Genesis 4:19-24: Vengeance is not yours!

“19 Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. 20 Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. 21 His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. 22 Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of  bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah.  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.’ ” NIV

In (23) we encounter the first instance of polygamy in history. The Bible never advocates having more than one wife (at the same time!). It was not the original pattern. But Scripture certainly records occurrences from time to time. It seems to me that in many instances, in the telling of these stories, we can see for ourselves that, although polygamy may not be expressly forbidden, it certainly is not a wise idea.

But the concern in today’s passage is not so much with how many wives Lamech had, but what he said to them on one occasion (23, 24). After telling his wives how he had killed a man (or would kill a man, as it can be read), he compared his situation with Cain’s. Cain had killed his innocent brother, but Lamech had killed a man who had injured him (or would kill a man in such circumstances). So, he argued, Cain’s crime was greater. Therefore, if God said that Cain’s killer would suffer vengeance ‘’seven times over’’ (15), Lamech argued that anyone killing him – who had committed a lesser crime – should be ‘’…avenged…seventy-seven times’’ (24). It’s been pointed out that in the Bible, seven is considered a ‘complete’ or ‘full’ number. So, the numbers ‘’seven’’ and ‘’seventy-seven’’ indicate ‘full vengeance’ and ‘ten times full’ vengeance (see Matthew 18:21, 22).

Anyway, the point to make is that, when we are hurt we may well feel inclined to hit back (with a fist, or in some other more subtle way). But we must remember that vengeance belongs to God alone, and it is not for any of us to hi-jack His job (Deuteronomy 31:35; Romans 12:19-21). Lamech was wrong to say this (and to do it, if he did. Or to suggest that he would). If someone has hurt you, commit them to God. He knows best how to deal with them, whether in mercy or chastisement. We really must trust Him. May we be able to pray for all such ‘enemies’ without bitterness or resentment. Lord, help us.