Questions From Readers
● The Bible says that Moses lived to be one hundred and twenty years old. How, then, could he write, in Psalm 90:10, that a man’s years are only seventy or eighty?—J. W., England.
The superscription of Psalm 90 reads: “A prayer of Moses, the man of the true God.” Jewish Talmudical writers and many scholars concur in crediting this psalm to Moses. For instance, Franz Delitzsch, noted professor at the University of Leipzig, wrote: “There is hardly a literary monument of antiquity, which can so brilliantly justify the traditional testimony to its origin as this Psalm. Not only in respect to its contents, but also in respect to its literary form, it is thoroughly appropriate to Moses.”
In Psalm 90 Moses wrote: “In themselves the days of our years are seventy years; and if because of special mightiness they are eighty years, yet their insistence is on trouble and hurtful things; for it must quickly pass by, and away we fly.” (Ps. 90:10) Many have wondered how Moses could write this since he himself lived beyond that age. According to Deuteronomy 34:7: “Moses was a hundred and twenty years old at his death. His eye had not grown dim, and his vital strength had not fled.”
This actually presents no serious problem. Though we do not know Moses’ age when he composed this psalm, evidently from what he observed he knew that seventy years was a full life, and eighty years was beyond the normal. Clearly, most of the adult Israelites of the generation that came out of slavery in Egypt were not particularly long-lived. Those over twenty years of age at the time of the exodus perished by the end of the forty years of wandering.
True, there were exceptions, such as Moses (120), Aaron (123), Joshua (110) and Caleb (over 85). Such exceptions, though, do not alter the general age given in Psalm 90:10. And recall that God directly decreed that Joshua and Caleb should live on past those in their generation and so enter the Promised Land. When Caleb was eighty-five he called attention to his age and strength as quite unusual.—Num. 14:30; 33:39; Josh. 14:10, 11; 24:29.
Occasionally we read in the newspapers about someone living to be one hundred years old, or slightly more. There are even certain groups, such as those in the Caucasus Mountains in the Soviet Union, who are noted for their longevity, apparently the result of hereditary factors and their way of life. The publicity given such examples emphasizes that they are exceptions. The fact remains that the average life-span in many lands today is in the upper sixties or the low seventies, close to the figure at Psalm 90:10.
When considering longevity, many people think that modern science has vastly extended man’s life-span. In a sense that is so. By decreasing infant mortality and childhood deaths the average length of life has been increased. In England about the year 1850 it was just under forty years for males, and by 1947 it had increased to sixty. But for an adult the expectation of life at a certain age has remained approximately the same. For instance, in 1850 a forty-year-old man in the United States might be expected to live to be sixty-seven. In 1962, with all of man’s medical advances, the expectation for a male of forty was 71.7 years, or an increase of only 4.7 years since 1850.
Consequently, even though there might be some exceptions, such as Moses himself, the inspired statement, “the days of our years are seventy years,” is as true today as it was in Moses’ day.