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Why Did the Lord Fast for Forty Days?

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The number forty is a sign of that laborious period in ‎which, under the discipline of Christ the King, we have to fight ‎against the devil. This is also indicated by the fact that both the law ‎and the prophets solemnized a fast of forty days– that is to say, a ‎humbling of the soul– in the person of Moses and Elijah, who ‎each fasted for a period of forty days.

Through the fast of the Lord Himself, during which forty ‎days He was also tempted of the devil, the Gospel narrative also ‎demonstrates that condition of temptation which appertains to us ‎through all the space of this age, and which He bore in the flesh ‎which He condescended to take to Himself from our mortality. ‎After the Resurrection, it was also His will to remain with His ‎disciples on the earth not longer than forty days, continuing to ‎mingle for that space of time with this life of theirs in the way of ‎human intercourse, and partaking along with them of the food ‎needful for mortal men, although He Himself was to die no more.

All this was done with the view of signifying to them ‎through these forty days, that although His presence should be ‎hidden from their eyes, He would yet fulfill what He promised ‎when He said, “Behold, I am with you, even to the end of the ‎world.” And in explanation of the circumstance that this particular ‎number should denote this temporal and earthly life, what suggests ‎itself most immediately in the meantime, although there may be ‎another and subtler method of accounting for it, is the ‎consideration that the seasons of the years also revolve in four ‎successive alternations, and that the world itself has its bounds ‎determined by four divisions, which Scripture sometimes ‎designates by the names of the winds, — East and West, Aquilo ‎‎[or North] and Meridian [or South]. But the number forty is ‎equivalent to four times ten. Furthermore, the number ten itself is ‎made up by adding the several numbers in succession from one up ‎to four together.

In this way, then, as Matthew undertook the task of ‎presenting the record of Christ as the King who came into this ‎world, and into this earthly and mortal life of men, for the purpose ‎of exercising rule over us who have to struggle with temptation, he ‎began with Abraham, and enumerated forty men. For Christ came ‎in the flesh from that very nation of the Hebrews with a view to the ‎keeping of which as a people distinct from the other nations, God ‎separated Abraham from his own country and his own kindred. ‎And the circumstance that the promise contained an intimation of ‎the race from which He was destined to come, served very ‎specially to make the prediction and announcement concerning ‎Him something all the clearer. Thus the evangelist did indeed mark ‎out fourteen generations in each of three several members, stating ‎that from Abraham until David there were fourteen generations, ‎and from David until the carrying away into Babylon other ‎fourteen generations, and another fourteen from that period on to ‎the nativity of Christ. But he did not then reckon them all up in ‎one sum, counting them one by one, and saying that thus they ‎make up forty-two in all. For among these progenitors there is one ‎who is enumerated twice, namely Jechonias, with whom a kind of ‎deflection was made in the direction of extraneous nations at the ‎time when the transmigration into Babylon took place. When the ‎enumeration, moreover, is thus bent from the direct order of ‎progression, and is made to form, if we may so say, a kind of ‎corner for the purpose of taking a different course, what meets us ‎at that corner is mentioned twice over, — namely, at the close of ‎the preceding series, and at the head of the deflection specified. ‎And this, too, was a figure of Christ as the one who was, in a ‎certain sense, to pass from the circumcision to the uncircumcision, ‎or, so to speak, from Jerusalem to Babylon, and to be, as it were, ‎the corner-stone to all who believe on Him, whether on the one ‎side or on the other. Thus was God making preparations then in a ‎figurative manner for things which were to come in truth. For ‎Jechonias himself, with whose name the kind of corner which I ‎have in view was prefigured, is by interpretation the “preparation ‎of God.” In this way, therefore, there are really not forty-two ‎distinct generations named here, which would be the proper sum of ‎three times fourteen; but, as there is a double enumeration of one ‎of the names, we have here forty generations in all, taking into ‎account the fact that Christ Himself is reckoned in the number, ‎who, like the kingly president over this [significant] number forty, ‎superintends the administration of this temporal and earthly life of ‎ours.‎

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