Posted on 7.26.2012
Recently, I made the argument that Jesus's response to Peter about forgiving "seventy times seven" was a reference to the Jubilee. More specifically, the Jubilee of Jubilees. (That post can be found here.)
I'd like to extend that analysis by connecting Jesus's instruction on forgiveness to the very first reference of "seventy times seven" or "seventy seven" in the bible--Lamech's Song of the Sword.
The Song comes after the sin of Cain and Cain's exile. From there the descendents of Cain are named and among them is Lamech. In the middle of this, without any real context, Lamech gives what has been called the Song of the Sword:
Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words:
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times. ”
Again, we don't know any of the background here. We don't know who the young man was or why Lamech killed him. But what we do know is that this is a song of vengeance. More, it's a song of "shock and awe" vengeance.
There's the normal tit for tat vengeance.
Then there's Cain-level vengeance--vengeance times seven.
And then there is Lamech-level vengeance--vengeance seventy-seven times.
Again, this is the very first reference in the bible to seventy-seven (or seventy times seven). And we note here that this number is associated with vengeance, with a Song of the Sword.
In light of that, I wonder if Jesus's teachings on forgiveness are not directly addressing the ethic of Lamech and the hold it has upon our imaginations. Is not Jesus explicitly rejecting the Song of the Sword and the world it creates?
Matthew 18. 21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."
Also note the sword-theme in the arrest at Gethsemane. Swords are everywhere:
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
(BTW, given this conversation I think it's noteworthy that Jesus calls his betrayer "friend.")
Everyone in this scene is working with the imagination of Lamech. The Song of the Sword is the ethic of everyone in the scene. Everyone, that is, but Jesus.
The men coming for Jesus are carrying swords. And Jesus chides them for their mistake. He basically says, "What ever gave you the idea that you'd need a sword to arrest me? When did I ever carry or call for swords?"
Jesus is in effect saying, "When did you ever hear me sing the song of Lamech?"
And Jesus's followers are just as confused. They are still singing the song of Lamech. The swords are met with swords.
But Jesus says, put your sword away.
We have a new understanding of seventy-seven.
The Song of Lamech is not the Song of the Lamb.