The Biblical Expression “40 Days and 40 Nights” Just Means a “Really Long Time”

Daven Hiskey 44
TorahToday I found out the biblical expression “40 days and 40 nights” just means a really long time.

At the time among the Jews, the number forty wasn’t generally used to signify a specific number, per se, but rather more used as a general term for a large figure.   When it was used in terms of time, it simply meant a “long time”.  Thus, the phrase “40 days and 40 nights” was just another way to say a “really long time”.

The number forty also had great symbolic meaning to the Jews and today among Christians and Muslims as well.  The number forty to the Jews is a number that, when used in terms of time, represents a period of probation, trial, and chastisement (not to be confused with judgment which is represented by the number 9).

As the product of 5 and 8, it also signifies grace (5) ending in revival or a new beginning (8).  Thus, when 40 is referencing a period of probation, it also often coincides with the meaning derived from the factors 5 and 8.  When it relates to enlarged dominion or extended rule, then it is related to the factors of 4 and 10, with 4 representing the creation of something and 10 representing perfection and completeness.

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Bonus Facts:

  • “Forty” is the only word form of a number where the letters all appear in alphabetical order.
  • In the Muslim religion, it is said that Muhammad was forty years old when he first received the revelation by the archangel Gabriel.
  • According to the Quran, a person is only fully grown or mentally matured when they reach the age of 40.
  • Some scholars believe the number 40 was originally sacred to the Jews and Muslims due to the fact that the planet Venus forms a pentagram in the night sky every eight years and returns to its original point every 40 years with a 40 day regression.
  • In case you haven’t caught on, the Jews historically put great stock in numbers representing certain things; the Bible is laced with this symbolism, not only in blatant ways like “40 days and 40 nights”, where the numbers are used directly, but also in ways such as having letters associated with numbers and thus, names of things and the like are associated with certain numbers.  This system is known as “gematria”.   One example is the Hebrew word for “life”, Chai, is made  up of two Hebrew letters that add up to 18, which is why 18 is considered to be a very lucky number among Jews.
  • Another example in Christianity is that the gematria of the Antichrist’s name is expected to be 666.    This is owing to the fact that 6 is the number of human perfection.  66 then is a stronger version of the same idea.  666 is the trinity of human perfection and, thus, man declaring independence from God owing to being perfected of themselves or rather, a perfect form of imperfection.
  • There are three men associated with the number 6 who are significant in scripture because of their avowed state as enemies of God.  Goliath (height of 6 cubits with 6 pieces of armor and a spear that weighed 600 shekels of iron); Nebuchadnezzar (whose statue to be worshiped was 60 cubits high; 6 cubits broad; and which was to be worshiped when 6 specific instruments were heard); the third is the Antichrist as explained above.
  • Other references to 6 in the Bible include such as: 666 years was the duration of the old Assyrian empire before it was conquered by Babylon; Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman Empire 666 years after the battle of Actium.
  • One interesting non-Biblical reference to the number 666 is that the Romans used only 6 letters of their alphabet (D, C, L, X, V, and I).  The sum of these is 666 (D=500; C=100; L=50; X=10; V=5; I=1).
  • In contrast to the number of the Antichrist being 666 in Christian tradition, the number of Jesus is 888.  This is from the gematria of the name Jesus (Ihsous: I=10, H=8; S=200; O=70; U=400; S=200) adding to 888.  This is symbolically significant in Christianity because 7 is the number of completion and, thus, 8 is the number of “perfect completion” and “new beginning” or “beginning of a new series”.  Hence, the universe was created in 7 events (note: “events” not days as is often mistranslated in many English versions of the Bible) with the new beginning coming with Jesus, the ultimate 8.   7+1=8 is also significant, in this case, as 7 and 1 symbolize resurrection and regeneration.  Repeating the number 8, similar to the Antichrist’s 666, simply emphasizes it, as in 88, and, with 888, symbolizing the ultimate “8″ or rather the trinity of God’s perfection.   There are also 8 references to the Old Testament in which the claims of Jesus’ lordship are based, which further emphasizes the connection with Jesus and “8″ in Christian tradition.
  • As with “40″ and “6″, the number 8 appears throughout the Bible in its symbolic form.  For instance, Noah was the eighth and last person who stepped out of the Ark, representing the new beginning with 8 total individuals;  the miracles of Elijah were 8 in number; Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit and, thus, the miracles of Elisha totaled 16.
  • 8 is also the first cube (2x2x2).  Cubic numbers have great significance in the Judaism and Christianity.  The “Holy of Holies” in the Tabernacle and the Temple were products of cubes.  The tabernacle was 103 cubits; the Temple was 203 cubits; the “New Jerusalem”, described in Revelation, is to be 12,0003 furlongs.  Further, the Ark of the Covenant was a “cube of 1″, namely 13 cubits.
  • Nebra sky disk

