Lamech said to his wives, “… I have killed a man for wounding me.” Genesis 4:23
It was an amazing family. The father was a poet. One son was an economic whiz who transformed lodging and food production. Another son was a creative musician of unmatched originality. A third son was an inventor of cutting edge technology. It was a brilliant family–but also a brutal one. The head of the family did whatever he wanted sexually, committed a violent murder, and then turned his wickedness into a work of art.
I’m going to tell you the details of this shocking story not just because it’s fascinating but because it offers insight into our society. We live in a time of brutal brilliance. With a new economy, new technology, and new forms of entertainment, we’re making brilliant progress. But while our knowledge and skills improve, our character and behavior get worse.
Some businesses grow the economy but use their clout to crush or corrupt. As prosperity grows, morality fades.
Some researchers make astounding scientific advances but use their new advances in horrible ways. As technology improves by leaps and bounds, it often leaps ethical boundaries, producing high-tech weapons of mass destruction and high-tech methods of aborting babies and experimenting with human embryos.
Some artists and entertainers display impressive talent but wallow in violence and sexual filth. Musicals artists produce CDs with unsurpassed sound quality but unmentionable content. Films and computer games use techniques and special effects that are amazing but send a message that is degrading.
Why does our impressive prosperity, technology, and entertainment have such a dark side? We can go a long way toward answering that question by looking at the Lamech family.
The Family Tree
This family set new highs for civilization and new lows for barbarism. They combined astonishing genius with corrupt family values and murder. Their brutal brilliance resembles much that is happening today, but the Lamech family actually lived thousands of years ago. In Genesis 4 the Bible tells about Lamech and his family as part of an account of developments in the family line of Cain. Before getting into the details of the Lamech’s genius and vileness, let’s consider the family tree.
Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, was the first baby born into the world and also the first murderer. After Cain killed his younger brother Abel, the Lord condemned him to be a restless wanderer. Cain wandered to a different land and wandered farther and farther from God. He lived in a region he called Nod, which simply means “Wandering.” Then, says the Bible,
Cain lay with his wife, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Enoch. Cain was then building a city, and he named it after his son Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad was the father of Mehujael, and Mehujael was the father of Methushael, and Methushael was the father of Lamech. (Genesis 4:17-18)
Lamech – The Back Story
Now, before we say more about Lamech, let’s first address a problem that often arises when people get to this point in the book of Genesis. If Adam and Eve were the first humans, if Cain and Abel were their children, and if Cain killed Abel, then where did any other people come from? Where did Cain get his wife? How could he set about building a city if there was nobody else around? Some skeptics ask about this in order to ridicule Genesis, and some Bible-believing people are curious, too.
But the answer isn’t hard to find. In Genesis 5:4 the Bible says that Adam and Eve had other sons and daughters. The Bible doesn’t go into detail about each one. Only Cain, Abel, and Seth are mentioned by name. But Scripture makes it clear than Adam and Eve had other children as well. In fact, they probably had lots of them, given the fact that Adam lived 930 years before he died. Adam and Eve and other early humans not only lived for a very long time but also were fertile for a very long time. They had a special blessing from the Creator to multiply and have children to populate the earth, so they may have had a child every few years for centuries.
The Bible says that Adam and Eve were already 130 years old when they had Seth, and Seth was born after Cain killed Abel. By that time, Adam and Eve could have been having children for over a hundred years. When some of those children grew up, they could marry a brother or sister and have children together. Those children, in turn, could grow up and have more children. By the time of Abel’s death and Seth’s birth, Adam and Eve, at age 130, could easily have had a large number of other children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
So to the question “Where did Cain get his wife?” the answer is that he married a sister, or else a niece or grandniece from among Adam and Eve’s many offspring.
At that time it was not wrong or unhealthy for close relatives to marry each other and have children together. The human race began with Adam and Eve, and in order for humanity to multiply, the only option at first was for close relatives to marry each other. Not until centuries later–the time of Moses–did God give the command not to marry a close relative. Before then, it was acceptable.
In those earliest years of the human race, there was much lower risk of birth defects in the offspring of close relatives than there is today. God created Adam and Eve with perfect bodies. Even after their fall into sin ruined their moral and physical perfection, they and their offspring were much closer to the original blueprint for the human body than we are today. Those early humans had very few of the harmful mutations or genetic flaws that the human race eventually accumulated over the centuries, so relatives could marry each other without fear that deformities hidden in their genes would produce offspring with severe physical problems.
Cain had a serious problem, but his problem was not that he couldn’t find a woman to be his wife or that he couldn’t come up with enough people to start a city. He already had a wife before he killed Abel, and when he fled to a different region after the murder, he took his wife with him. There, with the long life and fertility of the early humans, Cain and his wife produced a clan and a city-to-be, which Cain named after his son Enosh. Doing all this was not a big problem. Cain’s real problem was much worse.
Cain was a man without God, and he produced a godless family, a godless city, and a godless culture. That was the real problem. After Cain murdered his brother and did not repent, Genesis says “he went out from the Lord’s presence,” (4:15) and he never came back to God. God had said that Cain would be always be a restless wanderer. Cain started a city, but did he feel at home there? Did he ever get over his restlessness? No, even today you can feel restless and lonely even when your surrounded by people in a city where they all do their own thing, disconnected from God and from each other. No matter where Cain went or what he did, he remained a lonely wanderer without God. Cain also raised his offspring without God. The result was a godless culture and godless descendants who, though brilliant, became even worse than killer Cain.
Lamech Family Values
Genesis traces the family line from Cain to Lamech to show what people became like after several generations without God. The first thing it tells us is this: “Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah” (4:19). This is the first case of polygamy mentioned in the Bible. In the beginning, God designed marriage to be a union of one woman and one man. But Lamech didn’t care about God’s design for marriage. One woman wasn’t enough to satisfy him. He wanted more. Maybe Lamech was controlled by lust and didn’t want to limit his sexual desires to one woman. Maybe he was power hungry and wanted more than one wife in order to have more children, produce a larger clan, increase his power, and make a name for himself. Probably Lamech was driven by both, a lust for sex and a lust for power.
Lamech was the prototype of all who ignore the Creator and refuse to be a one‑woman man. Today people in some cultures still practice polygamy–having more than one wife at the same time–but this is still contrary to God’s original design. And even in cultures that disapprove of polygamy, it’s common to trample on the standard of one woman for one man. As we have wandered from God, we have also wandered from sexual purity. In some ways, we’ve wandered farther even than Lamech and the polygamists. Many people have more than one partner before ever marrying anyone. Many who get married eventually get divorced and marry someone else. The distortion and destruction of marriage is one way that our own culture is similar to the godless culture of Lamech.
Still, Lamech and his family were impressive in some ways. It seems that Lamech himself was a smart, forceful individual, and he and his wives had some brilliant offspring:
Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play the harp and flute. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah (4:20-22).
The members of this family were sinful, but they were not stupid. They were amazingly smart and creative. One son, Jabal, originated the use of mobile housing, tents, and he turned livestock into an industry. That was an enormous leap forward which few, if any, business innovators have surpassed.
Another son of Lamech, Jubal, excelled in the musical arts. There have been musical geniuses in history, but who can compare to the originator of both stringed instruments and woodwinds? Every musical advance since that time is tiny compared to the stroke of genius which devised instruments in the first place. Jubal not only came up with instruments but he also left such a cultural legacy that he could be called the father of music.
Not to be outdone, a third son of Lamech, Tubal-Cain, was an inventor who took technology to a new level. This man figured out that some strange stuff mingled in dirt and rocks could be refined and reshaped. He transformed bronze and iron into tools. Was there ever more a more cutting-edge inventing than the invention of the cutting edge? Metal tools changed the way people farmed, the way they built things, and even they way they fought. There have been many advances in technology since then which have continued to change the way people live and fight, but the brilliance and impact of Tubal-Cain’s achievement is unsurpassed in the history of technology.
The patriarch of this brilliant bunch was Lamech himself. No doubt the father of such amazing offspring was himself intelligent and impressive. In fact, Lamech produced the first poem in the recorded history of the human race. There have been numerous poets since Lamech, but this pioneer of poetry had the ability to structure language in a gripping way even in the early generations of the human race.
All of this is impressive. It’s proof that you don’t have to obey God or honor Jesus in order to be brilliant and achieve wonders in your own area of interest. Throughout history, people who reject the Lord have nevertheless made many wonderful advances in economics, the arts, and technology. They don’t really know God or have God’s Spirit living in them, but they do have some splendid God-given abilities and make some remarkable contribution to the progress of human civilization.
But there is a darker side to this progress. It’s true that Lamech’s family was brilliant, but we’ve already seen how he undermined the God-given structures for marriage and family. It’s true that Lamech was a pioneer of poetry who authored the first poem recorded in the Bible, but what was his poem about? It was about a murder which Lamech himself committed.
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.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times” (4:23-24).
That’s how an English version translates Lamech’s poem from the original language. Here was a man of genius, using his poetic powers to brag about being a murderer. Lamech received a minor injury in a scuffle, and his respond was to murder his opponent. Perhaps he killed him with one of the bronze blades which his son invented. Maybe he even sang his bloody poem to a tune which another son of his had composed.
Progress without God can be awful. Lamech advanced beyond his ancestor Cain in achievements but also in wickedness. Generations earlier, when Cain committed murder, he tried to hide it. But Lamech didn’t try to hide anything. He bragged about being a killer. He was proud to be the kind of man who would kill anybody that dared to touch him. Back when Cain’s murder was found out, Cain feared for his life, and God protected him by saying that anyone who attacked Cain would be avenged seven times. But Lamech was too arrogant to fear anything, and he considered himself a greater avenger than God. “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” The increase in evil through the generations from Cain to Lamech shows that when evil goes unchecked, it gains momentum from generation to generation.
