April 15, 2014

Why Did Methuselah Live So Long?

by Nathan Busenitz

A Short Reflection on the Man Who Lived the Longest

Anyone who’s ever played Bible trivia knows that Methuselah lived longer than anyone else. He died at the ripe old age of 969. But have you ever wondered why?

Putting aside all of the environmental factors of a pre-Flood world (where lifetimes lasted a lot longer than they do today), I’m convinced the answer has more to do with the character of God than the physical constitution or health consciousness of Methuselah.

When Methuselah was born, the text of Genesis 5 indicates that his father Enoch began to walk with God in earnest (Gen. 5:21–22). Many commentators believe that it was during the time of Methuselah’s birth that God revealed to Enoch the reality of the coming Flood—which is why Enoch spent the next three centuries warning the world around him of God’s impending retribution (Jude 14-15).

Methuselah’s name can be translated as either “man of the javelin” or “man of the sending forth.” It is likely, especially given the context of Genesis 5–6, that his name referred to the reality of God’s coming judgment—a global Flood that would be sent forth with sudden force and destruction. The further implication is that divine wrath would not fall until after Methuselah died. (Some scholars even render the meaning of his name as “his death shall bring forth.” )

Methuselah lived 969 years. If you add up the length of time between Methuselah’s birth and Noah entering the ark (187+182+600), it is also 969 years. That means, in the very year Methuselah died, the Flood was sent forth like a javelin on the earth.

So why did God allow Methuselah to live for so many years—longer than anyone else in human history?

I believe it was as an illustration of His incredible patience. The fact that Methuselah lived almost 1,000 years demonstrates the longsuffering nature of God. From the time God revealed the reality of that judgment to Enoch, it was almost a millennium before raindrops of wrath started to fall in the days of Noah.

Methuselah’s long lifetime fits with Peter’s depiction of God’s patience in 2 Peter 3. After discussing the Flood (in vv. 5-6), the apostle writes in verses 8-9:

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.

So, next time someone asks you, What’s the name of the oldest man in the Bible? Don’t just answer “Methuselah” as if his age were merely some trivial factoid. Instead, consider the fact that 969 years is a really long time—not just for any one man to live, but for a holy God to be patient with a rebellious planet.

Nathan Busenitz

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Nathan serves on the pastoral staff of Grace Church and teaches theology at The Master's Seminary in Los Angeles.
  • http://michaelcoughlin.net/ Michael Coughlin

    I think that is an excellent thing to cause people to ponder about our Great God in regard to this man’s life and death. Although I would argue that we can’t say for sure he lived the longest of any man, only that his life is the longest recorded.

  • Etienne

    Really enjoyed the post, thank you.

  • Harry

    969 years! Lonely I would think. Nathan how about an article on the reformed view on “authority”

  • Ray Adams

    Enjoyed the post. Can’t imagine living that long. At such a time on earth. Always in anticipation of coming judgment. Men’s thoughts only evil. What an environment! God is patient. Man is exceedingly wicked. As it was in the days of Noah! Maranatha!

  • Gordon Woods

    A good post. One could also observe that Noah’s father died only 5 years before the flood. If one plots out the lifelines of Seth and his descendants it is interesting how near (relatively speaking) to the flood most of them lived; Enoch being a notable exception.

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  • Timothy Cairns

    ……or perhaps we aren’t meant to take the numbers literally?

    • Bob Kuo

      If the numbers weren’t meant to be taken literally, then how were they meant to be understood? I’d love to see a convincing alternative explanation.

      We have plenty of genealogies in both the OT and NT and they seem all to be literal – this guy with this name had a descendant with this name… and on and on. We have lists that inventory the number of sacrifices brought on a particular occasion, the number of towns in a given area, the number of people who returned from exile, and all of those certainly seem literal.

      So maybe we are meant to take the numbers literally. I can’t find a compelling textual reason not to.

      • AStev

        “I tried calling you yesterday, but the number you gave me was for a pizza place.
        “You tried calling that number? I didn’t mean for you to take it literally! What’s wrong with you?”
        “Um…”

        • Ray Adams

          Every once in a while I get to use LOL quite honestly and literally. LOL! Yet a sober statement of biblical literal inerrancy. Thanks.

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  • Heather

    Have you ever put together the definitions of each name in Genesis 5? A Hebrew teacher once showed me this. The gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ :)

    Adam – “Man”
    Seth – “Appointed”
    Enosh – “Mortal”
    Cainan – “Sorrow”
    Mahalalel – “The Blessed God”
    Jared – “Shall Come Down”
    Enoch – “Teaching”
    Methusaleh – “His Death Shall Bring”
    Lamech – “The Despairing”
    Noah – “Rest”

    Man [is] appointed mortal sorrow [but] the blessed God shall come down teaching [that] His death shall bring [the] despairing rest.

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