And Lamech said ... I have slain a man to the wounding of myself, and a stripling to my own bruising. Sevenfold vengeance shall be taken for Cain: but for Lamech seventy times sevenfold. (Great Lent, the Second Week, Wednesday, Vespers: Genesis 4:23-24, from the selection: Genesis 4:16-26)
What are we to glean from this first recorded instance of Hebrew poetry?
Lamech was a descendant of Cain One of his two wives, Zillah,
"... bare Tubalcain, an instructer of every artificer in brass and iron" Gen 4:22
Therefore, Lamech had available to him metal swords, which would give him a distinct advantage over his enemies.
To his wives, he confesses to two murders, of a “man” and a “young man” (stripling), and laments his sin, and predicts that his punishment would be greater than Cain's (whereas Cain's punishment would be “seven times”, Lamech's would be “seventy seven times” (some interpret this number as 70*7 = 490))
Why the greater punishment? Is is because of of two murders and not one? No. It is because Lamech did not learn from the example of his father. St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom make this very clear:
“Cain had not learned to murder from another, and had never seen a murderer undergoing punishment. But I, who had before my eyes Cain groaning and trembling, and the mightiness of the wrath of God, was not made wiser by the example before me. Therefore I deserve to suffer four hundred and ninety punishments. “ (St Basil the Great, 365 letters, Letter CLXXXVII (187))
Cain was punished, but Lamech, who committed a murder after him, did not suffer near so great a punishment. And yet this was a murder, and that was a murder, and that so much the worse, because even by the example he had not become the better. (St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, Homily XXXI, Romans XVI:5)
We have before us a terrible example! Lamech was senseless to the lesson of his father before him.
What examples might we be senseless to?
We have the example of the church, the writings of the Holy Fathers, the sublime services, and sacred writ to guide us; all of this in addition to the moment by moment guidance of the Holy Spirit abiding within us.
We are without excuse, with “no cloak for our sin” if we are too busy, or too lazy, or tired, or too this, or too that to learn how to live the righteous way of life.
Lamech's sin accuses us today! Are we also guilty of some sin due to our negligence? Is there some sin of which the Lord asks us:
“Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?” (John 14:9)
There is more yet to learn from the murderer Lamech. Some of his example is to be emulated!
Hear John Chrysostom again:
“... since the one [Lamech] neither killed his brother after exhortation, nor needed an accuser, nor shrunk from answering when God questioned him, but even without any accuser both pleaded again himself, and condemned himself more severely, he obtained pardon. (St John Chrysostom, Commentary on the Epistle of St Paul to the Romans, Homily XXXI, Romans XVI:5 [comments added])
Lamech felt the great weight of his sin, and accused himself of his crime, unlike his father Cain, who only confessed when confronted by God. In this way he resembles, David, who was guilty of the double sin of murder and adultery, and begged God to forgive him in the fiftieth psalm.
Let us act in the same way. Let us confess our sins freely and obtain pardon. Let us learn from Lamech's good and bad example, and take the self-recriminations of St Andrew of Crete to heart:
Whom do you resemble, O most sinful soul? Surely the first Cain and that wicked Lamech. For you have stoned your body with evil deeds, and you have murdered your mind with irrational appetites. Great Canon, Wed of first week, Ode 2:8
"I have killed a man to the wounding of myself," said Lamech, "and a young man to my own hurt," he cried out wailing. But you, my soul, do not tremble, while polluting the flesh and defiling the mind. Great Canon, Thu of first week. Ode 2:1
O how I have emulated that old murderer Lamech! By my pleasure-loving cravings I have killed my soul as the man, my mind as the young man, and my body as my brother, like Cain the murderer. Great Canon, Thu of first week, Ode 2:3
There is one more marvelous truth to be gleaned from Lamech's confession. Our Lord alludes to this truth when He answers Peter who had asked: “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (Mat 18:21)
I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. [or “77”,] (Mat 18:22 [comments added])
Herein is a marvelous mystery! The Lord teaches to forgive ALWAYS by specifying a large number, but this is a special number. St Basil explains:
“the sin of Lamech requires for its cure not a Flood, but Him Who Himself takes away the sin of the world. Count the generations from Adam to the coming of Christ, and you will find, according to the genealogy of Luke, that the Lord was born in the seventy-seventh. St Basil the Great, 365 letters, Letter CLXXXVII (187)
Only Christ, the Good Samaritan, is the one who alone can tend to the wounds of mankind!
Let us cleave to Him, confess our sins, and obtain pardon!