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Minor Men With A Major Message (Methuselah)

Genesis 5:21-32

The Bible sums up the life of Methuselah in just fifteen words, “Then all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years, and he died.”

That’s all it says—and of course the only thing noteworthy about that statement is the fact that he lived for 969 years. Now I know that as soon as I say that your minds are going to go off on a tangent. You are going to be saying that it is just not possible for anyone to live that long. The problem is that if I can’t get you back from that tangent, you’re going to miss the real significance of Methuselah’s life. So let’s deal with the issue of the years right up front.

How was it possible for those early Old Testament figures, like Methuselah, to live so long? I think the answer is to be found in what we know from Scripture. In the early stages of the creative process when Adam and Eve, the first humans, entered the scene, they were in an ideal environment for the preservation of human life. They could maintain their health and vigor unimpaired. Even after they were expelled from the safety and security of the Garden of Eden, conditions promoting longevity of life were far more favorable than they later became after the flood. There may well have been a virtual absence of disease. As a result of human sinfulness and the rise of human imperfection, these conditions gradually changed for the worse. The life expectancy of human beings became progressively shorter, so that by the time of Moses a lifetime of seventy years was considered normal. It seems that there was a gradual working out of the cursed and pervasive effects of sin on the physical well being and stamina of the human race. Even long after the fall had taken place. And since Methuselah lived in that time between the fall and the flood, when conditions for maintaining human health and vigor were still just slightly less than ideal, it is not impossible to understand that his life and the lives of his contemporaries would be unusually long. I mean even today, we know that the degeneration of the environment leads to a significant shortening of the lifespan for humans.

Still, 969 years is a long time to live. I got to thinking about that and I must tell you that the lighter side of my mind got carried away. For example, think what his income would have been if he had begun putting away an IRA at age 55, and think how his insurance company would have loved him for all those years of premiums paid! The folks from Geritol would have paid him a mint for an endorsement! And I would have loved to be his “Grecian Formula” salesman! I  wonder what his doctor would have said to him at the end of his annual physical? “Methuselah,you’re putting on a little weight. You’re not as slim as you were at 800!” And little Lamech, his first born, did not come along until Methuselah was 187, and the Bible says that other sons and daughters followed, leading to the horrendous prospect of 700 years of P.T.A.!

Okay, enough of that tangent stuff. Let’s get back to a thoughtful consideration of Methuselah’s real significance. You see, I am troubled that I usually hear Methuselah spoken of either in humorous or negative terms. In fact, last week I read these words written about him: “Methuselah lived and died, that was all. In the long years between his birth and his death he did nothing worth recording. He merely existed. He did not really live.” Frankly, I think that is unfair to the man. When you read the fifth chapter of the Book of Genesis, carefully and sensitively, you begin to conclude that Methuselah was one of those people who lived a good life without fanfare, who performed the basic duties of life well, who carried on a great tradition, and who, therefore, deserves to be called a great man. In any case, it is by living that sort of life that most of us receive the only opportunity we will have to be great on this earth. And that is the truth I want us to draw from the life of Methuselah, the man who was never pressed for time.

Please note with me, first, that Methuselah shows us the value of behind-the-scenes greatness.

The writer of Genesis is careful to note that he married and had children and grandchildren. These are incredibly important facts. Rearing and supporting a family are not insignificant achievements. Under certain conditions, they may even require heroism. If done properly, they always require deeds of valor and courage and they bring out in a person many of the elements of human greatness.

Millions of fathers and mothers have lived greatly, but silently, without being mentioned in the newspapers or in the history books. And the greatest victories in life are usually won in silence, not only by mothers and fathers, but by wives and husbands, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, teachers and other professional people, and a whole host of individuals in all ways and walks of life. Once the New York Times was asked to help a civic organization decide on the ten greatest women in America. After careful surveys and studies, the editors replied: “The ten greatest women in the United States are women who have never been heard of outside their own homes.” And of course, the real greatness of people like that is that they do not expect any credit or recognition. They just do their duty and live nobly because down in their hearts they know it is better to be good than evil, better to be unselfish than selfish, better to be honest than dishonest. They feel a deep-down divine obligation to serve God, to care for others, and to do their part in building God’s kingdom on earth.

Someone has said: “All of life can be lived out in a very little place.” It can indeed, and for most of us, it is. But that does not mean that our lives are wasted or that we are failures or that we have not done great things. Not many of us will be long-remembered after we are dead. Not many of us will have our names recorded on the pages of history books. It will not even be written of us as it was of Methuselah that we lived and died. But that will not indicate that we have not had a full, useful, perhaps even a great life.

