Seven, But Not Counting…
“If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
Genesis 4:24 (ESVUK)
Does our spirit of vengeance or our spirit of forgiveness know no bounds?
The above is an early example of Hebrew poetry’s use of parallels and contrasts. Cain’s threat about sevenfold revenge is compared to Lamech’s capacity for seventy-sevenfold revenge. The story goes that a mark had been placed on Cain to the effect that, if anyone were to kill him, then seven of his murderer’s family would be killed. Lamech is boasting that, if you think that sevenfold vengeance is bad, you haven’t seen anything yet: Lamech has nothing to fear from any assailant, and is strong enough to wipe out his enemy completely in an all-consuming act of retribution.
If we read verse 23, the bigamist Lamech boasts that he would be able to repay amply anyone who injures him. “Wives of Lamech, listen to my speech!”, he said, “For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me.” Perhaps he feels empowered by the fact that his son, Tubal-Cain, is renowned for making “instruments of bronze and iron”, suggesting that the family arsenal would be the most powerful in the land. Did he, like some dictators do today, arrange for a military parade in order to show off his amassed weapons and thus try to deter others from attacking him?
In Matthew 18:21-22 the disciples ask Jesus about how often you should forgive–Up to seven times? to which he replied, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.” Did his response trigger a thought in Matthew’s mind? Matthew, who quotes the Old Testament more than other Gospel writers, may have remembered Lamech’s vengeful boast. There is a direct contrast between Christ’s “seventy times seven” and Lamech’s “seventy-sevenfold”: Let’s glory in forgiveness, not in vengeance. When we participate fully with God’s Spirit of forgiveness, there is no restriction. We operate out of the abundance of forgiveness.
What about us? Do our acts of vengeance outnumber our acts of forgiveness? Maybe we put a cap on the number of times we forgive someone – we might choose to count as much as seven times – but with Jesus there’s no upper limit.
Just as God in Christ has forgiven us and continues to forgive us abundantly, so, with the help of his Spirit, we forgive and continue to forgive others.
Father, help me to engage in acts of forgiveness and not in acts of vengeance. In Jesus’ name.
Study by James Henderson
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