Have you ever sat down and worked your way through the years of the first few generations of mankind (Genesis 5)? It’s a few minutes work, but it is worth it. There are a few surprises that grab your attention straight away.
And one of them is a particularly sobering one – Methuselah.
Methuselah comes onto the scene in world history with what seems at first to be an outrageous claim by Moses that Methuselah lived to the ripe old age of 969 years, the oldest man in history by a long margin. The remaining information about his life in the Scriptures is that at the age of 178 he became the father of Lamech and then later, had a few more nameless, sons and daughters.
And that seems to be it. Not much to say for such a long life – and not much to inspire the generations that would follow.
But there is more that can be read between the lines without going into spurious claims and myths.
A great name to live with?
My name, Jonathan, means “Gift of God”. I don’t always feel like that, but essentially as far as a name goes that is what it means. Imagine then the pressure of living with the name given by Enoch to his first son, Methuselah. Methuselah has 2 variations of meaning; “Man of the spear”, or alternatively “when he dies it shall be sent”.
Imagine life as the years roll on and on, and the promise overshadowing you, but yet passing others by as they also grow old and die, that when you die, it shall come. But not knowing what was to come.
Methuselah would be 250 years of age when Adam dies. Methuselah has walked with Adam and no doubt knows all about the Garden of Eden and what life was like having uninterrupted access to God before the days of the fall. He’s also privy to the mystery concerning Enoch. He knows all the stories, he’s met all the main characters of history, and yet, it hasn’t deeply and profoundly affected his walk before God.
The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. Genesis 6:5-8
Methuselah receives no commendation by God, and it is his grand-son alone that finds favour in the eyes of God.
And so for Noah, a 100 year project gets under way to build the most important ship in history, and painfully, Methuselah is never mentioned once as standing beside Noah and his family as they obey the command of God. And all the time, the man called “When he dies, it shall be sent”, carries a prophetic message, but does not benefit from it.
Jewish teaching has it that Methuselah died 7 days before the beginning of the great Flood, and the 7 days were given by God to allow for Noah to mourn his departure. Whether or not that is true, is of no real account to us. What we do know is that as the great flood arrives, maybe days before, Methuselah dies.
And as Methuselah dies and the waters of the earth begin to rise, a new day dawns on the earth that is going to be a transition to new discoveries. The day of Adam and those who knew him has passed, and history moves quickly to a new set of characters, Noah and Abraham.
Sounds of silence
The weakness in all of this is that we are arguing from silence here – it may be that Methuselah turned to God during the days that Noah was building the Ark. we just do not know, but we do know what God had said in the above verses.
There are many in our generation that know all about God, they have heard the stories of revival, they have listened excitedly to the tales of dynamic stories of signs and wonders and miracles – but yet deep down, are untouched and unaffected by those encounters.
It is to them that God again and again, comes with the message of the gospel. I urge you that if you feel that you have heard all these things before and feel unmoved, to be wise. Ask God to help you not to be like Methuselah, but to turn your heart to Him.
God is always very, very gracious to all who call on Him.
Jon Cressey is a part of City Church Sheffield. You can visit his blog here: joncressey.com