"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
And He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterward He was hungry." Matthew 4:1-2
Our God is a God of order. In creating the universe, He imbued within all of it His order, His law, and His reason. In the divine revelation of Scripture we see this intentionality and order flow further, so much so that He even chooses to use numbers throughout salvation history as a way of speaking to us and revealing more of Himself, His plan for His creation, and His plan of redemption.
Woven throughout Old and New Testaments certain numbers are used within the Hebrew tradition and understanding to convey deep theological truths. They signify much more than merely a count or amount of something. The number 7 signifies perfection while the number 6 denotes imperfection. The number 12 is used to represent power and authority. The number 3 calls to mind harmony, new life, and completeness.
And then there’s the number 40.
Any Christian even semi-familiar with the Holy Scriptures knows that number pops up over and over again. So what is 40 about? Within Scripture and the revelation of God, 40 symbolizes a time of testing, trial, and then often, a sense of triumph. It marks fulfillment and completion of a specific mission.
40 days Noah and family spend in the ark while God floods and recreates the world…
40 years the Israelites wander in the desert…
40 days and nights Moses goes up Mount Sinai and fasts…
40 days in Levitical law a woman rested in confinement after the birth of a son…
40 days is the time of warning given to Ninevah by Jonah…
40 days Jesus spends in the desert fasting and being tempted before His public ministry…
40 days Jesus spends with the disciples after the Resurrection until He ascends into heaven…
Make no mistake, sisters, it is no coincidence that this same omnipotent God of order also wrote this number right into our female bodies.
How long does it take for the fullness of life to be conceived, to grow inside of us, and then be born into the world? 40 weeks.
Before going further, we need to clarify a very important point. Our modern system of tracking pregnancy is a bit muddled and erroneous. Did you know we begin counting pregnancy before the baby is even conceived? When a woman finds out she is pregnant, the modern counting backtracks and begins the count of pregnancy from the assumed or known first day of a woman’s menstrual cycle that month. However, when we look at the real age of the baby, he or she is actually approximately two weeks younger than that, as the conception occurs later, at ovulation. Only at that moment is there a new human being created and now growing. Only at THAT moment does a pregnancy truly begin. So for instance, a woman who is “6 weeks pregnant” has really only truly been pregnant for about 4 weeks, the embryo at that point only four weeks old. When we understand that, we can then see that the vast majority of babies are naturally born by the time THEY are actually 40 weeks old (and mom is deemed 42 weeks pregnant). It is only a tiny percentage of women who would go past that 42 weeks and be truly “past due”.
That said, let’s back to the theology. God does not make mistakes and He doesn’t do anything haphazardly. He could have chosen any number of weeks or days for pregnancy, let alone any number of ways for new human beings to be created, and He intentionally chose that number 40. He specifically chose the number of trial, of temptation, but also that of triumph and completion.
Just this past week we have entered again into the season of Lent, 40 days set apart by the Church, a time where we enter with Jesus into the desert where He is tried and tempted. This journey culminates in the intensity and depth of Holy Week as we enter into the Lord’s Paschal Mystery.
What a stunning parallel we have in our own bodies. What an invitation we have to unite our pregnancies and births with Christ’s work of life-bringing. For approximately 40 weeks our babies grow within us. It is a time of joy and expectation and mission, of course. But as most women experience, it is often also one of trial and temptation, one where there may be desert moments, if not desert days, weeks, or months. For some, the trials may be the relatively simple and common ones like nausea, back pain, and exhaustion, for others the trials may be a more intense suffering of significant complications, emotional darkness, or debilitating pain.
I’ve also become absolutely convicted that pregnancy is also a time of temptation, testing, and profound spiritual battle as well. And of course that makes sense when we think of it through a supernatural lens. We are doing the great work of bringing another image of God into the world. How the devil must hate that! His envy of humanity and our cooperation in this creative work of God must enrage him. This is one reason I believe women are often bombarded with fears, doubts, and anxieties during pregnancy and even birth. If he cannot stop the process of life-bringing, he’ll do his best to make it a miserable experience. He’ll do his best to multiply and amplify the voices of criticism, discouragement, and fear.
Just as Jesus experienced those temptations in the desert, so you may be experiencing similar in your pregnancy. Perhaps they even replicate how He was tempted - doubts whispered or downright spoken at you. Perhaps they question God’s Word and faithfulness or question whether you have what it takes. Perhaps they question whether you should put the power and authority of this pregnancy into the hands of men rather than God. Pregnancy seems to bring all those deeply held wounds, sins, temptations, proclivities, and fears to the surface.
Will He be faithful? Will He give my baby and me what we need? Can He be trusted?
If you are finding yourself sometimes in the desert during pregnancy, take heart. The God who ordained the order of all the universe, the God who intentionally designed this time of pregnancy, is with you. He has allowed this time to be set apart, one of trial and even temptation, yes. But it also one of preparation for your mission, one where your heart, mind, body, and soul can be purified, united more deeply with the Lord in the work of life-bringing.
Look to Christ in the desert and follow His example. Unite with Him in this time of preparation and purification. Know that this time is set apart, spiritually significant, very intentional, and a critical part of your vocation. As Jesus was led by the Spirit to the desert, so you have been led to this time of pregnancy. That dryness, that wrestling, that darkness you may be experiencing, those desert moments, are seen by God and part of His plan for your good and your baby's. Cling to the Word of God and cling to His promises. Just as He did, speak truth to the lies. He is faithful and will complete this work He has begun in you.
"If in Christ we have been tempted, in Him we overcome the devil. Do you think only of Christ’s temptations and fail to think of His victory? See yourself as tempted in Him, and see yourself as victorious in Him. He could have kept the devil from Himself; but if He were not tempted He could not teach you how to triumph over temptation." Saint Augustine
Looking for extra support in the desert?
Christ's example shows us that Scripture is one of the most effective weapons we have in this spiritual battle and in times of temptation and trial. Having those promises and verses memorized allowed Him to withstand and defeat the attack of the enemy and so it does for us, too. A list of Scriptures powerful in pregnancy and birth are included in Made for This Birth membership, via the Made for This Birth App or on the site plan for non-Apple users. These Scriptures are also part of the Scripture track on the Made for This Birth Album and many are also included in our Scriptural affirmation pack in the shop. May they bless you and support you in this mission.