Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Seventy Times Seven

In the fragmented way we often read Bible passages, we usually do not hear how they resonate together, though they may be separated by many centuries. For example, take the case of Lamech, and how he rationalized killing another man:
Then Lamech said to his wives: “Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; wives of Lamech, listen to my speech! For I have killed a man for wounding me, even a young man for hurting me. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, then Lamech seventy-sevenfold.” (Genesis 4:23-24)
In the Septuagint (aka, LXX), which is an ancient Greek translation of the Old Testament, the words for “seventy-sevenfold” are hebdomekontakis hepta.

Now contrast this with Matthew 18, where Peter asks the Lord Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (v. 21). Do you remember Jesus’ answer? “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (v. 22).

First, notice that Peter asks about forgiving his brother “seven times” (Greek, heptakis). Lamech spoke of Cain (who killed his brother, Abel, remember) being avenged “sevenfold” (in the LXX, heptakis). Peter is on to something here though he does not yet realize how far it is to extend.

But see how Jesus sets aside Peter’s limitations and says, “No, seventy times seven.” The Greek words are hebdomekontakis hepta, the same as in the old Greek translation of Genesis 4:24. These are the only two places in the Bible where this phrase is found. However, see how Jesus’ use of it brings a reversal.
In Genesis 4, Lamech’s use demonstrates how justified he felt in killing another man. “Seventy times seven” was the measure of how much his vengeance was worth. But on Jesus’ lips, “seventy times seven” is no longer about vengeance but forgiveness.

King Jesus overturns old paradigms and sets things right side up.