"We ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled..." ~ II Thes. 2:2 *** "But stir up the gift of God that is within you by the laying on of hands..." ~ II Tim. 1:6

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Why & How Does God Use the Number 40 in the Bible? 

The lens of periods of 40 in the bible & what God is accomplishing on our wilderness journey

We recently explored the theme of wilderness in the bible, and how—for God’s people—the wilderness symbolizes the spiritual challenges we face as we do our best to navigate life in this carnal world.

Specifically, we talked about how people often associate the idea of a spiritual wilderness only with harsh, debilitating times of trial—but instead we should view our entire journey through this life as a journey through the wilderness.  Sometimes it’s lush pasture, other times barren desert, but always a place where God is guiding us with a purpose.

In fact, the only way to reach the Promised Land lies through the wilderness.  It’s where God calls His people to begin their journey, out of this present carnal world (represented by Egypt) to a place of preparation for the world to come.  It’s also where He reveals more of Himself and His ways, and teaches us how to fully rely on Him to provide.

And while our focus is on reaching the Promised Land of God’s eternal kingdom, we must remember that the experiences we have on the way are critical to our spiritual growth, key to reaching the destination itself.  Even the Hebrew word for wilderness (midbar) implies momentum, driving forward, and a journey with a purpose.

God is accomplishing something in us as we journey through the wilderness, and we have to surrender to Him fully, and trust that He is leading us in the right direction.  And this brings us to one really interesting thematic connection to the wilderness that I couldn’t dig into in the other study, but did want to explore further—how God uses the number 40 in the bible.

This isn’t getting into mystical numerology or anything like that, but God does use certain numbers symbolically throughout His word, and we’d be wise to pause and consider what lessons we can glean.  This study may seem quite long, but each of the examples can be read on their own, a little at a time.

What is the significance of the number 40 in the bible?

The number “40” in the bible appears to be connected to many of the same themes as we saw with the idea of wilderness, and the more I dig into the nuances, I really see the wilderness and the number 40 as two sides of the same coin.  We often see wilderness experiences (literal or symbolic) timebound by periods of 40…days, years, etc.

These shared themes include periods of significant trial or testing, or sometimes punishment for rebelling against God.  Some examples focus on the teaching and preparation of God’s chosen leaders.  And in many examples the number 40 shows how God is redeeming His people from the world, bringing a time of restoration and renewal.

In other words, these are all facets of how God is bringing His people out of (spiritual) bondage, through the wilderness (of this physical life), and eventually into the (eternal) Promised Land.  They showcase examples of God’s intent and direction in His people’s lives.

The number 40 in the bible appears to symbolize completion and accomplishment of God’s purpose, but in more of a physical sense (whereas the number 7 is more about Godly perfection and completion).  It is sometimes 40 years, though often a period of 40 days and nights—a person’s or nation’s success in completing the 40 days/years requires humility, trust in God’s promises, and reliance on Him to sustain.

Through the Wilderness:  The Journey of Our Lives

When looked at in a very macro way, the spring holy day season pictures the journey of God’s firstfruits from start to finish, Passover to Pentecost.

That sounds simple, but in reality the time from the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (at the Passover) all the way until Pentecost (picturing the acceptance of God’s elect before His throne in heaven at the Marriage Supper)…that’s a LONG time.

And in seeing the bigger prophetic pictures and focusing on the end point, we can sometimes forget to look at the more personal applications—separation from sin, being called out of the world to a different life.

Within that timeframe, the Days of Unleavened Bread signify the journey out of the bondage of sin for God’s firstfruits, picturing how we move through this physical life learning to rely on God and undergo the process of conversion.  It’s a time of spiritual challenges, doing our best to navigate our lives in a carnal world.

A constant theme in the bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is that of wilderness.  It is a place, an idea, and a feeling.  And what the bible shows us about the wilderness tells us a lot about how we should view our personal spiritual (and physical) journey through life.

