In our article last week we looked at the genealogies in Genesis 5. I believe it to be worthwhile to also look at the next set of genealogies in Genesis 11. Just as the genealogies in chapter 5 were a bridge to get from Adam to Noah, the genealogies in chapter 11 are the bridge to get from Noah’s son, Shem, to the one we know as Abraham.
In comparing the two sets of genealogies, the first thing that many see is that the longevity of humans is diminishing. Whereas in chapter 5 almost everyone lived into their 900s (or just a few years short of that), when we get to chapter 11 we see decreasing longevity. Shem lived 500 years, just over half of what we saw in chapter 5. His son, grandson and great-grandson only lived into their 400s. Then the next five generations lived only half that long, just into their 200s. And as we read into Genesis we’ll discover that the next three generations, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob only lived into their mid to late 100s.
Going along with this, the age they became the father of their “firstborn” has also decreased. Whereas Shem was 100 when Arpachshad was born, the rest were in their 20s and 30s at the time their firstborn arrived, being similar to the ages we find today. Although Terah may seem to be the exception, it is only because these details are written up differently. “When Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran” (Genesis 11:26 NET). There is no indication that these three were triplets, so we seem to just have a general statement that at the age of 70 Terah had had three sons – with a probability that the last son was born to him at that age.
What happened to cause the longevity of man to decrease so dramatically? Obviously, the Biblical text does not give us the answer to this question. I think we would be fairly safe to conclude that it had something to do with the Flood, which is recorded for us in Genesis chapters 6-9. That the Flood was a major catastrophic event that drastically altered the surface of the earth should be taken as granted – even local storms and floods can cause great changes to the area that they affect. Something happened that shortened our human lifespan.
Many believe that the increase of water on the earth caused the two poles to freeze over and led us into an Ice Age. That the poles used to be a different climate is without doubt due to the flora and fauna that we have found underneath the ice. It would appear that before the Flood the earth had a very temperate climate, while after the Flood we find the very hot and very cold that we still experience on the earth. Add to this more diseases becoming prevalent and we end up with at least some mechanisms that could account for the decreased longevity.
What is more important than what happened to humans physically is what happened to them spiritually. After the dispersion of the population from Babel, it would seem that most departed from worshipping the one God. The earliest settlements that have been found in Europe are near standing stones where it is believed worship of celestial objects took place.
But in the midst of what quickly became an ungodly world, there was a family who still worshipped God. While living in Ur of the Chaldees, God called Abram with his family to leave to go to a new land. This simple act of obedience also had a catastrophic effect on the earth as it would eventually result in the coming of the Messiah.
Readings for next week:
20 July – Genesis 14-15
21 July – Genesis 16-17
22 July – Genesis 18
23 July – Genesis 19
24 July – Genesis 20