Before the Flood the Lord made the following statement concerning the people on the earth.
Then the LORD said, My spirit shall not abide in humanity forever, for they are flesh; their days shall be one hundred twenty years (Genesis 6:3).
This is the first recorded speech of God since Genesis 5:2
when the text says He called them Adam after creating them male and female. Chapter five focused on individuals. Now God speaks to humankind as a whole. What did the Lord mean that His Spirit will not strive with humanity forever?
The spirit referred to here is sometimes understood to mean the Holy Spirit. God is saying that the Holy Spirit will not always strive with humanity. Therefore the passage is taken to mean that the Lord's patience was worn out with the people on the earth. This is much the same idea that we find in the prophetical books where the Lord expressed His impatience with the disobedient nation Israel.
The problem with understanding the passage this way is centered around the translation of the Hebrew verb doon
. This word, usually translated strive is found nowhere else in Scripture and its meaning is uncertain.
The Septuagint, the Syriac Peshitta, and the Latin Vulgate translate this word to dwell in. This would make the spirit refer to the life principle that man received at his creation rather than the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore the passage would mean that God would destroy His creation to whom He gave life.
Others translate this verb as shield. This would make God's statement to read that the Holy Spirit would not always shield man from judgment. Even though the judgment would be swift there would be a 120 year reprieve where Noah preached of the coming cataclysm.
He Also Is Flesh
The Lord then goes on to say that humanity also is flesh. This seems to refer to our sinful nature-our actions have become similar to that of animals.
Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish honor (Psalm 49:12).
Though created in God's image, humanity became like the animals.
Whatever the exact interpretation of this phrase, Scripture records the Lord then saying that man's days would now be limited to 120 years. This has been variously interpreted.
It could mean that humanity's life span would now be shortened from the long periods previously lived to 120 years. These long years had been emphasized in Genesis 5
. Because of their gross sin, God decided to shorten the amount of time that they would live. The inference is that they lived so long because God's spirit was dwelling with these individuals to give them their long lives. The long lives belong to a lost age. They are the exceptions rather than the rule. The author will continue to show that the life-span of humankind will continue to decrease (see chapter 11).
Indeed, Moses, the writer of the first five books of the Bible, lived to that outer limit of 120 years.
Others see the 120 years as referring to the period of reprieve before the Flood. After another 120 years God will judge the earth. This probably served as the basis of the message of Noah. Scripture calls Noah, a preacher of righteousness (2 Peter 2:5
). His message would have been that the judgment of the Flood was coming at a determined time. Luther translated it I want to give them a reprieve of 120 years. This helps solve the problem of chapter 11 where men lived longer than 120 years.
The idea that God would not always strive with humanity has led to various interpretations. It is possibly referring to the Holy Spirit and His work with humankind. It may refer to the human spirit that God breathed into Adam. Either way the emphasis in the passage is that God lost His patience with sinful humanity. The 120 years is either a reference to the shortened limit of humankind's outer life span or the number of years between Noah's preaching and the Flood.