The thing about Cain is that he shows no remorse. He kills his brother, tries to be evasive with God about it, and then cries that his punishment is too great. God allows Cain to live, but curses the ground before him so that his previous success as a farmer will never be repeated. Cain protests that his punishment is too much. “I shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and it will come about that whoever finds me will kill me,” he pleads (Genesis 4.14). I always get a little riled up when I read this. The reason folks will want to kill him is not because he needs a hand-out – it is because he killed his brother in cold blood. He created this animosity – it isn’t part of the punishment God lays on him. Yet, God responds by placing a mark of protection on Cain, so all will know that if anyone takes Cain’s life “vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold,” (v.15). I’ve always wondered what this meant – how that vengeance would be taken. I’ve also wandered why God would let the line of Cain continue. In eight more generations the earth will be so full of violence that God will bring about the flood, and start over.
If there is any doubt that Cain’s line bears the virulent strain of this virus listen to the words of Cain’s descendant, Lamech:
I have killed a man for wounding me, and a boy for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Lamech is avenged seventy-sevenfold. (Genesis 4.23b-24).
The aggression and audacity of Lamech are amazing. He is already a killer. He responds to the slightest provocation with lethal force. He kills men and boys and brags about it. Furthermore he shakes his fist at God – promising to exact a vengeance that is exponentially greater than that which God promises.
The number seven, of course, features prominently in all this because in the Bible it is the number of completion, fulfillment. Seventy times seven (or perhaps seventy seven) is as far as you can go - it represents infinity (see Matthew 18.21-22 for Jesus use of these numbers). Lamech is the seventh generation of Adam through the line of Cain.
Immediately after Lamech’s boast, we are told that Adam and Eve had another son, Seth. The seventh son from Adam through Seth was named Enoch, and this is what we are told about him.
So all the days of Enoch were 365 years. And Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. (Genesis 5.23-24).
The writer of Hebrews explains what that phrase “and he was not” means:
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOR GOD TOOK HIM; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. (Hebrews 11.5)
Jude (vv.14-15) tells us Enoch spent his days prophesying and preaching. Not only was he personally close to God, but he cared about the souls of others. He didn’t look at the prevailing culture of immorality and violence and retreat from it, but engaged it with the truth about God.
Almost no one listened. His son, Methusaleh, the man who lived the longest of anyone died the year of the flood and perhaps died in it. It is interesting to think that the man who lived to be older than anyone else may not have died of old age, but by an act of God. Enoch’s grandson, Noah, alone, kept his family within God’s grace. He and his family alone survived. Everyone else perished in the flood.
These seventh sons represent the frontier of goodness and evil. The one son, Lamech, seems to have converted the world to sin and violence (Genesis 6.5). But these were destroyed. Enoch reached only his own family. But He was taken to heaven, and his family survived. Evil may win a majority, but only goodness survives.
The world and its lusts are passing away, be he who does the will of God abides forever. (I John 2.17)