FORTY DAYS IN THE LIVES OF MOSES AND JESUS

 

After Moses’ return from the top of mount Sinai with the stone tablets upon which God had written the Ten Commandments, he found that the people had returned to worshiping a golden calf cast from jewelry. In his intense anger, he broke the tablets. In his mercy, God allowed him to return to the mountain, where God would inscribe a second set of tablets with the Ten Commandments. The episode is recorded in Exodus 34:1-10 and 27-29:

“And the Lord said to Moses, Hew you two tables of stone like the first; and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which you did break. And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me in the top of the mount. And no man shall come up with you, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount. And [Moses] hewed two tables of stone like the first; and he rose up early in the morning, and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.

“And the Lord descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, to the third and to the fourth generation.

“And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped. And he said, If now I have found grace in your sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray you, go among us; for it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance. And [the Lord] said, Behold, I make a covenant: Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord; for it is an awe-inspiring thing that I will do with you.”

“And the Lord said to Moses, Write you these words; for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel. And [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.”

Moses’ time spent on Mount Sinai had a prophetic element, as the forty days and forty nights of his stay on the mountain in the presence of the Lord pointed to Jesus Christ and the identical time which He spent in the wilderness as His first act after being baptized. The account is given in all the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). The following is Matthew’s version of the event, Matthew 3:16 and 17, and 4:1-11:

“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went immediately out of the water; and, lo, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him. And, lo, a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Then was Jesus led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward hungry.

“And when the tempter came to him, he said, If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But [Jesus] answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Then the devil took him up to the holy city, and set him on a pinnacle of the temple, and said to him, If you are the Son of God, cast yourself down; for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest at any time you dash your foot against a stone. Jesus said to him, It is written again, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test. Again, the devil took him up to an exceedingly high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, and said to him, All these things will I give you, if you will fall down and worship me. Then said Jesus to him, Begone, Satan; for it is written, You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him only shall you serve. Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.”

Shortly after this forty-day period of trial, Jesus started His ministry. The Gospels don’t mention the number of days that passed between the two events, so one cannot dogmatically assume that it was ten. Nevertheless, it is a possibility that fifty days passed from the time of Jesus’ baptism to the beginning of his active ministry.

If that is indeed the case, the pattern of forty plus ten days continues beyond Jesus. In John 12:26 and 14:12, Jesus indicates that His disciples will follow His lead:

“If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there also shall my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.”

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go to my Father.

In John 20:22, apparently on the day following His resurrection, Jesus breathes on His disciples, conferring on them the Holy Spirit. He remained with them for forty days. From the time of Jesus ascension until the Pentecost ten days later, the disciples didn’t appear to have responded to the indwelling Holy Spirit. Their power from God came at the Pentecost, as described in Acts 2. Could that forty-plus-ten-day period have been a time of testing and strengthening for the disciples, as it may have been for Jesus?

The number forty is common in Scripture. Moses communed with God with a backdrop of terrifying violence while Jesus as God communed with His Word with a backdrop of terrifying evil. Both of them fasted for the duration. God granted Nineveh through Jonah forty days to get its act together.

The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years; both David and his son Solomon reigned as kings for forty years.

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