Bangor Church of Christ

Great Moments in Bible History

Number 7

Living Life “My Way”

Life can be difficult. No one is immune from troubles. Although you can read about numerous ways to face those troubles, there are really only two ways. The vast majority of people face their troubles using the “I Did It My Way” approach. For the most part that approach views life as “me against the world.” I want to be happy. I have things I would like to accomplish. But life’s circumstances and especially the people around me keep preventing me from reaching those goals. The secret of success with this approach is to learn how to manipulate those circumstances and those people to get them to help instead of hinder you from reaching your goals.

I Love Me

A great illustration of someone using the “I Did It My Way” approach is in Genesis 4. Issue number 5 was taken from that chapter. We talked about Cain who got so angry when God rejected his sacrifice that he killed his brother. God punished him by sending him out to wander on the earth. Cain complained that the punishment was too great because anyone who found him would probably kill him. The Lord answered him, “Not so! If anyone kills Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:15) Then the Lord put a mark on Cain so that people would know not to harm him. We then read about Cain’s son and his descendants for several more generations. The list finally arrives at a descendant named Lamech. We learn Lamech’s approach to life by a statement he made to his wives (he was the first person mentioned in the Bible who had more than one wife):

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. (Genesis 4:23-34)

Some people call this Lamech’s sword song. He was bragging about having killed a man. He said that God had promised to take revenge if anyone killed his ancestor Cain, but he could do a better job himself by taking his own revenge. He was a real tough guy. He used his toughness to change the circumstances around him so that he could live a happy life. If those circumstances included somebody he didn’t like—somebody who was keeping him from being happy—then he simply removed that person. Problem solved!

I’m sure most of us would consider Lamech’s actions extreme. Surely none of us would murder someone for hurting us. Yet how many times have we used our words to harm someone? How many times have we acted rudely or selfishly toward those around us? How many times have we manipulated people to do what we wanted in order to make us happy? All of these actions are based on Lamech’s approach to life: the problem is out there; there are people out there who are preventing me from being happy; I will fix the problem.

It is not difficult to imagine what will happen to a society where everyone takes Lamech’s approach. Only two chapters later we read, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” (Genesis 6:11) I am very thankful that I was not alive back then. But we ought to ask why our society today is different. It certainly is not because people today are different from Lamech. Most people in every country on earth today are just like him. The reason our society does not collapse in violence is simply because God has graciously granted us a government that prevents the worst abuses of selfish people. But no government can solve the underlying problem.

The mistake that Lamech made was in assuming that the problem is out there. In fact, ever since Adam and Eve sinned by eating the forbidden fruit the problem has been in here—inside each of us. Just a few verses before the description of the violence that was on earth we read, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5) In the Bible a person’s “heart” is their mind and will and emotions—their personality. The reason we like to think that our problems are out there is because it seems much easier to change our external circumstances than to change our hearts. Dealing with the out there problems hurts the people around us. Dealing with the in here problems makes us hurt. Who wants to do that? In fact, the Bible teaches that without God it is impossible for any of us to fix the problems in our hearts (John 6:44-45).

In the next article we will look at the other approach to life which only a very few people are willing to take.

Living Life God’s Way

Over the centuries there have been a few people who have come to realize that the solution to life’s problems does not lie in changing those around us or in changing our circumstances. (How many of us have believed our problems would be solved if we just had a little more money or if we just had the right husband or wife?) It lies in getting rid of the selfishness inside us. The only way to do that is to quit centering our lives on ourselves and start centering them on the only one who is truly good—God.

Man Praying

In our previous issue we learned about Enoch, the man who walked with God and never died. Walking with God means centering our lives on Him rather than on self. Enoch had a grandson named Lamech (the same name as the man in the previous article, but a much better person). When Lamech’s son Noah was born, Lamech made this prediction about him: “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.” (Genesis 5:29) This Lamech saw problems in life just like Cain’s Lamech. The difference was in where he looked for the solution. This Lamech realized that life was hard because of the curse God had put on the ground after Adam and Eve sinned (Genesis 3:17-19). The solution was not to take matters into his own hands like Cain’s Lamech did but to trust in God. When God places a curse on something, He is the only one who is able to remove it. Lamech did not actually predict that Noah would remove the curse, but simply that he would bring relief. Noah did that, but I suspect Lamech would have been very surprised to learn how Noah would do that.

We do not hear much more about Lamech, but we read a lot about his son. Noah was the one living during the time when “the earth was filled with violence.” But he was very different from the people around him. Just like his great-grandfather, he walked with God (Genesis 6:9). That must have been very difficult to do, living in such a society, but the Bible does not go into that. It simply says, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.”

In future issues we will see how God used Noah to further His great plans for this earth. For now I will simply say that I hope you are someone who would like to live a life centered on God, like Noah.

Hebrew Poetry

The part of the Bible written before Jesus was born is called the Old Testament. That part was written (with only a few exceptions) in the Hebrew language. The Hebrew people were great poets and there is a lot of poetry in the Old Testament. The Book of Psalms, for example, consists of nothing but poems. But even in narrative books like Genesis (the book we are currently studying) there is still poetry. In fact, the speech that Cain’s Lamech made to his two wives (see the first article in this issue) was made in poetry.

English readers find Hebrew poetry strange because it does not rhyme and does not even have a meter. Of course, even if it rhymed in Hebrew it probably wouldn’t rhyme after being translated into English. But, in fact, it does not rhyme or have a meter even in Hebrew. So what makes it poetry? Hebrew poetry is poetry mostly because of repetition. Hebrew poems will often make a statement, then make the very same statement again, only in different words. Consider the first two lines of Lamech’s poem:

Adah and Zillah, hear my voice;

you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:

Those two lines say the same thing. You could delete either one of them and the other line would tell you enough. The next two lines also repeat themselves:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

a young man for striking me.

If you are not familiar with Hebrew poetry you might think that Lamech killed two people, but he didn’t. He simply told about the same act twice.

Once you get used to the style of Hebrew poetry you may find it quite enjoyable to read.