    Nebra sky disk

    The solar year can be nearly perfectly measured by keeping track of every 40th day.  Due to the fact that this article is already way too long, I’ll just sum it up and say the solar year being 365.24219 days can be reached with only an average of a 2 second difference between the actual solar year and the calendar solar year using this “40 day cycle” method of calculating the year.  Celtic-Christians appeared to have used this cycle with the celebration of Passover/Easter associated with an 84 year cycle (84 years being near perfectly divisible by 40 days: 767.009 cycles).  The Nebra Sky Disk dated back to the Bronze Age in Germany also seems to indicate during this period the 40 day calendar counting was already well known in that era.  The Ancient Egyptians were also known to use this 40 day time tracking cycle.

  • In the Torah, the ritually impure are submersed in 40 measures of water.  Once out, they are ritually pure.  Thus, the Earth being covered in water for 40 days in the story of Noah is symbolic of the Earth being ritually purified.
  • The Jews were not the only civilization to mark a great flood that seemingly covered the Earth.  Here are a small subset of other cultures that have similar stories:
    • Ancient Greek literature states that “Zeus sent a flood to destroy the men of the Bronze Age. Prometheus advised his son Deucalion to build a chest… after floating in the chest for nine days and nights, landed on Parnassus. When the rains ceased, he sacrificed to Zeus, the God of Escape.” [Apollodorus, 1.7.2]
    • Lithuanian legend states that water once covered the Earth for a period of 20 days and 20 nights.  Those few who survived were 9 couples, from which the Lithuanian tribes originated, according to their legend [Gaster, Myth, Legend, and Custom in the Old Testament, 1969.]
    • Burmese legend says, when the great flood came, a brother and sister took refuge in a boat.  The sister later gave birth, but a witch cut the baby into pieces; the pieces of the baby struck the ground and the nations of the Earth sprung up from the slain child’s body parts. [ibid.]
    • Transylvanian legend says a certain man announced the coming of a cataclysmic flood.  According to their legend, the predicted flood lasted an entire year. [Frazer, Folk-Lore in the Old Testament, 1919.]
    • Sacramento Indian legend states that a great flood once covered the Earth that lasted 9 sleeps. [ibid.]
    • According to Chinese legend, the Earth was covered in a great flood and only 2 children survived in a gourd; the period of the flood was 99 days.  From the two children came 12 offspring from which the nations of the Earth arose. [Miller, South of the Clouds: Tales from Yunnan, 1994.]
  • “Forty” shows up in the Bible in such places as the 40 years in the wilderness for the Jews; 40 years from the crucifixion of Jesus to the destruction of Jerusalem; 40 days of Moses on the mount receiving the Law; Moses’ life being divided into three sections of 40 years; 40 days given to Nineveh; 40 days of Jesus being tempted by Satan in the wilderness; Jesus being with his disciples for 40 days following the resurrection; many of the Judges judged for 40 years; Saul and David reigned for 40 years; etc.
  • Negative forty degrees is the temperature where the Fahrenheit and Celsius scales correspond with one another, i.e. -40°F = -40°C.
  • It typically takes 40 weeks from the beginning to end of a human pregnancy.
  • Forty is considered a semi perfect number owing to the fact that a subset of its divisors added together gives 40 (e.g. 1, 4, 5, 10, and 20).
  • 40 is the atomic number of zirconium.
  • 40 represented in binary is 101000.
  • In a marketing effort to boost jewelry sales, the American National Retail Jeweler Association in 1937 revised the system by which certain wedding anniversaries are to be marked by giving various jewels, precious metals, and other artifacts.  Prior to their modification, it was traditional only to give standardized gifts on the 1st, 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th, 25th, 50th, and 75th anniversary.  They added giving of a certain material on every year from 1-20 and then every fifth year after that.  One that they added was the “ruby anniversary”, being on the 40th year.
  • Interstate 40 in the United States runs from California to North Carolina and is 2559.25 miles long or 4118.71 kilometers long.
  • U.S. Route 40 runs from Maryland to Utah and spans 2,285 miles or 3,677 kilometers.
  • WD-40 got its name from the fact that it was the 40th try at creating a water displacement substance.
  • “40 acres and a mule” is an expression coined in 1865 when some freed slaves in America were given land and a mule to give them a good start in their new-found freedom.  Unfortunately, after the assassination of Lincoln, his successor, Andrew Johnson, revoked those orders given to General Sherman to divide up certain sections of land for the above purpose.  So after that point, no more land was given to freed slaves under the above orders (which incidentally were not official state policy, but were simply orders given to Sherman to help “assure the harmony of action in the area of operations”.)  It’s estimated that around 10,000 freed slaves received the above 40 acres and a mule in Georgia and South Carolina.

