When Lamech says, “If Cain is avenged seven times…” he is not referring to the number of times Cain was avenged, since one can only be avenged once, but rather the generation in which Cain was avenged. That generation was the seventh generation, for it is the generation in which Lamech attempted to murder Enoch, a descendant of Seth.
Likewise, if Lamech’s use of “time/s” refers to generations, then Lamech, according to his own prediction, would have been avenged in the 77th generation, for he says: “I will be avenged seventy-seven times.” The 77th generation is not a random generation. It is a very special generation, since it is the one in which Christ was born into, as demonstrated in Luke’s genealogy:
This genealogy in Luke 3:23-371 shows that Christ appeared in the 77th generation. Although it may seem odd that Christ and Lamech are connected, Matthew 18:21-22 shows how they are related:
“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?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’ ”2
The relationship between Christ and Lamech is this: Christ tells Peter to forgive seventy-seven times, while Lamech tells his wives that he will be avenged seventy-seven times. Just as vengeance and forgiveness are antithetical concepts, so too are the espousers of these respective notions: Lamech and Christ. This juxtaposition illustrates the stark contrast between the sons of God (Seth/Christ) and the sons of men (Cain/Lamech):
“For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what
fellowship can light have with darkness?” (2Cor 6:14).
We might add, “For what does vengeance have in common with forgiveness?” It is true that they are antithetical, and although opposites, they are related in that forgiveness is the panacea for vengeance. For without forgiveness, vengeance has no end. In saying to Peter, “forgive seventy-seven times,” Christ was expressing — numerically — the idea of limitless or eternal forgiveness, since this number is a multiple of seven — a number that is consistently associated in Scripture with God, who is eternal.3
Moreover, Christ was born in the 77th generation. Prior to Christ, the Law, with its “eye for an eye” policy (Exod 21:24) did not allow for forgiveness. However, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross opened the way to forgiveness for the first time since the Law was enacted. He was raised to life everlasting, and as such became immortal or eternal. Thus Christ, a man born in the 77th generation; the first to espouse forgiveness; and the first man raised from the dead to everlasting life, represents eternal forgiveness.
This association with Christ, a man born in the 77th generation, and who was granted immortality; his use of the number seventy-seven in relation to forgiveness without end; and the number seven’s (and arguably its multiples’) symbolic association with God, who is eternal; makes the number seven and its multiples symbolic of the eternal.
Given the number’s spiritual relationship to Christ and God, how is it that Lamech came to choose the number seventy-seven? What did this number mean to him, because surely we can’t presume that he had any spiritual foreknowledge to know that Christ, his opposite, would be born in the 77th generation to put an end to his cry for vengeance. Was it perhaps God speaking a prophecy through a wicked man?
This is certainly possible, since there are other instances where God has communicated through wicked men. Two such instances occurred when the Lord spoke through Balaam (Num 24:1-9), and through the high priest Caiaphas (John 11:49-52); the former who Jude lists among the wicked (Jude 11), and the latter who was responsible for crucifying Jesus.
Certainly, there is a spiritual component to Lamech’s words and, as has been shown, they are prophetic — of the coming of the Messiah in the 77th generation who would bring an end to vengeance through forgiveness.
But Lamech was unaware that the words he spoke were prophetic. Instead, he must have chosen that number based simply on the idea of a multiple. By intending to murder Enoch in the seventh generation, Lamech believed he was avenging his ancestor. Like Cain, he would have understood that avenging his ancestor would have, in turn, created in others a desire for revenge (the mark of Cain). Thus Lamech knew that his vengeful actions in murdering Enoch would have spawned an avenger. And, as has also been noted, Lamech was a man of great pride. His ego, in relation to his own death at the hands of an avenger, would have, in turn, demanded that the act of avenging him too be great — greater than even his ancestor, Cain; seventy-seven times greater. As such, Lamech’s use of the number seventy-seven was basically an egotistical expression, through multiplication, for the desire of his death to be exponentially more significant than Cain’s.
So far, we’ve seen how God, speaking through Lamech, spoke a prophecy about the coming of Christ in the 77th generation, who would put an end to vengeance through eternal forgiveness; we’ve also seen how Lamech’s use of that multiple was in relation to his ego’s desire to be avenged even greater than his ancestor, Cain. But there is one final component to Lamech’s expression of the number seventy-seven.
In wanting to be avenged seventy-seven times greater than his ancestor, Lamech was demanding to be avenged throughout seventy-seven generations, because that number was used in relation to generations. Unbeknownst to him, that number was also symbolic, in particular of the eternal (this was demonstrated by Christ’s use of it in relation to forgiveness, Matthew 18:21-22). So, by demanding to be avenged seventy-seven times, Lamech was, in a sense, making a declaration of war — a never-ending or eternal war, which would have been directed against his perceived enemy; namely Enoch, and all others who associated themselves with God. If God had not “removed” Enoch from the murderous hands of Lamech, his blood would surely have been spilt, and would have represented the second casualty in the war waged between the sons of men and the sons of God; the first casualty being Abel. Just because Lamech could not kill Enoch, does not mean that further bloodshed between the sons of God and the sons of men did not occur in the seventh generation and beyond. Christ confirms that righteous blood has been shed since the time of Abel, through the antediluvian age, into the post-Flood age, up until, and including the time of Christ:
“And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar” (Matt 23:35).
In his condemnation of the Pharisees, Jesus equated them with Cain, for they, like the world’s first murderer, were responsible for an unbroken chain of violence perpetrated against the righteous — from the time of Abel through to his age.
But the war against the righteous did not end with Christ. For, as will be shown in the final chapter of this study, the cycle of conflict between the righteous and the unrighteous; between the spiritual descendants of Abel/Seth and Cain; between the sons of God and the sons of men; between Enoch and Lamech; and between Lamech and Christ, continued, unabated in the first century AD. Not only did the rulers and priests of that time attempt to murder the apostles and believers, but men arose within the ecclesias who, in time, would turn their hatred against their fellow brothers and sisters — to the point of murder. Jude warned the ecclesias about such men when he wrote: “certain men… who have secretly slipped in among you… [are] dreamers who pollute their own bodies, reject authority, and slander celestial beings” (vv. 4, 8). Though these actions are obvious precursors to violence, they are not overt references to bloodshed in themselves. However, Jude makes reference to Cain in his epistle — a man who is associated with murder and who killed the first righteous man — and by doing so connects these “certain men” and their “wicked” actions with Cain, indicating that violence was inevitable. As we know from history, Jude’s prophecy about Christianity came true, since violence has become a hallmark characteristic of Christendom.
Matthew Harrison (Ottawa, ON)
1. A footnote in the NIV states that “some manuscripts have Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni; other manuscripts vary widely.”
2. All references are from the NIV.
3. The Bible, especially Revelation, is full of examples, too numerous to discuss here, that demonstrate God’s association with the number seven.