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Genesis 5 lists the generations from Adam till Noah, and not only did the people live much longer, but they also didn’t seem to have children until they were much older – averaging at around 100 years. Is there a reason why they did not have children for so long (although proportionate to their lives, their age was similar to ours today)?
Thank you for your good observation. Your final point is very good. Not only did man live much longer before the Flood, but he seems to have grown up much more slowly as well, not reaching childbearing age till his 60’s. (The earliest recorded births in Genesis 5 are both at 65.) In fact, the Midrash states that a person in those days was not considered “grown up” and culpable for his actions until the age of 100 (see Rashi to Genesis 5:32). (Some explain that only Seth’s illustrious descendants had such long lifespans. The rest of mankind was living no longer than we do today.)
Thus, in originally granting man a much longer lifespan, it appears that every stage of man’s life was extended, including the process of growing up and maturing. Man was able to strive much closer to perfection, and he was given a much longer lifespan to develop himself and ultimately to achieve this.
(According to the Talmud (Bava Metziah 87a), the notion of growing old and feeble was a much later curse, only beginning in the time of our forefathers. In the antediluvian era, people lived in optimum condition until the end.)
However, when man became sinful, God began shortening his lifespan – in a gradual process which was not completed until the time of the Exodus. God did this so that man would be more strongly aware of his mortality. He would be forced to live his years knowing his soul would soon be returned to his Creator for judgment, and he would have to live with that awareness throughout his life.
Some of the commentators see a reference to this in Genesis 6:3, at the time God decrees to destroy the world via the Flood. God states “His days will be 120 years.” No longer would man live such a great lifespan. One hundred and twenty would now be the maximum. And every stage of his life would accordingly be shortened.
(See this past response on a related topic.)