Many have asked about the significance of the number 40 and why 40 days for Lent. Permit me to explain further. The number 40 in the Bible basically means a time of trial, a time of test and also a time of purification. Before Jesus began His ministry, for instance, He spent 40 days in the desert to be tried and tested by the devil, and He overcame the temptations of the devil as we saw in Sunday’s reflection.
Again, the people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years where their faith in God had to undergo trials and tests before they entered the Promised Land.
3 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”
3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. 4 Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.
6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened. Jonah 3:1-10 (New International Version – NIV)
Today, in Jonah 3:1-10 we see Jonah announcing that in 40 days’ time, the great city of Nineveh will be destroyed. The people of Nineveh had 40 days to decide their destiny, or they can be defiant and see if Jonah’s prophecy will come true. But their immediate response to penance and repentance became an example even to the people of Israel. In Luke 11:29-32, Jesus even uses the story of Nineveh’s repentance as a sign to the people of Israel.
29 As the crowds increased, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. 30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation. 31 The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here. 32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here. Luke 11:29-32 (New International Version – NIV)
We have already begun our 40 days journey of Lent and today even is the 7th day. Like the people of Nineveh, we also have 40 days to decide what the outcome will be after this time. The days are counting down. We have all the signs. This is the time of test and trials and also a time of penance and purification.
Let us ask God for the grace to live up to the test and to overcome the trials so that we can offer to the Lord a pure heart even after these 40 days.
Peace and Joy
Written by Rev. Fr. Courage Dogbey
Prayer (40 Days & 40 Nights)
Dear Lord Jesus, as You were able to over the temptations of the devil. Fortify and renew in us with that strength to also triumph of temptations. Amen