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:
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.”
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:
- Jesus’s mother couldn’t have a baby because she was a virgin.
- Samson’s mother couldn’t have a baby because she was barren.
- An angel comes to Jesus’s mother and says, “you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son.”
- An angel of the Lord comes to Samson’s mother and says “behold, you are barren and have not born children, but you shall conceive and bear a son.”
- Jesus was a “Nazarene.”
- Samson was a “Nazarite.”
- An angel says that Jesus will “save his people from their sins.”
- An angel says that Samson will “save Israel from the hand of the Philistines.”
- Jesus “did not come to judge the world.”
- Samson “judged Israel for twenty years.”
- Because the people who followed him were hungry, Jesus took two fish and five loaves of bread and multiplied it to feed 5,000 men,plus other women and children. (That’s a lot of bread).
- Because he was angry, Samson caught 300 foxes, tied flaming torches to their tails, and set them loose in the fields of the Philistines, destroying an entire harvest of wheat. (That’s a lot of bread).
- Jesus said “Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.”
- Samson met a group of Philistines who wanted to get revenge for destroying their wheat crop, and he kills 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey. (That’s quite a way to “turn the other cheek“).
- Jesus spoke multiple times of rivers of living water, water that wells up to eternal life, and he was speaking of the Holy Spirit.
- Samson, after killing 1,000 people with the strength of the Spirit of the Lord, almost died of thirst in the desert. He called out to God to save his life with a drink, which God provided
- Jesus said “if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”
- Samson made a bet, lost it, and was then obligated to give 30 changes of clothes to some men. So, naturally, he went to a nearby Philistine town, killed 30 men, stole their clothes, and paid the debt.
- Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led to the desert where he was tempted three times by the devil. Jesus used scripture to rebuke the devil. Thereafter, Satan “departed from him until an opportune time.”
- Samson, strengthened by the Spirit of God but following his own heart, was seduced and tempted three times by Delilah to give away the secret of his strength. He used lies to both mock and trick her. Thereafter, Delilah “pressed him hard with her words day after day, and urged him, his soul was vexed to death.”
- Jesus was faithful when tempted again at an opportune time.
- Samson failed when tempted again at an opportune time.
- Jesus foresaw his death.
- Samson’s eyes were plucked out, and he quite literally could not see his death.
- Jesus was mocked in his death.
- Samson was mocked in his death.
- Jesus died with his arms stretched out wide on a cross.
- Samson died with his arms stretched out chained between to two pillars.
- Jesus at his death said “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
- Samson at his death said, “O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once, O God, that I may be avenged on the Philistines for my two eyes.”
- With Samson, “the dead whom he killed at his death were more than those whom he had killed during his life.”
- With Christ, those who were dead in their trespasses, whom he saved at his death and resurrection, were more than those whom he had saved or resurrected during his life.
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.