|The creature was made subject unto vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same in hope.| -- Rom
When the earth first came from the hand of God, it was |very good,| and man, the best of all the beings it contained, was subjected to a trial of obedience. The fallen angel gained the ear of the woman, and led her to disobey, and to persuade her husband to do the same; and that failure gave Satan power over the world, and over all Adam's children, bringing sin and death upon the earth, and upon all, whether man or brute, who dwelt therein.
Yet the merciful God would not give up all the creatures whom He had made, to eternal destruction without a ray of hope, and even while sentencing them to the punishment they had drawn on themselves, He held out the promise that the Seed of the woman should bruise the head of the serpent, the Devil; and they were taught by the sight of sacrifices of animals, that the death of the innocent might yet atone for the sin of the guilty; though these creatures were not of worth enough really to bear the punishment for man.
Abel's offering of the lamb proved his faith, and thus was more worthy than Cain's gift of the fruits of the earth. When Cain in his envy slew his brother, he and his children were cast off by God, and those of his younger brother, Seth, were accepted, until they joined themselves to the ungodly daughters of Cain; and such sin prevailed, that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of judgment at hand, before he was taken up alive into Heaven. When eight hundred and nine hundred years were the usual term of men's lives, and the race was in full strength and freshness, there was time for mind and body to come to great force; and we find that the chief inventions of man belong to these sons of Cain -- the dwelling in tents, workmanship in brass and iron, and the use of musical instruments. On the other hand, the more holy of the line of Seth handed on from one to the other the history of the blessed days of Eden, and of God's promise, and lived upon hope and faith.
Noah, whose father had been alive in the latter years of Adam's life, was chosen from among the descendants of Seth, to be saved out of the general ruin of the corrupt earth, and to carry on the promise. His faith was first tried by the command to build the ark, though for one hundred and twenty years all seemed secure, without any token of judgment; and the disobedient refused to listen to his preaching. When the time came, his own family of eight persons were alone found worthy to be spared from the destruction, together with all the animals with them preserved in the ark, two of each kind, and a sevenfold number of those milder and purer animals which part the hoof and chew the cud, and were already marked out as fit for sacrifice.
It was the year 2348 B.C. that Noah spent in floating upon the waste of waters while every living thing was perishing round him, and afterwards in seeing the floods return to their beds in oceans, lakes, and rivers, which they shall never again overpass.
The ark first came aground on the mountain of Ararat, in Armenia, a sacred spot to this day; and here God made His covenant with Noah, renewing His first blessing to Adam, permitting the use of animal food; promising that the course of nature should never be disturbed again till the end of all things, and making the glorious tints of the rainbow, which are produced by sunlight upon water, stand as the pledge of this assurance. Of man He required abstinence from eating the blood of animals, and from shedding the blood of man, putting, as it were, a mark of sacredness upon life-blood, so as to lead the mind on to the Blood hereafter to be shed.
Soon a choice was made among the sons of Noah. Ham mocked at his father's infirmity, while his two brothers veiled it; and Noah was therefore inspired to prophesy that Canaan, the son of the undutiful Ham, should be accursed, and a servant of servants; that Shem should especially belong to the Lord God, and that Japhet's posterity should be enlarged, and should dwell in the tents of Shem. Thus Shem was marked as the chosen, yet with hope that Japhet should share in his blessings.
It seems as if Ham had brought away some of the arts and habits of the giant sons of Cain, for in all worldly prosperity his sons had the advantage. In 2247 B. C. the sons of men banded themselves together to build the Tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar, just below the hills of Armenia, where the two great rivers Euphrates and Tigris make the flats rich and fertile. For their presumption, God confounded their speech, and the nations first were divided. Ham's children got all the best regions; Nimrod, the child of his son Cush, kept Babel, built the first city, and became the first king. Canaan's sons settled themselves in that goodliest of all lands which bore his name; and Mizraim's children obtained the rich and beautiful valley of the Nile, called Egypt. All these were keen clever people, builders of cities, cultivators of the land, weavers and embroiderers, earnest after comfort and riches, and utterly forgetting, or grievously corrupting, the worship of God. Others of the race seem to have wandered further south, where the heat of the sun blackened their skins; and their strong constitution, and dull meek temperament, marked them out to all future generations as a prey to be treated like animals of burden, so as to bear to the utmost the curse of Canaan.
Shem's sons, simpler than those of Ham, continued to live in tents and watch their cattle, scattered about in the same plains, called from the two great streams, Mesopotamia, or the land of rivers. Some travelled westwards, and settling in China and India, became a rich and wealthy people, but constantly losing more and more the recollection of the truth; and some went on in time from isle to isle to the western hemisphere -- lands where no other foot should tread till the world should be grown old.
Japhet's children seemed at first the least favoured, for no place, save the cold dreary north, was found for most of them. Some few, the children of Javan, found a home in the fair isles of the Mediterranean, but the greater part were wild horsemen in Northern Asia and Europe. This was a dark and dismal training, but it braced them so that in future generations they proved to have far more force and spirit than was to be found among the dwellers in milder climates.