Lamech’s Ode to Himself

Lamech's ode (2)

b) Gen 4:23–24: Sandwiched between two birth announcements (Gen 4:19–22, 25),[1] Moses recorded one of the earliest examples of poetry.[2]

In this savage and vicious composition,[3] Lamech employed a variety of Hebrew literary devices, such as parallelism, meter, and rhyme to emphasize his cruel egotism.[4]

“And Lamech said to his wives,

‘Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice.

Wives of Lamech, give ear to my speech,

because a man I have slain for wounding me,

and a youth for striking me.

If seven-fold is Cain avenged,

then Lamech seventy and seven.’”

People rarely commit single sins. Pride, mockery, and assault cluster together like grapes and continue to replicate. These distorted relational patterns pass down from parent to child, resulting in dysfunctional family systems.[5]

Family violence continues for generation after generation. Parents beat their children, who attack younger siblings, who beat the family pets. Victims victimize others, causing vengeance to ricochet through their communities. No one carries more potential for violence than a victim.[6]

Since this song appears in a section which focuses upon various developments in human civilization, Lamech’s taunt may signify the initiation of warfare (Gen 4:19–22).[7] A

dah and Zillah had proudly watched their sons develop animal husbandry, music, and metallurgy. In contrast, Lamech’s violent boasting must have filled them with horror.[8]

By embracing such great vindictiveness,[9] Lamech indicated that his depravity exceeded that of Cain, his seventh generation ancestor (Gen 4:8–10).[10]

The parallelism in this song suggests that the “man” (ish) and the “youth” (yeledh) are the same person.[11] Similarly, the wounding and striking refer to one incident.[12]

In Hebrew, yeled covers a range from premature infants to early manhood (Exod 21:22; 1 Ki 14:21; 1 Ki 12:6–8).[13]

Cain had felt incapable of self-defense (Gen 4:13–15). His descendant Lamech had no qualms about handling any mistreatment by others on his own.[14]

In fact, he appointed himself to perform a function reserved for kings (2 Sam 8:15; 1 Sam 15:1–4). Lamech made a travesty of the office of a ruler by seeking personal vengeance, rather than maintaining justice.[15]

Taking the law into his hands served as a point of pride. While Cain sought to hide Abel’s murder (Gen 4:9), Lamech exulted in his vindictiveness.[16]

One of the first portions of Scripture recorded included the phrase, “a wound for a wound and a strike for a strike” (Exod 21:23–25). Therefore, Moses’s original audience recognized that Lamech violated the law of retaliation (lex talionis).[17]

God commanded this principle to prevent the escalation of violence.[18] The young man’s execution would have been just only if his action resulted in Lamech’s death (Exod 21:12).

In Scripture, the number seven signifies completeness. Therefore, seventy-seven represents an unrestricted fullness which one cannot surpass.[19]

This intensification of violence could easily erupt into warfare aided by the technological advancements of Lamech’s son Tubal-Cain (Gen 4:22).[20]

Sin acts as a plague which spreads by contagion, like a polluted river which keeps branching into tributaries. It contaminates parents, children, and grandchildren (Exod 34:6–7).[21]

By highlighting this vignette, Moses hinted that all of Cain’s descendants would face God’s judgment (Gen 6:5–8).[22]

Not only did this intimate the disaster to come (Gen 6:11–13, 17), it served as a warning to Moses’s readers. One cannot disregard God’s laws and expect to emerge unscathed.[23]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 4:23–24: Why would Moses’s original readers have been shocked by this passage? How does it portray the increasing depravity of Cain’s descendants? What does revenge do to us?  If your family of origin practiced violence, what can you do to break that cycle?






Go to A Lesson on Forgiveness


[Related posts include Two Wives (Gen 4:18–19); Cain Arose against His Brother (Gen 4:8); Misappropriated Blood (Gen 4:9‒10); Cursed from the Ground (Gen 4:11‒14); Advancements in Civilization (Gen 4:20–22); An Appointed Son (Gen 4:25); Kings as Sons of the Gods (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Taking Wives for Themselves (Gen 6:1–2 cont.); Nephilim in the Land (Gen 6:4); God Grieves (Gen 6:5–6); Wiping Out Everyone (Gen 6:7); Noah Found Favor (Gen 6:8); Violence Filled the Earth (Gen 6:11–12); The End was Near (Gen 6:13); A Deluge to Ruin All Flesh (Gen 6:17); Author and Date of Genesis; and Hebrew Poetry]

[Click here to go to Chapter 2: The Descent of Humanity (Genesis 4:17–24); or to Women and Marriage Throughout Redemptive History]


[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 240.

[2]Walton, Genesis, 277.

[3]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 240.

[4]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 114.

[5]Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 54–5.

[6]Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 57.

[7]Walton, Genesis, 278.

[8]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 114.

[9]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 100.

[10]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 114.

[11]Walton, Genesis, 277–8.

[12]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 114.

[13]Holladay,  “יֶ֫לֶד” (yeledh), CHALOT, 135.

[14]Hamilton,  The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 241.

[15]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 183.

[16]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 241.

[17]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 114.

[18]H. B. Huffmon, “Lex Talionis,” ABD 4:321–2, 321.

[19]Ryken et. al., “Seven,” in DBI, 775.

[20]Walton, Genesis, 278.

[21]Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 53.

[22]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 114.

[23]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 117.