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.

Wind and Water

by Lois Tverberg

The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. – Genesis 1:2

There is a really fascinating theme that runs through all of the Bible – the picture of God beginning a new creation. Genesis begins the story of creation with the Spirit of God “hovering over” the deep (Tehom), and one of God’s first acts of creation is the separation of water from water. This picture is a theme that recurs over and over in the scriptures, every time God starts something new.

There is a little of a poetic motif there, because the word for “the deep” is Tehom, which was symbolic of chaos. It is a picture of God conquering evil and chaos to bring order and a beautiful new thing into existence. The word for Spirit in Hebrew is ruach, which also means wind or breath, so when God parts the waters by a great wind it is a picture of God in the act of creating.

wind and waterWhere do we see this? First we see it in Genesis 1:1 of course, but only a few chapters later, after the flood destroyed all of life on earth, we read in Genesis 8:1-3 that God caused a wind (ruach) to pass over the earth, and restrained the waters of the deep (Tehom), and the flood waters receded, giving the world a new, clean beginning.

We next see this in the parting of the Red Sea, as the wind (ruach) blows to separate the waters so that the Israelites can pass through. This marks the beginning of God’s new nation of Israel, who now would have their own sovereignty and identity as the people of God. Later, as they pass through the river Jordan, once again God was parting the waters, and in a sense, re-creating them as his people and cleansing them of their sin in the desert. After their entrance into the land they took on the covenant again, just like they did at Sinai, and made a clean beginning as God’s people.

There is one more place significant scene in the Bible when we see this imagery of God at the waters – at the baptism of Jesus. Here the heavens are parted (reminiscent of the waters being parted) and we see the Spirit of God “hovering” over, in the form of a dove, just as it hovered over the first waters of creation. Here is God’s new creation, God on earth in the form of the Son of Man.

Photocred: Jacques Joseph Tissot

reading the bible

If you’d like to learn more about how Hebraic imagery is woven throughout the Scriptures, see pp. 210-212 in ch.11, “Reading in the Third Dimension” in Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus.