SermonIndex Audio Sermons
Evan Roberts Quote
SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : THE BLESSINGS OF NOAH UPON SHEM AND JAPHETH. (Gen. ix. 18-27.)

Christology Of The Old Testament by Ernst Wilhelm Hengstenberg

THE BLESSINGS OF NOAH UPON SHEM AND JAPHETH. (Gen. ix. 18-27.)

Ver.20. |And Noah began and became an husbandman, and planted vineyards.| -- This does not imply that Noah was the first who began to till the ground, and, more especially, to cultivate the vine; for Cain, too, was a tiller of the ground, Gen. iv.2. The sense rather is, that Noah, after the flood, again took up this calling. Moreover, the remark has not an independent import; it serves only to prepare the way for the communication of the subsequent account of Noah's drunkenness. By this remark, a defence of Noah on account of his drunkenness is entirely cut off. Against such a defence Luther expressed himself in very strong terms: |They,| says he, |who would defend the Patriarch in this, wantonly reject the consolation which the Holy Ghost considered to be necessary to the Church -- the consolation, namely, that even the greatest saints may, at times, stumble and fall.|

Ver.21. |And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.|

Ver.22. |And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.| -- David is reproved in 2 Sam. xii.14, for having given occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme. The same reproof might justly be administered to Noah also. Ham rejoiced to find a nakedness in him whose reproving earnestness had often been a burden to his sinful soul. Luther remarks: |There is no doubt [Pg 31] that he (Noah) must have done much which was offensive to his proud, high-minded, and presumptuous son.... For this reason we must not regard this deed of Ham as mere child's play, as an action destitute of all significance; but as the result of the bitterest hatred and resentment of Satan, by which he prepares and excites his members against the true Church, and specially against those who are in the ministry. Let them, therefore, give earnest heed as to whether, either in their persons or in their offices, they give any occasion for blasphemy. We have in this history an example of divine terrors and judgment, that we may take warning from the danger of Ham, and not venture to be rash in judging, though we should see that a secular or ecclesiastical authority, or even our parents, do err and fall.|

Ver.23. |And Shem and Japheth took the garment.| -- Luther says: |Such an outward and lovely reverence they could not have shown to their father, if they had not, inwardly and in their hearts, been rightly disposed towards God, and had not considered their father as a high priest and king set over them by divine appointment.| The mode of expression indicates that the real impulse proceeded from Shem, and that, as a prefiguration of what was to take place, Japheth only showed susceptibility for the good, and a willingness to join with him. It is true that the singular [Hebrew: viqH] is not, by itself, decisive. When the verb precedes, it is not absolutely necessary that it should agree with the subject in gender and number; but the use of the singular is, nevertheless, remarkable. If Shem and Japheth had been equally active, the latter also would, at once, have been present to the mind of the writer. Under these circumstances, there is the less reason for supposing that the use of the singular can be merely accidental, especially as the words, |and he told his two brethren without,| immediately precede. But all doubt is removed by a second allusion, which goes hand in hand with the first, and which is contained in the following verse.

Ver.24. |And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.| -- That Ham was older than Japheth, appears from the circumstance that the order in which the sons of Noah are introduced is uniformly thus: Shem, Ham, Japheth; or, beginning, as in chap. x., from the youngest, [Pg 32] Japheth, Ham, Shem, -- where, however, in ver.21, the words added immediately after Shem -- |the elder brother of Japheth,| expressly indicate that, for a certain purpose, the writer has proceeded in order from the youngest to the oldest. It is altogether in vain that some have attempted to prove from chap. xi.10 (according to which Shem was, two years after the flood, only a hundred years old), compared with chap. v.32 (according to which Noah began to beget when he was five hundred years old), that Shem was not the first-born. The words in chap. v.32 are: |And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.| That the chronology can here be determined in a way which only approximates to the truth, is implied, as a matter of course, in the statement, that all the three sons were begotten when Noah was five hundred years of age; nothing more is meant than that Noah begat them after he had finished his fifth, or at the beginning of his sixth, century. (Compare Ranke's Untersuchungen.) It is just an indefinite statement of time which points forward to another genealogy, in which the details will be given with greater precision. Ham everywhere stands between the two; but that, nevertheless, he is, in this passage, called the younger son, can be explained only on the ground that, in the case before us, Shem and Ham are the two more especially noticed -- Shem as positively good, and Ham as positively evil, while Japheth only takes part with Shem. We have thus laid an excellent foundation for the right understanding of the subsequent prophetic utterance of Noah -- for the announcement, namely, of Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem.