Related post: From Wave Sheaf to Wave Loaves: the Feast of Firstfruits & Acceptance of the Elect

How do we see the idea of wilderness in the bible?

The word “wilderness” is used hundreds of times in the bible, particularly in the Old Testament.  It’s almost exclusively the word midbar (H4057), which evokes a pasture, an open field where cattle are driven, and can imply a desert.

In our modern world we often equate it with a barren, harsh desert where nothing can survive, but really it just means an uninhabited or uncultivated place, and the origins of the word actually seem to indicate good grassland or choice pasture.

And this is where the other implication of the word midbar comes in, which gives the sense of pushing out or driving (as in driving cattle forward to graze).  There is a sense of forward momentum, of being spurred forward…not simply plopping down and staying, but rather moving FROM something TO something else.

And it’s when we start to combine the sense of wilderness as a tangible place, with that idea of momentum and a journey with purpose, that we begin to gain a better understanding of how the wilderness factors into our spiritual and physical lives.

How should we think about the wilderness, spiritually?

As I mentioned above, today most of us probably have a somewhat negative association with the idea of wilderness, and particularly a spiritual wilderness.  We might conjure images of physical and emotional desolation, feeling alone through trials, maybe of a barren place that can’t sustain life.

And in focusing only on those aspects, we’d be missing a very important truth—that the way to the Promised Land lies through the wilderness.

As we reflect on the entirety of God’s spring holy day season and how it pictures our physical lives, we should meditate on how it is also our own personal journey into—and through—the wilderness.

For the ancient Israelites, the wilderness was a physical place with a divine purpose.  And this remains true for God’s chosen people today, even though we’re not (usually) tramping through a physical desert.

A few key themes we’ll explore below are the wilderness as a place of…

  • Separation, being called out and set apart from the world
  • Preparation, through testing and trials to make us ready for the future God has planned
  • Surrender, learning to rely on God and fully put ourselves in His hands

Leadership Qualities in the Bible: Examples That Business Leaders Can Learn From

As anyone who is a manager or leader of people knows, leadership is HARD.  It can be incredibly rewarding, heartbreaking, frustrating, or tedious depending on the day.  It often has more in common with parenting than people would realize.

And there are a lot of bad bosses in the world…though no one ever wants to believe that they’re one of them.

For God’s people who are also leaders within their work environment, we have a significant responsibility to not only care for and grow our employees, but also be a reflection of God’s way while we do so.  The old adage comes to mind that “with great power comes great responsibility”.

The bible is packed with passages to help guide God’s people through the joys and trials of people leadership.  For instance, there’s so much in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes alone that we can learn from, not to mention all of the “red text” instructions from Jesus’s own mouth.

But as the wisest people know, studying the examples and actions of others can sometimes be just as instructive, or even more so—whether good or bad examples, they provide context and specific tangible details that can help a leader with practical application.

For as long as I can remember, if you’d asked me what biblical figure I really looked up to or who was my “hero”, I would have answered Daniel.  He stayed faithful while navigating the politics of Babylonian and Persian governments, and managed to be consistently promoted while acting as an example of God’s way to even the rulers of the realm.

So this study looks at specific examples of leaders in the bible, and specifically leadership qualities that they modeled.  My goal here isn’t to go really in-depth on each (because they could honestly each be their own study), but rather provide illustrations and inspiration for biblical examples of leadership—and then each of you can take it from here.  Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Abraham: Stepping out in faith, navigating uncertainty
  • Daniel: Refusal to compromise regardless of consequences
  • Esther: Risking herself to “go to bat” for her people
  • Joseph: Perseverance, trust in God’s timing, and planning through adversity
  • Job: Perspective through loss
  • Moses: Motivation, intercession, and delegation to avoid burnout
  • David: Passion, patience, and penitence
  • Abigail: Showing tact and discretion to de-escalate a situation
  • Nehemiah: Pursuing a vision and inspiring others to follow

“Do Not Love the World”: A Spiritual Application of Burning Platform Theory

At the Feast of Tabernacles this year I heard an excellent short message by Don Turgeon about a topic I’d never heard of called the “burning platform”.

