by Al Maxey

Issue #487 ------- May 12, 2011
It is not enough for a prophet to be inspired by
God; he also must be informed about the world.
The world and its fate are very dear to him. There
is no hostility to civilization, only to its abuses.

Abraham Joshua Heschel {1907-1972}

Reprieve or Reduction?
The 120 Years of Genesis 6:3

Several days ago I received the following special request from a Reflections reader in the beautiful state of Florida: "Brother Al, Thank you for your keen insight on so many topics! Please help me with this one, if you will. I have always thought that the Bible taught somewhere that Noah preached for 120 years, and I have rather matter-of-factly stated so to people. However, I now find that I cannot back this statement up -- which is very embarrassing." Making bold statements about one's own personal convictions can often be a rather good thing! In fact, I would tend to encourage it (as some people are rather wishy-washy, and it's hard to determine just what they believe). I also encourage those who do make such confident assertions to make sure they are able to provide substantiation to those who challenge them. And, please believe me (I speak from experience), your assertions will most definitely be challenged! The apostle Peter tells us that we should always be prepared to give an answer to, or defend, our various hopes and beliefs (1 Peter 3:15). Just remember the following simple equation: Proclamation minus Substantiation equals Speculation! And when you factor in some sectarian arrogance you will quickly get Pontification.

But, I digress. The short answer to this brother's question is this -- there is nowhere that specifically states Noah preached to the people of his day for a span of 120 years! There are passages, though, within both the OT and NT writings that do seem (in the minds of some scholars) to imply this, yet human deduction will always fall far short of divine decree. The former may never rise to the level of the latter, especially with respect to the affirmation of objective Truth! Therefore, neither our horizontal relationships (fellowship) nor our vertical relationship (salvation) may rest upon inferences (regardless of how "necessary" they might appear to those who embrace them). This truth was brought out quite clearly in Thomas Campbell's classic Declaration and Address (see my study of this in Reflections #417). In Proposition Six, Campbell wrote that "inferences and deductions" are "not formally binding upon the consciences of Christians farther than they perceive the connection," and that "no such deduction can be made terms of communion," and "no such deductions or inferential truths ought to have any place in the church's confession." To do otherwise is only to invite division within the universal One Body -- something my own heritage has almost perfected as a result of their failure to heed this godly advice by Campbell.

In 2 Peter 2:5 we are told that our God "did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly." From this passage we know that Noah is characterized, at least by the apostle Peter, as a "preacher." The Greek word here is a noun meaning "a herald, proclaimer, public messenger," and is taken from the root word kerusso (a verb), which means "to announce, preach; to proclaim openly and publicly." Paul employs this same noun in 2 Tim. 1:11 when he states he was "appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher" (cf. 1 Tim. 2:7). So, if Noah was a herald of God who openly and publicly announced a message of righteousness, then it is rather safe to assume this "preaching" was heard by at least some of the people of his day, although they obviously were not convinced by his teaching to repent of their wicked ways! God's preachers today should take some comfort from this when they're feeling discouraged about the lack of response to their efforts to share the Good News. Imagine how Noah must have felt!

As to precisely what Noah may have preached to the people of his day, we can only speculate ... although we know it dealt with living righteously before God. The specifics of that message, however, are not known, although I have dealt with what this teaching might have entailed in: Reflections #286 -- The Seven Noahide Laws: A Universal Moral Code Given Through Adam & Noah. There is also some very strong evidence that the inspiration for and power behind his message came from a source much higher than his own imperfect perceptions of God's will. That evidence, I believe, may be found in what Peter said in 1 Peter 3:18-20, a very difficult passage, and one I have sought to clarify in Reflections #83 -- Preaching to Spirits in Prison. I would encourage you to read this article carefully. As for precisely how long the noble Noah may have preached to the people of his day, again we can only speculate, although we've been given a few biblical clues. The same passage noted immediately above states that "God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built" (vs. 20). The Greek term that's here translated "waited patiently" (NIV) is makrothumia, which means "to be long-suffering, to bear long with, to be slow toward." Peter declares that the Lord God is patient with sinners, "not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, even though God had promised to destroy the world by means of a flood (which warning Noah must certainly have been faithfully proclaiming), nevertheless God delayed that judgment in the hope some might yet be saved. How long this "longsuffering" (KJV) lasted, Peter does not specify.