Ver.25. |And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren.| -- Luther says: |Good old Noah, who is regarded by his son as a foolish and stupid old man, deserving only of mockery, appears here in truly prophetic majesty, and announces to his sons a divine revelation of what shall come to pass in future days; thus verifying what Paul says in 2 Cor. xii., that God's strength is made perfect in weakness.|

According to the opinion now current, Canaan is said to mean |lowland,| and to be transferred from the land to the people, and from the people to the pretended ancestor. But this opinion is shown to be untenable by the considerations, that, according to historical tradition, Canaan appears first as [Pg 33] the name of the ancestor; -- that the verb [Hebrew: kne] is never used of natural lowness, but always of humiliation; -- that in our passage, where the name first occurs, it stands in connection with servitude; -- that the masculine form of the noun (on the adjective termination an, compare Ewald's Lehrb. d. Heb. Spr. Sec.163, b.) is not applicable to the country; -- that the country Canaan is so far from being a lowland, that it appears, everywhere in the Pentateuch, as a land of hills (see Deut. xi.2, iii.25, where the land itself is even called, |that goodly mountain|); -- and, finally, that, from all appearance, Canaan is primarily the name, not of the country, but of the people -- the former being called [Hebrew: arvr kneN], the land of Canaan.

The real etymology of the name is almost expressly given in Judges iv.23; [Hebrew: vikne], |and God bowed down, or humbled, on that day Jabin the king of Canaan.| Compare also Deut. ix.3, where, in reference to the Canaanites, it is said, [Hebrew: hva iknieM], |He will humble or subdue them;| and Nehem. ix.24: |Thou bowedest down before them the inhabitants of the land -- the Canaanites.| Our passage also proceeds upon this interpretation of the name. We are the rather induced to assume a connection betwixt the name |Canaan,| and the words, |a servant of servants shall he be,| as in the case of Japheth also there is certainly an allusion to the signification of the name, and probably in the case of Shem also. Perhaps even the name Ham, i.e., |the blackish one,| may be connected with the character which he here displays -- a suggestion which we do not here follow up. We refer, however, for an analogy, to what has been remarked in our Commentary on the Psalms, in the Introduction of Ps. vii.

Canaan means: |the submissive one.| It is a name which the people themselves, on whose monuments it appears, would never have appropriated to themselves (just as in the case of the Egyptians also, on which point Gesenius in the Thesaurus, and my work Egypt, etc., p.210, may be compared), unless it had been proper to them from their very origin. Ham gave this name to his son from the obedience which he demanded, but [Pg 34] did not himself yield. The son was to be the servant of the father (for the name suggests servile obedience), who was as despotical to his inferiors as he was rebellious against his superiors. When the father gave that name to his son, he thought only of submissiveness to his orders; but God, who, in His mysterious providence, disposes of all these matters, had another submissiveness in view.

But why is Canaan cursed and not Ham? For an answer to this question, we are at liberty neither to fall back upon the sovereign decree of God, as Calvin does, nor to say with Hofmann: |Canaan is the youngest son of Ham (Gen. x.6); and because Ham, the youngest son of Noah, had caused so much grief to the father, he, in return, is to experience great grief from his youngest son.| This latter view rests upon false historical suppositions. We have already proved that Ham was not the youngest son of Noah; and it by no means follows from Gen. x.6, that Canaan was the youngest son of Ham. Canaan's name is mentioned last among the sons of Ham, because the whole account of Ham's family was to be combined with the detailed enumeration of Canaan's descendants, who stood in so important a relation to Israel. The boundary line as regards Shem is formed, quite naturally, by that branch of Ham's family which stood in so important a relation to the main branch of the family of Shem. But, as little reliance can be placed upon the theological grounds of that conjecture; for the question at issue is not the withdrawal of outward advantages. Canaan is cursed, and it is just the sting of his servitude that it is the consequence of the curse. It would indeed sadly affect the biblical doctrine of recompense, if cursing and blessing were dependent upon such external reasons as, in the case before us, upon the circumstance that Canaan was so unfortunate as to be the youngest son.

The right answer to the question is without doubt this: -- Ham is punished in his son, just as he himself had sinned against his father. He is punished in this son, because he followed most decidedly the example of his father's impiety and wickedness. To this view we are led by the whole doctrine of Holy Scripture concerning the visitation of the guilt of the fathers upon the children. (Compare the author's |Dissertations on the Genuineness of the Pentateuch,| vol. ii. p.373.) [Pg 35] To this view we are also led by the passage in Gen. xv.16: |But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.| According to this passage, the curse on Canaan can be realized upon him, only when his own iniquity has been fully matured. This his iniquity is presupposed by his curse. If he were to be punished on account of the guilt of the father, -- a guilt in which he had no share, -- then indeed no delay would have been necessary. To this view we are farther led by what is reported in Genesis concerning the moral depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah, which, in the development of the sinful germ inherent in the race, had outrun all others, and were, therefore, before all others, overtaken by punishment. (To this view we are further led by what is reported in Genesis concerning the moral depravity of Sodom and Gomorrah, which, in the development of the sinful germ inherent in the race, had outrun all others, and were therefore, before all others, overtaken by punishment) To this view we are led, further, by Lev. xviii. and the parallel passages, where the Canaanites appear as a nation of abominations which the land spues out; and, finally, by what ancient heathen writers report regarding the deep corruption of the Ph[oe]nicians and Carthaginians.

The remainder of Ham's posterity are passed over in silence; it is only in the sequel that we expect information regarding them. But the foreboding arises, that their deliverance will be more difficult of accomplishment than that of Japheth, although the circumstance that Canaan is singled out from among them affords us decided hope for the rest.

But not even the exclusion of Ham is to be considered as an unavoidable fate resting upon him. Heathenism alone knows such a curse. The subjective conditions of the curse imply the possibility of becoming free from it. To this, there is an express testimony in the circumstance, that the promise to the Patriarchs is not limited. David received the remnant of the Canaanitish Jebusites into the congregation of the Lord. (Compare remarks on Zech. ix.7.) And, in the Gospels, the Canaanitish woman appears as a representative of her nation, and as a proof the possibility, granted to them, of breaking through the fetters of the curse. (Compare also the remarkable passage, Ezek. xvi.46.)

[Pg 36]

|The curse is contrasted with the blessing pronounced on Shem and Japheth, and the second member of ver.25 is, in vers.26, 27, used as a repetition in reference to each of the two brethren, who were, in it, viewed together.| -- (Tuch.)

