In the “film” 40 days and 40 nights Josh Hartnett has to endure this “unbearable” trial period without sex. It’s a time of dreadful testing and I’m sure hilarity ensures. I wouldn’t know, I couldn’t be forced to watch it – even for research purposes.
But we seem to have a cultural memory that “40 days and 40 nights” is a trying time.
Lent of course is 40 days (actually the whole time is 46 days but not even monks fast on Sundays so you get those off).
There are seven prominent periods of 40 days in the Bible.
The first “40 days” was the time of the flood-waters that fell in judgement on the earth. (Genesis 7:4)
Moses fasted 40 days on the mountaintop before entering God’s presence.
Israel sent 12 men to spy out the land of Canaan. They spent 40 days doing reconnaissance of the promised land.
Goliath taunted Israel for 40 days before David stepped forward to bring victory.
Jonah came to Nineveh with a message – in 40 days the city would be destroyed. But, because they repented, God visited not with judgement but with salvation.
For 40 days Jesus entered the desert (a place of trials and temptations) and emerged victorious.
Finally, there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and the time of His ascension to heaven. It was a time when He proved Himself to His followers, showing them tokens of the resurrection life He promises to all.
40 days seems to be a time of testing and transition. For those who pass the test there is a new world to enjoy:
A world washed clean.
Face to face with the LORD.
A land of milk and honey.
Victory over the enemy.
The defeat of the devil.
The new creation.
But the flood story tells us this – we can’t endure the test by ourselves. The salvation beyond judgement is for one person only. It is the ultimate Noah, the ultimate Moses, the ultimate David – Christ – who endures on our behalf. Those who trust Him are hidden with Him, the way the Ark’s passengers were hidden with Noah. But, on the other side, we benefit from His victory.
None of us can pass the ultimate test. We cannot transition to the ultimate destination. But Jesus Christ has. He has crushed the devil and defeated sin and death. He has made it to the throne of heaven and offers us new life if we simply hide ourselves in Him. For now there is testing: “Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering” (1 Peter 4;12). But beyond these “40 days” our Saviour will bring us to rest.