasted.
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The number 40 in the Bible is symbolic of a period of testing. Just as Noah's faith was put to the test of 40 days and nights of rain, the children of Israel being tested in the wilderness for 40 years, and Jesus' fasting of 40 days before he began his public ministry.
The number forty is associated with probation and trial - but not judgement.

There are a number of biblical references to Forty Days (and nights)
  • Forty days Moses was in the mount, Exodus 24:18; and to receive the Law, Exodus 24:18.
  • Forty days Moses was in the mount after the sin of the Golden Calf, Deuteronomy 9:18,25.
  • Forty days of the spies, issuing in the penal sentence of the 40 years, Numbers 13:26, 14:34.
  • Forty days of Elijah in Horeb, 1 Kings 19:8.
  • Forty days of Jonah and Nineveh, Jonah 3:4.
  • Forty days Ezekiel lay on his right side to symbolize the 40 years of Judah's transgression.
  • Forty days Jesus was tempted of the Devil, Matthew 4:2.
  • Forty days Jesus was seen of His disciples, speaking of things pertaining to God's kingdom, Acts 1:2.


Throughout the Bible the number 40 is associated with a time of testing, as also is the case with Jesus fasting in the wilderness and the following tempting by the Devil. The Devil was testing Him, obviously in the hopes that He would fail the "test", which of course Jesus did not fail.
According to Hebrew numerology, the number forty symbolizes trial. It suggests a long period of time in which a person, or people, face challenge. In the Old Testament: After Noah builds the ark, it rains for forty days and forty nights (Genesis 7). When Moses ascends the mountain to meet God, he stays forty days and forty nights before God bestows the law upon him in the form of two stone tablets. (Deuteronomy 9). After the Israelites a freed from slavery in Egypt, they wander in the wilderness for forty years (Numbers 14). Goliath, the champion of the Philistines, takes his stand in front of the Israelite army for forty days before David faces him (1 Samuel 17). After Elijah kills the prophets of Baal, he eats and drinks and is able to travel for forty days and forty nights on the strength of that food (1 Kings 19). When Jonah prophesies to Ninevah, he declares the city's destruction in forty days (Jonah 3). In the New Testament, After Jesus is baptized in the river Jordan, he is driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where he is tested for forty days Matthew 4; Luke 4; Mark 1). When the Apostle Paul recounts his suffering to the Corinthians, he says received the punishment of forty lashes minus 1 on five separate occasions (2 Corinthians 11).
40 means purification, an encounter with the Divine, and could mean a great and spiritual Change... as one encounters with the divine
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