Ver.26. |And he said: Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem; and Canaan shall be a servant to them.| -- The Patriarch Noah, -- a just man, and one who walked before God (Gen. vi.9), -- a man raised on high, as David says of himself in 2 Sam. xxiii.1, -- a man whose utterances are not mere individual wishes, but, at the same time, prophecies, -- sees such rich blessings in store for his son, that, instead of announcing them to him, he immediately breaks out into the praise of God, who is the Author of them, and from whom the piety of Shem, the foundation of this salvation, was derived, just as Moses, in Deut. xxx.20, instead of blessing Gad, blesses him by whom Gad is enlarged. The manner in which God is here spoken of indicates, indirectly, what that is in which the blessing consists. First, -- God is not called by the name Elohim (which is expressive of merely the most general outlines of His nature), but by the name Jehovah, which has reference to His manifested personality, to His revelations, and to His institutions for salvation. Secondly, -- Jehovah is called the God of Shem, -- the first passage of Holy Scripture in which God is called the God of some person. Both these circumstances indicate that God is to enter into an altogether peculiar relation to the descendants of Shem; that He will reveal Himself to them; establish His kingdom among them, and make them partakers of both His earthly and His heavenly blessings. Thus Luther says: |This is indeed perceptible and clear, that he thus binds closely together God and his son Shem, and, as it were, commits the one to the other. In this, he indeed indicates the mystery of which Paul treats in Rom. xi.11 sq., and Christ, in John iv.22, that salvation cometh from the Jews, but that, nevertheless, the heathen shall become partakers of it. For [Pg 37] although Shem alone be the real root and trunk, yet into this tree the Gentiles are, as a strange branch, graffed, and enjoy the fatness and sap which are in the elect tree. This light Noah, through the Holy Spirit, sees, and although he speaks dark words, he yet prophesies very plainly, that the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ shall be planted in the world, and shall grow up among the race of Shem, and not among that of Japheth.| As yet Shem and Japheth were on an equal footing. In the preceding part of the narrative, nothing had been communicated by which God had, in His relation to Shem, given up His nature as Elohim, and had become his God. It is only by anticipation, then, that God can, in His relation to Shem, be designated as Jehovah, and as the God of Shem. The thought can, when fully brought out, be this alone: |Blessed be God, who will, in future, reveal Himself as Jehovah, and as the God of Shem.|

If it be overlooked that, in this appellation of God, there is implied the indirect designation of the blessings which are to be conferred on Shem (just as in Gen. xxiv.27 the words, |Blessed be Jehovah, the God of my master Abraham,| imply the thought: because He has manifested Himself as Jehovah, and as the God of my master; which thought is then further carried out in the subsequent words: |And who hath not left destitute my master of His mercy and His truth;| -- and just as it is also in the utterance of Zacharias in Luke i.68, where the words, |Blessed be the Lord [Greek: kurios], the God of Israel,| imply the thought: because He has manifested Himself as the Lord [in the New Testament, [Greek: kurios] is used where the Old has Jehovah], the God of Israel), -- if this be overlooked, we obtain only a weak and inadequate thought, very unsuitable to the context, the purport of which evidently is to celebrate Shem, and to mark him out as worthy of his name. So it is according to Hofmann, who, in the words, |Blessed -- Shem,| finds only an expression of gratitude for the gift of this good son, and who limits the announcement of blessings to the single one -- that Canaan shall be Shem's servant. Against this feeble interpretation we must adduce these considerations also: that nowhere does the gift of the good son form, even indirectly, the subject in question; -- that thus we should lose the opposition of the curse and the blessing (which requires that, under [Pg 38] the |Blessed be Jehovah,| we should have concealed the |Blessed be Shem|), just as we should, the contrast between Jehovah here and Elohim in the following verse; -- and, lastly, that what, in the following verse, is said of Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem, would thus be deprived of its necessary foundation.

It is said: |Canaan shall be a servant to them.| The suffix [Hebrew: -mv], which cannot be used for the singular, any more than can the suffix [Hebrew: -M], for which it is only the fuller poetical form (the instances of a different use, adduced by Ewald, Sec.247, d., can easily be explained in accordance with the rule), indicates that the announcement has no reference to the personal relation of Shem and Ham, but that they come into view solely as the heads of families.

Ver.27. |May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be a servant to them.| -- These words, in the first instance, contain the blessing pronounced upon Japheth; but they entitle us to infer from them, at the same time, a glorious blessing destined for Shem, which is the source of blessing to Japheth also. They thus complete the promise of the preceding verse, which directly refers to Shem.

