Forty Days and Forty Nights


The Bible talks about several events that occurred over the course of forty days and forty nights. For instance, Genesis 6 tells us that at the time of the Great Flood in Noah’s day–for which there is overwhelming geological evidence–it rained forty days and forty nights after “the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.” (Gen 6.11,12) The hydrological activity during that cataclysmic event made permanent changes in the topography and climate of the earth.

Another example is Jesus’ time of fasting in the wilderness which culminated in His temptation by Satan. After such a long period without food, it was reasonable–the temptation to sin is never reasonable, but you understand what I mean–to entice the Lord first with food. He didn’t bite, if you’ll pardon the wordplay, and rebuked the devil with a word of Scripture. (Mat 4.1-4; Luk 4.1-4)

But just the other day I read about another forty-day-and-forty-night event that is less familiar, even to believers. Moses describes this one in Deuteronomy 9.25-29.  He says, “I lay prostrate before the LORD these forty days and forty nights, because the LORD had said He would destroy you. And I prayed…” (Deu 9.25)

I’ve rarely been in a church prayer meeting where the congregation has prayed for forty minutes. For the life of me, I don’t understand why they’re called prayer meetings. Even in posh, climate-controlled auditoriums, sitting in padded chairs, the people who call themselves, “the people of God” can’t bring themselves to pray for more than a few minutes at a time, and then the content of the prayer tends to be temporal in nature. Does this sound harsh? Probably so, but I have seen this pattern repeated time and time again in churches that claim to have a high view of God and His Word. Talking about prayer is not prayer, and talking about people’s needs–or preferences–is not intercession.

Imagine lying prostrate forty days and nights, your face in the dirt, begging God not to destroy the very people who are driving you so wild with frustration that on one occasion you’ve been suicidal! I have to be honest here. I spend far too little time in prayer myself–so Moses’ example convicts me painfully–and when people have exasperated, frustrated and infuriated me, my natural tendency has been more toward imprecation than intercession. That is a selfish, arrogant, graceless, vindictive reaction–but it’s the default setting of my sinful heart. I suspect you can relate.

Each of these three occurrences has had historic, colossal, eternal impact. The enormity of God’s  hatred of sin, the power of God’s Word in the epic battle against the evil one, and the eternal impact of disciplined, selfless intercession are all lessons I can learn from these texts.

Lessons I must learn.

The image of Michelangelo’s “Moses” is from Smart History

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