Genesis: Patriarch Ages and What is Tells Us About Change

One of the weirder aspects of Genesis is how long everybody lives. Adam lived 930 years. Noah lived 950 years. Abraham lived 175 years. These astronomically-high ages have garnered quite a bit of scholarly attention.

Are the ages so high because ancient people counted time differently than we do in our Gregorian calendar today? Is it because something else is afoot in these genealogies that owes itself to genre and authorial intention? Are the ages so high because the effects of sin upon human mortality had not completely ‘come home to roost’ yet? Was creation itself, in a manner of speaking, ‘fresher’ and therefore more capable of sustaining life? Difficult questions. Yet, if one assumes that the “years of Genesis” are roughly equivalent to our concept of a year (365 days), an observation emerges.

It has been noted before on this blog (here) that the transformation of the patriarchs by divine grace is a key element of Genesis. If indeed year means something like year for us, then we should notice that this transformation took a real long time. Abraham sets out at the age of 75 (Gen. 12:4). It was around 50 years before his climactic test of faith with Isaac at Mt. Moriah. For Jacob, it’s a good 20-30 years before any significant spiritual fruit starts to emerge in his life (and he was already relatively old when he met God at Bethel). With his son Judah, it takes probably around 20 years for his eyes to open to his (very obvious) sins against Joseph and Jacob.

Confusing as the age issue is in Genesis, taking it at face value seems to have the benefit of reminding us in a palpable way that transforming grace does not accomplish its purpose overnight. It was a long pilgrimage for the patriarchs, and they made plenty of mistakes along the way, but God did refine them by his mercy. And if that process does take (a long) time, then relax about how long it’s taking in your life! We need to have patience as God does his work in our lives and the lives of his people around us.

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