This week we begin our annual observance of the season of Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter. 40 is a common number in Scripture. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for 40 years between the time they left Egypt and when they entered the promised land. Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness being tempted by Satan (Matt. 4:1-11). These two events are typically referenced as to why our Lenten observance lasts 40 days.
There is another 40-day period from the Old Testament I want to consider as we reflect on Lent, the 40 days that the spies (or scouts) went out to observe the land of Canaan in Numbers 13. Twelve men, one from each tribe, were appointed to go to the land of Canaan to do reconnaissance. They were to see what sorts of things grew in the land, what the people were like, how the cities were fortified, etc. They made their observations for 40 days then reported back to Moses and the others what they had found.
Upon their return all twelve spies reported that the land was indeed fertile and prosperous, a land flowing with milk and honey. Ten of the twelve, however, said that the inhabitants and the cities were too great, too strong to be defeated by the Israelites. They put fear into the hearts of the people. The other two, Joshua and Caleb, responded that with the help of the Lord the people who dwelt in the land would be no match for Israel. The majority prevailed however, convincing the assembly that they could not take the land. This greatly displeased the Lord, and the people were consigned to wander in the wilderness for 40 years before they would enter the promised land.
In a sense, we are like those spies. In Lent we are considering the battles that wage war in our lives, the struggles we face over our own sinfulness, the temptations of this world, and the assaults of Satan. We take time to observe our situation, that we are by nature sinful and unclean, lost without God's mercy and protection. We are waiting to see what the Lord will do about our sin-filled situation. Will he be able to conquer our enemies for us? Will we trust in Him alone, or will we fall back in fear and despair doubting whether God's strength will overcome all our weaknesses? The promised land of heaven is indeed rich and prosperous, but how will we enter there?
We know what awaits us at the end of 40 days as we look forward to Good Friday and Easter. The Lord would defeat our greatest enemies, sin, death, and the devil. On the cross Jesus died for our sin, opening the promised land of heaven to us, and on Easter we see in Jesus’ resurrection a preview of our own. Let us be like Joshua and Caleb confident in our Lord’s promises that he gives us the victory in Jesus.