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44 Comments »

  1. No-one August 3, 2010 at 6:05 am - Reply

    The issue I have with this is that the ‘Forty’ actual means ‘like a fort’. The number fourty is written fourty.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven August 3, 2010 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      @No-one: That is a common misconception. Actually, the number 40 is spelled “forty”. This is similar to twenty rather than twoty; thirty rather than threety; and fifty rather than fivety.

  2. Mary August 3, 2010 at 1:02 pm - Reply

    Today you found out that: it’s “per se”, NOT “per say”.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven August 3, 2010 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Thanks usually when I make mistakes like that, it’s just a typo, but I actually didn’t know that one, though I should have suspected. “Per say” doesn’t make any sense when I think about it. :-)

  3. Alfred August 5, 2010 at 8:01 am - Reply

    Four is often used because of the four directions on earth or the four seasons making it the number from fullness of creation. Multiplied by ten and by one another would indicate a very much completed period. Something else as a “really long period of time.”

    Six was used a lot when the Jews put the, ones forbidden, numbers back into their bible books. They were not allowed to read the prophets anyway and do still deny them as not to be understood by others then the church leaders. This is why Herodes knew of the birth of Christ from the books but the people did not. Indicating the incompleteness of human decisions 6 was used at places where the number was forgotten. It is anywhere. King Salomo was 666 because of the formal wages he got. He made golden plates from the coins while he was rich enough from his copper mines and it was carried in front of him when he made his annual tour. He is the 666. Salomo was very wise (so people say) and a sure promise because he was the first king, the people had wanted so bad. His father David does not count as a royalty. Still he went (very) wrong in his pleasures. He married many foreign woman (a sin) and they had their way in being evil, worshiping their own gods with human sacrifices. The valley below they did that was later where Jerusalem destructed its garbage (the hell or place to dispose of). We are the same being very wise but in our entertainment indiscriminate and even very, very cruel. We are the ultimate would bee’s like king Salomo. We should get rid of all evil in entertainment to keep walking with God but we just don’t. God will no longer protect us and the “Egyptians” must come and take our riches away to our own disgrace.

  4. Jarm August 5, 2010 at 11:51 am - Reply

    What was your source for the events being a more correct translation than days in the creation story?

  5. Deiname September 2, 2010 at 2:55 am - Reply

    In french, 36 means infinite or a lot. I didnt know 40 means the same thing in other cultures.

  6. Dav September 2, 2010 at 8:06 am - Reply

    Actually the number 40 is symbolic in Kabbalah. There are 4 worlds of creation, each consisting of 10 stages. 40 stages in all. So, when a transition from one state to another is noted, as in the flood, or the exodus it is customary to present it in this format to invoke the power of the original creation.