The first clause of this verse has received a great variety of interpretations. The word [Hebrew: ipt], which refers to, and is explanatory of, the name [Hebrew: ipt] (i.e. Japheth), is the future apoc. Hiphil of [Hebrew: pth]. The Piel of this verb has in Hebrew commonly the signification: |to persuade, or prevail upon any one to do anything.| Hence many interpreters translate with Calvin: |May God allure Japheth that he may dwell in the tents of Shem.| Luther also, in his Commentary, thus explains it: |God will kindly speak to Japheth;| while, in his translation, he has: |May God enlarge Japheth.| -- But to this interpretation it has been rightly objected, that the verb [Hebrew: pth] is found only in Piel, not in Hiphil, with the signification |to persuade;| that, commonly, it signifies |to persuade| only in a bad sense; and that, in this sense, it is never construed with [Hebrew: l], but always with the accusative. -- All interpreters now agree that (in conformity with the LXX. [Greek: platunai ho Theos to Iapheth], the Vulgate [dilatet Deus Japhet], and Onkelos) [Hebrew: ipt] must be derived from [Hebrew: pth] in its primary signification, |to be wide, large,| in which it is found in Prov. xx.19 (where [Hebrew: wptiv] [Pg 39] is accusative denoting the place), and which signification is the common one in Aramaic. But they then again disagree, inasmuch as some think of a local extension: God shall give to Japheth a numerous posterity, which shall take possession of extended territories; while others find here expressed the idea of general prosperity: God shall prosper Japheth, shall bring him into a free and unstraitened position.

Both of these views partake of alike mistake from regarding the words per se, and as disconnected from the following announcement of Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem. It must also be objected to them, that in the case of Shem, only one feature of the blessing is pointed out, viz., that God will be to him Jehovah, his God; and so, likewise, only one feature of the curse in the case of Ham. When those words are isolated, separated from what follows, and understood of extension, this difficulty arises, that Ham enjoys this extension in common with Japheth, as is shown by a glance at Gen. x. If, on the other hand, we understand them as expressive of prosperity (according to Hofmann: |general prosperity in the affairs of outward life|), this explanation is destitute of a sufficient foundation, and there is nothing reported in the sequel regarding the fulfilment of such a promise. To this we must further add, that the verb [Hebrew: ipt] is, on account of its immediate nearness to the proper name, too little expressive, and that, hence, we must expect to find its meaning more fully brought out in what follows.

But if it be acknowledged that the extension appears here as a blessing, in so far only as it leads to the dwelling in the tents of Shem, mentioned in the subsequent clause of the verse, and that the blessing can consist in nothing else, there is then no essential difference betwixt the two interpretations. But we decide in favour of the latter view, because the corresponding verb [Hebrew: hrHib], |to make wide, to enlarge,| when construed with [Hebrew: l], is always used in the signification: |to bring into a free, unstraitened, easy, happy position.| (See, e.g., Gen. xxvi.22; Ps. iv.2; Prov. xviii.16; 2 Sam. xxii.20.) Even when followed by an accusative, the verb is found with this signification in Deut. xxxiii.20: |Blessed be He that enlargeth Gad.| (In this passage, too, the word has been understood as denoting extension; and Deut. xii.20, xix.8, have been appealed to in support of the opinion; but this appeal is inadmissible, because [Pg 40] extension of the borders is the thing which is there spoken of. The allusion to the signification of the name Gad = good luck [Gen. xxx.11: |And Leah said, For good luck; and she called his name Gad|], is favourable to our view, as well as the circumstance, that in this case the subsequent words are only an expansion of the general thought, and more closely determine the happiness. Jehovah, who enlarges Gad, according to the words which follow, |He dwelleth like a lion, and teareth the arm with the crown of the head,| is contrasted with the enemies who wish to drive him into a strait. If room be made for him, he becomes happy, as it were, by enlargement.) To understand [Hebrew: ipt] of prosperity and happiness, is countenanced also by the consideration that, in such circumstances, the name Japheth appears much more appropriate in the mouth of Noah, by whom it was uttered at a time when extension could be but little thought of, and that it corresponds much better with the name Shem.

