The second of the two-fold consideration of Jesus’ experience of forty days in the wilderness also causes Him to be connected, quite rightly, with the nation of Israel as a whole. Forty is an often referenced and significant number in relation to Israel and to the history of the people pre-Jacob (forty days and nights of rain for the flood in the days of Noah). In connection with the all-important exodus event itself, Moses is on Mount Sinai for forty days and nights, where he is said to have received Israel’s covenant marker directly from the finger of Israel’s God. This time of Moses’ absence presents itself as a test of Israel’s faithfulness to their covenant God that had just rescued His chosen people from their slavery in Egypt. It was a test that they are said to have failed, doing so quite miserably.
Elijah, the one looked upon as Israel’s greatest prophet, fasts for forty days as part of an experience that will take him to the mountain of God (1 Kings 19:8). Saul, David, and Solomon are each said to have ruled over a united kingdom of Israel for forty years. Quite naturally then, within the context of His presentation as the Son of God, it is altogether logical to draw an analogy between Jesus’ forty days of wilderness testing and the story of Israel in general. Forty days in the wilderness for Jesus after baptism in the Jordan---forty years for Israel in the wilderness after what is often referred to as their “baptism” in the waters of the sea.
Jesus had entered the waters of the Jordan to be baptized at the hands of his cousin, John the Baptist. For a messiah-like figure, this baptism in the Jordan, at the hands of one who presented himself as the voice of one crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord (with heavy tones of expectation concerning the coming of Israel’s God), would have been taken to be emblematic of a new exodus movement in anticipation of the Creator God’s working through His messiah on behalf of His oppressed people. Israel had entered the waters of the divided sea (though they did not get wet) as part of their God’s working on behalf of His oppressed people, with this resulting in the crushing defeat of those that had oppressed them, in the movement that would forever define “exodus,” Israel as the people of exodus, and their God as a God of exodus.
Of course, there is a major difference between Jesus and Israel, in that Jesus’ wilderness experience was on the heels of having been declared as being pleasing to the Creator God, whereas Israel’s forty year wilderness experience was for the opposite reason. Though the covenant God had previously shown forth Israel as His elect people (son) by bringing them out of Egypt, much like this God shows forth Jesus as His elect Son (who had also been brought out of Egypt, though that is for a different time), His displeasure was evident.
Needless to say, Israel had its share of problems during their forty years, but it did serve to strengthen their trust in their delivering, covenant God, as the faithless generation that doubted at the foot of Sinai and at the edge of Canaan is said to have died off in the desert. Owing to this, the people were prepared to enter into their land of promise, and therefore prepared to enter into the mission that their God had established for them. Israel would cross through the waters of the Jordan (inviting a direct comparison between Jesus and Israel) into their promised land and to their mission, to carry out the work of their God, to establish a kingdom that would allow them to experience their God’s blessing, to become a light for the surrounding peoples, and thereby elicit praise for and acknowledgment of their God as the true and only God. Israel was to leave the wilderness and enter their land for the purpose of their God’s glory.