Actions have consequences. Actions even have unintended consequences. This is true even of God. What he intends for mercy may actually be used later against him. This was shown early in man’s history.
After Cain murdered his brother, God punished him. However, God was merciful in that punishment. His sentence was that he would be a wanderer in the earth. When Cain complained, “it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me,” God even allowed that “whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” (Gen 4:13-15) Of course, Cain’s statement was an obvious exaggeration. If “every one that findeth me” means what it appears to mean, Cain is saying that the first person that finds him would slay him, and also the second, third, and subsequent people. But if the first slays him, why would he be worried about “every one.” Nevertheless, God showed his great mercy in promising extreme vengeance on anyone who would slay Cain. Nothing wrong with that. God establishes early on that he is a forgiving and gentle God. Cain’s father was promised death for eating of the forbidden fruit, but Cain only gets a life sentence for murder. What possible unintended consequence may come of that?
Enter Lamech. A fifth generation descendant of Cain, Lamech obviously was familiar with the family history. He may even have talked with his famous ancestor. If Cain’s father lived into the seventh generation (Noah), a protected Cain may have easily lived into his fifth generation. If he lived that long, it is possible that he either met his descendant, or at least knew of him.
As with many people listed in the genealogies of Genesis, we know very little about Lamech. For most people listed, we know their name, ages when their firstborn was born and when they themselves died, and the names of at least one of their children. Unlike many, we know who Lamech’s children were, and what their trades were. But then we also have the unexpected consequence.
And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. (Gen 4:23-24)
An alternate reading is that he killed “a man for wounding me, and a lad for hurting me.” Considering the Jewish way of speaking, it is hard to determine whether he is saying he killed one man or two. What is clear is that he expects God to avenge him eleven times over and above Cain. If the more common reading is true, he believes that he was acting in self-defense, and so is justified in expecting more mercy from God.
Perhaps, though, this can be seen as a common failing among men—a misinterpretation of scripture. He admits to killing a man, or two, and says that if God can be merciful to Cain, he is obviously obligated to be more merciful to Lamech. He gives no justification, just a belief. How many people today twist scriptures to justify their own actions? Even the devil can quote scripture to his own purpose, as he did in tempting Jesus. One hundred fifty years ago, people quoted scripture on both sides of the slavery issue. Today people quote scripture to justify or condemn abortion, homosexual acts, drug use and abuse, and many other things. Perhaps in a way we come by it naturally. Such actions go all the way back to Lamech.