The analogy really struck home for me, and I wanted to do a deeper study into how God’s people should be applying this to our lives.

What is a burning platform?

When an explosion ripped apart the North Sea oil platform called the Piper Alpha and the rig caught fire, a few workers were trapped by the fire on the edge of the platform.

Contemplating certain death in the fire versus likely death (and the general unknown) by jumping the 100 feet into the icy waters, one of them chose the latter and jumped.

The term “burning platform” is now used to describe a situation where people are forced to make a particular dramatic choice, in the face of an alternative that is even more extreme (source).

It has become a shorthand in the business world for “helping people see the dire consequences of not changing”, and motivating people to move beyond the status quo to embracing drastic change.

As Turgeon explained, this type of situation has an urgency that pushes you to transform your behavior.  Because if you don’t—even though that change is scary or painful or difficult in the moment—not doing so could have long-lasting negative consequences.

A good business example in the last couple decades is Blockbuster, who (mind-bogglingly) could not read the signs of technology and consumer behavior shifts, which ultimately plunged the company from being completely ubiquitous to entirely irrelevant and out of business in a very short span of time.

How does the “burning platform” apply spiritually?

Make no mistake, this world and this present age are a burning platform.  And we need to jump. 

Those men knew they weren’t jumping into something that would save them, and believed probable death awaited them in the icy sea.  But they also knew that staying where they were was certain death, and so staying was the wrong choice.

What was interesting about that message was that it felt very prescient.  Because just that week I’d been thinking about my own relationship with the world, and realizing that I’d finally reached a place where I truly, viscerally wanted God’s kingdom to come as soon as possible.

After the last several months of bitter political rhetoric, government overstep, neighbor turning on neighbor, racial division, cities burning (including my own), and just generally looking at the state of the world…I’d finally had enough.

Sure, I’ve always wanted God’s kingdom to come…but as a young person that wish is sometimes a bit more theoretical (and scary as well).  You want to grow up, live a life, get married, do things.  My life is pretty comfortable in the grand scheme of things, with a good job, snuggly pets, the ability to travel.

The whole principle of the burning platform is that only the most dire circumstances and imminent mortal peril would induce you to jump.  It’s hard to contemplate leaving the life we’ve known, the comfort of our daily routines, our conveniences, the people we love.

The difference for us is that we aren’t jumping into the unknown, or to probable death.  Just the opposite—the only means of (eternal) survival for those of us called to God’s truth today is to jump.  To stop clinging to this world, trying to save it, and to cut the ties it has on our hearts.

(Because of the world we live in, I feel like I have to make a very strong caveat statement here that I am obviously not talking about physical life…this is adamantly not some kind of macabre statement regarding killing ourselves or dying prematurely.  I’m speaking of our mental and spiritual state, and whether we’re invested in this current world above God’s coming kingdom.)

Occupying Your God-Given Space:  Humility in a Self-Esteem World

What first comes to mind when you think of humility?

Is it a dejected stance?  Minimizing your role in something?  Or maybe a timid attitude, avoiding eye contact and feeling inferior?

In today’s self-obsessed society, humility gets a bad rap.  And that’s partially just due to the nature of the society we live in, but it’s also because humility is deeply misunderstood.

I’d never given this topic particular thought until I landed on this devotional in my bible app, and something clicked for me.

“Have you ever been humbled by nature? Have you ever walked through a field of tulips or watched a sunset and been reminded of how incredibly awesome God is and how small you are by comparison?  It’s humbling.  The Hebrew word anavah is what we translate as “humility”, but the literal definition of anavah is to occupy your God-given space in the world—not to overestimate yourself or your abilities, and to not underestimate them either.” (quoted from the devotional on YouVersion/Bible.com)

This really brought humility to life in a way that I’d never considered before, and caused me to want to dig even further into humility in the bible.  Note, the original devotion uses “avanah”, but throughout my research I can only find it spelled “anavah” from the root anav, so that’s what I’m using throughout this study because I think it was just a typo.

