It seems like everywhere we look, thirty is the magic number. Thirty days to a new you, Whole30, thirty easy make-ahead crockpot meals, thirty-minute meals, you get the idea. For the last year or so, forty has been a much more important number for me, though, and it has recurred in my faith walk a lot.
This time last year, I remember our pastor talking about how forty is an important number in the Bible. He said it’s either a literal or metaphorical death or end of one thing and birth or beginning of something else. Some sources online also note that the number forty is a symbol for a period of trial or testing. The combination of those things makes forty pretty challenging sometimes, but God is showing me that it is worth the wait (even if the wait is still happening).
This time last year, forty was important for me in a lot of ways. I realized my kids were going to be forty months apart, while I waited to hit the forty-week mark with my second child. Forty was metaphorical for the season of my husband working towards his Master’s of Divinity coming to a close and the job search being birthed.
Fast forward a year and forty is still important, recurring and speaking to my unsettled heart. That birth of the job search for my husband still feels like I did last May, ten days overdue (still looking and waiting). The end of being a family of three feels so far away in my memory, as being a family of four seems like it somehow always has been. My heart still longs for what is next, and yet I can see a lot of beauty in the wrestling we’re doing while we wait and question, doubt and pray.
Here are a couple of occurrences in the Bible where forty is the theme. Hopefully these offer you a fresh perspective of God’s heart for you in the trial, testing, and waiting.
Genesis 7:12 – The flood rains fell for forty days and forty nights.
Deuteronomy 8:2-5 – The Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years.
Matthew 4:2 – Jesus was tempted in the desert, after fasting for forty days.
Each of these stories have elements I can relate to. What about you? I have been feeling like life just keeps pouring down on me with challenges, like Noah and his family must have felt about the real rain. The thrashing of the waves against the ark must have been unsettling for them to say the least, and that sounds familiar too.
Now imagine the Israelites, who couldn’t seem to remember God’s faithfulness and perfect provision for longer than it took to eat the manna he sent every morning and follow the guidance he provided both day and night. Because they were so focused on the daily comfort they wanted, they literally wasted the rest of their lives wandering around in the desert, missing out on what God promised because of their selfish hearts and spiritually blind eyes.
Last, let’s look at Jesus, who fasted for forty days before he faced the devil and temptation. I am likely to make pretty poor choices if I skip one meal (and certainly if I missed more). I might be short with my loved ones, and I’m definitely more vulnerable to any temptation I may face. Jesus knew better, of course. When the devil came, Jesus wasn’t surprised, and he wasn’t unarmed! Satan tempted Jesus to misuse his power, prove his purpose (before God’s timing) and put God to the test. Jesus knew God’s word and recognized Satan’s half-truths, and in the midst of his spiritual combat, he know God was with him and he remained without sin.
What can we take away from these examples? Maybe forty is the new thirty. Maybe it’s in the anticipation of what’s to come that we learn to be content, worship, and serve God and others. Maybe in the closing of one season, while we are like the Israelites, we learn God isn’t scared of or surprised by us when we voice doubts. I’m learning over and over how loved, cherished, and rejoiced over we are as God’s beloved ones. Do you believe that? It’s the truth, my friend!
What is your forty? How can I be praying for you, while you wait, seek, question, doubt, or pray through whatever trial or testing you’re enduring? You’re not alone! Will you let us be a small part of your journey? I know God already is a part of mine, and that helps me weather all of the storms.