Recently, there has been a post circulating on FaceBook about how there are many signs pointing to the “fact” that the coronavirus is somehow scripturally tied to the number forty. For example, the year 2020 can be thought of as 20+20=40 – “evidence” that we are in a biblical time of change. Those same proponents of this numerology then go on to present an entire list of things that point to the idea of “40.” Another example is that people think that the virus started on March 23rd and was thought to be ending on May 1st – a span of 40 days…. (clearly, that didn’t happen). Of course, at times, the attachment to the Scripture becomes a little difficult to believe. And no, our year 2020 also doesn’t seem to give us “perfect vision.”
To go back to the numerology in the Bible, there is nothing that says for sure that specific numbers in the Bible have any specific meaning. God seems to be silent on this point. However, one of the early church fathers, Origen, did present the idea that each verse in the Bible had three different interpretations. They included a literal meaning, an allegorical meaning and a numerological meaning. Many people bought into this idea but it was confusing. In fact, at the Council of Nicea in 322 A.D., two sides were deeply split on trying to come to agreement as to whether Jesus was “divine” or not. Without boring you to tears with all the details, both sides of the debate credited Origen as the architect of their fundamental argument. So you can see how by the 4th century, theology and numerology were already becoming entwined.
There is no doubt that the number 40 appears frequently in the Bible. The Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert, the Flood lasted 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus was in the wilderness 40 days, the perfect reign of a king was thought to be 40 years (both David and his son, Solomon, ruled for 40 years), Lent is a period of 40 days, there were rituals that lasted 40 days and many other events all seemed to have an attachment to the number 40.
If people want to tie numerology to the Bible, then the number 40 would best be defined as a time of completion – and not a time of change as is suggested in the material that is currently circulating on the internet. I guess one could argue that after 40 days or years, things change, but that in itself does not mean the same thing as a task or event becoming completed.
And if we really want to consider numbers in the Bible, I guess you could also say that the number “7” is also a period of completion. God created the world in 7 days, Noah and his family were in the ark 7 days before the rains came, there are 7 days in a week, fields lie fallow during their 7th year and every 49 years (7 x 7) is followed by a Golden Jubilee in the 50th year. It goes on and on…
So we have to be careful when we start to assume that numbers in our daily lives somehow relate to specific events in the Bible. God doesn’t promise us or tell us that numbers have any particular meaning. It is up to each of us as to whether we wish to believe in biblical numerology. And even theologians are deeply divided on this topic as well.
Our verse for tonight relates to another incident where 40 days and nights were involved. Moses had received the ten commandments from God and when he returned down the mountain, the people had sinned. God was angry with them and we are told by Moses in Deut. 9:25,26, “I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you. I prayed to the LORD and said, “O Sovereign LORD, do not destroy your people, your own inheritance that you redeemed by your great power and brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand.”
My encouragement tonight is that prayer is what we all need more of – whether it is for 40 seconds or 40 minutes or 40 years. We are in a time of great fear, worry and concern about whether or not the world will ever return to normal. My prayer is that we will all have faith in God to guide us through this chapter in history. And we can help that process by remembering that we should be in prayer, just as Moses was. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…