What is the significance to the number 40?




What is the significance about the number forty in the Bible? In my reading I have notice numbers to be very significant. For example the twelve Israelites went to search out the promise land and it took them 40 days, but because of their bad report they spent the next 40 years in the wilderness. Elijah after running from Jezebel took 40 days to travel and fasting to get to the cave where he heard the still soft voice of God. The first three kings of Israel all reign 40 years before their death. Moses three or four times took 40 days fasting while he was on the mount with God. Jesus took a 40 day fast and afterward was temped by Satan. I understand a few of the other numbers, such as eight means a new beginning, seven means completion, twelve is the twelve tribes of Israel, fifty is jubulee or rejoicing time, five is grace, and six is the number of man, but I don't understand the sinificant of the number 40. I am doing a 40 day fast and I am researching fasting as it pertains to the 40 day fast and the number 40. If you can give me any insight I would really appreciate it.  Thank you

The assignment of meanings to numbers is not something that I could say was simple or uniform.  It is one of the deeper things about learning the mind of God.  Scholars will debate the meanings indefinitely and ultimately it won't matter.  Every person has to look into the uses of the numbers and determine through wisdom what the meanings are.  In this regard, I am more than willing to say that your opinion is just as valid a starting point as any. 

When looking for meanings in numbers, you have to separate the incidental uses of the number from the significant uses.  For the number 40, I dismiss as incidental events like the first 3 kings of Israel all having reigns of 40 years.  However, I could easily be wrong in doing so.

I think the number 40 has something to do with "coming into maturity or fulfillment" [or a complete time of trial - jwh].  I base this on the following:
1. 40 days and nights of rain for the destruction of the earth in the flood (Genesis 7)
2. Moses on the Mountain of God for 40 days and nights to receive the message of God. (Exodus 24)
3. The punishment of Israel to wander in the wilderness for 40 years (Numbers 14)
4. The maximum punishment with a whip was 40 lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3)
5. Jesus wandered in the wilderness 40 days and nights (Matthew 4)
6. Jesus was with his disciples 40 days from his resurrection to his accession. (Acts 1:3)

In each case, something is being sought to be completed, finished or brought into maturity.  The question that comes up in my mind is why did he stop at 40?  I'm sure that it did not take a full 40 days of rain to actually destroy everything.  Why couldn't the maximum punishment be 37 lashes?  Could Jesus have fasted for just 30 days and accomplished the same thing on a physical plain?  My thinking is that he wanted to establish that 40 is the number he chose to show the completion of his goals.

Darrell Hamilton

See also:

Questions and Answers regarding Symbolism
Biblical Numbers