Lamech’s Opposite


by Lois Tverberg

“Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice, you wives of Lamech, give heed to my speech, for I have killed a man for wounding me, and a boy for striking me; if Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” Genesis 4:23-24

In Jesus’ time, rabbis studied the Torah intensively and peppered their sermons with references to the first five books of the Bible. They often would use even a single unusual or unique word to hint back to a story and make their point more effectively. Their culture was deeply literate in the Bible and would have recognized these allusions to Scripture. Unusual words would stick out at them and immediately bring to mind an earlier story.

In the following passage, Jesus seems to be doing this, to more effectively make His point:

Then Peter came to him and said, “Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times.” – Matthew 18:21-22

EmbraceHere we read that Peter asks him how many times we need to forgive – up to seven times? The number seven is symbolic of completeness, hinting that Peter was saying that we should forgive repeatedly and completely. But then Jesus says “up to seventy-seven times,” which we often want to translate as “seventy times seven,” because 490 times is larger than seventy-seven. But the key to understanding is not in the quantity of 77 or 490, but in the fact that the phrase “seventy-seven times” or “seventy-sevenfold” (shiv’im v’shiva or hebdomekontakis hepta) is a unique phrase, found only once in the Hebrew scriptures, in today’s verse from Genesis 4:23.

The context was that Lamech, as a descendant of Cain, had inherited Cain’s violence, but then also had a lust for revenge. If some one hurt him, he would kill him, and he was certain to make sure anyone who wronged him was paid back seventy-sevenfold. God had told Cain that if anyone hurt him when he was roaming the earth, God would punish him seven-fold (Genesis 4:15). But Lamech says he will outdo God in revenge. Anybody who crossed him will be paid-back in a big way — not just sevenfold, but seventy-sevenfold!

If this is in Jesus’ mind, Jesus may be saying that we should be as eager to forgive as Lamech was to take vengeance. Just as Lamech wanted the punishment to far exceed the crime, we should want our forgiveness to far exceed the wrong done to us. We should be the exact opposite of Lamech, making our goal to forgive as extravagantly and completely as possible.

The Slippery Slope

Temptation and Expulsion from the Garden

by Lois Tverberg

The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. – Genesis 6:5-6

We think of the point at which sin enters the world as when Eve takes the first bite of the apple. Some of us quickly leap next to the Gospels to read God’s answer to the problem. But it is interesting that if we keep reading we can get a lesson about sin and its consequences.

Temptation and Expulsion from the GardenWe see sin’s effects even after Adam and Eve are sent out from the garden. Within a few years, one of their own sons commits the first murder – a drastic worsening from Adam and Eve’s small act of rebellion of eating forbidden fruit. Cain is a man who doesn’t care about his brother and is prone to jealousy. His anger entices him to murder, just as the serpent led Eve to sin. A few generations later, in Cain’s line, we see a man even more vengeful than Cain – his descendant Lamech. Lamech said the following:

I have killed a man for wounding me, and a boy for striking me;
If Cain is avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold. Genesis 4:24

Not only was Lamech more violent than Cain, he was even proud of it! Finally, evil reached its peak a few generations later in the generation of the flood. The scriptures say that this was a people whose only thought was of evil all the time, and God was sorry he made them. He wiped them all out with a flood, but the first thing man did after the flood was to build the tower of Babel — it was clear that the flood hadn’t washed the sin out of their hearts.

At this point, God began a much more long-term answer for sin in the heart of man. In the very next chapter, God chose one faithful man, Abram, and promised that through him he would make a people that would bless the whole world. Through him would come a nation that could be taught God’s way to live, and even if they struggled, could be a light to the nations around them. And God could use this nation to bring his final answer to sin – Jesus.

Through this we can see the amazing power of sin that starts out small and quickly grows powerful and ugly. But we can hope in the fact that while God’s answer also starts out small, it ultimately will triumph with redemption.