Elohim is to enlarge Japheth. Elohim here stands in strict contrast with Jehovah, the God of Shem. It is only by dwelling in the tents of Shem, that Japheth passes over into the territory of Jehovah, -- up to that time, he belongs to the territory of Elohim. But Elohim leads him to Jehovah. It is a contrast in all respects similar to that which we have in Gen. xiv., where, in verse 19, Melchizedek speaks of |the most high God,| whose priest he is, according to verse 20; while Abraham, on the contrary, speaks, in verse 22, of |Jehovah the most high God.|

There is a difference of opinion regarding the determination of the subject in the second clause of the verse: |and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.| According to a very ancient interpretation, Elohim is to be supplied as such; from which the following sense would be obtained: |God shall indeed enlarge and prosper Japheth, but He shall dwell in the tents of Shem.| [Pg 41] The inferior blessing of Japheth would thus be contrasted with the superior one of Shem, among whose posterity God should, by His gracious presence, glorify Himself, -- first in the tabernacle, then in the temple, and lastly, should, in the highest sense, dwell by the incarnation of His Son. Thus Onkelos: |God shall extend Japheth, and His Shechinah shall dwell in the tents of Shem.| The ancient book Breshith Rabba remarks on this passage: |The Shechinah dwells only in the tents of Shem.| (See Schoettgen, de Messia, p.441.) Theodoret also (Interrog.58 in Genesin) advances this explanation, and ably brings out this sense. It has of late been again defended by Hofmann and Baumgarten. But against this view there are decisive arguments, which show that Japheth alone can be the subject. To mention only a few: -- It cannot be doubted that it is on purpose that Noah, when speaking of Shem, has chosen the name Jehovah, and that, as soon as he comes to Japheth, he makes use of the name Elohim. We cannot, therefore, suppose that here, where, according to this interpretation, he would just touch upon the essential point in the peculiar relation of Jehovah to the descendants of Shem -- the Israelites, he should have made use of the general name of Elohim, as in the case of Japheth. The subject -- Jehovah -- could not in this case have been omitted before [Hebrew: iwkN]. Further, -- By such an interpretation we are involved in inextricable difficulties as regards the last clause of the verse. The words, |And Canaan shall be a servant to them,| can neither be referred to Shem alone -- for, in that case, they would be an useless repetition, as in ver.25 Canaan had been doomed to be a servant to his brethren -- nor can they be referred to Shem and Japheth at the same time; the analogy of the [Hebrew: lmv] in the preceding verse, where the plural referred to the plurality represented by the one Shem, forbids this. If, then, the last clause can refer to Japheth only, the clause in which the dwelling in the tents of Shem is spoken of, must likewise be referred to Japheth. To these arguments we may further add, that there is something altogether strange in the expression: |God shall dwell in the tents of Shem.| There is, in Holy Scripture, frequent mention of God's dwelling in His tabernacle, on His holy hill, in Zion, in the midst of the children of Israel. Believers also are said to dwell in the tabernacle or temple of God; but nowhere is [Pg 48] God spoken of as dwelling in the tents of Israel. Further, -- If we refer the second clause to Shem, the first, in its detached position, would be too general, too indefinite, and too loose to admit of the blessing of Japheth being concluded with it. We must not, moreover, lose sight of the consideration, that when we refer the second clause also to Japheth, there springs up a beautiful connection between the relation of Shem and Japheth to each other in the present, and during their future progress. As the reaction against the corruption of Ham had originated with Shem, and Japheth had only joined him in it; so in future also, the real home of piety and salvation will be with Shem, to whom Japheth, in the felt need of salvation, shall come near. Finally, -- The analogy of the promise made to the Patriarch, according to which all the nations of the earth shall be blessed by the seed of Abraham, is in favour of our referring the second clause to Japheth. And if the Lord, alluding to our passage, says, in Luke xvi.9, |Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness, that when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations| ([Greek: skene] = [Hebrew: ahl]), He expresses the view which we are now defending. For, in that passage, it is not God who receives, but man: they who, by their prayers, are more advanced, come to the help of those who have made less progress; those who have already attained to the enjoyment of salvation, make them partakers who stand in need of salvation.

