One of the things I love about God, which also frustrates me immensely, is that when He resolves to do something, He doesn't simply do it. There's always a measure of grace worked in.
Case in point: Genesis 6 and surrounding texts.
It starts out fairly simply - there is the Lord's resolve. Then the Lord said, 'My Spirit will not struggle with humans forever, because they are flesh and blood. They will live 120 years.' (6:3) Said and...not immediately done.
And can you imagine what chaos would have ensued if He'd simply done it, just like that? Genesis 5, the preceding chapter, is a genealogy from Adam to Noah. In it, we see men living 930, 912, 905, 910, 895, 962, 365 (special case), 969, and 777 years. Then we get to Noah, and he's already 500 before he even has kids. God decides to end all life at 120 years...He's going to cut short the history of men who have not even begun living. Everyone's going to be shocked. This is going to look much more like a plague than a mercy. Everything's going to go nuts.
So obviously, knowing that, and knowing that the ultimate goal is 120 years, God begins a slow tapering of the years of a man's life. We see that reflected in the next genealogy, in Genesis 11 (the descendants of Shem). We should also note that Noah lived to be 950. That's 450 more years for a 500-year-old man after God determines to give only 120. But let's go to Shem...
Shem lived 500 years. His son, Arpachshad, 403. His son, Shelah, 403. His son, Eber, 430. His son, Peleg, 209. His son, Reu, 207. His son, Serug, 200. His son, Nahor, 119. His son, Terah, was only 70 years old when he became a father. To Abram, of course.
It was over the course of eleven generations that God whittled the numbers down to His liking. Each man was given the chance to live, to love, and to raise a family. Each man had the opportunity to serve his community, to have a place in his tribe. It probably still seemed strange, the way all this was happening. If a man normally raises his children somewhere in his 500s and now, we're at a man who dies that "young," what were people saying when Shem started having kids? At a mere...300 years old? (I'm guessing.) What about when Reu started having kids at a practically pubescent 100 years old? (Again, guessing.) What about Terah, who was a mere 70 years old when he became a father? I can only imagine the whispers spreading through camp about these promiscuous sons of Noah, about these men who couldn't wait to grow up, about these "babies having babies!" Or maybe they just all somehow knew and understood. I don't know. I wasn't there.
But what I do know is that, even after He'd made up His mind, God worked through eleven generations to get to the place He wanted to go - to whittle a man's life to 120 years. And by the time it happened, it seems, everyone was at least accepting of that. We don't see the chaos that would ensue if the change had been more dramatic, if the limit of years had corresponded to God's decision on such a thing. We don't see panic in the streets. We don't read about men wondering if they've been cursed, talking about the plague, struggling to change God's mind. Slowly but surely, this was just the way life came to be. And so it was.
I think about the way God did this, and I think about why. I think first about a God who longs for His people to live. Isn't that the way God has always been? Isn't that why He sent His Son to die...so that His people could live? God desired 120 years, but that's not the way life was structured. He had to slowly change the way life was lived if His people were to have any hope of it. If Noah's having children in his hundreds, most men were having children in their hundreds. Cut a man off early, and suddenly, there are no children. There are no future generations. God has no people because there are no people, because He didn't allow for the procreation of His people. He wanted His men to live and love and to give life because that's how creation works. Even if He longed for fewer years of wrestling with man in flesh and blood, He needed that flesh and blood to do what it was created to do - to live. So He needed eleven generations.
I think also about a God who quietly works holy into our lives. It's holy because it's His idea. It's holy because it's how He wanted things to be. Slowly, quietly, without a lot of fanfare, He worked this holy into the world until man's years looked the way He wanted them to look. Until 120 years was just about it (although there have been exceptions). I'm not sure man understood, fully, what was happening. I'm almost confident man didn't understand, hardly at all, why. But there's no mention of stress about it in the Bible. To them, He was still God and they were still His people and it didn't maybe feel like a whole lot had changed and yet, so much had.
I think about a God of grace, who decides that things must be a certain way but doesn't use His power to trump His created wisdom. He could. He could say 120 and that's it, but such a thing would be chaos. And chaos can never be love. (Although, let's be honest, love can certainly be chaos.) Rather, He binds Himself to the very thing He's created, and the way He's created it, and works within His own structure instead of outside of it, allowing us to be a part of the whole thing. Slowly. Quietly. Until the world's a little more the way He intends it to be, until this struggle with flesh and blood is a little more manageable. Until we're a little closer Home.
I think about a God who is right now working, and I wonder what generation I'm in. Is this the first generation of God working toward His master plan? Is this the place that holy starts to change and this world grows closer to it, even if I can't see the end game right now? Even if it doesn't feel like anything's that different? Maybe this is the eleventh generation. Maybe this is the new thing. Maybe I'm - we're - somewhere in the middle, in the third or fifth or eighth generation. I think about how many generations it's been since the Cross. You see, I believe that God is always developing, that He's always working us more toward holy. I believe He's quietly, slowly, working through us in His developing revelation. I also wonder what He's up to.