The Biblical Expression “40 Days and 40 Nights” Just Means a “Really Long Time”
Today 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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- “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.
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.
- Cookie Lee, Wedding Anniversaries: from paper to diamond, page 61.
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- Forty: The Number
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- Meaning of Numbers in the Bible: The Number 4
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- Meaning of Numbers in the Bible: The Number 40
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