Just how much Noah knew and understood about what was to come, we really don't know. What we do know is that when God warned him of what was to come, he believed God and he acted on that belief, something the rest of the world was not willing to do. "By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith" (Heb. 11:7). His active, obedient faith stood as a witness against the people of his day, condemning them! God had waited patiently for them to evidence the same faith as Noah, but they refused. Thus, both his preaching and his personal devotion indicted them! There is a powerful lesson here we dare not miss -- God is truly longsuffering, but His patience has its limits! That message was sent to the saints in Thyatira in the example of our Lord's dealings with Jezebel. "I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent" (Rev. 2:21). Therefore, when the limit of God's longsuffering was reached, He delivered His judgment against her. We dare not presume upon His mercy, grace and patience. Such presumption, or indifference, can prove deadly, as the people of Noah's day learned the hard way. So it shall be again one day!! "For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the days of Noah. For as in those days which were before the flood they were eating and drinking, they were marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did not understand until the flood came and took them all away; so shall the coming of the Son of Man be" (Matt. 24:37-39; cf. Luke 17:26-27).

In Genesis 6:1-8 we find a brief passage that seems to speak to the possible length of time Noah may have preached to the people of his day prior to the coming of the flood (at least this is the understanding of most scholars). We also find a good many other statements that have deeply troubled and divided biblical scholars and students alike. Who were the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men"? Who were the Nephilim? I have dealt with these questions in: Reflections #439 -- There were Giants on the Earth: Who were the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4? What is meant by God's "Spirit" striving with man (vs. 3)? In what way does the Spirit (or spirit) strive with man? To whom does "man" refer -- mankind, the people of Noah's day, or Adam himself? As Henry M. Morris says about these verses: they are "difficult and subject to varying interpretations" [The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings, p. 170]. The verse that pertains to our present study, however, is Gen. 6:3b -- "...his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." There are several rather wild theories as to what this number might represent. Some believe that it informs us how many years Adam had left to live, since the word translated "man" in this passage is the Hebrew word adam. A few Jewish scholars feel it means there will be 120 Jubilees from the time of Adam (either 5880 or 6000 years -- depending on whether one embraces the 49-year increment view or the 50-year increment view) until the coming of the Messiah. Neither of these views are given a lot of weight by serious scholars!! Most agree there are only two major theories worthy of any serious consideration.

The Reduction Theory

It is believed by some that the Lord was here reducing the lifespan of human beings. From the time of the Fall (when Adam & Eve were cast from the garden and informed that they would die), men had lived for many, many hundreds of years!! However, advanced age didn't seem to be producing increased spiritual maturity. In fact, the longer men lived the more they seemed to revel in unrighteousness. God "saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Gen. 6:5), and He was tired of striving with them in the hope of bringing about their repentance. Thus, according to this theory, He determined to terminate the lives of most men and reduce the lifespan of those who remained! Their years would be reduced to 120. Later, this would be reduced even further. In Psalm 90:10, Moses observed, "As for the days of our life, they contain 70 years, or if due to strength, 80 years." Moses himself died at the age of 120, even though we're informed that "his eye was not dim, nor his vigor abated" (Deut. 34:7). It's easy for us today to buy into this theory, for we find very few people on earth who live to be over 120. Indeed, they are so rare that they make the news all over the planet. Therefore, some believe this passage is where God established that number (reducing it even more later on).

The obvious problem with this theory is that following the flood, men continued to live for many hundreds of years. For example, Shem, the son of Noah, "became the father of Arpachshad two years after the flood; and Shem lived 500 years after he became the father of Arpachshad" (Gen. 11:10-11). Then we're all informed that Noah's grandson, Arpachshad, lived 403 years after becoming the father of Shelah (vs. 13). Shelah lived 403 years after becoming the father of Eber (vs. 15). Eber then lived 430 years after becoming the father of Peleg (vs. 17). Abraham lived to be 175 (Gen. 25:7) and Isaac lived to be 180 (Gen. 35:28). And it goes on and on. So, exactly when does the 120 year reduction kick in?!! This leads most scholars to reject this particular view. Even St. Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.), in his classic work "City of God," declared this about the number in Gen. 6:3 -- "They cannot be taken as foretelling that thereafter men would not live beyond a hundred and twenty years, since we find that after the Flood, as before, men lived even beyond five hundred years." John T. Willis speaks for most scholars when he admits that the reduction interpretation simply "does not fit well into the context of Genesis 6" [The Living Word Commentary on the OT -- Genesis, p. 166].

