In Genesis, God flooded the earth for 40 days and 40 nights, and 40 days after the mountaintops became visible, Noah opened the ark’s window and sent out a bird.
Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca, and his son Esau was 40 years old when he married Judith.
The judge Eli presided over the people of Israel for 40 years. Their first king, Saul, reigned for 40 years; their second king, David, reigned for 40 years; and their third king, Solomon, reigned for 40 years.
The number 40 is used a lot in the Bible, and it is sometimes – but not always – connected with punishment. Israel was made to wait 40 years in the desert to enter the Promised Land and was given a 40-year judgment under the Philistines for its misdeeds. Egypt had a 40-year sentence to serve under Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar.
When Moses was given the Ten Commandments, he stayed on the mountain with God for 40 days. He died after living 40 years as a prince, 40 years as an exile, and 40 years as a prophet leading his people to the Promised Land. When they first arrived, he sent 40-year-old Joshua to spy out the land. That mission took – you guessed it – 40 days.
According to the New Testament, Jesus began his ministry with a 40-day fast in the wilderness and ended it with a 40-day reunion with his followers.
Fast-forward to June 1967. In the Six-Day War, Israel retook East Jerusalem, propelling the Temple Mount back into Jewish hands for the first time in 19 centuries. Then, in what may have been the first de facto land-for-peace tradeoff in Israeli history, defense minister and acclaimed war hero Moshe Dayan turned custody of the Mount right back over to the defeated Jordanian enemy.
“It was evident that if we did not prevent Jews from praying in what was now a mosque compound,” he later wrote, “matters would get out of hand and lead to a religious clash.”
However, Dayan had attached two conditions to the transfer: 1) a ban on rabble-rousing sermons against the Jews, and 2) freedom of access without limitation or payment. These conditions were never enforced by the Israeli government.
Some observers blame the transfer on Dayan’s secular worldview.
“In his biography, Dayan clearly stated that the last thing he wanted was the Beit Hamikdash (Temple building) rebuilt,” one commentator wrote. “So Dayan ‘gave’ the Temple Mount back to the Arabs because he wanted to make sure that there wouldn’t be a third Temple. There was nothing that Prime Minister Eshkol could do about it. After all, Dayan had just become one of the biggest heroes in Israeli history. One of our biggest heroes may go down in history as one of our biggest screw-ups.”
Dayan’s heroism notwithstanding, Scripture speaks loudly against the giving away of Israel’s land to her enemies. Although official title to the Mount was not surrendered, guardianship of it and access to it were, and quite voluntarily so.
The point here might be better explained with an illustration:
On your way to school Monday, the neighborhood bully and two of his friends try to grab your lunch money in an unprovoked attack. You respond by bravely – and unexpectedly – beating the living snot out of all three. Monday night you get to thinking that, wow, maybe it would be best to mend fences because, at some time in the future, that bully might possibly threaten you again. So, on your way to school Tuesday, you startle the young thug by voluntarily handing him your lunch money!
“Butch,” you say, “I believe you’ve changed a lot since you regained consciousness yesterday, so I’ll make you a little deal. My lunch money for today is still mine, understand, but I’m going to let you hold on to it for safekeeping. However, I expect you never to harass me again, and I expect you to give me access to my money whenever I want it.”
How much regard do you think Butch is going to have for your lunch money – or anything remotely associated with you – from now on?
This year, 2007, commemorates the 40-year anniversary of the giveaway of the Temple Mount.
Now as before, Israel’s enemies surround the city and beat their plowshares into swords. The ancient plateau still stands where old Abraham went to offer Isaac, where King David dreamed of the Temple his son Solomon would build, where12-year-old Jesus amazed the doctors of the law with his understanding. But now it is populated with monuments to a god the ancient Hebrews never knew, and the 40-year cycle has come around again.
Will the merciful God of Israel grant His people a pass on what some might consider one leader’s lapse in judgment? Has the biblical 40-year phenomenon drawn to a close at this late date? Or will 2007 be another prophetic year?
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Marylou is a journalist and Christian Zionist with a special interest in the Middle East. Visit her blog, Marylou’s America.