We have here all that the Holy Ghost thought fit to leave upon record concerning five of the patriarchs before the flood, Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, and Jared. There is nothing observable concerning any of these particularly, though we have reason to think they were men of eminence, both for prudence and piety, in their day: but in general,
I. Observe how largely and expressly their generations are recorded. This matter, one would think, might have been delivered in fewer words; but it is certain that there is not one idle word in God’s books, whatever there is in men’s. It is thus plainly set down, 1. To make it easy and intelligible to the meanest capacity. When we are informed how old they were when they begat such a son, and how many years they lived afterwards, a very little skill in arithmetic will enable a man to tell how long they lived in all; yet the Holy Ghost sets down the sum total, for the sake of those that have not even so much skill as this. 2. To show the pleasure God takes in the names of his people. We found Cain’s generation numbered in haste (Gen. 4:18), but this account of the holy seed is enlarged upon, and given in words at length, and not in figures; we are told how long those lived that lived in God’s fear, and when those died that died in his favour; but as for others it is no matter. The memory of the just is blessed, but the name of the wicked shall rot.
II. Their life is reckoned by days (Gen. 5:8): All the days of Seth, and so of the rest, which intimates the shortness of the life of man when it is at the longest, and the quick revolution of our times on earth. If they reckoned by days, surely we must reckon by hours, or rather make that our frequent prayer (Ps. 90:12), Teach us to number our days.
III. Concerning each of them, except Enoch, it is said, and he died. It is implied in the numbering of the years of their life that their life, when those years were numbered and finished, came to an end; and yet it is still repeated, and he died, to show that death passed upon all men without exception, and that it is good for us particularly to observe and improve the deaths of others for our own edification. Such a one was a strong healthful man, but he died; such a one was a great and rich man, but he died; such a one was a wise politic man, but he died; such a one was a very good man, perhaps a very useful man, but he died, etc.
IV. That which is especially observable is that they all lived very long; not one of them died till he had seen the revolution of almost eight hundred years, and some of them lived much longer, a great while for an immortal soul to be imprisoned in a house of clay. The present life surely was not to them such a burden as commonly it is now, else they would have been weary of it; nor was the future life so clearly revealed then as it is now under the gospel, else they would have been impatient to remove to it: long life to the pious patriarchs was a blessing and made them blessings. 1. Some natural causes may be assigned for their long life in those first ages of the world. It is very probable that the earth was more fruitful, that the productions of it were more strengthening, that the air was more healthful, and that the influences of the heavenly bodies were more benign, before the flood, than afterwards. Though man was driven out of paradise, yet the earth itself was then paradisiacal—a garden in comparison with its present wilderness-state: and some think that their great knowledge of the creatures, and of their usefulness both for food and medicine, together with their sobriety and temperance, contributed much to it; yet we do not find that those who were intemperate, as many were (Luke 17:27), were as short-lived as intemperate men generally are now. 2. It must chiefly be resolved into the power and providence of God. He prolonged their lives, both for the more speedy replenishing of the earth and for the more effectual preservation of the knowledge of God and religion, then, when there was no written word, but tradition was the channel of its conveyance. All the patriarchs here, except Noah, were born before Adam died; so that from him they might receive a full and satisfactory account of the creation, paradise, the fall, the promise, and those divine precepts which concerned religious worship and a religious life: and, if any mistake arose, they might have recourse to him while he lived, as to an oracle, for the rectifying of it, and after his death to Methuselah, and others, that had conversed with him: so great was the care of Almighty God to preserve in his church the knowledge of his will and the purity of his worship.