Frequently catechism students, when confronted with the fact of the long age to which Methuselah and others attained, express astonishment and wonder. Without fail little hands stab, the air to ask, “Why did God make people live so long?” and “Why don’t we live that long now?” Not infrequently adults also consider these facts, either in society or privately, responding in much the same way. These are perfectly good questions. As we seek out Scriptural answers for them, we will discover that time or man’s life span, being a creature, comes under the providential hand of God. As God’s upholding and governing hand touches time, it shows itself to be, a redeemed creature by being a good servant of God and His Church. All things are good, and work together for good, to those who share in redemption. Therefore, it follows that the longevity of preduluvian man was good, and that our present life span is good. Recently, by way of the Old Year’s service, we have all been instructed concerning the passing of time. It will be equally instructive to take a little broader perspective of this matter.
WHY SUCH LONG LIVES?
The study of genealogies, often passed over in our family devotions, here shows itself to be profitable. Genesis, chapter five, gives us one of the numerous genealogies that form the framework of the book. In this precise chronology we find that the average life span was well above 900 years. Adam lived to be 930 years, and his successive progeny up to the time of the flood had ages of 912, 905, 910, 895, 962, 969, 777, and 950. One exception to these figures was Enoch, 365, who was not, for God took him. It may be safely assumed that the generations of Cain also lived to these advanced ages.
Although these numbers stagger us and our children, it ought to be remembered that they represent a sharpreduction in the age of man, due to the fall Man had come under the sentence of death spiritually, but also physically. Nevertheless, what purpose did this relatively long life span serve? There was, first of all, the necessity to populate the world. From the words inGenesis 5, “. . . .and begat sons and daughters. .” we believe that both in the church and in the world large families were produced, so that in the 1654 years between creation and the flood, millions of people lived on the earth. In his fine book The Flood, A.D. Rehwinkle, fascinated by the population of the pre-flood world, argues that it could have numbered anywhere from two to eleven billion (p. 24) Although this necessarily involves speculation, we need not doubt that the then-world hosted a large population, and this was made possible in a relatively short time by the great ages which were attained. A father saw not only his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, but he saw his seed to the seventh and eighth generations!
In the second place, long life served God’s wisdom in that He did not deign to give the Church written revelation until much, much later. The author of the Pentateuch did not come onto the scene until approximately 650 years after the flood. In place of a written record of revelation, God provided direct revelation, in which He spoke to men through angels, visions, and dreams; and He provided the circumstances that would insure the passing on of His speech by way of a strong, oral tradition. Father passed on to son the Word which God had spoken, as well as his own life’s experiences. Since it was possible for seven or eight generations to live together, this information could be transmitted easily and accurately. For example, Adam could not only inform Seth concerning the temptation, fall, protevangel, and banishment from the garden, but it was also possible for him to speak of these things to Lamech, the father of Noah! If, indeed, they ever met, Lamech could have learned what we know as the contents of Genesis 1-3 directly from Adam; Noah could learn of these same things once repeated by his father!
It would make an interesting family project to prepare a bar graph which demonstrated the overlapping of generations in the period we are discussing. On graphing paper list the names of the saints from Genesis five on the left hand side of the graph. Along the bottom of the graph indicate time, either after creation or before Christ. With a little care the exact time of the birth and death of these saints can be determined and recorded. And it will be clear, even to little catechumens, that God’s Word was passed on easily and accurately to many generations.
WHY THE GREAT REDUCTION?
Although this explains the two-fold benefit of longevity for the periods 4004-2350 B.C., the question remains, Why has the age of man been so drastically reduced? Actually this is a more important and more interesting question. All are aware that such a reduction occurred at the time of the flood: the average of 900 years was reduced roughly by half. According to the genealogy of Shem (Gen. 11) we find the next several generations living to 600, 438, 430, and-464 years. However, before we attempt an answer to the above question; we ought to include another fact in our considerations. There was, according to Genesis 11, another dividing or halving of life span at the time of Peleg, the son of Eber. He lived to the age of 239, and his generations to the ages of 239 and 230. From this time on, there was a gradual lessening of age until the time of Abraham and Moses, who lived to be 140 and 120 years respectively. Man’s years continued to diminish so that we are informed in Psalm 90, verse 10: “The days of our years are three score years and ten, or if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.” This condition prevails until the present time without significant change.
If such things as our subject are in God’s hands, and if all God’s works are the revelation of wisdom, the question is natural, Is there any similarity between the days of these two reductions, the days of Noah and the days of Peleg? The name Peleg means division. We are informed in Gen. 10:25 that he was so named “for in his days was the earth divided.” This division is again referred to in Gen. 10:32, “These are the families of the sons of Noah after their generations in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.” The manner of this division of nations is explained in Gen. 11:1-9, the well-known incident of the confusion of tongues in the land of Shinar, where the world of wicked men had decided to memorialize itself with a tower. This occurred at the time of Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10). There is little doubt, then, that the time before the flood and the time of Nimrod’s kingdom were similar to a high degree. They were periods during which the wickedness of men was great in the earth, when every imagination of the thoughts of his heart were only evil continually. Days of rebellion against every ordinance of God, including His specific command to replenish and fill the earth (Gen. 8:17, 9:1, andGen. 11:4). Days of intense suffering for the Church of God. Had not the Church been reduced to eight living souls at the time of Noah, and was this not the purpose of the world in refusing to scatter; That the people was one and all had one language is precisely what constituted the danger for the people of God. Revelation 13 with its description of the rising two beasts makes this so clear.
AGE REDUCTION ACT OF GRACE
The conclusion is evident. God sees His beleagured Church in her precarious situation. He sees that she is about to be opposed to the point of extinction. More than merely seeing, God acts! In mercy He sends the thundering waters of the flood in order to save eight souls and punish the unrepentant world. And in that same mercy He confuses the wicked kingdom of Nimrod with strange languages that they might not unite against the Church as present in the children of Shem. The flood and Babel were two miraculous deliverances for the people of God, and from slightly different points of view pre-figure the final deliverance in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Simultaneous with these acts of deliverance, the Lord each time divided the life span of man by two. The result is that the struggling, militant Church is able to survive in the world. We can imagine what would have happened in those days, and what would happen today, if men continued to live to 900 years and more. What a frightening thought! What monsters of iniquity would the worldlings become if allowed to practice sin for nearly ten centuries! What devilishly adept teachers they would be for future generations! What inventions and scientific achievements would be discovered and corrupted in the service of Antichrist! Where would the Church hide? But the Sovereign of heaven and earth adjusts the ages of men so that they, and their development in sin, serve the central purpose of redemption in Christ. The result has been that the Church of Jesus Christ, though a little flock, has endured. The shortening of life is an act of grace for that little but dearly beloved Church!
WHAT OF THE FUTURE?
It must be mentioned that the history of Babel is going to be reversed. Instead of many nations and languages there will be one people and one language once more. And there will be one religion. The apostle John saw this in his vision and recorded it for us in Rev. 13. One world power, one false religion in the service of that world power, one way to escape persecution and death. For when the deadly wound of Babel is healed (Rev. 13:3) Antichrist will have the ascendancy. He shall blaspheme God, make war with the saints, be worshipped of all whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, and have power to kill as many as would not worship the image of the beast. What then?
God shall see this great tribulation which surpasses everything from the beginning of the world to the end. And with the same love and grace and mercy that has not wavered throughout all the ages, God will once again touch and control time. For the elect’s sake He shall shorten those days. Whether this means He will cause days to be less than twenty-four hour periods, or that He will cause the end of those days to be hastened, makes no essential difference. God will once again adjust time for the saving benefit of His people. There is nothing He will not do for those whom He loves. The Church will be saved to the uttermost! And once saved she will delight to sing with deeper awareness: “Oh, the depths of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out! For of Him, and through Him, and unto Him are all things! To Whom be glory forever. Amen!”
These things, too, belong to our conception of time.