There are several Hebrew words that can be translated as “humble” or “humility”.  This one comes from the root anav, which denotes a condition of character—depending on God due to internal, spiritual orientation rather than external factors.  The root of this word also indicates that relying on God is a choice, not merely because you physically have to.

Humility and meekness are closely related, but I’m not getting into meekness here because it’s a big study in its own right, and one I intend on doing.  They come from the same root word and the two are sometimes used interchangeably in the bible, but there are some nuances in meaning that are worth exploring.  To my mind, meekness is more expressed toward others, whereas humility is more inward—how you think about and see yourself.  But they’re two sides of the same coin.

Humility in the bible 

As is always the truth, we can learn a lot about the word itself and God’s attitude toward humility (and anavah in particular) by looking at how it’s used in the holy scriptures.

Anavah (H6038) is strongly associated with the fear of the Lord throughout the Old Testament, and seen as something that comes from wisdom and leads to honor.

The Analogy of Sin as a Virus…and Repentance as Radical Transformation

A while back I was reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”, a non-fiction book about a particular moment in the history of medical ethics, scientific discovery, and race.  I ran across this sentence and for whatever reason it stuck in the back of my mind.

“Viruses reproduce by injecting bits of their genetic material into a living cell, essentially reprogramming the cell so it reproduces the virus instead of itself.” ~ The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

A picture of Satan trying to do exactly that came to mind, and the more I thought on it, a virus seemed to be a fairly apt analogy to sin’s effect on us.  But once I started researching it a little more, I found that the analogy of sin as a virus was way closer than I originally thought.  So this study explores some of those shared characteristics.

There are two things that probably need stated before we dig in here:  I am not a scientist, and this analogy is not perfect.  All analogies start to fall apart when you dig *too* deeply regardless, but since I’m not a scientist that may be especially true here.

The other thing that feels like it must be stated is that, unlike actual viruses which attack us through no fault of our own, we are complicit when it comes to sin.  It is our hearts that are “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9; Prov. 14:12).  So though Satan certainly attacks us and helps us along, we should not read this analogy as one in which we play a passive victim role.

Regardless, I think this is interesting and valuable food for thought.

The analogy of sin as a virus

“…through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men” (Rom. 5:12)

It’s important to understand a few things about viruses that start to give our analogy to Satan and sin greater depth.

Viruses come in all shapes and sizes, from the common cold to HIV.  The viruses themselves are all invisible, but with some it’s easy to see and diagnose the symptoms, and with others the host is a silent carrier with no outward symptoms.

Similarly, sins and their consequences take many different forms.  Some are overt and public (murder, theft), but more often they are not readily apparent to us or the people around us.  Many are subtle…a bit of anger, some work gossip to pass the time, too much time and attention spent on material things.  But when left alone, they continue to multiply…like the “little leaven that leavens the whole lump” (I Cor. 5:6).

Stand Still and Wait: Worldly Solutions vs. Waiting on God (Musings on Faith Series)

“You will not need to fight in this battle.  Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you” (II Chron. 20:17)

Do you trust God?

This isn’t a trick question, and our gut response is “Yes, of course!”  But it’s actually a more complicated question (and answer) than it appears at face value, isn’t it?

We don’t have God literally talking to us every day, telling us what’s on His mind and what plans He has for us that day.  We want to involve Him in our decisions and understand His will, but it’s not always clear how involved He is in day-to-day details.

Does He want a say in every decision we make?  How much does He care about the daily “small stuff” versus the big picture?  Does He expect us to solve most of our own problems, or does He reward those who ask Him for help in every small issue?

More questions than answers, right…??  What I wanted to dig into in this study is how we approach “problem solving”, through the lens of some examples in the bible.  Do think about waiting on God and trusting that He has things under control, or do we seek out worldly, human solutions?