  7. Tara January 3, 2011 at 10:32 am - Reply

    Daven, I just brought this up in our Sunday School yesterday. Where did you find this out? I’m having trouble finding real documentation (even online, ha) that I can share with the class. I’ve only found one site so far, can you point me to others? Thnx!

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven January 7, 2011 at 11:07 pm - Reply

      @Tara: I first learned it from hearing Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa mentioning it in his c2000 series. However, that was a long time ago and I have no idea which one it was. Check my sources above though for more detail and some other interesting info. Should be a good place to start.

  8. Sharika Chittester January 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Moses was no Jew. He was Hebrew — 28:14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth and thou shalt spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.

  9. PoCoTex August 21, 2011 at 8:21 pm - Reply

    This is a very typical case of people over-thinking something that’s mentioned in the Bible. Don’t forget that the Bible is God’s personal word to man (specifically to the people of Israel, but that’s another issue), so that whatever is expressed in it is God’s relating to man in a very personal manner, unlike any other life on earth. That’s why Yeshua of Natzeret – God manifest in the flesh – worked among the people of Isra’el in a highly personal manner, healing them, feeding them, and, yes, giving up his life as a ransom for them – and many. Hence, the only and sole reason for forty (40) being mentioned and used so many times in the Bible is a reference to the length of a *human* pregnancy, a reminder to us of God’s absolutely incredible miracle of creating a new human life to a birth nine months later.

  10. M. Gray June 4, 2012 at 11:38 am - Reply

    The numbers on a roulette wheel sum to 666

  11. Monte October 15, 2012 at 3:30 am - Reply

    i’m going to have to disagree. in the Bible, any number used is literal and not figurative. if an event was a “really long time”, the Bible would say it was a “really long time”.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey October 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      @Monte: And so you’re assuming despite that this was a Jewish expression documented in a myriad of Jewish writings that in this one instance, they were using the expression numerous times literally and not figuratively as in every other documented use of the expression? How did you come to this conclusion?

  12. Bob October 29, 2012 at 9:12 am - Reply

    666 is a mistranslation, 616 is the correct gematria. This is now commonly accepted, you should revise your statements.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey October 29, 2012 at 9:41 am - Reply

      @Bob: References?

    • Brad Watson, Miami May 26, 2013 at 7:06 pm - Reply

      Bob,

      666 was the Hebrew gematria for Nero Caesar. Adding up the alphanumeric code of a word/name/phrase is Step 2 of gematria, Step 1 is simply counting the number of letters in a word/name/phrase and giving it symbolic meaning, i.e. a(1), bi-(2), tri-(3), quad-(4), penta-(5). GOD(3) represents the Holy(4) Trinity(7). Liberty(7) Bell(4) and 7/4: July 4th. E PLURIBUS UNUM(13) represents the original 13 Colonies/States, etc.

      Ronald(6 letters) Wilson(6) Reagan(6)/ Ronald(6) W.(1) Reagan(6)*: the “666/616 1st Beast who was ruler of the world, lied to all nations, and was wounded yet lived”.

      George Walker Bush Jr. was/is the “2nd Beast who exercised all the power/authority of the 1st Beast before him. He made ‘fire come down from the heavens’ with the ‘destruction of Babylon’ (War In Iraq)”.

      United(6) States(6) Dollar(6) is the “666 mark of the Beast that everyone must have to buy or sell with” – The Revelation Chapter 13. The back of the US $1 Dollar Bill has the #13 encoded 13 times.

      *Synchronism: 5/26/13 21:56 “This summer a dragon is coming” – Sprint/Snap Dragon ad on TNT

  13. Brad Watson, Miami May 26, 2013 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    (As I am beginning to comment, the Miami Heat has 40 points, there’s a Fiat ad on this page showing “40 mpg hwy”, and I shot 40 for 9 holes today at golf[40=G7+O15+L12+F6, hole=40=H8+O15+L12+E5, cup=40=C3+U21+P16].)

