Here is a quote from Dennis Prager’s book The Rational Bible: Genesis. His verse by verse commentary of that book.
“4.24 If Cain is avenged seven-fold, then Lamech seventy-seven fold.” Lamech boasts that if any man touches him, he will kill seventy-seven of his opponent’s men in retaliation. This type of unbalanced retribution was the norm in all societies. That is why the Torah’s “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” must be understood as a moral triumph—even if taken literally (which it never was). It limited retaliation to one-for-one…. The Torah outlawed the indiscriminate violence celebrated by Lamech and replaced it with retributive justice, one in which the punishment may not exceed the crime (“an eye for an eye,” not “two eyes for an eye,” or “a life for an eye”). The Torah recognizes that like often begets like; a violent man like Cain is likely to have a violent descendant like Lamech (children raised in violent households are far more likely to commit violence). Following this verse, the Torah returns to Adam and Eve with no further mention of the descendants of Cain. Cain’s family line seems to end suddenly, perhaps in the sort of clan violence reflected in Lamech’s boasting.”
Prager, Dennis. The Rational Bible: Genesis (pp. 108-109). Regnery Faith. Kindle Edition.
Well this got me to thinking what if Jesus’ statement about forgiveness in Matt. 18:21-22 was an echo back to the story of Lamech and the culture of retribution prevalent in the ancient world. And what is Jesus’ stance on retribution and forgiveness anyway?
38 ‘You heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” 39 But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil! Instead, when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one towards him. 40 When someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your cloak, too. 41 And when someone forces you to go one mile, go a second one with him. 42 Give to anyone who asks you, and don’t refuse someone who wants to borrow from you.
43 ‘You heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44 But I tell you: love your enemies! Pray for people who persecute you! 45 That way, you’ll be children of your father in heaven! After all, he makes his sun rise on bad and good alike, and sends rain both on the upright and on the unjust. 46 Look at it like this: if you love those who love you, do you expect a special reward? Even tax-collectors do that, don’t they? 47 And if you only greet your own family, what’s so special about that? Even Gentiles do that, don’t they? 48 Well then: you must be perfect, just as your heavenly father is perfect.’
As radical as Moses’ solution was to the ancient peoples how much more radical are Jesus’ directions to the people listening to him. He has just turned the world upside down or may I suggest right side up. This is how people are supposed to live in relations and societies. His directives are so out of the ball park even those who call themselves Jesus’ followers have not been able to keep up. “I mean come on you can’t really expect us to be as perfect as our heavenly father can you? You must be off your rocker!”
For some strange reason we have had no problem living up to the image of a vengeful and retributive Father have we? And yet perfection lies in forgiveness not retribution. Forgiveness is not something God gives to us or does for us, but pardoning others till the cows come home is.
1. God does not forgive because He has never condemned. ²And there must be condemnation before forgiveness is necessary. ³Forgiveness is the great need of this world, but that is because it is a world of illusions. ⁴Those who forgive are thus releasing themselves from illusions, while those who withhold forgiveness are binding themselves to them. ⁵As you condemn only yourself, so do you forgive only yourself.
2. Yet although God does not forgive, His Love is nevertheless the basis of forgiveness. ²Fear condemns and love forgives. ³Forgiveness thus undoes what fear has produced, returning the mind to the awareness of God. ⁴For this reason, forgiveness can truly be called salvation. ⁵It is the means by which illusions disappear. (ACIM, W-46.1:1–2:5)
It is we who have condemned others and the only way off the hook is for us to forgive others perfectly, completely and unconditionally—the perfection of God. Who are the others you may ask?
If this is perfection as the Father is perfect where is there room for condemnation, retribution and vengeance? Where is there room for judgment? Jesus is telling us this is how God acts toward his enemies, persecutors, and those who would take him to court and blame him for all the horrible things we do to our fellow man.
So what we see here is a growth in consciousness from the utter destruction of our enemies—I say utter because seven is the number for completion as in the seven days of creation—to the much more just equal reckoning of insult for insult, life for life, etc. and now to Jesus’ directing us to absolutely and utterly without exception forgive everyone who offends us.
Instead of utterly destroying as Lamech boasted as we are still prone to do, we are to utterly forgive as our Mother/Father and Jesus does.
