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The beginning of the covenant; Faith vs. Faithlessness

Genesis 4 - Cain and Lamech's curse

Postby Shotgun » Sun Feb 04, 2018 9:50 pm

I was re-reading portions of the Bible and Genesis 4 confused the crap out of me. We all know that Cain was cursed by God, and the punishment for murdering Abel was that his death would be avenged sevenfold, and Lamech's death would be avenged 77 fold, but...what exactly is this curse? Is God threatening to kill anyone who kills Cain seven times or is the curse that 7/77 people will die for killing Cain and/or Lamech, and why is this curse even a thing?
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Re: Genesis 4 - Cain and Lamech's curse

Postby jimwalton » Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:07 pm

Let's talk about Cain's curse first. He was driven fro the land, meaning that he is barred from the enjoyment of its productivity. The land will no longer produce for him (i.e., he'll be an unproductive farmer), and therefore he will be forced to wander to get food. The punishment fits the crime: He has polluted the land with Abel's blood, and therefore the land will be too polluted to produce sustaining food for him. He ruined it, and so it shall be ruined.

Also, as a restless wanderer, he will lose all sense of belonging and identification with a community. Again the punishment fits the crime. He killed family, and therefore he will be "dead" to family. He will be rootless and detached.

Therefore he will be somewhat unprotected. The punishment fits the crime: He killed his brother when Abel was unprotected. Therefore he fears he will be killed (Gn. 4.14) as his brother was killed.

But God shows mercy for him also. First of all, he didn't execute Cain on the spot. Therefore Cain has an opportunity to repent of his sins and restore his relationship with God, if he ever chooses to do that. Second, God gives him a promise of safe passage. He will protect Cain from people like himself—murderers.

"Seven times over." This doesn’t mean that anyone who kills Cain will be killed seven times, but is a Hebrew figure of speech—when something is to be done sevenfold, that means it will surely happen.

Second, let's talk about Lamech. By the time we get to Lamech in Gn. 4.23, we see how sin has so infiltrated the human heart and corrupted humanity. Now, Lamech brags, if provoked, Lamech would not hesitate to kill even a child, let alone an adult. His capacity for retaliation is unbalanced and nondiscriminatory. He's just a violent jerk. He boasts of the inordinate range of his violent capabilities. Whereas Cain felt vulnerable, Lamech considers himself to be self-sufficient. He has no scruples about taking the law into his own hands and won't hesitate to kill for the slightest infraction.

Lamech is yet another clue, a forerunner, to the statement we'll read in Genesis 6.5 that people had become hopelessly corrupt and irredeemably evil.
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Re: Genesis 4 - Cain and Lamech's curse

Postby Shotgun » Sun Feb 04, 2018 11:12 pm

So it's a Hebrew figure of speech rather than a promise. Makes you wonder why God didn't just use a stronger word rather than a figure of speech. Guess God isn't omnipotent enough to anticipate this reaction to his word choice.
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Re: Genesis 4 - Cain and Lamech's curse

Postby jimwalton » Sun Feb 04, 2018 11:19 pm

The Bible is a rich literary collection containing music, poetry, metaphor, allegory, archetypes, parable, hyperbole, metonymy, irony, simile, and many other literary forms, as well as genres such as prayer, prophecy, blessing, covenant language, legal language, etc. It's no weakness to use a literary technique to express one's point. You even used one yourself: sarcasm.

> Guess God isn't omnipotent enough to anticipate this reaction to his word choice.

Now, now, this is jumping to a very unreasonable conclusion. God chooses to use a figure of speech, and so you assume he isn't omnipotent? That doesn't even logically follow. All communication is bound by cultural constructs, if we want to be understood. Any wise communicator uses words so that his audience will understand his point. Otherwise, there's no sense. Remember that even though the Bible was written for us, it wasn't written to us. Genesis was written to a 1300 BC Israelite audience with an Egyptian/Canaanite/Israelite mindset. We should certainly expect the author to write within his cultural and literary context. After all, God didn't just drop golden plates from the heavens; he used the mechanism of human authors to participate in the process of communicating his word. It reveals quite a bit about your bias that you think a simple word pictures damages the attributes of God.
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Re: Genesis 4 - Cain and Lamech's curse

Postby Shotgun » Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:38 pm

God kinda damages his own image when one chapter later he's literally drowning the entire world, including a whole load of infant children, so you can forgive me if I don't bother to care about your softball interpretation of God (a fictional entity). My question is solely to clarify the lore behind a fictional character, nothing more.
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Re: Genesis 4 - Cain and Lamech's curse

Postby jimwalton » Thu Mar 22, 2018 1:58 am

Well, first of all, we haven't discussed the evidences for the existence of God, which are far stronger than any case for him being a fictional entity, so that's another conversation.

Secondly, we haven't discussed Noah and the Flood, where God doesn't damage his image if you understand properly what's happening, but that's another discussion also.

Third, you wanted to know about the curse of Cain. I didn't give you a softball interpretation of God. Instead I answered your question. We can talk further as you wish.


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