"Could it get any worse?" Plagues & Justice Pt. 3
We've been diving into the ideas of Plagues & Injustices in the Bible by tracing from Genesis 1 all the ways our best efforts fall apart without the presence of God. In fact, in 11 short chapters (Genesis 1-11) the Biblical authors who wrote Genesis want to convey just how bad it can get without God.
Humans simultaneously long for God and push God away. The Biblical story tells us what happens when we insist to live in a world without God.
The Biblical story tells us what happens when we insist to live in a world without God.
Last time we saw just how fast things unraveled in the story of Cain and Abel. Today we are going to focus in on an even more gruesome account in Genesis chapter 4 which tells us of Cain's great-great-great grandson - Lamech. Genesis 4:19-24 tells us the story of Lamech - a man with multiple wives who sings a proud song about all the people he has killed:
"Adah and Zillah (Lamech's wives), 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." (Genesis 4:23-24)
I want you to hear not only what he is saying, but also the attitude and heart from which Lamech speaks...He has not turned away and mourned the injustice of Cain but has embraced a lifestyle of murder as a good thing.
The point is that not that Lamech has murderous desires in his heart. The Bible is pretty clear that lots of people have lots of wrong desires in their hearts - in fact, this is normal when we choose to live a life without God. The point is that Lamech loves it. He loves the feeling of power it gives him. And worse yet, he loves holding it over the head's of his wives.
The story of Lamech then is a story of just how bad it can get in a life without God. The injustice that lives in our hearts (like Lamech's) is the same sinful injustice that lived in Cain's heart. God says about this sinful injustice:
"...sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it." (Genesis 4:7)
The message is clear - if we don't master sin, it will master us.
"...if we don't master sin, it will master us."
But what about for you and I today? Today we focus in on systemic racism, systemic abuses of power, systemic sin that affects everyone. These are real issues that need to be dealt with, fought against, and done away with. But the lesson of Lamech, of Cain, and of everyone in the Biblical narrative is that the problem with the world is the problem with me. The problem isn't just that sin exists in our culture, the problem is that the sin exists within me and you as well.
The problem isn't simply that we live within unjust systems, the problem is that each of us has had a hand in building these systems.
And some of us love it. Just like Lamech. Not only do we sin, but we relish for the opportunity to do it again. And the collateral damage? The people in our families, and in our friend groups, and at our schools, and at our jobs. We all take the brunt of the sin of all the people around us.
Lamech abused his wives and the people he killed. His wives had to live in a state of constant fear of a man who would brutalize them too if they stepped out of line. Sin makes life suck for you and for everyone around you too.
"Sin makes life suck for you and for everyone around you too."
But there is hope.
This is almost too good to pass up.
Even here in the beginning of the Bible, when the Biblical authors are trying to make it clear just how bad things can get without God, there are glimmers of hope.
Verse 24 of Genesis 4 says:
"If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times."
In Hebrew (most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew) there are all kinds of wordplay and double meanings happening that don't really show up when we translate it into English. One of those pops up here in this verse...
The number "7" in Hebrew culture was a number of completion. A number of totality. So, for example in Genesis 1, the fact that God made the world in 7 days is not interesting because of the actual fact that it took place in 7 days. It is interesting because of the message it says about God. What it is saying is that God's work was complete, and the author is signalling this completion by using the number 7. (There are even more patterns of 7 happening in Genesis chapter 1 that we don't have time to get into now.)
So, here Lamech is essentially saying - "You thought Cain's actions were bad? For however bad you think he is, I'm exponentially worse!" That's the point of him saying "seventy-seven times."
But this should ring a bell of hope when you read your New Testament.
If sin is the problem and it causes injustice in our world, then what is the answer?
Peter asks Jesus this question...
"Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" (Mt. 18:21)
In other words, he is saying - should I completely forgive my brother? To which Jesus responds...
"I tell you not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Mt. 18:22)
Did you catch that?
It's a reversal of the plague of Lamech, the plague of sin.
Any Jewish person listening to Jesus would have immediately known that Jesus was echoing the story of Lamech.
Jesus is in essence saying - "There is a way to reverse the injustice in our hearts and in the world, and it is poured out when we forgive each other endlessly."
And you may be saying; "Yeah, but you don't know what he did." Or; "You don't know how bad she hurt me."
Yet Jesus on the cross forgiving those who killed him is proof that God has empowered each of us by His Spirit the ability to forgive even the worst offenders we can imagine. It's not pie in the sky thinking, rather it's the most practical thing we could ever do...
Want to do away with injustice in our hearts and in the world? It begins and ends with forgiving people the way God has forgiven you.
And if we do that, we too can reverse the curse of Lamech and begin to learn what it means to follow the humble, servant King - King Jesus.
May we do it.