Why did God limit man’s life to 120 years (Genesis 6:3)?

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By BibleAsk Team


The reference to God limiting human life to 120 years is found in Genesis 6:3 in the (NKJV) of the Bible. To fully understand the significance of this statement and its implications, we need to explore its context within the broader narrative of Genesis and reflect on the theological implications of God’s decree.

Context: Genesis 6:3

Genesis 6:3 (NKJV)

“And the Lord said, ‘My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.'”

This statement is part of the account of the prelude to the flood, where God determines to judge the earth due to the wickedness and corruption that had spread among humanity. The verse indicates God’s response to the prevailing evil and His decision to limit human lifespan as part of His plan for redemption and restoration.

Interpretations and Explanations

Limiting the Spread of Wickedness

One interpretation of God’s restriction on human lifespan is that it served as a means of limiting the spread of wickedness and evil on the earth. In the preceding verses of Genesis 6, the narrative describes the increasing wickedness and corruption of humanity, culminating in God’s decision to send the flood as a judgment upon the earth. By limiting human lifespan to 120 years, God may have sought to curb the proliferation of sin and prevent the further deterioration of moral and spiritual conditions.

This statement in Genesis 6:3 follows immediately after the reference to the unsanctified marriages of the antediluvians (Genesis 6:1, 2) between the godly (Seth’s descendants) and ungodly (Cain’s descendants), suggests that God’s displeasure was most particularly displayed toward this evil practice that led to the full deterioration of morality which in turn led to the flood.

Captive to their passions, the antediluvians were no longer subject to God’s Spirit. The word “strive” in the Hebrew means “to rule,” and “to judge.” These words indicate that the Holy Spirit could continue working but a little longer, and would then be withdrawn from unrepentant of the human race. Even God’s long-suffering must end.

For this reason, man’s life span after the flood was restricted to 120 years. God’s patience would come to an end and probation would close within the period of time here specified.

Mercy and Grace

Another interpretation emphasizes God’s mercy and grace in imposing a limit on human lifespan. Despite humanity’s rebellion and sinfulness, God extends a period of grace and opportunity for repentance by granting individuals a finite lifespan. The restriction to 120 years may reflect God’s desire to give people ample time to turn from their wicked ways, seek His forgiveness, and reconcile with Him before facing judgment.

During that time, divine mercy lingered calling sinners to God. Peter refers to the work of the Spirit on the hearts of the antediluvians, saying that the Spirit of Christ preached to these prisoners of Satan (1 Peter 3:18–20) inviting them to repentance and reformation.

Symbolic or Prophetic Meaning

Some interpretations view the 120-year limit as having symbolic or prophetic significance rather than being a literal restriction on human lifespan. For example, the number 120 may symbolize completeness or fullness, representing the totality of human existence within the context of God’s redemptive plan. Others interpret the 120 years as a prophetic timeline leading up to the flood, marking the duration of God’s patience and forbearance before executing judgment on the earth.

Theological Implications

Human Mortality and Vulnerability

God’s decree to limit human lifespan underscores the mortality and vulnerability inherent in human existence. Despite humanity’s aspirations and achievements, human life is finite and subject to the inevitability of death. This recognition of human frailty serves as a humbling reminder of humanity’s dependence on God and the transient nature of earthly pursuits.

It took over 12 generations before the life span of man was reduced from the 900-year span to about 120 years. This was also due in part to the consumption of animal products after the flood, the ideal Eden diet, is the vegetarian diet (Genesis 1:29; 2:16).

Divine Sovereignty and Judgment

The restriction on human lifespan also highlights God’s sovereignty and authority over the affairs of humanity. As the Creator and Sustainer of life, God has the prerogative to determine the duration and purpose of human existence according to His divine wisdom and purposes. The imposition of limits on human lifespan demonstrates God’s righteous judgment upon sin and His commitment to upholding justice and righteousness in the world.

Opportunity for Repentance and Redemption

Despite the reality of human mortality, God’s grace extends an opportunity for repentance, redemption, and reconciliation with Him. The finite nature of human life underscores the urgency of seeking God’s forgiveness and living in accordance with His will. In the face of mortality, humans are called to turn from sin, embrace God’s mercy, and live in faithful obedience to Him, knowing that their eternal destiny hinges on their response to God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ.

A Call to Repentance

Christ compared God’s dealings with the antediluvians to His work for the human race at the end of time (Matthew 24:37–39). Under similar circumstances, God may be expected to work in similar ways. We are now living on borrowed time, knowing that the destruction of the world will soon occur (2 Peter 3:3–7). We know also that God’s Spirit will not endlessly strive with men who do not choose to heed His warnings and prepare for that great event.

Conclusion

The restriction of human lifespan to 120 years, as recorded in Genesis 6:3, carries theological significance and implications for understanding the human condition and God’s relationship with humanity. Whether interpreted as a response to human sinfulness, an expression of divine mercy, or a prophetic signifier, God’s decree underscores His sovereignty, righteousness, and grace in dealing with His creation. Ultimately, the limitation on human lifespan serves as a reminder of the transient nature of earthly life and the eternal significance of spiritual realities, prompting individuals to seek God’s forgiveness, live in obedience to His word, and prepare for the hope of eternal life in His presence.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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