Having recently closed the pool I have lost one of my morning rituals; a rescue operation for crickets and beetles. Most bugs that find their way into the pool drown fairly quickly, just like the mice, chipmunk, and a skunk that went for a swim this year. Beetles and crickets seemed to be able to keep their heads above water, so in the mornings I would skim off the dead bugs (and the occasional animal), and rescue the living. The beetles were numerous and began to get annoying, and at one point I considered spray painting them to see if the same ones kept coming back for a swim each night. The crickets however, were even more annoying. They would cling to the side of the pool so I would try to splash them off making it possible for me to pick them up in the skimmer and bring them to safety. Problem is, they were tenacious and held onto the side for dear life, then when I did finally get them into the water, then into the skimmer, no sooner would I get them out of the water that they would leap right back in. This would then often result in my scolding them for their foolishness, and no doubt my neighbours wondering if I was losing my mind. I was trying to lengthen the crickets’ lives, they seemed intent on shortening them.
This reminds me of Genesis 5 where we find some people with incredibly long lives, some reaching nearly 1,000 years. Some people get to this point in the Bible and wonder if the Bible isn’t on the level of fairy tales after all. People just don’t live that long and we have trouble imagining that they ever did. A perusal of Bible scholars will yield four possibilities as to why we find these incredibly long lives in Genesis: 1) Several generations are ‘hidden’ within each person listed, the ancients not being as set on historical details as we are today. 2) There was a different way of counting time back then. 3) The ages are a literary embellishments which allow the lesson in theology to trump a lesson in history. 4) They really did live that long. No matter which option is closest to what you think, we can remember that the book of Genesis exists primarily to teach us theology, that is, it tells us what it tells us to help us know God better. So what do we learn from these long lives? That life is short, of course!
In the Bible, and especially in the early parts, we find a whittling down of life. Adam and Eve were to live forever, but that didn’t work out so well. Then we find these very early people not even making it to a thousand years. It is thought that Moses, who it is also thought to have had a hand in recording Genesis in some way, wrote these lines:
You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered. (Psalm 90:3-6 NIV)
We think of these people as living extraordinarily long lives. But from the perspective of the eternal life God wanted to give them, they didn’t live long at all. It is interesting that in other records from Ancient Near East, there are “kings lists” which record the reign of ten kings, some of whom were said to have reigned for over 60,000 years. If the people who were alive when Genesis was committed to writing were aware of such things in nearby cultures, the Biblical account would have had the affect of reminding them of how short life really was.
Then beyond Genesis 5, we find the average lifespan being whittled down until we get to Joseph who lived for 110 years, as we are told in the final verse of Genesis. Beyond that we get to the time of Moses, again an important time in the bringing forth of the book of Genesis, and the declaration that “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.” Psalm 90:10
The point of the whittling down of lifespans, from Eve and Adam, through the early generations, down through the rest of Genesis and into the days of Moses, is clear. We are like crickets that refuse to be saved. God’s desire has always been to bless us with life, but we have turned away from His blessings and have chosen death instead. People still do this today. Just like we have a moving away from the garden of Eden, first with Adam and Eve in chapter 3, then even further with Cain in chapter 4, in Genesis we have a moving away from the blessing of life and the hastening of death, as chapter 5 helps make clear. Besides the ages these early generations, the repetition of their deaths sounds an ominous reminder of the curse of sin. And for the Christian, it serves as a reminder of the depth of God’s grace and His desire to bless us with life:
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. . . “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:22,55-57 NIV)