In Genesis chapter 4, we read about Cain murdering his brother Abel and Cain’s subsequent punishment. The chapter tells also of Cain’s descendants. Several generations later is born Lamech, whose story becomes the focal point of Cain’s genealogy. Lamech has two wives, who each bear him two children. Lamech’s three sons begin progress in various forms of technology. Jabal is a nomad who herds livestock His brother Jubal is a pioneer musician. Their half brother Tubal is a smith, a forger of metals, so he is called Tubal-cain. Lamech’s sons achieve progress in several areas. Herding makes it easier to obtain meat. The creation of instruments brings joyful recreation of music. Tubalcain creates tools and other devices of metal that make farming, housework, building, and yes, killing easier. The genealogy introduces technology in a way that lets us know it is not inherently evil. Technology can improve the quality of life. It may however be used in a way that hurts not only individuals, but societies.
After learning of the progress of civilization among the descendants of Cain, we hear a disturbing song that Lamech sings to his wives:
23 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. 24If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.”
Lamech, like his ancestor Cain, has killed, and seems to have no remorse whatever. There really is no hint of that here. Lamech has killed and believes he is more worthy of being avenged if someone kills him than Cain was. Does his arrogance come from his sons’ achievements? The context suggests a connection. As civilizations grow and become more technologically advanced, we become more confident in our control over our existence. Pride reeks from Lamech’s song. He has killed and he shouts that revenge for any harm to him will be far, far greater than God’s promise of protection to Cain. Notice: Lamech does not appeal to God. He applauds his achievements and insists on what he considers his rights. Technology changes perspective. We adapt to our new reality and may scoff at the way things used to be.
As Cain’s descendants multiplied, Genesis 4 tells us of another development:
25 And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” 26 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, English Standard Version).
Even as many take pride in technology, rejoice in violence, and proclaim their independence from God, others begin to call upon him in worship and prayer. The descendants of Cain will not survive; the descendants of Seth, equipped with technology acquired from the family of Cain, but calling upon the Lord will provide the basis for human survival. Lamech shouts that he deserves vengeance 77 times if Cain received it 7. Centuries later, Peter will ask Jesus , “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 you seven times but seventy times seven.” Rather than multiplied revenge, Jesus calls for exponential forgiveness.
In this unusual and very ancient passage from Genesis, invention of new tools and livelihoods produces violence and lust for revenge, along with a pride that causes people to act as if there is no God. The Bible does not regard technological advances as evil. They are morally neutral, neither good nor evil. How and why people use them makes all the difference. Inventions like mechanical reapers, indoor plumbing, water purification, advances in medical care and transportation have changed human experience for the better. The real danger is when, as the apostle Paul expresses it in Romans 1:25, we “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever, amen.” When we begin to allow our technology and our activities to crowd God and truth out of our lives, lies, corruption, and violence become part of our culture. We seek revenge and consider forgiveness weak. Pride precludes prayer. Genesis 4 and the rest of the Bible confront us with two options: Choosing the worship of human technology and achievement or calling upon the name of the Lord.
Lord, teach us to forgive. Open our eyes when we close them rather than admit that our pride has placed our trust in our own inventions rather than in you. Thank you for the privilege of living in this cosmos that you created. May we enjoy and not hoard; may we love and not destroy. Grant us humility so that we may discern when our technology and our insistence on our rights interfere with our relationship with you. Show us paths to reconciliation and unity, so that we may call upon your name together. In Jesus’ name, amen.