Cain, Lamech, & God vs Peter & Jesus

Cain, Lamech, & God vs Peter & Jesus
Matthew 18:21-22 Reverses Genesis 4:15,24

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22, NRSV)

One of the beauties of the Bible is that God did not forget what he wrote in the early chapters when he got to writing the later chapters. The unity of consiscience throughout scripture gives our Bible credibility as the mind of a single author is evident. No matter what human hand wrote down the Greek or Hebrew words, the mind is that of the Hebrew God.

Note for example Peter speaking with Christ about forgiveness. You may recall this passage from Matthew:

Matt 18:21-22 Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. (NASB)

There is a related passage on the requirements of forgiveness in Luke:

Luke 17:1-4 He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” (NASB)

When reading these — especially the Matthew passage with its (difficult Greek) “seventy sevens” numerical value, your mind should immediately recall your readings from way back early in the Bible, in the book of Genesis. Here we find these sevens mirrored in the stories of Cain and the Lamech.

Cain kills his brother Abel. This clearly angers God and frightens Cain, yet God promises to protect and to avenge any harm done by another to Cain.

Gen 4:8-16 Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. 9 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. 12 When you till the ground, it will no longer yield to you its strength; you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.” 13 Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! 14 Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, so that no one who came upon him would kill him. 16 Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. (NRSV)

Note this unpleasant promise from God: our Lord will not only protect Cain, but will also avenge him. This is a most unChristian attitude, yes?

In the next few lines of scripture, and five generations from specially marked Cain, arrives another rough character named Lamech. This tough guy doubles down — actually he septuagintas down — on God’s promise to his great-great-great-great grandfather Cain. Lamech will avenge any acts against him seventy-seven fold:

Gen 4:23-24: Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. 24 If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (NRSV)

Aside: By the way, just who does Lamech point to as the avenger for any wounding of Lamech: God or himself? Will God avenge wrongdoing to Cain as God promises for Cain? Or is Lamech boasting that Lamech himself will return the favor to any party foolish enough to strike him? Is the plain language of the text clear?

We include here portions of the fabulous Greek-English and Hebrew-English interlinears produced by Scripture4All. From Matthew 18 and Genesis 4, see the Bible’s handling of these numeric values:

Another aside: The ancients did not do a very good job of writing down numeric values in prose writing. We do a much better job of this number writing today. But then, in our Gospel and Genesis examples, are the authors of Genesis and Matthew even writing numbers as specific numerical items, or are they recording idioms of speech? Is “seventy times seven” a recording of the exact, precise value 469+1? Or is it a figure of speech meaning “a whole heck of a lot of a whole lot?”

And so, in case you missed it, Jesus and Peter reverse God’s and Cain’s and Lamech’s promises. Jesus prescribes — promises really — a whole heck of a lot of forgiveness, reversing God’s whole lot (seven times, Gen 4:15) and Cain’s (God’s ?) whole heck of a lot (seventy times seven, Gen 4:24) of revenge.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Thanks go to Scripture4All and their superb interlinears!

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Please, please, please spend less time reading Bible Bits and more time reading the actual Bible for yourself

God’s blessings to you!

Mid-15th century illustration of Lamech being abused by two wives Adah and Zillah, Bruge Belgium, Morgan Museum (New York)

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