How Old Was Methuselah?

Charles Naylor, 1941

One of the first things that I remember having learned in Sunday school, was that Methuselah was the oldest man who ever lived. I learned that he lived, according to the record, longer than anyone else in the history of the world whose age is given. The Bible puts his age at nine hundred and sixty-nine years. I am not going to contradict the Bible, yet I have come to believe that Methuselah was not the oldest man. Oh, yes, he was the oldest, so far as days and years go—but days and years are only one way of measuring the length of life. Measured thus, Methuselah's life was exceedingly long.

But this is a rather uncertain standard of measurement. It does not tell us much. We must have another standard to tell the real length of a man's life. The best standard I know by which to measure life, is by what is accomplished in it. There is a great difference between mere existence and real living. A man may eat and sleep, walk about, talk, and do a variety of things three hundred and sixty-five days in a year—and perhaps live only five days of that time a life that really counts. He has existed three hundred and sixty days—and lived five days. In those five days he has done something worth while. He has done something worth putting in the records. He has done something that really added to the sum of his life. The rest of the year was lived as an animal lives—to no purpose. That man, when his life is summed up, only lived five days in that year, and so if we add up all his days that he really lived, we may find that his life was very short after all, though measured in years it may have been quite long.

Now, we have reason to believe that something of this sort was true of Methuselah. Here is his life's record. He was born; he married; he brought up a family; he died. There was nothing else in his life worth putting into the record. Forty-six words tell the story of his life. Thirty-five of these words tell about his age; all the rest that is said of him requires only eleven words. When a man's life can be told in eleven words it does not seem, when judged by accomplishments—that he has lived very long. Of course, much can be said in a few words sometimes, but not much is said in these few words. So I conclude that in real accomplishment, in the things that are really worth while, in years that were real living, as far as the record goes, Methuselah was a rather short-lived man. That long stretch of years seems barren indeed.

I have frequently walked through cemeteries and read the inscriptions on the tombstones. On many of them we see the legend: Born. Died. Age__. Some of those people had lived many years, while others' lives had been cut short. But I wonder, if we knew the real story of their age, if we knew the sum of all the days in their lives that really amounted to anything—what their age would truly be.

Some men live a long time, in a little while.

Others live only a little, in a long time.

The head of John the Baptist was cut off when he was less than thirty-five years old, yet John the Baptist had accomplished more than all the prophets before him. Jesus Christ was crucified when he was not yet thirty-five, but what amazing things he accomplished in those few short years.

The value of life is not reckoned by its length, but by its accomplishments. There should be a purpose in every day of life—a purpose for the whole life, and a purpose for each day of the life. A life without a purpose, can never be a full life. It is not living—it is merely existing. The person without a definite purpose in life, is like a ship without a rudder. Such living is mere drifting—not accomplishing anything worthwhile. Such a person is the plaything of circumstances. The ship drifts in whichever direction the wind is blowing. So a life without a purpose—drifts, drifts.

We should put something of value into every day of our life. If we ourselves do not put something into our lives—they will contain nothing.

We once constructed a cistern. We had it built very carefully. We desired that it be a very good one so that we might drink the water. A short time after it was constructed, a heavy rain fell and soaked up the ground thoroughly, but there was no water in the cistern. It was a good cistern, therefore no water could soak in through its walls, but it was an empty cistern. It had capacity, but no contents. Plenty of water had fallen on the roof to have filled it full, but there was no water in the cistern.

It is that way with many lives. There are many things to be accomplished all about them. There are many things that might enrich them and beautify them and make them worth while—but though there are opportunities all around them, though there are many things that might fill their lives—still their lives are empty.

The reason the cistern was empty, was because there was nothing as yet to conduct the water to it—the rain that fell, did not go into the cistern. In the same way, there are many lives that are empty, while there are opportunities of usefulness all around the person.

So many are ready to say, "Oh, my life does not count. I cannot do anything worthwhile." As long as one believes that, one's life will be empty. God never created a single human being to live a useless life. He has given everyone the capacity to do things, to fill his life with worthwhile things, with accomplishments that really count. And you, my reader, are one of those to whom God not only gave the ability to do something, but upon whom he lays the responsibility of doing something. He expects you not to be like a broken cistern that can hold no water, or like a cistern that has no inlet. He expects you to fill your life with worthwhile endeavors. He expects you to have a purpose in your life. He expects you to have a goal toward which you are pressing forward each day. He is ready and willing to help you. He will plan your life for you. He will help you put that plan into execution, but you must never say, "I can't do anything worthwhile." You can do whatever God wants you to do. You can be what God wants you to be. Your life can be a worthwhile life in your situation and in your circumstances.

If it is not so, then it is because you are not making use of your opportunity. It is because you are merely drifting. Perhaps you are folding your hands and saying, "I can't! I can't!" That is the coward's plea. That is what the person who is unwilling says. That is the evidence of faithlessness and laziness.

Recently someone wrote me saying, "What is the use for me to try, when it is predestined that I can never be anything or do anything?" Such talk comes from discouragement, or is mere nonsense. In either case it is untrue. God means for our lives to be worthwhile. When we come to close our eyes in death, we should be able to look back over our lives and see that something real has been put into every day, something of value that will count for eternity.

But it is not the showy things that are real accomplishments. Perhaps we can never do anything that will be written in history. Perhaps men will not applaud us or even take note of our lives—but God will take note. If we put into each day faithfulness, real service to God, kindness, hopefulness, and take advantage of whatever opportunities of service that come to us—every day will be worth while. Every day will add to the sum total of our lives.

Methuselah lived nearly three times as long as Enoch, but of Enoch it is said that he "walked with God . . . three hundred years." That is a record of real accomplishment. That is a record perhaps never excelled. If you and I make as good a record, if it may be written of us that we walked with God—our lives will have been worth while. So if you will do this one thing, if you will walk with God, you need not trouble yourself about doing great things or about getting a great name, for you will be doing the greatest of all things and getting a name more enduring than could come from any other accomplishment.

But live every day in God's way—and every day will be a day of real life to you and a permanent addition to the record of your life.