Forty is a frequently occurring number in our Bible. It rained on Noah for forty days. Moses was on Mt. Sinai for forty days. Elijah went forty days on the single meal provided by God. A generation is considered as forty years and we see the wilderness wanderings lasting that long. The New Testament continues the pattern. Jesus fasted for forty days. He walked the earth between resurrection and ascension for forty days. This represents just a small sampling.
Every Christian commentary I studied presents forty as representative of a trial or a temptation. Some called it a probation.
As I looked at the list of biblical examples, it seemed to me that each occurrence represented a time of humility and complete dependence on God, a picture of man’s utter helplessness before Him. Maybe that is the same thing the commentators were noting. We definitely become aware of our dependence on God when undergoing a trial.
I also referenced Jewish commentaries and they understand forty to represent transition. Forty completes a whole and makes way for the new - a new phase, a new position or situation, a new generation or stage of life.
The number forty gives a real time frame of forty actual days or years. But I also think God may be telling us more by using that number so repeatedly. Is it possible that both Christian and Jewish scholars have picked up on something God wants to convey? God often uses times of trial to prepare us for something new. And each of those forties ended in a blessing, something good or better, and definitely new.
When facing times of transition or difficulty, whether it feels like 40 hours or 40 years, I trust God to use it for good and to bring a blessing.