Old as Methuselah
Oct 18 2020
We looked at Genesis 5 in our Bible study this past Wednesday. One of my cheeky students taunted me: You promised the congregation that you would preach each week on the passage we studied on Wednesday. What are you going to do this week with all these genealogies and all these people living almost 1000 years?
I told them I planned on by-passing this passage and had another idea in mind. But as time passed and being someone never one to dodge a challenge I thought I would take on Genesis 5.
After all, more difficult the biblical passage, the more delicious the challenge for the preacher.
For openers, lets summarize what we find in Genesis 5. Verse 3 tells us that Adam, the first man, had a son named Seth. This was his third son, after Cain and Abel. And, oh by the way, Adam was 100 years old when he sired Seth.
Our questions rise up immediately. 100? Becoming a father at 100?
And then we hear that at 105 Seth became father of Enosh, and as a footnote Seth lived until he was 912.
And Enosh sired Kenan, and Kenan sired Mahalalel, and on and on.
There are ten men in all- named in succession, beginning with Seth, and ending with Noah. They all lived an incredibly long time, the champion of longevity being Methuselah, who topped out at 969.
I asked my Bible study class what they made of all this. Someone posited that these numbers might represent months, not years. One respected commentator says that the numbers may have had some astronomical significance.
I said that since this all happened before climate change and fast food restaurants, these folks didn’t have to deal with the deleterious effects of environmental degradation and eating french fries from McDonald’s. So, they were able to live longer.
An old Scottish minister had to read Matthew chapter one for the N.T. lesson of the day. Matthew chapter 1 is the genealogical background of Jesus, beginning with Abraham. There are 14 generations between Abraham and Jesus, and there are four women (exclamation point) included in the list.
So anyhow, the old Scottish minister started reading, “And Abraham begat Isaac, and Isaac begat Jacob, and Jacob begat Judah,” and he looked on ahead and saw the list to follow and said, “and they kept on begatting one another all the way down this page and halfway into the next.”
However we might speculate on the literal meaning of this passage–how long these Biblical characters actually lived–we can’t dodge the fact that there is a pattern here, and that is the Bible honors old people. The Bible thinks old people are important in God=s economy. The Bible doesn’t suggest that old people are to be cast aside and ignored when they have reached some artificial retirement age.
I was reading a column in the Arizona Republic the other day. The columnist pointed out that Donald Trump is 74; Joe Biden 78. Nancy Pelosi 80. Mitch McConnell 78. The columnist went on to make the point that our Republic is weakened because we are governed by these doddering old white people.
Do you remember Ronald Reagan’s debate with Walter Mondale in the 1984 presidential election. Reagan was asked that, at 73, he was too old to be president. “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
Someone asked Pablo Casals, considered at the time to be the premiere cellist in the world, why at age 89 he continued to practice four hours a day. “Because” he huffed, “I think I may be getting better. “
In 2018 Barb and I attended a Tony Bennett concert at the Celebrity Theater in downtown.
Tony Bennett was born in Queens, N.Y. as Anthony Dominic Benedetto, on August 3, 1926. He was 91 on the night of the concert. He was drafted into the US Army in November 1944 and spirited to the front. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge with the 263rd infantry division which he called “my front row seat in hell.” His unit was responsible for the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp near Landsberg, Germany. As a result of what he experienced in the war, he became a pacifist.
What great songs he sings: Fly Me to the Moon, The Very Thought of You, and of course his standard, I left my heart in San Francisco. In addition to that fabulous voice he is quite an accomplished painter. He sketches or paints every day, and when, on tour, sketches what he sees outside his hotel window. And he is still touring today.
The ten individuals we meet in Genesis 5—from Seth to Noah—all lived a long time and are known as the ten Old Testament heroes.
We know nothing about them.
We don’t know what made them heroic. Their biographies have faded into the dim mists of history.
We don’t know why it was that they lived so long.
We don’t know how each of them helped further God’s plans.
But this we do know about them.
Just because they were older, they were not useless.
Old people still have mountains to climb, seas to sail, trails to explore. As we mark each successive birthday those of us who are old are not as agile as we once were. But each of us—young or old—have something to contribute to God s magnificent enterprise.
Dr. Terry Swicegood