Monday, March 06, 2006


40 Thoughts about Forty
Welcome to our Lenten observance.

We've been fascinated recently by the recurrence of the number "forty" in Biblical -- and specifically, Mormon -- theology. Here's the complete list, followed by some "hmmmm" theological and natural occurences of the number forty.

  • Noah experienced forty days of rain with the flood. (Gen. 7:4, etc.)
  • Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah. (Gen. 25:20)
  • Esau was forty years old when he married Judith and Bashemath. (Gen. 26:34)
  • Embalming (specifically, the embalming of Jacob) required forty days. (Gen. 50:3)
  • Moses visited Israelites at age forty, and began his ministry forty years later (Acts 7:23, 7:30)
  • Children of Israel wandered the desert for forty years. (Num. 14:33, etc.)
  • Moses was on the mount for forty days. (Ex. 34:28)
  • Spies sent to land of Canaan returned after forty days. (Num. 13:25)
  • Double "forty" reference in Num. 14:34
  • Punishment for the wicked: Forty stripes (Deut. 25:3, which we take as a Messianic reference, but see also 2 Cor 11:24, wherein Paul is regularly beaten with forty stripes)
  • Joshua forty years old when he was sent to spy (Josh. 14:7)
  • At the time of the Judges, a break from warfare was described as the land having "rest [for] forty years." (Judg. 3:11, Judg. 5:31, Judg. 8:28)
  • Children of Israel did evil, and were therefore "delivered into the hand of the Philistines forty years." (Judges 13:1)
  • Eli judges Israel forty years before his death. (1 Sam. 4:18)
  • Goliath harrangued Saul's army forty days. (1 Sam 17:16)
  • Saul's reign was forty years (Acts 13:21)
  • Ish-bosheth was forty years old when he began his reign. (2 Sam 2:10)
  • David's reign was forty years. (2 Sam 5:4, 1 Chr. 29:27)
  • Absalom spent forty years conspiring against David. (2 Sam 15:7)
  • Solomon's reign was forty years. (1 Kings 11:42, 2 Chr. 9:30)
  • Elijah fasted on Horeb forty days. (1 Kings 19:8)
  • Hazael brought to Elisha a gift of "forty camels’ burden." (2 Kings 8:9)
  • Joash/Josiah I's reign was forty years. (2 Kings 12:1, 2 Chr. 24:1)
  • Jeremiah's term as prophet: forty years
  • The 480 years from the Exodus to the building of the temple are counted as twelve 40-year generations
  • Ezekiel bears the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days, Egypt desolate forty years (Ezek. 4:6, Ezek. 29:11-13
  • Jonah warns that Ninevah would be overthrown in forty days. (Jonah 3:4)
  • Savior Jesus Christ fasts forty days (Matt. 4:2, Mark 1:13, Luke 4:2)
  • The time from the crucifixion to the resurrection was forty hours
  • Resurrected Christ ministers for forty days until His ascension. (Acts 1:3)
  • Nephites separate themselves from Lamanites at forty-year mark (2 Ne. 5:34)
  • Ammon et al wander forty days before finding Lehi-Nephi. (Mosiah 7:4-5)
  • Temple lot is forty rods long and twelve (another significant number) wide.
Of additional note:
  • The Jewish holiday of Teshuvah (Repentence) is forty days.
  • The mikveh (baptismal font) must be filled with forty measures of water.
  • Catholics observe a forty-day Lent.
  • Human gestation is forty weeks.
  • There was a forty-year period between the start of Jesus's ministry and the destruction of Israel (AD 70).
  • Kabbalists propose that a person isn't competent/mature enough to study the mysteries of God until he reaches the age of 40. (NB: Scripturally, a man was full-grown at age forty [Exodus 2:11; Acts 7:23; cf. Joshua 14:7; 2 Samuel 2:10]).
  • Some Chinese traditions agree: "Soon I will be 40: 'The year when you are no longer bewildered.'" --Beijing Businessman Zhang Wu, an interviewee on a PBS Frontline special. 2/13/2003.
We're not the first writers, of course, to note the theological significance of the number 40, though we suspect we're the first to compile a list this complete. Others who've made interesting comments on the phenon:So, is forty significant? Ready to observe LDS Lent? What say ye?

-- The Practical Mormon

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