The Reprieve Theory

The far more logical interpretation, and the one favored by the vast majority of biblical scholars, is that God was specifying the parameters of His gracious reprieve to mankind. "God delights in mercy, and therefore a gracious warning is given! Even though at this time the earth was ripe for destruction, God promised them one hundred and twenty years' respite" [Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, vol. 1, p. 68]. Several commentators point out that this 120 years is actually the span of the "longsuffering" or "patience" of God that Peter spoke of in 1 Peter 3:20 -- "God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built." That length of time would certainly be a powerful testimony to our God's patience and longsuffering. Albert Barnes observed, "Not forever will the Lord strive with man; but His longsuffering will continue for one hundred and twenty years. Meanwhile, He does not leave Himself or His clemency without a witness. He sent Noah with the message of warning, who preached by his voice, by his walking with God, and also by his long labor and perseverance in the building of the ark. The doomed race, however, filled up the measure of their iniquity, and when the set number of years was accomplished, the overwhelming flood came!" [Barnes' Notes on the Bible, e-Sword]. "Such an understanding of the 120 years can already be found within the Onkelos Targum ('A reprieve {arka} will be given to them'), and in Targum Neophyti 1 ('Behold, I have given you the space {arka} of a hundred and twenty years in the hope that they might repent')" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 2, p. 77]. John Calvin (1509-1564) referred to this 120 years as "a gracious respite" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 1, p. 103]. This passage does "not mean that human life should in future never attain a greater age than 120 years, but that a respite of 120 years should be granted to the human race" before the flood [Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT, vol. 1, p. 136]. John Wesley (1703-1791) quite poetically characterized this span "a reprieve of six score years" [Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible, e-Sword]. Matthew Henry (1662-1714) wisely observed, however, "Reprieves are not pardons; though God might bear a great while, He will not bear always. The time of God's patience and forbearance towards provoking sinners is sometimes long, but always limited" [Commentary on the Whole Bible, e-Sword].

A few have raised the objection that the 120 years just doesn't fit. After all, they point out, Noah was 500 years old when he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 5:32), and was 600 when the flood waters came upon the earth (Gen. 7:6). That is only 100 years, not 120, therefore Gen. 6:3 couldn't be referring to a godly reprieve (since there are 20 years unaccounted for). One commentator suggested that perhaps God's patience ran out early ... He just couldn't stomach sinful man for another 20 years!! Yet another suggested that perhaps Noah finished the ark ahead of schedule. There's really no need for such creative manipulation. The fact is, in Gen. 5:32, where we are told Noah was 500 years old at the time he had fathered his three sons, there is no mention of man's sin or God's impending judgment. Indeed, the entire chapter is basically just a genealogical accounting of the generations of Adam (Gen. 5:1). Thus, there is nothing textually to connect that passage, or the age of Noah, with God's declaration of judgment! "That sentence, as we may gather from the context, was made known to Noah in his 480th year, and was to be published by him as a 'preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5) to the degenerate race" [Keil & Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT, vol. 1, p. 136]. In this way, Noah was alerted prior to the birth of his children that God intended to bring judgment upon the world, but that there would be a reprieve of 120 years so that Noah and his wife could have a family and prepare an ark for their survival (thus preserving the human race), as well as warn the wicked in the hope they would come to their senses and repent. Although we clearly can't declare this either fact or objective truth, we can at least say it is a logical assumption and consistent with what we know from Scripture. Thus, by this process of reasoning, we arrive at Noah preaching to the people of his day for 120 years (to answer the question of my reader from Florida).

2011 Vacation -- No Reflections

Yes, it is that time of year again!! Shelly and I are very much ready to "head for the hills" and renew ourselves physically, emotionally and spiritually. My vacation begins tomorrow and my first day "back in the saddle" will be Sunday, June 5. We'll be traveling through several states, seeing some wonderful scenery, visiting with kids, and playing with grandkids. We also hope to see some friends we haven't seen in many years. During this time there will be no Reflections written and/or mailed out to subscribers! The next issue will be mailed out on June 10. In the interim, please keep us in your prayers for safe travel (we'll be putting several thousand miles on the car). Thank you for your support of this ministry!! We appreciate each of you more than you will ever know!!

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Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce & Remarriage
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Readers' Reflections

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Dear Pastor Maxey, I know a lady who lives at a local nursing home who attends a Church of Christ. We were visiting the other day about the Church of Christ doctrine concerning instruments. She stated there is a passage in the New Testament that says the disciples laid down their instruments before entering the house of worship. However, she could not locate it within the NT. I told her that I would email you about this and then share your answer with her. Thank you for your help. By the way, I thought your article on Osama bin Laden was excellent!

From a Reader in New Mexico:

Brother Al, Thank you for your tempered response on the death of Osama bin Laden! Too many Americans have bought into the idea that ALL Muslims and ALL Arabs are murderous terrorists, which to me is about like saying ALL Christians are like Jim Jones or David Koresh.