    Besides “Saul and David reigned for 40 years”, so did Solomon. David slew Goliath on the 40th day of the Philistine challenging the Israelites and David=40=D4+A1+V22+I9+D4 in ‘Simple(6,74) English(7,74) Gematria(8,74)’ – a BIG aspect of Kaballa(7 letters, =40=K11+A1+B2+A1+L12+L12+A1).

    5+8=13, 5×8=40. In Greek isopsephy, Hebrew/Aramaic gematria, and Arabic Abjad numerals/hisab al-jummal, the 13th letter = 40.

    In ancient times, it was a mystical phenomenon that 40 lash(40=L12+A1+S19+H8)es would kill a criminal, so 39 lashes became the maximum punishment when he wasn’t receiving a death sentence. Jesus was given 39 lashes by the Romans and in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ the 39 lashes is dramatically counted out! On July 6, 1776 before Commanding General George Washington read out loud the Declaration of Independence to the Continental Army, he had to discipline some deserters by having them receive 39 lashes.

    The #40 is a recurring theme in the Bible with it first occurring in Genasis 7:4

    (“The red-hot Haslem” #40 just scored for the Heat.)

  14. Steve June 9, 2013 at 6:47 am - Reply

    May I ask specifically, which exact reference did you use to come to the conclusion that “the biblical expression “40 days and 40 nights” just means a really long time.”?

  15. Brian Forbes June 10, 2013 at 3:47 pm - Reply

    Either that OR they used the 40 days to represent what they discovered about the flood, a historical event. Noah is our common ancestor, and the Jews did not make up the story. Reading Josephus with a Bible open on your desk would not result in this kind of mistake.

  16. Michael Gill January 13, 2014 at 12:24 am - Reply

    Revelation 13:18

    English Standard Version:

    This calls for wisdom: let the one who has understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man, and his number is 666.

    666 = Emperor Nero ?

    Food for thought:

    Every grocery UPC has 2 extended bars at beginning, middle and end of the bar code

    Each 2 represents a 6 = 666

    40 days and 40 nights is
    40 days and 80 nights which is
    40 days and 120 nights which is
    40 days and 160 nights which is
    40 days and 200 nights which is
    40 days and 240 nights which is
    40 days and 280 nights which is
    40 days and 320 nights which is
    40 days and 360 nights

    A mathematical progression?

    • Michael Gill January 14, 2014 at 11:28 pm - Reply

      The UPC 666 (Prophets of the Apocalypse – by David Haggith – The Bible’s Ultimate Revelations for the End of Time)

      Does this tie in with the 40 day 40 night concept that darkness will eventually consume light and the world will come to an end?

      I read that the Bible deals with his life from year 1 to 12 then there are no Biblical or Historical records of his life for 18 years and then reappears at age 30 and is crucified at age 33.

      I have read the book -The Sistine Secrets – Michelangelo’s forbidden messages in the heart of the Vatican. I have been to Rome and seen the 7th and 8th panels out of sequence etc

      In the book The Sistine Secrets the story is as follows:
      All the world is a narrow bridge / The point is this to have no fear
      These are the words of an ancient Hebrew song
      They have become more appropriate with each passing generation
      Almost exactly 500 years ago a tormented soul named Michelangelo
      Built a very narrow bridge in the middle of the air in the middle of a chapel in the middle of Rome
      This resulted in a masterwork that would change the world of art forever, however that was no his goal
      What this lone artist wanted to do was to construct a giant bridge of the spirit, spanning different faiths, cultures, eras and sexualities

      etc

      That the numbers like 30 pieces of silver in the garden of ……. was worth only 4 days wages in those days?

      etc

      To cut a long story short my aim is not to insult any faith but to try to understand so many confusing things especially all the numbers in the Bible which seem to me to be coded messages

      Please correct me if I am wrong and delete this contribution in the the Forum

      Thank you

    • Michael Gill January 21, 2014 at 6:38 am - Reply

      And if I may ask 1 final question

      Is Adolf Hitler (20 April 1889 – 30 April 1945) considered by the Jews to be the last of the 666

      And people like Oskar Schindler (28 April 1908 – 9 October 1974) is symbolic of 888

      I am so sick and tired of all the wars going on at the moment around the world. Seems to me that nothing has changed since the days of Jesus and prior history. That we have not learnt from our past mistakes.

