The Song of Lamech is Not the Song of the Lamb

Recently, I made the argument that Jesus's response to Peter about forgiving "seventy times seven" was a reference to the Jubilee. More specifically, the Jubilee of Jubilees. (That post can be found here.)

I'd like to extend that analysis by connecting Jesus's instruction on forgiveness to the very first reference of "seventy times seven" or "seventy seven" in the bible--Lamech's Song of the Sword.

The Song comes after the sin of Cain and Cain's exile. From there the descendents of Cain are named and among them is Lamech. In the middle of this, without any real context, Lamech gives what has been called the Song of the Sword:
Genesis 4.23-24
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.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times. ”
Again, we don't know any of the background here. We don't know who the young man was or why Lamech killed him. But what we do know is that this is a song of vengeance. More, it's a song of "shock and awe" vengeance.

There's the normal tit for tat vengeance.

Then there's Cain-level vengeance--vengeance times seven.

And then there is Lamech-level vengeance--vengeance seventy-seven times.

Again, this is the very first reference in the bible to seventy-seven (or seventy times seven). And we note here that this number is associated with vengeance, with a Song of the Sword.

In light of that, I wonder if Jesus's teachings on forgiveness are not directly addressing the ethic of Lamech and the hold it has upon our imaginations. Is not Jesus explicitly rejecting the Song of the Sword and the world it creates?
Matthew 18. 21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
Also note the sword-theme in the arrest at Gethsemane. Swords are everywhere:
Matthew 26.47-56
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled. 
(BTW, given this conversation I think it's noteworthy that Jesus calls his betrayer "friend.")

Everyone in this scene is working with the imagination of Lamech. The Song of the Sword is the ethic of everyone in the scene. Everyone, that is, but Jesus.

The men coming for Jesus are carrying swords. And Jesus chides them for their mistake. He basically says, "What ever gave you the idea that you'd need a sword to arrest me? When did I ever carry or call for swords?"

Jesus is in effect saying, "When did you ever hear me sing the song of Lamech?"

And Jesus's followers are just as confused. They are still singing the song of Lamech. The swords are met with swords.

But Jesus says, put your sword away.

We have a new understanding of seventy-seven.

The Song of Lamech is not the Song of the Lamb.

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12 thoughts on “The Song of Lamech is Not the Song of the Lamb”

  1. I have recently been rereading the Gospel's and am consistently remembering Genesis in my reading.  Specifically how Jesus is bringing dignity to those society lends little (the poor, lame, unclean, etc) and in general working against the prevailing thought of the day.  Much like the writer of Genesis did when declaring to the Israelites coming out of slavery that all men had God's image, not just Pharaohs.  

    Thanks for shedding light on the Song of Lamech as another way Jesus is refuting the ethic of the day. 

  2. Hope followed me like an adorable stray puppy.
    I brought him home with me and kept him as my own.
    Hope compels me to take him for a walk every day, in all kinds of weather.
    When we go out walking, people are so taken by Hope
    that they stop to ask where I got him.
    They want to own a puppy like him, too.
    Hope is such a great comfort and faithful companion.
    Everyone needs a dog like Hope.

    Thanks so much.  I'm encouraged and empowered to be creative, keep pressing on.  ~Peace~

  3. The people who insist on the authority of the Old Testament yet call themselves Christian are amazing.  It's as if Jesus never said love your neighbor.  

    Or that Paul didn't tell us that "Love does no harm to it's neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.  Romans 13:10

  4.   Lamech, it appears, is among the types of ANTI CHRIST in the OT.  Just the opposite conduct.

       Seems  most the male folks were types or anti types. The women folks often were the types or anti types of the bride of Christ. Jacob finds his wife at a well, Jesus as the greater Jacob finds a type of His bride at the same well.

     The OT, properly understood, has tremendous value to the modern believer. We err if we see it as God's highest and best intent at all times. Often it is what Yahweh tolerated to get the Jews from point A to B being Christ's birth.

      BTW, sometimes Jesus quotes non canonical stuff and we err thinking He is quoting the OT text. He's just using what was popular in the 30 AD culture as juxtaposition at times. Once he quotes from Maccabees. "You've heard it said, "hate your neighbor" but I say..............."

  5. The old tempers Lamech's murderous impulse justice into something workable for human justice. Exodus 21:23-25
    The new transforms it into somethingbeyond human justice. Matthew 5:38-39

  6. I was so pleased to see you cite GMH the other day, Richard.  He was one of the shared loves that brought Amy and I together.  This post and some reflections posted recently on the incompleteness of the lived experience of peace, reminded me of his poem:

    When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocriteTo own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; butThat piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allowsAlarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

    O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieuSome good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does houseHe comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,He comes to brood and sit.

  7. All Christians insist on the authority of the Old Testament--that question was settled in the early centuries, against a guy named Marcion.

    Richard, you may want to clarify that the "song of Lamech" is a satire--a picture of the downward spiral of violence, not endorsed by God nor by the authors of Genesis, who contrasted Lamech with Enoch (each is the 7th generation from Adam in two parallel lines of descent--a way of describing, really, two alternative humanities).

    By the way, just for the record, when Jesus said to love your neighbor, he was quoting the Old Testament. Look it up.

  8. I don't know that Christ could be considered non-violent when He attacked the money-lenders in the temple, or when he commanded the disciples to sell their clothes, and buy swords.

  9. Love your thoughts on this Richard I am curious though what were the Rabbi's at that time teaching regarding forgiveness? I think that would add to our understanding of Peters question.

  10. It is perhaps worth noting that in Genesis 4, it is Yahweh who is going to take vengeance on Cain's behalf (against anyone who hurts Cain), and not Cain himself.

    That said, I agree with Gunkel that originally, Cain and Lamech were probably violent folk heroes in a desert culture that practiced blood vengeance, as many of them still do today.

  11. nice work. like Lamech's Song of the Sword.
    visit my blog for more songs:

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