By Karen Verderber
It all started with a conversation I had with a friend concerning her new age. She was turning 40 and felt that she had not accomplished all that she could have and that half her life was over. For different reasons this number 40 really seems to upset many people. Trying to console my friend, I told her to look at this event as a time of transformation and preparation, expecting good things to happen. As I pondered this conversation, the thought struck me of how often the number 40 is found in scripture. Starting at the beginning in Genesis 7:12 we find God cleansing the world “forty days and forty nights.” Soon after in Genesis 8:6 we read about Noah waiting another 40 days before he opened the window of the ark. Reading further in the book of Exodus, twice we find Moses up on Mount Sinai with God for forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18, Exodus 34:28-29), after which he comes down with the two tablets of testimony. Moving on through the Book of Numbers 13:25, it took the spies 40 days to search out the Promised Land. There Joshua and Caleb brought back the fruit of a land flowing with milk and honey. Although there are many more examples, I will end with Matthew 4:1-2, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
As I read through these scripture passages, I realized just how significant this number 40 is in the Bible. God made major changes and transformations after the period of 40. I take this number literally because it is mentioned so often in the Bible and, in reality, there are meanings behind a length of time signifying a long wait, a time of atonement, and a time of preparation resulting in an expectation of a big event about to happen.
I have heard many over the years start a Lenten conversation by listing things that they are thinking of “giving up” for Lent; i.e., chocolate, meat, watching movies, etc. But for others they have another plan—experience; maybe attending more services, reading more scripture and volunteering at shelters or soup kitchens. Lent is a time that is not about what we give up, but what we can add to our own 40 day journey.
While Jesus walked the earth for 40 days after His resurrection he was preparing us for the birth of His Church. He told the apostles to spread the Gospel to all nations, preparing and teaching them, while leaving them with an abiding peace and glorious anticipation of the 2000 year old church.