The Children of Lamech
I’ve been watching with some horror the bits of news coming out of the Middle East, with terrible violence being perpetrated against our embassies abroad. I am moved with pity for the victims of these attacks, but I am more struck by the murderous rage of these individuals who claim simply to be offended by America. This is nothing new.
In the Gospels, Jesus calls those who oppose Him children of the devil, a “murderer from the beginning [who] does not stand in truth” (John 8:44). Speaking in spiritual terms, Jesus is relating all murderers to the original murderer, Satan. By that association, we could rightly call the assailants in these attacks children of the devil as well.
Still, this provides an opportunity for explaining a passage of the Bible. Recently in my classroom, I’ve covered the first chapters of Genesis with my students, including the passage concerning Lamech. Due to its awkward wording, it used to cause me some confusion. Perhaps I can clear some of that up. Lamech was known for his raging violence. In the best-known passage concerning him, he is bragging about his (most recent?) murderous exploit:
“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
wives of Lamech, listen to my utterance:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for bruising me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.” -Genesis 4:23-24
The violence in the Middle East reminds me of the rage of Lamech. “If Cain is avenged seven-fold, then Lamech seventy-seven-fold!”
What does Lamech mean? If we look back a few verses to Genesis 4:15, we’ll see a promise God made to Cain, following the murder of Abel, that if Cain is harmed, he will be avenged sevenfold, that is, God will pour out punishment seven times harsher than what Cain suffered at the hands of his assailant.
Lamech, a monster of anger, thinking himself greater than Cain, expected greater retribution against his enemies. If Cain’s suffering merited seven-fold revenge, then Lamech figured his suffering merited seventy-seven-fold. Thus, a bruise inflicted on Lamech could, in his mind, be returned with a fatal blow. At the heart of this perspective is pride. Lamech’s pride is manifest in two ways:
- He thought himself greater than Cain, and therefore worthy of greater revenge.
- He made himself the arbiter of justice, rather than God. Justice in the hands of man often turns to vengeance.
By contrast, when Peter approached Christ – pridefully hoping for an answer in his favor – we get this exchange:
Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.” -Matthew 18:21-22
Christ’s answer manifests humility in response to pride.
- Where Lamech thought himself great enough to merit great revenge, Christ teaches us to consider ourselves very little, so that we do not expect revenge. On the contrary, we believe that accepting our sufferings gives us an opportunity to learn and grow in holiness. In that sense, that our sufferings are guided by God to do us well, we deserve them. We may deserve them in other ways, as well.
- Where Lamech made himself the arbiter of justice, Christ teaches us to trust in God. By forgiving our brothers – as well as our enemies – we hand the matter of justice to God. As an aside, though it’s hard to live out, there really can be few greater forms of revenge than to pray your enemy into heaven – what an ultimate in “I told you so” moments that must be at the Pearly Gates!
- Lastly, and most obviously, Jesus teaches to forgive seventy-seven fold, the same proportion to which Lamech’s pride brought out vengeance. He deliberately was reversing the idea of revenge as Lamech saw it.
All this leaves me wondering: is it any wonder a population without Christ could respond that way? Are these rumblings perhaps a sign that God’s next plan for His Church might be to renew the evangelization of the Middle East?
God grant peace to all the victims … and their assailants.