Route 77: The Way of Cain or Christ.

Why Seventy-Seven?

There is a famous passage in Matthew about forgiveness. However, I believe most miss a deeper meaning. It says:

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.  Matthew 18:21-22

This often gets lumped into the next parable about the unforgiving servant. That’s understandable. Jesus himself connects the two. But I have a different question:

Why seventy-seven?

I think I found the answer. This is it:

The Way of Cain.

When reading your Bible, you may come across a verse that is difficult to understand. What’s a cubit? How much is a denari? What’s a talent? But once when reading Jude, I found the most confusing verse I think I’ve ever read. When speaking of false teachers, Jude says:

Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion. Jude 1:11

That’s quite the triumvirate of unfamiliar Old Testament allusions. But it got me thinking: What is “the way of Cain”?

One obvious answer to this is hatred of your brother.

We should not be like Cain, who was of the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. – 1 John 3:12

But that’s is to “be like Cain.” What is “the way of Cain”?

The verse in Greek of Jude says “ὁδῷ τοῦ Κάϊν” = “hodō tou Kain.” It is the “road,” “journey,” “path,” or “way” of Cain. Think about that. The “way” is not a thing that you do or an action that you take. It is a way of being. It is a road. And if you keep reading in Genesis, you see there is much more to Cain and Abel than just a murder.

Let’s pick up right after the murder of Abel and God’s punishment on Cain:

Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.Behold, you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.”Then the Lord said to him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who found him should attack him.Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.

Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. When he built a city, he called the name of the city after the name of his son, Enoch. To Enoch was born Irad, and Irad fathered Mehujael, and Mehujael fathered Methushael, and Methushael fathered Lamech. And Lamech took two wives. The name of the one was Adah, and the name of the other Zillah. Adah bore Jabal; he was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all those who play the lyre and pipe. Zillah also bore Tubal-cain; he was the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah.

Lamech said to his wives:

“Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;
    you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
    then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”  

-Genesis 4:13-24

There is a line that begins with Cain. It runs from Cain to Lamech. Lamech is the first in the Bible to take two wives, and the father of Tubal-cain who is the maker of weapons: “instruments of bronze and iron.”

The way of Cain begins with sin and hatred, and it ends in revenge delivered by men, augmented by the sword.

“I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for striking me.
If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold,
then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.

The Way of Christ.

But there is another “way,” too:

And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed[g] for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. – Genesis 4:25-26

Enosh means “Mortal,” and it can denote the frailty of the human condition. Naming a son “Mortal” demonstrates knowledge of that diminished status.

While the line of Cain raised itself up to take life and distribute justice in the likeness of God, the line that God “appointed” knew its lowly place, and. . .

. . .At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.

I am a big fan of Peter J. Williams. He’s the warden of Tyndale House, a scholar of ancient languages, and a member of the ESV Bible translation’s Oversight Committee on the ESV Bible, and he’s available on Youtube with excellent talks on many biblical subjects. But here, I’d like to expand on a particular observation he makes in this particular lecture on “Jesus and the Old Testament“:

Samson is the Anti-Jesus.

No, not the antichrist. That’s a different theological bucket of worms. He’s the Anti-Jesus: quite like Jesus in some ways, while quite unlike Jesus in the important ways.

Let’s see if we can find a pattern:

Amazing, isn’t it?

That’s Why It’s Seventy-Seven.

Now look at the parable of the unforgiving servant, told right after Peter asks about forgiveness. Think not of a king and a servant. Think not of a great debt and a small debt. Think instead of one who is God. Think of the other who is “Enosh” – a man.

The fact that Peter asks for a number shows that Peter asks the wrong question. With Christ, we see a different path. It is not the path of Cain.

Christ is not like Samson, who was empowered with the Spirit and led astray by his flesh. Christ was empowered with the Spirit and surrendered his flesh.

Samson followed the way of Cain, and in his revenge multiplied death. Peter is told to follows the way of Christ, and in his forgiveness multiplied life.

Cain was a murderer, and his way and his seed multiplied his death with more death. Christ was a martyr, and his teaching and his Spirit multiplied life with more life.

THAT is why we are to forgive seventy-seven times. It’s not a number. It’s a completely different way of life. So whether it is a twitter feed, a dirty cheat, an insulting word, or a passing remark, take the different route. Take the way of Christ.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Nice. That’s certainly not a connection I had made before. Think of how different the Internet would be if we took the way of Christ when responding to certain, ah, *provocative* zingers.

    Next can you please explain the Book of Revelation, cool thanks.

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