This is one of those studies that’s intended more to share thoughts and spur your own thinking, rather than provide a specific point of view or “how to”.  I’d consider it a combination of pointing out what can happen when we try to solve problems our own way and on our own timetable, and a meditation on the balance between relying on God and abdicating responsibility for our lives and decisions.  This is a longer one, but only because there are a number of examples provided for context.

“Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord…”

A lot of these questions ultimately boil down to trusting in God’s timing and approach rather than giving in to human reasoning, impatience, and impulsivity.

But that requires us to believe that God knows each of us personally, that He is in control, knows what we want (and need), and wants the absolute best for us.

And I think that last bit (that He wants the best for us) is actually much harder than it sounds to truly grasp.  It *sounds* completely logical, but when you’re in the middle of something and don’t see a good solution or understand why it’s happening, or when you want something so badly and don’t get it, that belief is a difficult thing to maintain.

There are many parts of the bible where God’s advice is effectively “be patient”.  Many times His people were told to stand still and wait for Him to act on their behalf.  Sometimes that was a literal physical command to stand there, but sometimes it referred more to their emotional state—just stop, don’t let your emotions run around like Chicken Little screaming “the sky is falling!”.

This is a topic I’ve been musing on for some time.  It’s not clear-cut, and there is almost never an easy answer when we’re right in the middle of a situation.  When something happens, what is your first instinct?  Where do you look for solutions?  How do you go about making decisions?

So I thought it would be good to show some examples from the bible of people who didn’t trust in God and figured out their own solutions (and how that turned out).  Then because I’m not all Debby Downer, I wanted to showcase some great examples of people who did wait, and looked to God to accomplish His purpose in His time.

And of course—because it’s me—I have some thoughts on practical applications for our own modern lives at the end for us to consider.

Related post:  Why & How Does God Use the Number 40 in the Bible?

Worldly solutions to (real or perceived) problems

First we’ll look at some examples of when people decided to find their own solutions to problems that were either real, or that they perceived to be real.

It’s kind of sad how easy it is to think of examples for both of these areas…but to be fair, the bible is written for our instruction, so it stands to reason that there are a lot of cautionary tales in there.  Most of these are well-known stories, so I’m just going to highlight the important points rather than tell you the whole story.

These examples pretty much boil down to:  Do you trust God to take care of you and help solve your problems?

FOMO:  How To Derail Your Relationship With God

Or, the key to unhappiness…

We usually put the best of ourselves and our lives out on social media.  We talk about how amazing our spouse is, how cute our kids are, personal accomplishments, a delicious meal we cooked (or ordered), stunning vacation pictures.  And none of this is necessarily wrong—most people wouldn’t like to follow people who are super negative or just plain boring all of the time.

But we also know that what we’re showing are the most exciting bits of our life, our personal “highlight reel”.  That the mundane, overwhelming, and embarrassing parts of our life aren’t public.

We rarely trumpet that we’re stuck in traffic, sitting in a meeting, vegging on the couch, rocking a colicky baby in the middle of the night, the disaster of a kitchen after cooking, seething after an argument with your spouse, having to discipline your kid in the middle of a crowded grocery store, feeling like a failure because you messed up at work.

Though this is the majority of most people’s day, most of us don’t post about these things.  And the funny thing is, we know this about ourselves.  But our brains are a mysterious thing.  Somehow we can then look at everyone else’s social media life and forget that it is also a carefully curated museum of the best of their lives as well.  And in forgetting, we allow feelings of discontent to nestle into our brains and hearts.

A couple things happen as a result of this.  First, we tend to be concerned with making our lives *appear* amazing or glamorous.  And second, we tend to look at other people’s lives from the outside and unintentionally use that as a measuring stick for ourselves.

Living that FOMO life

There’s a condition that’s endemic to today’s technology-obsessed society.  It’s been dubbed “FOMO”—the “fear of missing out”.  And while FOMO has become slang that the younger generation casually drop in conversation for fun, it’s actually a much more pervasive aspect of our human nature that’s amplified by technology, and has the potential to derail our faith.

