Genesis 4:23-24, Why Lamech’s Words Must Be Understood
In my last post I addressed the oxymoron of Cain “settling down” in a “land of wandering” and identified God’s riddle: if you’re apart from the Presence, it doesn’t matter how you reinvent yourself – you’re “wandering”.
Although Cain and his descendants appeared to be somewhat successful, it’s only according to the success of this life. In the end, Cain’s lineage couldn’t separate themselves from the “way of Cain” (James 1:11). They would all ultimately drown in the Great Flood. The last words we hear from Cain’s descendants are from a man named Lamech, the fifth from Cain:
And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. (Genesis 4:23-24, KJV)
[Note: Several Bible translations offer “wounding” and “hurting” as past progressive verbs, but in Hebrew these words are not in verb form. Additionally, there are attempts to portray that Lamech smote a man due to a cause, i.e. “for my wound”; if that were the case, we’d expect the Hebrew kiy – which indicates a causal relationship. However, the –l proclitic is used instead which indicates an action toward something. Therefore, I think the KJV’s translation and others like it are correct. ]
God allowed Lamech’s words for a reason, even if they seem completely out of place. After all, these are the only words recorded from any of Cain’s descendants. Could Lamech’s words be an out of place signal – like a road flare on a dark country road -designed to get our attention?
I believe they are. So let’s slow down and understand how God is warning us through Lamech’s words.
Understanding the context, Lamech’s speech occurs right after the Bible reveals how successful his three sons had become. They were innovators who changed the world – rapidly, within one generation (vv. 20-22). They taught men a better way to acquire wealth: they taught the dwelling in mobile tents instead of fixed fortresses which allowed for flocks and herds, smithing metal into specific tools advancing agriculture and (perhaps) weaponry, and even taught entertainment through music and song – a respite from “the toil and stress of life” (ref. Gen. 5:29).
So these men became the “father of” an innovation and profession, which influenced the entire world. But the one to benefit the most from their successes was… Lamech, the “father of the fathers of”! He was likely well respected – so much so that Methuselah – a contemporary to Lamech’s three sons – might have named his own son “Lamech” in honor of Cain’s descendant (cf. Gen. 5:25). So it’s likely Lamech was an influential man, and it’s therefore important to know what kind of man he was.
So when examining Lamech’s words to his wives, the first thing we must understand these are Lamech’s words – not the Almighty’s. He said, “hear my voice… harken to my speech.” Lamech is not prophesying. Quite the contrary, actually. These are words that reveal the type of man he was, which is why God gave us them.
Lamech smote a young man of some stature, enough to make Lamech reasonably expect some level of retribution. But Lamech never regretted murdering someone – he regretted that his victim might be avenged! In other words, Lamech reacted like his forefather Cain, but this is not just Cain 2.0 – Lamech is far worse. While Cain seemed resigned to his fate, Lamech promoted additional violence on top of his original murder! Indeed, Lamech was a diabolical character, a violent tyrant who would never face his guilt.
So in effect, Lamech instructs his two wives – the mothers of his three influential sons – to direct the family’s power toward such a vengeance that would make God’s wrath seem weak. We don’t know if Lamech believed those words God once spoke over Cain, but it does seem like he’s mocking them, as if he could exceed God’s punishment by inventing more grandiose ways to destroy people. So even if Lamech believed that YHVH God existed, he didn’t fear Him. In fact, the brutal tyrant blasphemed God.
So now we understand Lamech’s words in their proper context. Now let’s interpret them as a warning to future generations.
There are two lessons to learn from Lamech’s life, and they’re actually primers for the foundations taught in the Torah, reinforced by the Prophets, and solidified by Messiah Yeshua and His apostles.
The first lesson is: those with much destroy those with little. These powerful types may not always destroy lesser-thans in a physical sense, but they nevertheless devour through threats, extortion, frivolous lawsuits, slanders, persecutions, and many other abuses of power. The second lesson is connected to the first: The rich and powerful own justice, too. In other words, after the haves abuse the have-nots, and the abused cry out for justice, those have-nots are exterminated “seven and seventy” times over.
There is an oft-repeated torah that forbids perverting justice for the poor (e.g. Exo. 23:6, Lev. 19:15, Deut. 16:19), and should we forget those commandments, they’re rehashed throughout the Prophets (Isa. 1:17, Jer. 5:28 et al). Following suit, Messiah Yeshua taught that justice was one of the weightier matters of the Law (i.e. Matt. 23:23). In short, justice is important to God, evidenced by His teaching of it throughout all of time.
So Lamech’s life is marred by the same injustices and transgressions which provoked God’s judgment of the pre-Flood world. For example, Lamech’s wives’ names suggest beauty (Adah = adorned; Tzillah = respite), as does his daughter’s (Naamah = beautiful). Comparatively, the judgment before the Flood was “the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful” (Gen. 6:2). Lamech was also one of those who took multiple wives, (Gen. 6:2) and Lamech’s violent murder fits the bill for “the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Gen. 6:11) Indeed, Lamech’s life exemplifies every judgment of the pre-Flood world.
So now we know Lamech’s life and words in context, and he seems to exemplify everything God detested about that pre-Flood civilization.
What we know so far is:
Lamech was the ‘father of the fathers of’, a highly influential man.
Lamech was a brutal and diabolical man.
Lamech blasphemed God.
Lamech’s life exemplified every judgment of the pre-Flood world.
With this knowledge, I interpret Lamech’s speech as a warning of “the beginning of the End.”
There are even more prophetic clues bringing clarity to Lamech’s words; see if you can find them! The clues begin right after Lamech’s speech in Genesis 4:24, and end with the judgments I’ve already mentioned in Genesis 6. In the meantime, ask yourself the following questions:
How did Seth get his name?
Two family lineages are listed (Cain’s and Seth’s). Who was Lamech’s contemporary?
Does the Bible offer any hints at how influential and respected Lamech was?
What happens when brutal tyrants are highly respected?
What did Messiah Yeshua say of the Pre-Flood world? How does that compare to Lamech’s family?
If we answer these questions, we will not only understand Lamech’s words in context, but understand them prophetically as a warning of the beginning of our end as well. ♦