James Whitcomb Riley has a poem in which he tells of the death of a worker in a shop. He portrays the other workmen standing around on the day of the funeral talking about their dead friend. One of the men, with tears in his eyes, says: “When God made Jim, I bet He didn’t do anything else that day but just sit around and feel good.” Well, my friends, the only opportunity that most of us will have to be great is to live so faithfully right where we are that God will “feel good” about having made us. To be a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Chris—that is behind-the-scenes greatness.

Please note with me, secondly, that Methuselah shows us the impact of long-term influence.

The writer of Genesis is careful to note that one of Methuselah’s children, in fact his first child, was named Lamech. Now we don’t know much about Lamech except that he was the father of Noah. So Methuselah was the grandfather of Noah—and we know a great deal about Noah. He was quite a man. God chose him to be the one through whom the entire human race would be preserved. Now when you add up the years recorded for us in Genesis, it is quite clear that Methuselah was alive when Noah was growing into adulthood and becoming the kind of man who would attract God’s special attention. In fact, I think the implication is clear that not only did Methusaleh establish a good example for his family, but he was there to advise and counsel and encourage Noah as he was becoming a man whom God would favor and honor. I rather imagine that Noah may have said again and again: “The kind of man I want to be in life is the kind of man my grandfather Methuselah is.”

Many not-so-noted people have sat down with their children or grandchildren or their friends or their students and cast an influence over them. Then, down the years somewhere, there emerged great souls or great deeds which were the outcome of that influence. That is the way many of us can become great, by influencing someone else to to become great. Do you remember what Jesus said? “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to your father in heaven.” Our chance at greatness may come through influencing some other person to live nobly—someone who, years later, turns out to be great partly because of us.

That was true in Methuselah’s family and it may be true in your family as well. Who knows what the future luminary you may be rearing in your own home? We need to remember that. I think that is why I like Chuck Swindoll’s comparison of the family to a garden, and he suggests some things that we can plant in our family relationships which will result, in time, in great benefits. These are worth noting down. He says that in our families we need to plant four rows of peas: preparedness, perseverance, promptness, politeness. We need to plant three rows of squash: squash gossip, squash criticism, squash indifference. Then we need five rows of lettuce: let us be faithful, let up be unselfish, let us be loyal, let us love one another, let us be truthful. Finally, we need three rows of turnips: turn up with a smile, turn up with a new idea, turn up with determination. Then with prayer and patient care over the years, the results will be beautiful indeed. The harvest may be a long time in coming, that’s true, but it will be worth the effort when it does come. After all, Methusaleh has to wait more than 800 years to see the greatness of his grandson, Noah!

And please note with me, finally, the Methusaleh shows us the glory of carrying on a great tradition.

The writer of Genesis is careful to note that the great tradition of the Hebrew religion moved to Methusaleh from his father Enoch, whom the Bible notes “walked with God”, and then it moved through Methuselah to those who came after him—to Noah, Abraham, Israel, Jacob, Moses, Saul, David, Solomon, the Prophets, and then Jesus Christ! Methuselah stands as an important link in that chain. He transmitted the tradition to his descendents. Some people have the distinction of starting something great, but others have the equally important distinction of carrying on something great which someone else has begun. Methusaleh did not start anything, but because he carried on the great tradition which was handed to him, the history of humankind was altered for the good.

Today we stand in the long line of that tradition. Christianity has achieved something immensely worthwhile in this world of ours, because of what has been transmitted from generation to generation since the days of Methusaleh. It would be tragic for us, for our world and for the cause of Jesus Christ if those of us who are the guardians of the Christian faith in this country and in this century should fail to pass it on.

I tell you, my friends, it is a great thing for a person to take hold of the past with one hand and then hold of the future with the other and say: “This great faith which began in the Old Testament and culminated in Jesus Christ shall pass through me to those who come after me.” You see, each of us, with our God-given abilities, have a distinct and definite part to play in transmitting this great tradition of our faith to those who will come after us. That is our chance at greatness. The question we must ask ourselves today is this: Are we going to turn away from the tried, tested, proved truths of our faith? Or are we going to hold fast to them, improve them, refine them, expand them, and then pass them on?

There is an old legend, time-worn but truth-telling, which portrays Jesus returning to heaven having finished His earthly work. He is met by the Angel Gabriel who asks Him how God’s work on earth would be carried on now that He is gone. Jesus answers: “I have given the message to Peter and John and Mary and Martha. They will tell others and the message will be spread.” Gabriel replies: “But, Lord, they are just ordinary people. There’s nothing particularly great about them. And besides, suppose they get busy with other things and forget to tell their friends? Or suppose their friends fail to pass the message on? What other plans have you made?” And Jesus smiles a bright and wonderful smile, and He says: “I have no other plans. I am counting on them.”

Can He count on us?
Can He count on you and me?
Well, now, can He?

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