Studying Psalm 20:4 – Our Heart’s Desire and Accomplishing Our Plans

I ran across a verse in my daily bible reading that, while familiar, I’d never really considered carefully.  It’s short and lyrical, something you’d see printed on someone’s wall or in a greeting card, or even recited at a wedding.  Let’s look at the verse:

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire, and fulfill all your purpose” (Psalm 20:4, NKJV)

It’s easy to skim this and think, “that’s lovely!” then keep moving.  But if taken at face value it would be easy to miss the verse’s intent—full of both promise and warning. 

Oftentimes, the words themselves can provide rich information, but the Hebrew words used in this verse are fairly run-of-the-mill and used all over the Old Testament.  They don’t appear to provide any additional insight, being quite broad and able to be interpreted a number of ways based on context.

Let’s look instead at the two separate pieces of Psalm 20:4.  My goal here isn’t an exhaustive study, but rather just highlighting a few deeper things to ponder.

“May He grant you according to your heart’s desire…”

When the bible talks about the heart, it doesn’t just mean our emotions or feelings like we often think of today.  Instead it’s truly the core of who a person is.  And so when this verse talks about our “heart’s desire,” it’s not talking about every single thing we’ve ever wanted in life, every wish and fleeting craving.

It’s referring to our deepest desires and motivations, the thoughts that drive us, the things which occupy our minds.  It’s who we are at our rawest.  Jesus is very clear that the desires of our heart will be reflected in how we talk and act, and will be reflective of where our priorities in life lie (Matt. 12:34, 6:21).

The verse asks that God grant His people their desires…but we also know from Jeremiah that the heart is deceitful and “desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  This feels like a worrying contradiction.  So what are we to do with this?

There’s another translation for Psalm 20:4 that a few bibles use, where it says, “May He grant you according to your heart”.  I quite like this translation, because it indicates a little bit more of the double-edged sword that this verse implies—if your heart isn’t right, what you get will not be right either.  It implies that you should be careful what you wish for (or subconsciously focus on), because you just might get it.

Eyes on the Horizon:  Navigating this Life

“Let your eyes look straight ahead, and your eyelids look right before you.  Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established” ~ Prov. 4:25-26

A while back, I had the chance to spend a few days sailing off the coast of Sweden.  It was an idyllic off-the-grid weekend, and we had the opportunity to act as first mates to the boat’s captain, Patrik.

The first time I took my turn at the wheel, he gave me a point far out on the horizon to aim for (a tiny white speck that ended up being a lighthouse) and then sat back to chill.  I steered for a while, but increasingly found myself staring intently at the small GPS screen, which had two lines—the one he’d charted and the one we were currently on.

Navigating this Life - example GPS from the boat

I was laser-focused, trying to keep our direction completely aligned with the course he had charted, making tiny adjustments, struggling to turn the right way and guess how the boat would react to the waves and wind.  The result was me zig-zagging through the water rather than smooth, straight sailing.  When he realized what I was doing, he corrected me.

“Don’t look down, look at the horizon.  That point I gave you out there, that is your goal—navigate by that.  Yes, look down every so often to check for rocks and obstacles, but down there shouldn’t be your focus.”

Perils while navigating this life

Why does this story stick with me, even a few years later?

First, it immediately brought to mind the statement in Hebrews 11 about how the faithful of God through the ages were focused on the promises they saw “afar off,” remaining intent on that vision of the future no matter what threatened them in the present.

Secondly, it made me consider the needs and impact of the immediate vs. the eternal, and how we should be balancing the two while navigating this life.  Make no mistake, we’re meant to actually live our time on this earth, which means we do have to give attention to “right now”.

But it’s also easy to get caught up in the daily grind, with all the negativity, what’s going wrong (or right), not understanding the direction of things or why things happen.  And if we spend too much time thinking about the immediate, it can cause us—ultimately—to lose sight of the eternal.  We’ll zig-zag through life, wasting energy and ending up slowly but surely off-course.

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