From a Minister in New York:

Brother Al, Well-Said!! I was shocked by those within Christian circles who acted as if it was wrong for Christians to rejoice when evil was dealt a blow, but I am also shocked that there would be Christians advocating degrading and abusive behavior against our enemies -- acts that would make our men in uniform as evil as the criminals they pursue. Once again, I'm reminded of the NIV's rendering of Ecclesiastes 7:18 -- "The man of God avoids all extremes."

From a Missionary in Peru:

Brother Al, I believe that the American government had a moral obligation to kill Osama bin Laden to protect its own citizens from a man who had killed thousands, and was making plans to murder thousands more. Such is the nature of war. Sometimes such persons simply cannot be dealt with in civil courts. Such terrorists have declared war on governments, and therefore the sword of those governments is wielded in the administering of swift justice (Romans 13:4). Yes, justice was served, but which of us would survive if God's righteous justice fell upon ALL?! That should temper any fleshly gloating!

From a Reader in Maryland:

Brother Al, Thanks for your input on the death of Osama bin Laden. I personally thought the dancing in the streets, and the celebrating with champagne, was "poor form." While it is difficult to genuinely love our enemies, we are nevertheless commanded to do just that. Love doesn't celebrate the death of a man who now has no further chance to repent. Thus, although I am not mourning this man's death, I am also not celebrating it. I really appreciated your perspective on this matter.

From a Reader in Michigan:

Dear Bro. Al, A very popular quote of Mark Twain's (and this is especially true right now) is: "I have never wished anybody dead, but I have read a few obituaries with great pleasure." I felt quite uneasy witnessing all the jubilation over Osama bin Laden's death. Frankly, it reminded me of the cheering and celebrating that went on among the Muslims when the towers fell. We're better than that ... aren't we?!!

From a Reader in Georgia:

Bro. Al, I had just told a person (prior to the arrival of your Reflections) that I felt certain God allowed us in the Scriptures to protect ourselves from evil, but that I was not so sure about gloating. Thanks for providing the biblical passages to back that up! The "high road" taken by the military regarding this evil man's body and burial was very much American and Christian. Taking the "high road" is never as easy as taking the "low road," but doing the right thing is always the right thing to do!!

From a Reader at Harding:

Brother Al, Thank you for this issue of Reflections. My wife and I were both saddened at bin Laden's death because he is now lost. And yet, we know that justice must be served for the crimes he committed (even though in his eyes WE are all worthy of death and NO crimes were committed).

From a Reader in Montana:

Dear Brother Al, Thank you for your thoughtful -- and always timely -- insights on the events of today's headlines. I appreciate the balance and wisdom you display in your writings. Someday I hope to hear you in person!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Brother Al, I am always blessed by your writings and your insights! This latest Reflections on the death of Osama bin Laden is yet another prime example!! Thank you!

From a Minister in Mississippi:

Brother Al, Thanks for your take on the death of Osama bin Laden. You state my thoughts and emotions well. I was watching FOX News when the announcement was made that bin Laden was dead. I was at one and the same time glad he was dead and put off by the celebratory actions of Geraldo Rivera. He was a bit "over the top." With you, I do not celebrate this man's death, but I certainly find reason to rejoice that an evil man who has left a legacy of pain, suffering and death is now gone! Some sober reflection, and a bit of calm, deliberate thought, might be a lot to ask of our fellow Americans, but it just might come in handy right about now!! I love you, brother. Keep up the good work.

From a Reader in Ohio:

Dear Brother Al, AMEN to your article!! As I watched things unfold this past week, I kept thinking about Micah 6:8 -- "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." The United States government exacted justice, but the reaction of too many people in our nation was totally without humility and mercy!! When we leave these qualities out of the exacting of justice, our action becomes revenge. Vengeance belongs to God, and for good reason, and HIS justice through the agency of His established authorities (Rom. 13:4) should always fully satisfy us. If it does not, then we need to take a good look at our hearts.

From a Reader in the U.S. Navy:

Dear Brother Al, Yes, I am thankful that God allowed Osama bin Laden to be removed from our midst. I admit, I feel some pity for him for the overwhelming fear and horror he must have experienced as the special ops forces of the nation he hated so vehemently burst through the door of his room and he came face-to-face at that moment with the righteous rage of 300 million Americans determined to find justice for the attacks against them! Knowing that the last thing he saw on this earth was the face of an American Navy SEAL dispatching him gives me no sense of pleasure, but it does bring me great relief.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thank you for posting this issue of Reflections ("The Death of Osama bin Laden"). I had hoped you would address this, as I knew of your own military background in Vietnam as well as your passion for living for Jesus Christ. You didn't disappoint me!! I too struggled with my emotions when hearing the news of his death. I also liked your use of "vindication" versus "vindictiveness." Also, I listened to your sermon "Overcoming Narrow Fellowship" and would add a couple more reasons that we draw tight circles: opinion and personal preference (which are really one and the same). Keep on, my brother!!