If you think the Bible is just a book of old stories that have nothing to do with life in today’s world, think again. The story of Lamech is as up-to-date as the latest music. I’m surprised that no hip-hop star has called himself Lamech. Today it’s big business to produce poetry about treating women like trash and destroying anybody who gets in your way. Millions of music albums make mounds of money peddling vulgar, violent lyrics. The United States, the world power in economics, technology, and entertainment arts is also the fountain of gangsta chic, which makes the worst crime seem glamorous. A Christian Leader in Nigeria told me of the musical “garbage” and “sewage” coming into that country from American artists. Like Lamech these high-IQ hoodlums brag about how BAD they are. The more women they can get, and the more people they can brutalize or kill, the louder they boast. Even the clothing styles of gangsters and prostitutes make money.
And what about our lofty universities and centers of culture? Are they any better than smart street punks who make crime into music? No, many campuses are more anti-God than the meanest street gang. No sexual perversion is too strange or disgusting to be praised by some professor. No revolution is too bloody, no government too brutal, to gain support from cutting-edge thinkers. No technique is too dehumanizing for some ethics professor to support it.
Technological progress enables us to kill unborn babies more efficiently than ever before. It enables us to test embryos and to destroy those we don’t like. It may soon enable us to clone humans, alter the genes to prevent a normal brain from developing, and then raise humans for spare parts. Already now governments, universities, and researches are using human embryos for stem cell research and are trafficking in body parts from aborted babies. Lamech advanced beyond Cain in the art of murder, and now our society had gone far beyond Lamech, making him look like a small-time amateur in murder and immorality.
Progress means that we no longer kill people one at a time with clubs and knives. We can shoot up a school with automatic guns or blow up entire cities and nations with nuclear missiles. Progress means that now a violent, lust-filled man no longer boasts of his evil to a few people he knows. Now he produces music albums and films in digital perfection to reach millions, so that they can wallow in evil with him.
Our Greatest Need
Like Lamech and his family, we’re not just smart; we’re sinful. Every time we invent a new technology, we also seem to invent new ways to sin. We may have a new economy, new artistry, and new technology, but our greatest need is a new humanity. More than anything else, we need human nature to be transformed at its very heart. Otherwise, if progress in knowledge isn’t matched by progress in obedience to God, the world becomes more dangerous and degraded than ever. We keep coming up with new techniques, but we use them in service of the same old sins and hatreds.
Our greatest need is a new humanity, but that is not something we can achieve on our own. God created humanity in his image, and the image of God can be restored in us only if we forsake our sins and have a new relationship with God.
When we ignore God, the Lord may still give us remarkable abilities and enable us to make astonishing discoveries and advances. These can be beautiful blessings if we use them in the right way for the right purposes. But if we plunge ahead without God, trusting our own talents and thinking we can chart our own course, then even if we become more brilliant, we will also become more brutal. We need God to change us.
Even when we ignore the Lord and act as though he is not a factor, God remains God. Before all things, beneath all things, beyond all things, there is God. Time cannot measure him, space cannot contain him, technology cannot control him, sin cannot defeat him. The only appropriate response to this infinite, eternal God is to believe what he says, marvel at what he does, and worship who he is.
To be awed and overwhelmed by God–this is the beginning of true wisdom. As the Bible puts it, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7). The fear of the Lord–an awareness that God matters more than anything else, an overwhelming sense that there is more to God than you will ever know or imagine, a crushing sense of unworthiness that comes from knowing that you, a sinner, live in a universe that belongs to this God who is utterly pure and holy–that’s the beginning of wisdom.
Awestruck humility at God’s majesty is where wisdom starts, and grateful trust in God’s love in Christ is where wisdom is completed. Jesus Christ is the one “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). To finite people overwhelmed by God’s infinity, Jesus reveals in human form what God is like. For sinful people overwhelmed by God’s utter holiness, Jesus opens the way to pardon and cleansing and eternal life with God. Your greatest need and mine is not for a new advance in economics, entertainment, or technology but for a spiritual solution to the problem of alienation from God. That solution is called Jesus.
If you come to know Jesus and trust in him, he doesn’t just make you smarter; he makes you wiser. He doesn’t just make you brighter; he makes you better. In Lamech we see how humanity without God grows worse and worse through the power of sin, but in Christ we see how humanity redeemed by God can grow better through the power of love. The destructive power of revenge gives way to the saving power of forgiveness.
Jesus was once asked, “Lord, how many times must 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” (Matthew 18:22-23).
Jesus reverses Lamech’s approach. Lamech boasted, “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” Without the Lord, sin, hate, and revenge multiply. But when you belong to God through faith in Jesus, then love, holiness, and forgiveness multiply. In Christ you find forgiveness from God, and you find power to forgive and love others.
In Christ you also recognize the true source of all wisdom and knowledge. You welcome the best of human economy, artistry, and technology as gifts from God, whether these things originated with godly people or the ungodly, and you seek to use these things for good instead of for evil.
If you want your life to be transformed, and if you want your family, your descendants, and your culture to flourish, don’t be dazzled by the brutal brilliance of society without God. Instead, turn away from arrogance and sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the wisdom of God and the world’s only hope.
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