Sermon on the Mount, The Emmaus View

Appendix F: The significance of four months (Version 1.3)

Within the Bible, the period of four months appears to carry a special significance. It is as if a change of status was weighed for that period before believing that it has truly taken place. Thus, the un-named Levite’s concubine practised harlotry then fled back under the authority of her father’s house (Judg 19:1-2). However, the Levite only set out to take her back after four months. Similarly, the Benjamites from Gibeah who fled to the Rock of Rimmon were re-integrated into society only after four months (Judg 20:47). Both represented changes of heart that needed evaluation (see Chapter 15), as did the attitude of the people when Hezekiah waited four months to assess whether the generosity of people’s hearts toward the temple had really changed (2 Chr 31:7-8).

After David fled to the Philistines, he stayed there ‘days and four months’ (1 Sam 27:7). Most translations interpret this as an idiomatic way of saying a year and four months. However, it seems to be saying simply ‘longer than four months’, i.e. long enough for the Philistines to assess whether he had genuinely switched sides.

The significance of a four-month period as ‘long enough to know for sure’ lies behind Jesus’ observation concerning the fields (John 4:35). Whilst others may contend that they need a four-month assessment, he could see that they bore the telltale whiteness that marked out the disobedient (cf. Num 12:10) and were already in need of harvest.

There is also a sense within the scriptures, that significant changes cannot remain hidden for four months. Thus, Judah discovers Tamar’s harlotry after three months (Gen 38:24), Mary’s pregnancy is revealed after three months (Luke 1:56) and Moses’ mother cannot keep him hidden longer than three months (Exod 2:2). Hence, it took David three months to discover that the Ark was blessing Obed-Edom (2 Sam 6:11), and Paul discovered opposition after three months (Acts 19:8, 20:3). Thus, when the prophet Gad gave David the option of fleeing from his foes for three months, that implied that David would eventually be discovered and fall into the hands of men (2 Sam 24:13-14).

The scriptures also hint that Imperial rulers had four months in which to object to royal appointments in their vassal states, otherwise the new ruler was deemed to enjoy their master’s blessing by default (cf. 2 Kgs 23:30-33, 2 Kgs 24:8 & 12). Hence, Zerubbabel’s four-month journey back from exile (Ezra 7:9) allowed Ezra to assess his heart and be sure that Cyrus would not object to the appointment.

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