From a Reader in Kentucky:

Brother Maxey, I just listened to your wonderful sermon "Overcoming Narrow Fellowship." It reminded me of my father. Dad always said there was a "rule" for entry into heaven --- saints had to be ushered in "two-by-two." So, if you showed up at the Pearly Gate and no one else was there, you had to sit on a comfortable bench until another person showed up for admittance. Then you went in together. Dad said it didn't matter who that next person was, the true child of God would throw his/her arms around them and enter heaven together, as one, shouting and rejoicing! Kind of gives one a good perspective on the whole fellowship issue!

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, I don't think my reaction to Osama bin Laden's death was rejoicing -- It was, however, a strange combination of relief and satisfaction that this man's evil deeds and scheming were brought to a close! Indeed, I posted on Facebook the same validation from Romans 13 that you did -- i.e., the role and right of civil government to "bear the sword" and "punish the evildoer." This is clearly a mandate from our Sovereign God who is over all the affairs of men. His final end was really determined by none other than himself, and I am NOT sorry that he is gone. It was none too soon!

From a Retired Air Force Chaplain:

Brother Maxey, I recently read your article: "Concealed Carry Christians" (Reflections #345). This was the result of a Google search on the legality of concealed carry in churches in the state of New Mexico. You had lots of good information there! I am a retired United Methodist pastor, and am also a retired US Air Force chaplain. I have a concealed carry permit from my home state of Texas. My wife and I love traveling in our RV, and we're currently visiting in Albuquerque, NM for the month of May. Peace, brother!!

From a New Reader in [Unknown]:

Brother Maxey, I came across your article about the practices of the Nicolaitans (Reflections #73), and it answered my curiosity about this subject. I would like to be added to your Reflections distribution list. Thanks!

From a Minister in Kentucky:

Dear Brother Al, I have just finished reading your debate with Darrell Broking on legalistic patternism --- The Maxey-Broking Debate. Being a 5th generation Stone-Campbell Movement preacher, I am so grateful to you for your work, and the work of others like you, which has resulted in the breaking of the bonds of legalism for so many!! I realize that you are probably experiencing much criticism and persecution, because my dad was persecuted for allowing meals at the church building and for refusing to condemn to the fires of hell those who used instruments. He was listed as a "liberal" and a "radical" by many in the legalistic Churches of Christ, and yet, interestingly, was esteemed as a brother by many within various denominations, who would even seek him out for spiritual counsel. Again, I thank you for your work -- your labor is not in vain!! May God greatly bless you, your family, and your ministry.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, I have been corresponding with a brother-in-Christ via email recently (I met him on a blog site), and he sent me his personal testimony in response to a question that I had asked him. Within that testimony was a paragraph about how he had somehow "stumbled" across the writings of a person named Al Maxey, writings that spoke directly to all the inconsistencies that he had struggled with during his Church of Christ upbringing, which he described as "extremely legalistic." This brother said that your writings had helped him move toward an actual "relationship" with God! I just thought I'd send something your way to encourage you this morning!!

From a Reader in Virginia:

Dear Brother Maxey, I would like to receive an autographed copy of your new book One Bread, One Body (my check for the amount is enclosed). Thank you. Also, I am a passionate Conditionalist. Thus, I have your web site saved to my "Favorites" folder, as I really feel God wants me to be very knowledgeable about Conditionalism.

From a Reader in California:

Dear Brother Al, I thought you might be interested in hearing that the Old Paths Advocate lords are at it once again! Talk about unbelievable legalism -- the type of legalism that makes decent, godly Christians recoil in horror!! In the May issue of their publication they have begun printing the text of a debate being held on the following proposition -- "The Scriptures teach that when the church comes together for worship (Acts 20:7), a woman commits sin if she intentionally says anything out loud, including 'Amen,' during the 'teaching portion' of the service." A One Cup preacher by the name of R. Barney Owens, from the state of Ohio, is actually affirming this proposition!! Can you believe it?!! This is absolute craziness!! It just goes to show once again the depths these people have sunk to, just as you have pointed out in a number of your articles, such as Reflections #476 -- The OPA Strikes Again: Batty Battey's Body Bashing. Thank you for all you do, Bro. Al, in exposing this nonsense!! You are having a greater impact on the One Cup fellowship than you may realize!

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