At Noah’s flood, something happened that drastically decreased men’s maximum full life spans. Genesis 6:3 says as much: “My spirit shall not contend with man forever; their days shall be one hundred and twenty.”
God restrained them mercifully by shortening their lifespan to 120 years as an act of mercy.
Why did God Shorten Man’s Life Span?
Pre-Flood people lived extraordinarily long lives; Adam, Noah and Methuselah all outlived hundreds of years. After the flood of Genesis 6, however, life expectancies greatly declined and today people tend to live an average lifespan of 80 years in developed nations while most underdeveloped nations live up to 60. Why have our longevity levels changed so drastically over time?
Some teachers have misconstrued Genesis 6:3 to mean that humans will only live 120 years after the flood. However, this interpretation is based on misinterpretations of its text which reads as: “Then the LORD said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with man forever; for he is mortal; his days are one hundred twenty.” Yet people lived much longer after Noah than 120 until Moses’s time.
Be mindful that Genesis 5 describes only those in Seth’s lineage who lived a godly and faithful lifestyle and not necessarily everyone living during that era. God may have blessed this lineage with long lives as a reward for their obedience; or perhaps environmental factors after the flood had an effect.
What is apparent, however, is that humans’ lifespans after the flood gradually decreased until by Moses’ time only very few individuals lived to 120 years compared with pre-Flood ancestors who frequently reached more than 900.
One theory suggests that God shortened human lifespans to restrain sin. If evil leaders like Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong had more time to perfect their depraved regimes, the consequences would be catastrophic for humanity – it is hard to imagine Hitler, Stalin, and Mao Zedong ruling for centuries!
As life spans shorten, people can devote more of their time and effort to serving the Lord. By keeping people alive longer they are less likely to need retirement from ministry or spending their last years in a hospital; plus it gives them more chances to share their faith with their children and grandchildren while protecting against temptation that might tempt them into engaging in immoral activity that could deprive the next generation of its faith.
God is both compassionate and merciful; as well as holy and righteous. His mercy can be seen throughout Scripture, especially with Joseph’s brothers who betrayed him, as well as Saul who persecuted Christians. God extends this mercy toward each one of us by forgiving our sins, healing sicknesses, meeting needs and protecting against danger or even sparing us untimely death.
Before the Flood, humans were complacent about their eternal fate and indulged in sinful behaviors without consequence. Shorter lifespans afterward forced people to face mortality more directly and accept that there is always the risk of death; as a result, more care must be taken when engaging in sinful behaviors so as to minimize potential repercussions and fear the possible retributions for sins committed.
After the Flood, God shorted human lifespans as punishment for their wickedness. Genesis 6:3 suggests this may have been His intention: “The LORD said to Satan: ‘My Spirit shall not contend with man for ever; for he is flesh also and shall give them up to 120 years to repent and turn back toward me'”.
However, God may have reduced life span because He had grown weary of dealing with human evil and violence in this world; perhaps He gave men 120 years before He brought on The Flood as punishment.
God may have reduced mankind’s lifespan after the Flood to allow his descendants faster reproduction rates. At Noah’s time, people lived approximately 175 years; afterward this number dropped drastically after losing shelter from bad weather conditions and reduced nutrition from plants, leading to shorter lifespans among survivors.
Justice is an integral aspect of God and one of His attributes, prominent in both Scripture and life itself. Justice refers to His righteousness which encompasses both holiness and fairness as well as covenantal obligations to Israel. Furthermore, its principle links closely to His mercy and salvation plan.
God exemplifies justice in Scripture through His provision of what each individual deserves based on what the law prescribes – this form of “retributive justice,” in which punishment for sin and rewards for good are handed out accordingly. However, scripture also speaks about non-retributive forms of justice which focus on covenantal commitment; for instance if someone were orphaned, He might provide them with family to care for.
There are various biblical clues which hint that something happened during the global flood to drastically shorten mankind’s lifespans, such as Genesis 6:3 which states: ‘The Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with mortal beings forever; rather my days shall last 120 years’.”
Before the global flood, humans lived for centuries without facing death as a consequence. This could have contributed to their wickedness; for example, it may have allowed them to indulge in vices without fear of reprisals from society or death.
After the flood, they suddenly started dying off much younger; it could be God shortening their lifespans in order to limit evil spreading further.
Noteworthy is also that this change did not come immediately following the Flood; rather it happened gradually over time. By Moses’ time, human lifespans had declined to just over 120 years.
Many people wonder why this has occurred. Answers in Genesis and Creation Ministries International, two young-earth creationist organizations, provide some explanations for this decline in lifespan: both attributing it genetics rather than supernatural causes as the reason. Although both acknowledge something did indeed shorten lifespans, neither see this as divine intervention.
One of the core attributes (midot) of God is His sovereignty. To understand its significance in Scripture, we need to examine a few verses. Sovereignty refers to having power, rank, and authority over all things – it explains why the Bible uses words such as king, kingdom, lorddom dominion reign when discussing Him.
The Bible also teaches us that God is sovereign over salvation and creation. Because He is all-powerful, all-wise and all-knowing, He alone can determine who gets saved when and how. Furthermore, He holds control over life span; meaning He may shorten or lengthen our lifespan depending on His will and purpose for us.
Methuselah lived 969 years during the Patriarchal Period; but after Noah’s Flood, people nearer Adam’s original perfection had longer lifespans; for instance Methuselah lived an astonishing 969 years! At that point in Genesis 6:3 it says God said His spirit would no longer strive with humanity as they are mortal; their lifespan would only last no more than 120 years.”
Many interpret this verse to mean that after the Flood, God no longer sought reconciliation between humanity and Himself, but that’s not a good interpretation as this passage speaks directly about Noah’s Flood as well as coming judgment.
Important to keep in mind is the fact that even after Noah’s flood, life expectancies continued to decrease, reaching 120 by Moses’ time. The Bible refers to 70 as middle age because this change started with Noah and has not been reversed – thus sovereignty explains only why but not how or when. Although different theories exist as to why God chose to shorten life spans; one truth remains true regardless: God is sovereign!