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B'resheet/Genesis 7:17 And the Flood was forty days upon the earth
The word , forty, is the plural of the word , meaning 'four', which in turn comes from the rarely used root , to be four-sided or four-square. Grammarians argue over whether the verb, which is found only in Qal or Pu'el participle forms, comes from the number or vice-versa. Be that as it may, the number forty is a significant Biblical number, occurring many times throughout both the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures. In the immediate context of this week's parasha, starting at 7:4, this is the first time the number forty is introduced; here as days, but also often as years.Hirsch points out that our Sages comment that forty days is the same period as that required for the formation of the human foetus, so that the duration of the flood/catastrophe could in itself be taken as showing the destruction to be, in a deeper meaning, also the formation of a new future.
Another noticeable 'forty' is the forty days that the spies spent investigating the Land when our people reached Kadesh Barnea for the first time, and the forty years our people then spent in the wilderness as a result of disobeying G-d and refusing to enter the Land at that time. Again, we can see the motif of both the forty days and the forty years being the equivalent of formation or gestation periods: the forty days for the bad report that ten of the twelve spies brought; the forty years for the destruction of the complete generation who had accepted the bad report and by so doing, rejected G-d and His promises, but at the same time, the formation of the next generation who experienced G-d's miraculous provision (food, water, indestructible clothes and shoes) and then entered and took the Land under Yehoshua's leadership.
We can find two 'forty day' periods in Yeshua's earthly life: His forty days of fasting and testing at the start of His ministry, and the forty days He spent with the disciples between His resurrection and ascension. The first followed His baptism and the descent of the Ruach HaKodesh and was clearly a time of formation and consolidation before the three critical years of ministry to the people, calling out and training the disciples who were to be His witnesses and proclaim Him to the world, culminating in His greatest work on the execution stake. The second was also a time of formation: following the depression of witnessing the arrest, trial and crucifixion of their Master, then the euphoria of the Resurrection and seeing Yeshua alive again amongst them, the disciples needed a crash course in interpreting Biblical prophecy, consolidation to see all the pieces fitted together, and to be moulded into a team of witnesses ready to await their empowerment ten days later at Shavuot. G-d uses times of apparent destruction, withdrawal, formation and consolidation to bring forth new things in our lives.
Further Study: 1 Kings 19:7-8; Ezekiel 29:9-16
Application: Do you feel that you are in set-aside mode at this time? Is G-d doing a work of cleansing and reforming in your life so that you will be equipped to serve Him in a new and enhanced capacity? Be encouraged, for this is G-d's way and pattern for His servants.
© Jonathan Allen, 2005
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