Biblical Punching Bags

August 28, 2015

Dr. Braxton Hunter | Professor of Apologetics
Trinity Theological Seminary, Newburgh, IN

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Braxton Hunter on his website and is used by permission.

Dr. Hunter is: former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), professor of apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana

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Scripture presents its heroes warts-and-all! Noah gets drunk, Abraham and Isaac tell lies, David commits adultery, Paul starts out as a persecutor, and the list could continue. In fact, there are very few characters in Scripture (about whom we know much) for whom we do not have at least one big sin on record. Naturally, Jesus is in the spotless category, and of course one of the reasons Joseph is often considered to be a type of Christ is because he is more or less blameless too. We often downplay the sins of biblical heroes, but we also play up the negative events in the lives of those we consider to be antagonists. What follows is a discussion of three characters, just in the book of Genesis, that we often treat with contempt unnecessarily, or without much good evidence.

LAMECH (Genesis 4:19-24)
After the murder of Abel, Cain fears for his own life and receives a sign that is meant to serve as a warning to anyone who seeks to do him harm. God mercifully promises, “Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold” (v. 15). After this, we are treated to an account of the offspring of Cain and the various occupations taken by those offspring. Though my comments are most relevant to Lamech’s story, it is important to note that many take Cain’s offspring to all be wicked people merely because of Cain’s murder of his brother. Is this fair? Some even argue that we should not use musical instruments in our modern worship services because Jubal was “The father of all those who play the lyre and pipe” (v. 21). Since Jubal is in the line of Cain, the use of lyres and pipes should be forbidden. This of course rests on three assumptions. 1) That Jubal (or his sons) invented those instruments. After all, just one verse earlier we learn that Jabal, “was the father of those who dwell in tents and have livestock.” Surely Jabal (or his sons) were not the first people to dwell in tents or have livestock. 2) Secondly, it rests on the assumption that Jubal was as wicked as Cain. This does not necessarily follow, and 3) that we should not benefit from the inventions of wicked people.

Nevertheless, the Bible then explains that Lamech killed a man for “wounding” him. Lamech then declares, “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, Then Lamech seventy-sevenfold” (v. 24). Lamech is almost universally considered to be an arrogant-murdering-jerk for this. John MacArthur explains, “Lamech’s killings were a result of pride. In the first recorded poetry in human history, Lamech boasted arrogantly to his wives.”[1] Is this a fair assessment? I don’t think so. Macarthur may be right, but this is not necessarily the most consistent reading of the text. Lamech may well have only been the second man in history to have killed another person. He tells us that it was because someone wounded him. This reads as though it could have easily been an act of self-defense rather than proud “killings.” The fact that he adapts the promise made by God to Cain to his own situation also makes better sense on this reading. He wouldn’t have felt the need to mention the promise at all except out of fear. If this view is correct, it would make sense for Lamech to point out that if Cain were to be avenged seven-fold if killed for cold-blooded murder, Lamech ought to be avenged seventy-sevenfold if killed for self-defense! It seems that some scholars are quick to judge Lamech harshly on little evidence other than his family background.

ESAU (Genesis 28:9)
While there may be plenty of reason to take issue with Jacob’s brother, it doesn’t make much sense for scholars to demonize him for his marriage to an Ishmaelite. Esau, having discovered that his father was unhappy with his decision to marry outside of his own people, sought a wife from the daughters of his uncle Ishmael. Of this, The Reformation Study Bible says, “Even in this effort Esau lacked spiritual perception, for Ishmael was the rejected natural offspring of Abraham.”[2] Fair enough. I think this is probably an accurate statement, but it represents the thinking of many who wish to add to Esau’s sins without noticing the honor Esau sought in the act. Polygamy aside, (Jacob was also polygamous) he was attempting to respond to his father’s disapproval. He saw that Isaac had wanted him to marry from among his own people. He did. I’m not defending Esau’s complete record. I’m just saying, don’t multiply sins beyond necessity.

LEAH (Genesis 29)
Leah is probably out of place on this list. Nevertheless, I mention her by way of commenting on her status and situation within the story of Jacob’s marriages. Hopeless romantics may think of Rachel as the appropriate leading lady since Jacob seemed to experience love-at-first-sight syndrome upon encountering her. After all, who could love Leah with those “weak” (v. 17) eyes (sarcasm mine). Without question, Laban tricked Jacob into marrying his older daughter first, but this is not Leah’s fault. She was likely doing as her father instructed. Leah is to be praised for her trust in Yahweh for provision. In verses 31-35, Leah is found relying on the one true God and he blesses her with several children – including JUDAH (through whom the Messiah came). Rachel names her children out of jealousy and doesn’t (at least at first) mention Yahweh. Lastly, though God tolerated polygamy, he never endorsed it. If readers are meant to appreciate the monogamy God had in mind, then despite his having been tricked it is not unreasonable to assume that Jacob should have remained only with Leah and been satisfied only with her (weak eyes or not). Some might object to this. Without Rachel there would be no Joseph, perhaps no Egypt events, and the twelve tribes in general would not have been complete. Yet, God could have accomplished his ends through Leah alone. He is not dependent on Jacob’s polygamy for the success of his plans. Our God is far more sovereign than that.

So there you have it. While we may diminish the shortcomings of biblical heroes, let’s not go to the other extreme and diminish the noble positions of others.


[1] MacArthur, John. 1-3 John. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007. p. 252.
[2] The Reformation Study Bible, ( Internet. Accessed on 25 August, 2015.
[Note] Insights gleaned from Steve Gregg’s verse-by-verse bible commentary teaching, ( Internet. Accessed on 25 August, 2015.

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Bill Mac

I like this article a lot. Inspiration aside, the written word often lacks verbal and visual cues that give us the full picture of what is going on in the mind of the person being written about, and humans have a tendency to “fill in the blanks” based on their own bias and experience.

Case in point: When God asks Adam about eating the fruit, he says “The woman you gave to be with me gave me the fruit and I ate”. This is interpreted almost universally as Adam shifting the blame to Eve, and even onto God for giving him Eve. While that is certainly a possibility, it is not a certainty. Adam gives a perfectly accurate and factual statement, and to assign his motives is to read our own perceptions into his words. We have to be very careful about this.

Jim P

I’d like to contribute to Bill Mac’s note: He is correct, that care to not read too much into things.

But consider, The Apostle Paul does seem to assign motive to Adam in 1 Tim. 2:17. “Adam was not deceived.” Taken at face value, Adam knew exactly the transgression He was walking into. What he knew needs interpreting, but he knew. He was without excuse. Eve, on the other hand and the same verse, Paul states, about Eve ‘the woman, being deceived.’ This maybe why the entrance of sin into creation (Romans 5:12) is attributed to Adam and not Eve.

    Bill Mac

    Jim: I don’t disagree. He was not deceived and knew what he was doing wrong. The only caution I’m making is that Adam was already in enough trouble without ascribing other sins to him that the scripture is not explicit about.

Braxton Hunter

Thanks for the thoughtful comments guys.

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