Monday, February 8, 2016

God's Mercy and Cain's Demise

Alice C. Linsley

This Biblical Archaeology Society article asks "Did Lamech Kill Cain?" Genesis does not tell us how any of the rulers listed in Genesis 4 and 5 died. It does reveal that the lines of Cain and Seth intermarried as has been demonstrated through scientific analysis of the marriage and ascendancy pattern of these rulers. This means that Cain is one of Jesus Christ's ancestors!

The diagram below shows how this "Lamech the Elder" had two wives. His daughter Naamah married her patrilineal cousin Methuselah and named their first born son Lamech after her father, according to the cousin bride's naming prerogative.

John Byron, professor of New Testament at Ashland Theological Seminary ponders Cain's demise in “Did Cain Get Away with Murder?” which appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of BAR. "Byron explains that ancient interpreters were not afraid to change the story of Cain in the Bible to fit with their sense of justice, ensuring that he was adequately punished for killing his brother Abel."

One interpretation, found in 12th-century France, credits Lamech with killing Cain. However, the first Lamech named in Genesis lived four generations after Cain.

St. John Chrysostom held a very different view and one that is more consistent with the overarching emphasis of divine mercy shown to sinners like Cain, Moses, and David, all of whom were murderers.

Cain murdered and tried to hide his crime from God. He deserved death, yet God showed him mercy by sparing his life. Cain was sent away from his people and God showed him grace by placing a mark on him as a protecting sign. Reflecting on this great mercy shown to his ancestor, Lamech challenges God to show him greater mercy. If grace was shown to Cain (7), then Lamech, the Elder, by confessing his sin, claims a double measure of grace (77). He claims to be avenged by God "seventy and sevenfold." His grandson Lamech, the Younger is assigned a triple measure of grace because he is said to have lived 777 years (Gen. 5:31). "And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy seven years."

John Chrysostom commented on the unfathomable grace expressed through the story of the Elder Lamech. He wrote: “By confessing his sins to his wives, Lamech brings to light what Cain tried to hide from God and by comparing what he has done to the crimes committed by Cain he limited the punishment coming to Him.” (St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies on Genesis, Vol. 74, p.39. The Catholic University Press of America, 1999.)

Chrysostom’s interpretation is consistent with what is communicated throughout the Bible about God’s love and mercy, yet his view is not referenced in any Bibles. Instead, most Bible footnotes stress that God wiped out Cain’s line in the flood, a view which is not supported by the regnal information in Genesis 4 and 5 which reveals that the lines of Cain and Seth intermarried. Scientific analysis of the king lists supports Chrysostom's interpretation, as shown by tracing the increase from the number 7 assigned to Cain to the number 777 assigned to Lamech the Younger.

St. John Chrysostom recognized that the story of the Lamech the Elder and Lamech the Younger is about God’s mercy shown to sinners. He placed the emphasis exactly where it should be.

Related reading: The Life Spans of Methuselah and Lamech; The Pattern of Two Wives; Cain as Ruler; The Genesis King ListsEnoch: Angelic Being of Deified Ruler; Sent-Away Sons; Genesis in Anthropological Perspective; Decoding the Genesis King Lists


DManA said...

Just came across this in an old book. Thought you might appreciate it.

I don't suppose that Cain and Abel
were very mannerly at table.
From what I've read by those that knew 'em
They'd speak when none had spoken to 'em.
And in a manner unbefittin'
Upon their shoulders they'd be sittin',
And sundry dinosaurs be treating
With scraps the while themselves were eating.
I fear they smacked their lips while pickin'
The bones of tarpon and spring chicken,
And each the other would be hazin'
To see who got the final raisin.
The notion in my brain-pan lingers
They ate their flapjacks with their fingers -
Not that their mother fair assented,
But knives and forks were not invented.
When there was pie, I fear they grabbed it,
Unless ther Pa'd already nabbed it;
And that in fashion most unmoral
O'er cakes and puddings they would quarrel.
I don't believe that either chapkin
E'er thought at lunch to fold his napkin,
And if they'd beans -no doubt they had 'em-
They failed to snap a few at Adam.
I fear me as they ate their salad
They hummed some raw primeval ballad,
And when the Serpent came to dinner,
They'd made remarks about the sinner.
No doubt they criticized the cooking
And hooked the fruit when none was looking,
And when they'd soup - O my! O Deary!
The very notion makes be weary.
About these youngsters let's stop writing
And turn to subjects more inviting!

Alice C. Linsley said...

Thanks for the poem! Some welcome levity :)

Unknown said...

I know this is an older post, but perhaps you will see this: where do you derive the number 7 for Cain? Is it working backwards from the Lamechs?

Thank you for your writing, I enjoy it immensely!

Alice C. Linsley said...


The number 7 represents new life, mercy and renewal. Cain murdered and tried to hide his crime from God. Cain deserved death, yet God showed him mercy by sparing his life. Cain was exiled from his people, which in archaic societies was next to condemning an offender to death. However, God placed a protecting mark on Cain, showing him grace and mercy. Reflecting on this mercy shown to his ancestor, Lamech the Elder (father of Tubal-Cain) challenges God to show him greater mercy. If grace was shown to Cain (7), then Lamech the Elder, by confessing his sin to his wives (John Chrysostom), seeks a double measure of grace (77). Lamech the Younger is assigned a triple measure of grace because he is said (Masoretic text) to have lived 777 years. Lamech the Younger is the son of Methuselah and Naamah, and the father of righteous Noah.

Unknown said...

Thank you! That's very helpful.