The Number forty in both Old and New Testaments

The forty beyond Lent. Many different episodes take up this number which has a thousand of meanings. A period of journey, purification, but above all a testing period.
On Wednesday 22nd February 2023 there was the official start of the Lenten season. As it was recalled by St. Paul, this period represents "a favourable time" to make "a journey of true conversion" in order to face evil's temptations. Lent, in fact, brings to mind the forty days of fasting experienced by Jesus while he was in the desert, days in which He Himself was tempted, in vain, by the devil.

The number forty, however, does not only appear during the period of Lent; there are several episodes in both Old and New Testaments that bear this symbolic number, which represents the most relevant moments experienced by Our Lord's people. In the Holy Scriptures, this number is meant to symbolise the time of waiting, purification and return to God.

In the Old Testament, forty were the days of the universal flood, forty the days spent by Moses on Mount Sinai, and forty the years in which the people of Israel wandered in the desert before reaching the Promised Land. The number in question comes up again when a mention is also made in refereance to little-known episodes such as the prophet Elijah's journey to Mount Horeb or the days God gave Nineveh to convert after Jonah's preaching.

In addition to the events of the Old Testament, the number forty is also taken up in the Gospels. Hereby, it is important the episode concerning the days when the resurrected Jesus instructed his own before ascending to heaven and sending the Holy Spirit.

IIn short, the number forty not only refers to the pre-Easter period, a period full of painful events in the life of Christ, culminating with his crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. As we have seen, there are several episodes that take up this figure, a figure that indicates a period of isolation, purification, but above all of trial. (Il significato del Mercoledì delle ceneri. La Quaresima: segni, gesti e parole di un tempo di conversione)