We have overreacted, I think, to the abuse of numbers in the Scriptures.  One rarely hears any preacher refer to the significance of numbers in the Bible these days, yet if one observes how they are used, it is inescapable that numbers are almost always of some significance when used in the Bible.  One does not want to go overboard and see things that are not there, but on the other hand, one shouldn’t miss significant things just because some people have gone hog-wild with them.

Take the number 40, for example.  In just one day of devotions, look how 40 (and 7!) is used again and again:

  • “Seven days from now I will make it rain on the earth 40 days and 40 nights, and I will wipe off from the face of the earth every living thing I have made.””
    (Genesis 7:4 HCSB)
  • “and the rain fell on the earth 40 days and 40 nights.”
    (Genesis 7:12 HCSB)
  • “The flood continued for 40 days on the earth; the waters increased and lifted up the ark so that it rose above the earth.”
    (Genesis 7:17 HCSB)
  • ““As he [Moses] was approaching the age of 40, he decided to visit his brothers, the Israelites.”
    (Acts 7:23 HCSB)
  • “After 40 years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in the flame of a burning bush.”
    (Acts 7:30 HCSB)

See what I mean.  This is in just two chapters!

Forty, in the Scriptures is associated with either testing and trial, or judgment.  In the case of Genesis 7, it would appear that it is God’s judgment which is represented by the number 40.  In Acts 7, the number 40 seems to represent God’s testing and trial of Moses.  It is at the age of 40ish that he first tries to go associate himself with his own people and then he spends 40 years of testing/trial in the wilderness, much like Christ will spend 40 days being tested in the desert at the time of the opening of his public ministry.

These numbers do not come about by  chance.  They are significant and we ought not to miss their significance.  The flood did not last for 40 days and nights by chance, the fact that it lasted 40 days and nights points us to God sovereignly bringing the flood in judgment.  It wasn’t chance that made Moses 40 at the time that he first went out to his people, and it wasn’t happenstance that left him in the wilderness for 40 years, it was God’s plan.