Seventy Times Seven | Genesis 4:17-24
Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.
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.” Genesis 4:17-24 | ESV
So, wandering Cain wanders off to the land of Wandering, wife in tow (and the fact that Cain’s wife is mentioned without background or explanation can either confound you as to where she came from – simple answer, “her mother” – or delight you as you as you observe an author at work who seems to feel no compulsion whatsoever to fill in the blanks that we obsess over; perhaps there’s a lesson here), and perhaps at least one son (was he born before or after Cain was exiled? The text doesn’t say – ancient narrators typically didn’t fixate on chronology in weaving their tales) and he and his clan become builders. Inventors. Craftsmen. Artisans. God planted a garden. Man built a city. Cain’s clan was a clan of achievers who took the world and its elements in their hands and forged their destiny. They would have been on the cover of Time and Forbes. But there’s usually a darker side to success stories, isn’t there? And Cain is no exception. Yes, he was a survivor. Yes, his family built and invented and created. But they were also killers. Cain passed on a legacy that devalued human life, expressed in more killing and more wives. Woman, the powerful ally and partner is reduced to property subject to a husband’s will. How telling that one of the earliest pieces of poetry in the Bible is Lamech’s poetic ode to his two wives about his killing exploits – all evidently covered by God, because, after all, if Cain is avenged seven fold, then Lamech will be avenged seven fold – and then another seventy fold after that! To look at the civilization of Cain is to look at our own – of whatever time and place. We all bear the genetic strain of Cain. And then Christ comes, and stepping out of the city, steals Lamech’s line. “How often shall I forgive my brother? Until seven times?” “I tell you not until seven times, but until seven times plus seventy more.” A new strain. A new city with a new foundation, “whose builder and maker is God.” And so as Augustine posed the question so many centuries ago, is it the city of man or the City of God that we seek? Is it the strain of Cain or of Christ that we will embrace? Is it the seventy times seven of forgiveness and grace in which we will live and move and find our being, or that darker tally of vengeance?
Be honest with yourself. Are people obstacles or resources for you to either use or eliminate (okay, hopefully not literally, but you get the point), or are they creations of God to see, value, and embrace – and how does the way you live your life show it?
God, let it be the strain and presence of Christ in me that shapes me and how I choose to respond to life and to the people I encounter today. Give me eyes to see others not as obstacles in my path but as reflections of your beauty adorning my way. Rather than building up my personal empire, let my life be given to building up others. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.