      If this is accepted in this forum I have one final contribution being a summary of:

      World War 1
      World War 2
      World War 3

      • Michael Gill January 21, 2014 at 11:03 pm - Reply

        Bibles Secret Number 54 says:

        But the biblical fact is, they did die “in that day” because God’s use of “day” in this instance meant a thousand years. We must always get God’s interpretation of any prophecy of his, and not apply our own human reason to the matter. Peter said: “one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (II Peter 3:8).

        And

        Plato said only the dead have seen the end of war

        – from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

  17. Michael Gill March 5, 2014 at 3:21 am - Reply

    Calculations on a calculator

    123+
    456+
    78+
    9
    ——
    666

    • Michael Gill March 5, 2014 at 4:24 am - Reply

      A card trick

      3 8 7 A Q 6 4 2 J K 10 9 5

      • Michael Gill March 5, 2014 at 4:26 am - Reply

        Music in the soul can be heard by the universe.
        – Lao Tzu

        E A D G B E

      • Michael Gill March 31, 2014 at 4:58 am - Reply

        Card Trick Story

        387 years ago A Queen who was 64 years old
        Had 2 sons named Jack and King
        Jack was 10 and King was 9 years old
        Both were in Grade 5

  18. Gerry June 6, 2014 at 6:33 am - Reply

    Actually, the world was created in 6 “days”. On the 7th day He rested, indicating that the world is not completed to perfection, but only to human completion. In other words, it is a work in progress.

  19. Bill K October 27, 2014 at 7:25 am - Reply

    Daven Hiskey on October 15, 2012 at 2:29 pm said to Monte
    “@Monte: And so you’re assuming despite that this was a Jewish expression documented in a myriad of Jewish writings that in this one instance, they were using the expression numerous times literally and not figuratively as in every other documented use of the expression? How did you come to this conclusion?”

    Daven, this is how I (not speaking for Monte) would come to such a conclusion: Regardless of what may or may not have been common practice among the ancient Jews, God’s Word is very literal and precise unless it specifically indicates it is meant to be symbolic, and even then the symbolism has a literal meaning. For example, in Genesis God tells Abe that his descendants will be abused by a king in another land for 400 years, and then God will bring them back and give them the land Canaan. Then the book of Exodus records that they came out of Egypt 430 years TO THE DAY from when they entered. So why 430 and not 400? Because when they arrived in Egypt their brother Joseph was 2nd in command in Egypt and they were not ABUSED until a King arose who did not know Joseph.

    Then, God sent Jonah to warn the Assyrians that if they did not repent, God would destroy Ninevah in 40 days. They immediately repented and were spared. No reason here to believe that God simply meant He might destroy them some really long unspecified time in the future. Such a warning would hardly result in such a dramatic and immediate response.

    One more: Jesus was tempted for 40 days. It does not seem rational to me to think that this just meant some really long, but unspecified, time.

    Finally, in the Genesis account of the flood account with the “rained 40 days and nights”, it also says the Ark rested on the mountain after 5 months, and also calls that 150 days. So exactly 5 months of 30 days each, which is the only kind of month used in the bible. So it would hardly make sense for God- or even Moses- to be so precise about how many days the water prevailed on the earth, while in the same passage saying it rained 40 days and nights but actually meaning some unspecified but really long time.

    But how about this possibility: God really did make it rain for 40 days and nights which would have seemed like an eternity for the survivors in the Ark. So after those survivors reproduced and spread out over the earth, they adopted the term “ 40 days and nights ” to mean “a really long time”? But that would not mean it did not actually mean exactly what it says in the Genesis flood account, IMO.

  20. Brad Watson, Miami May 28, 2013 at 10:41 am - Reply

    On Memorial Day Monday May 27, 2013, I play the Granada Golf Course in Coral Gables which is a 9-hole Par 36. I shot 40 despite a triple-bogey on the Par 3 5th.

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