In this article, we will explore the number 40 in the Bible. We learn what it means, its symbolism in scripture, and what it can mean prophetically. So, grab your Bible, and let’s dive in…
God is a God of order. This means He is meticulous and has calculated every aspect of the universe before the beginning of time. Without a way to measure, it is hard to explain order.
Order is often expressed numerically, and the Bible is full of numbers. We find the first measure in the Bible in Gen 1:5, where God indicates the end of the first day.
The Bible measures many times and seasons, days, weeks, months, and years. Distances are also measured, and we find patterns as we search out the meaning of all these numbers. These numerical patterns provide a clue as to the meaning of these numbers and another layer of meaning in God’s Word. He tells us:
it is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to search them out. -Prov 25:2
We should then pay attention to these numbers and find their deeper meanings. With a little searching, we even see in the book of Daniel that Jesus is referred to as the Palmonee (sometimes translated as Palmoni) or the Wonderful Numberer. You can read more about this in my article, Insight into the Biblical Meaning of Numbers. With this in mind, let’s dive into the number 40 in the Bible.
The Symbolic Meaning Of The Number 40 In The Bible
I love seeking out symbolic meaning in things in the Bible, and I have been on this adventure to look at the numbers of the Bible. The number 40 symbolizes the period of preparing for something new and fundamentally different.
It is also seen as a period of testing man’s heart. From what I can find in scripture, it symbolizes testing, but never unduly. There is always an end to the test, and God is always in the midst of the test.
Take as an example of this principle how Moses was educated in the pharaoh’s household for 40 years. He then had to learn a fundamentally different lifestyle in Median and encounter God to prepare him for the next 40 years. The last 40 years of his life required preparation from the previous two preparation periods.
The Israelites needed to spend 40 years in the wilderness due to the unbelief in their hearts. The spies had 40 days to see the wonders of the promised land, but only two men believed in God’s promises. As a result, the entire generation was to wander in the wilderness for 40 years.
Despite this testing, God provided for them faithfully. They always had protection, food, and supernatural longevity of all their provisions.
Another example is the warning to Nineveh. God sent Jonah to the city to warn the people that they would be punished if they continued to sin. Based on this warning, the king declared a fast and a time of repentance.
The Ninevites had 40 days to correct their actions. (Jonah 3:4) God searched their hearts and found them repentant. There was a drastic change in the city in those 40 days.
The Meaning Of The Number 40 In the Bible
God’s Word has so many facets, and to get the full meaning of a word, one often has the scratch deeper. Looking at the Hebrew and Greek meanings of words, we often better understand what a word means.
In this instance, both the Hebrew and the Greek words simply state the numbers, so they do not offer further insight into the meaning.
40 Can Indicate A Generation In God’s Word
The context of the number 40 in the Bible gives us clues regarding the meaning. The number 40 is deemed a generation in the Bible. It does not refer to how long a person lives but indicates a time period after which changes are made.
We can see this principle when many kings ruled for 40 years. Among these kings were Saul, David, Solomon, and Rehoboam.
We also know that God punished the unbelieving generation of Israelites in the wilderness. We see the difference between age and generation here. God instructs that everyone over the age of 20 will not enter Canaan.
God makes that generation wander in the wilderness for 40 years as punishment, yet continues to show them His wonders daily. Their sin was a matter of the heart, but God continued to show them His heart.
The Meaning Of Mem And The Number 40
Another way to understand the meaning of 40 is to look at the Hebrew alphabet, which derives from pictograms. Each letter has a symbol and a numeric value. Pretty neat, huh?
In Hebrew, the letter M is known as Mem and carries the numeric value of 40. The original pictogram for Mem was a zig-zag pattern that depicts water or chaos. While the symbol has changed, the meaning remains the same today.
In the Bible, we read about the sea often. Many times, amid situations that cause fear or seem chaotic. We think about Jonah and the storm that saw him land in the belly of the fish. We read about the disciples caught out at sea in a boat in the midst of a storm. These encounters with water give us an understanding of the symbol of the letter Mem.
While turmoil was associated with the testing mentioned above, we again see the Grace of God and how his hand in the situation brought calm.
After all, Jesus is the Living Water, so 40 and Mem may mean water and chaos, but never forget God’s hand in each situation!
Is 40 Significant In the Bible?
We see 40 associated with change. Sometimes the change is swift, sometimes unpleasant and other times, the change takes years. Perhaps the speed with which the change happens for us to come in line with God’s plan depends on our obedience. Here are a few significant events associated with the number 40.
David and Goliath
Goliath challenged Saul’s army morning and evening for 40 days. Saul and each one of his soldiers had 40 days to choose if they would accept the challenge or allow the insults toward God to continue.
David believed that God would give him victory over the giant. The change came swiftly when David chose to believe God’s promise of faithfulness.
Elijah and Jezebel
Elijah’s faith waivered after threats from Jezebel. He went on the run, and fled to mount Horeb, also called the mountain of Elohim, to hear from God. He was fed by an angel and walked 40 days and 40 nights without further sustenance.
After these 40 days, he heard from God and returned to face off with the Baal priests and bring swift change to the situation in the land.
Does The Number 40 Impact Us As Believers Today?
In the gospels, we learn that Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit after His baptism and immediately separated Himself in the wilderness. This Shows His immediate obedience and the need for fasting and prayer in our lives. Jesus fasted from food and water for 40 days and nights. When He was tempted by the devil afterward, Jesus overcame the devil.
Likewise, today we will face temptations and difficulties. The Holy Spirit may call us to prepare for 40 days before a challenging time. We may even be tempted for 40 days or go through a trial for 40 days as Jesus did. (Luke 4:2) Jesus left so He could leave the Gift of the Holy Spirit for us as a helper through such times. Jesus set an example for us so that we could know how to overcome our challenges.
The number 40 was also used prophetically in God’s Word, so we must believe it holds a message for us today. If we look at the example of Nineveh, they were given a warning with a 40-day testing period attached. We saw God’s Grace in holding back punishment on the city because of repentance.
In Luke 11:30, Jesus says that as Jonah was a warning to Nineveh (for 40 days), so will Jesus be a warning to this generation. It is stated in the present tense, and the word generation reminds us again of the number 40.
This tells us that it is a warning to every generation, even ours today, to turn from wickedness and live a life of repentance.
No matter if the sin in our life is evident to others or if it is a sin of doubt, fear, and unbelief, if we turn to Him in repentance, He can Supernaturally sustain us and is faithful to care for us. Jesus came to warn us and show us He is the
One who can calm the chaos of the waters and our circumstances. How long before we see the change in our situation usually depends on how long we take to trust that He is faithful.
I hope you have enjoyed this study on the number 40 in the Bible. God’s Word is amazing, and there is so much we can learn from it when we dig deep into it. If you want to comment, you can do so below. I would love to hear what God is doing in your life.
Numbers in the Bible
And if you would like to explore more about numbers in the Bible, then please check out these other posts as well.
Melissa is a passionate minister, speaker and an ongoing learner of the Bible. She has been involved in church and vocational ministry for over 18 years. And is the founder of Think About Such Things. She has the heart to equip the saints by helping them get into the Word of God and fall more in love with Jesus. She also enjoys family, cooking, and reading.
She has spoken in churches in California, Oregon, Texas, and Mexico and has been featured in Guidepost Magazine and All Recipes Magazine. Read More…