Jesus follows this up with probably the most prayed and quoted verses in the N.T.; The Lords Prayer. In which we read these words “And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” That’s the answer in our quest for freedom from all the suffering man causes to man. Do we want peace, love forgiveness, the end of all pain? it is up to us. We are to forgive first then we will be forgiven.
Forgiveness offers everything I want.
1. What could you want forgiveness cannot give? ²Do you want peace? ³Forgiveness offers it. ⁴Do you want happiness, a quiet mind, a certainty of purpose, and a sense of worth and beauty that transcends the world? ⁵Do you want care and safety, and the warmth of sure protection always? ⁶Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed, a gentleness that never can be hurt, a deep abiding comfort, and a rest so perfect it can never be upset?
2. All this forgiveness offers you, and more.(ACIM, W-122.1:1–2:1)
Do we want to end our fear of the last judgment? Again Jesus puts the ball in our court; Matt. 7:1 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
When will be the “last judgment” you make? When we make our last judgment we will no longer be afraid of judgment from any one including God. Measure for measure if we have not given anything out we will not get anything back. Didn’t Jesus say in: Luke 6:38 “give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” Also Rom. 2:1 and John 8.7.
People like to use this as a promise to give good things—i.e. money—but that is to narrow an application, everything we give comes back to us. What are we experiencing in our lives at this moment: fear, attack, retribution, judgment, or are we experiencing the fruits of the spirit: Gal. 5:22,23 “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” No law meaning no judgment for judgment comes thru the law.
This is an amazing progression in consciousness from utter destruction to utter forgiveness and admittedly to much to bear in the face of the horrendous things done in the kingdom of the world. It maybe like someone just learning their numbers is asked to solve an advanced calculus problem, but we must start somewhere. I’d like to suggest we start with ourselves. All the kindnesses Jesus asks us to do to others we do to ourselves first.
Here is another look at the golden rule: Matt. 7:12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” It is an obvious thing we can not give something to someone unless we have it. How about we start: by not judging ourselves; not condemning ourselves; not hating ourselves; letting ourselves off the hook 70 times seven then would it not be easier to let others off the hook?
The psychological principle of projection is stated as: all the (guilt) pain, anger and unforgiveness I have in myself gets buried, hidden away, because it is too much to bear. So to protect myself from the pain of my mistakes—I bury it deep but not forgotten—still being there it manifests in blaming the “other”. By this I make the world “out there” the villain, projecting my buried self hatred onto the world I think I see. Now from this projection I reason that if the other were not there—my current enemy, personal or societal–expecting or attempting to change the other “then I would be happy,” (happiness being the unstated goal of projection). Now we set out to do just that. I set out to change “out there” thru any means possible. But this never works because there is no “out there”, I am only seeing my own projection, so the sought after goal of happiness, forgiveness, inner peace, joy, never ever materialize, in fact I only make matters worse because what I give always comes back to me pressed down and shaken together and overflowing. Added to that the one out there may be attempting to do the same thing to us.
If I project guilt I will become more guilty. If I project hate I will get more hatred. If I steal I will be robbed myself as in taking anothers peace of mind.
This Golden Rule is actually a spiritual Law. “Everything I do to others I am doing to myself.” and “Everything I do to myself I do to others.” be it for good or for evil. Do I want forgiveness from others including God then I must forgive and I will be forgiven. Once I have forgiveness of my own then I can give it. I can not give from an empty purse.
Matt. 5:7“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.” We are to give mercy first. First to ourselves then others, we cannot give what we don’t have. Doing this, we will create an ever flowing river of mercy.
The Kingdom of God is within us and it’s fruits are there just for the taking.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” We do our own purifying and we will see Purity everywhere because God is Everywhere. Once we were blind but now we see. Once we get rid of all those things that cloud our vision we will see. Our enemy will no longer be our enemy because I am no longer my enemy then we will love our enemy, gladly carry his shield an extra mile or more, maybe make a new friend along the way, then become Peacemakers; v. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. We change from seeing God as one of vengeance we will then see a God of forgiveness, mercy, One who is without change, we will see the Fruit of the Spirit. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jn 4:24
Would this be the fulfillment of the Law? (v.17) Would we then become “Perfect as our Mother/Father in heaven is perfect”? I think as Paul pointed out in Galatians one who lives like this needs no Law.