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Tricky verses

Kyle has asked about this verse from Genesis 4:

23 Lamech said to his wives, "Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. 24 If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."

Thought it provided a good opportunity to model some points on interpreting tricky verses.  I'll just highlight three simple points to bear in mind as you read the bible.  Tape these on the inside cover of your bible.

In reverse order of importance...

Coming in at number 3...

Just cos it's in the bible don't mean it's approved of!

This one's important to bear in mind especially when reading Old Testament narrative.  I used to tie myself in knots trying to figure out how Jacob could be such a slime-ball or how Abraham could lie about his wife and stand by while she's taken into Pharaoh's harem etc etc.  I still remember the relief when a minister told me these guys are not being held up as paragons of virtue.  Often they are held up for judgement and as warnings.  We're meant to be appalled.  Often they are testimonies to God's grace.  God uses slime-balls.  He doesn't condone their slime but He loves to show His goodness in redeeming the messes that we create.  We're meant to wonder at His mercy.

Lamech here is being held up as a terrible example of the way of Cain, his great great great grandfather.  Kyle is right to see arrogance here - Lamech is bigging himself up horribly.  His is not an example to follow!


Next, at number 2, we must learn...

The bible interprets the bible

When we come across tricky verses we don't need a PhD in ancient near eastern archeology or a hundred theology textbooks or initiation into some religious fraternity that holds the secrets.  We just need the bible.  The Holy Spirit has done a good job of authoring a book with all the necessary information.  If we had needed an appendix at the back with the essential keys to interpretation, He would have included one.  As it is, what He's written is sufficient.  The bible will explain itself to us if we allow it to interpret itself.

So as we consider Lamech's song we'll consider the context of what's happened previously.  We might be interested to compare Lamech's song to the first song sung to a wife - Adam's in Genesis 2:23.  That was a good song.  That was all about the wife.  Lamech's song is sung to his wives but it's all about him.  It's a kind of anti-love song!  Adam's song was able to celebrate the wounds that the husband sustained because it produced His beautiful bride. (Gen 2:21-24)  On the other hand Lamech will protect himself from any wound and seek vengeance.

We might also want to think about the significance of the number 7.  The bible uses sevens a lot.  From the beginning (the seven days of creation) we see it used as a number of completion.  It's used in connection with God's activity.  And here Lamech pretends to have God's own perfect blessing on his life - a divine protection.  Of course we hear nothing from God about this.  Again the pride of Lamech is on show.

When we search the bible for 7 and 77 together we might turn to Matthew 18:21-22:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 22 Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

And this brings us to the most important point...

The number 1 interpretive key:

The bible is about Jesus

The bible is not about morality or religion or politics or psychology or history or philosophy.  And if you see the bible as primarily a source book for these things you will twist it from it's true intention.  Jesus says the bible is about Him.  When speaking to some serious bible scholars He said this:

You have never heard the Father's voice nor seen His form, 38 nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the One He sent. 39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, 40 yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.  (John 5:37-40) 

Life does not exist in the Scriptures.  Our interest should not terminate on the text. We must allow the bible to bring us to Christ - He is the point of our bible reading. 

As we think about Lamech's song - how does that testify to Christ?

Well in Christ we have the answer to Lamech's anti-love song.  Jesus (who the bible calls the 'Last Adam') speaks not of seventy-seven-fold vengeance but seventy-seven-fold forgiveness.  Through the wounds He sustains for His bride (on the cross) He brings not revenge but grace.  Jesus is the True Husband who does not protect Himself but in love He makes Himself vulnerable for His bride (the church). 


Those are just some thoughts on this verse and how to interpret tricky verses in general.

0 thoughts on “Tricky verses

  1. dave bish

    The vengeance of Cain is backwards too...
    I went back 9 verses instead of 51....

    Plenty there in the curse-speaking blood of Abel too I'd think...

  2. glenscriv

    Yes, right you are Dave. Sorry if my tone sounded like an admonition. I was agreeing with you that going back was often the better path to Christ. Can I read any of your stuff on Cain-Lamech? That'd be cool.


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