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The Duration of Life

The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. (Psalm 90:10, NIV)

Did you ever wonder how God came up with that number? I discovered it recently in the writings of Wilhelm Grimm (of fairy tale fame).  Enjoy…

When God created the world and was about to determine the duration of life for all the creatures, the donkey came and asked, “Lord, how long am I to live?”

“Thirty years,” answered God. “Is that all right with you?”

“Oh, Lord,” replied the donkey, “that is a long time. Think of my tiresome existence carrying heavy loads from morning until night, dragging bags of grain to the mill so that others might eat bread, only to be cheered along and refreshed with kicks and blows! Spare me part of this long time.”

So God had mercy and gave him eighteen years. The donkey went away satisfied, and the dog made his appearance.

“How long do you want to live?” said God to him. “Thirty years was too much for the donkey, but you will be satisfied with that long.”

“Lord,” answered the dog. “Is that your will? Just think how much I have to run. My feet will not hold out so long. And what can I do but growl and run from one corner to another after I have lost my voice for barking and my teeth for biting?”

God saw that he was right, and he took away twelve years. Then came the monkey.

“Surely you would like to live thirty years,” said the Lord to him. “You do not need to work like the donkey and the dog, and are always having fun.”

“Oh, Lord,” he answered, “so it appears, but it is different. When it rains porridge, I don’t have a spoon. I am always supposed to be playing funny tricks and making faces so people will laugh, but when they give me an apple and I bite into it, it is always sour. How often is sorrow hidden behind a joke. I cannot put up with all that for thirty years!”

God had mercy and gave him ten years. Finally man made his appearance. Cheerful, healthy, and refreshed, he asked God to determine the duration of his life.

“You shall live thirty years,” spoke the Lord. “Is that enough for you?”

“What a short time!” cried the man. “When I have built a house and a fire is burning on my own hearth, when I have planted trees that blossom and bear fruit, and am just beginning to enjoy life, then I am to die. Oh, Lord, extend my time.”

“I will add the donkey’s eighteen years,” said God.

“That is not enough,” replied the man.

“You shall also have the dog’s twelve years.”

“Still too little.”

“Well, then,” said God, “I will give you the monkey’s ten years as well, but you shall receive no more.”

The man went away, but he was not satisfied.

Thus man lives seventy years. The first thirty are his human years, and they quickly disappear. Here he is healthy and happy; he works with pleasure, and enjoys his existence. The donkey’s eighteen years follow. Here one burden after the other is laid on him; he carries the grain that feeds others, and his faithful service is rewarded with kicks and blows. Then come the dog’s twelve years, and he lies in the corner growling, no longer having teeth with which to bite. And when this time is past, the monkey’s ten years conclude. Now man is weak headed and foolish; he does silly things and becomes a laughingstock for children. (“The Duration of Life,” Wilhelm Grimm)

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