“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. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold’” (Gen. 4:23–24).
When Cain transgressed the will of the Lord and killed his brother Abel, God could have immediately ended his life. Such was the sentence Israel was to carry out on murderers according to the law later delivered to Noah (Gen. 9:6). However, in his grace, our Creator allowed Cain not only to live but to exist securely under divine protection (Gen. 4:15).
The apostle Paul teaches us that the Lord pours His kindness on sinners for the purpose of driving them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Cain should have turned from his sin in response to God’s protection. But this first murderer fled from the presence of the Lord, seeking to build a name for himself and his sons by naming a city after his firstborn (Gen. 4:17).
Cain’s sons multiply, and several generations later, a man by the name of Lamech is born (v. 18). Though his ancestor Cain was evil enough, Lamech is far worse, the first indication of this being Moses’ reference to his polygamy in verse 19. Nevertheless, the taking of multiple wives was not the most monstrous of his acts. Today’s passage illustrates the depths of mankind’s depravity in the first few generations after Adam.
In verses 23–24, Lamech boasts to his wives of killing a man for “striking” him. The circumstances of this offense against him are not known; yet it is certain the punishment Lamech executes does not fit the crime. Here the danger of blood-vengeance is illustrated in the extreme — a danger the Lord later curbs by giving us the lex talionis. Far from being too harsh, the stipulation “an eye for an eye” ensures punishment will not be harsher than deserved (Ex. 21:23–25).
Lamech’s sin is worse than Cain’s because of his boast that those who take revenge on him will be avenged seventy-seven fold (Gen. 4:24). In arrogance, Lamech presumes upon the mercy and kindness of our Creator, viewing the absence of strict justice as liberation for him to do evil. Note well that while we may never murder another, we all regularly take the Lord’s grace for granted when we sin. May we never so recklessly violate the law of God (Rom. 6:1–4).
Modern man falsely assumes the Lord will never repay him for his wickedness. Instead of repenting of their sin, the impious, as John Calvin writes, “rage against those chastisements of God, which ought at least to render them gentle.” Yet even Christians who do not arrogantly flout God’s law often transgress it while believing they will face no consequences. Ask the Lord to make you revere His law and endeavor with all your might never to presume upon His kindness.
Passages for Further Study
- Num. 15:30–31
- Ps. 49
- Luke 12:13–21
- Jude 5–16
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