Questions From Readers

At Genesis 6:3, we read: “My spirit shall not act toward man indefinitely in that he is also flesh. Accordingly his days shall amount to a hundred and twenty years.” Was Jehovah limiting the life span of humans to 120 years, and did Noah preach about the coming Flood for that long?

The answer to both parts of the question is no.

Prior to the Flood, many humans lived for centuries. Noah was 600 years old when the Flood came, and he lived to be 950. (Gen. 7:6; 9:29) Some who were born after the Flood also lived much more than 120 years. Arpachshad died at 438 and Shelah at 433. (Gen. 11:10-15) Yet, by Moses’ time, the normal life span was down to 70 or 80 years. (Ps. 90:10) So Genesis 6:3 was not fixing for humans a maximum or normal life span of 120 years.

Then, does that verse amount to a divine comment to Noah about warning others of the destruction to come in 120 years? No. On a number of occasions, God did speak to Noah. We read ten verses later in the account: “God said to Noah: ‘The end of all flesh has come before me, because the earth is full of violence.’” In the following years, Noah finished the massive task of building the ark, and at that point “Jehovah said to Noah: ‘Go, you and all your household, into the ark.’” (Gen. 6:13; 7:1) And there are other  instances when Jehovah informed Noah of certain facts.​—Gen. 8:15; 9:1, 8, 17.

However, Genesis 6:3 reads differently; it does not mention Noah, nor does it say that God was addressing him. It can be taken to be a simple expression of God’s purpose or determination. (Compare Genesis 8:21.) Significantly, in the historical record about developments long before Adam’s time, we find such expressions as: “God went on to say.” (Gen. 1:6, 9, 14, 20, 24) Obviously, Jehovah was not speaking to a human on earth, for man had not yet been created.

It is logical, therefore, to conclude that Genesis 6:3 expresses God’s resolve to end the corrupt system of things on earth. Jehovah issued a judicial decree to do so in 120 years, though Noah was not yet aware of that. But why set a time limit? Why wait?

The apostle Peter provides reasons: “The patience of God was waiting in Noah’s days, while the ark was being constructed, in which a few people, that is, eight souls, were carried safely through the water.” (1 Pet. 3:20) Yes, when God made his determination concerning 120 years, there were things remaining to be done. Some 20 years later, Noah and his wife began to have children. (Gen. 5:32; 7:6) Their three sons grew up and married, bringing the family up to “eight souls.” Then they had to build the ark, which was no quick task considering its size and the size of Noah’s family. Yes, God’s patience for 120 years allowed for those things to be accomplished and set the stage for the preservation of life, allowing eight faithful humans to be “carried safely through the water.”

The Bible does not specify the year in which Jehovah informed Noah that the Flood would occur. Inasmuch as his sons had been born, had grown up, and had married, possibly 40 or 50 years remained before the Flood. Then Jehovah said to Noah: “The end of all flesh has come before me.” He added that Noah was to build a huge ark and go into it with his family. (Gen. 6:13-18) During the remaining decades, Noah did more than provide an example of righteousness by his life. He served as “a preacher of righteousness” who had a very pointed warning message to declare​—God’s determination to bring to ruin the ungodly of that time. Noah did not know long in advance in what year that would be, but he knew that it definitely would come. And you know that it did.​—2 Pet. 2:5.