Of those who correctly consider Japheth to be the subject, several (J. D. Michaelis, Vater, Gesenius, Winer, Knobel) give the translation: |and he shall dwell in renowned habitations.| But it is quite evident that this sense is admissible only as a secondary one: as such, we must indeed admit it in a context in which the appellative signification of the proper names is never lost sight of. That [Hebrew: wM] is here, however, primarily a proper name, is shown by the preceding verse.

The translation, |Japheth shall dwell in the tents of Shem,| is, then, the correct one. But now the question is, -- How are these words to be understood? According to the views of many interpreters, it is intimated by Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem, that the true religion would be preserved among the posterity of Shem, and would pass over from them to the descendants of Japheth, who should be received into the community [Pg 43] of the worshippers of the true God. So Jonathan explained its meaning: |The Lord shall make glorious the end of Japheth; his sons shall be proselytes, and shall dwell in the schools of Shem.| So also Jerome: |Since it is said, And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, this is a prophecy concerning us, who, after the rejection of Israel, enjoy the instruction and knowledge of the Scriptures.| Augustine also (c. Faustum xii.24) understands by the tents of Shem, |the churches which the apostles, the sons of the prophets, have built up.|

But although this explanation be, in the main, correct, it cannot, per se, satisfy us. It must be reconciled with that other explanation given by Bochart (Phaleg. iii.1 c.147 sqq.), Calmet, Clericus, and others, according to which the passage is to be understood literally, as foretelling that the posterity of Japheth should, at some future time, gain possession of the country belonging to the descendants of Shem, and should reduce them to subjection.

The phrase, |and they dwelt in their tents,| is, in 1 Chron. v.10, used to express the relation of conquerors and conquered. There is no parallel passage which could indubitably prove that |dwelling in the tents of some one| could ever, by itself, denote spiritual communion with him. If Shem had come to Japheth with the announcement of salvation only, it is not likely that a dwelling of Japheth in the tents of Shem would have been spoken of. Even the last clause of the verse -- |and Canaan shall be a servant to them| -- when compared with the preceding verse, according to which Canaan is, in the first place, to be Shem's servant only, supposes that Japheth will step beyond his borders, and will invade the territory naturally belonging to Shem. If Japheth assume the dominion of Shem over Canaan, he must then dwell in the tents of Shem in a sense different from the merely spiritual one. Finally -- Even in other passages of the Pentateuch, an invasion of Shem's territory by Japheth is foretold. In Num. xxiv.24, Balaam says: |And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish.| |We have here (compare my monography on Balaam) the announcement of a future conquest of the Asiatic kingdoms by nations from Europe, such as was historically realized in the Asiatic dominion of the Greeks and Romans.|

[Pg 44]

On the other hand, however, it must not by any means be supposed that Noah should, in favour of Japheth, have weakened the power of the brilliant promise given to Shem by the announcement of such a sad event; for it is evidently his intention to exalt Shem above his brethren, as highly as he had excelled them both in his piety towards his father.

The difficulties which stand in the way of either explanation are easily removed by the following consideration. The occupation of the land of Shem by Japheth is the condition of Japheth's dwelling in the tents of Shem. Why this dwelling is a blessing to Japheth -- |God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell,| etc. -- appears from what precedes, according to which, God reveals Himself to Shem as Jehovah, and becomes his God. To be received into the fellowship of Jehovah -- to find Him in the tents of Shem -- constitutes the blessing promised to Japheth. But if such be the case, there can be no more room for speaking of an announcement of any event adverse to Shem. Underneath the adversity, joy is hidden. It will here be fulfilled in its highest sense, that the conquered give laws to the conquerors.

|And Canaan shall be a servant to them.| The servitude of Canaan was completed by Japheth, among whose sons (Gen. x.2) Madai also appears; so that even the Medo-Persian kingdom is one of Japheth's. Ph[oe]nicia was completely overthrown by him. Haughty Tyrus fell to the ground. Zech. ix.3, 4, when announcing the Greek dominion (compare ver.13), says: |And Tyrus did build herself a stronghold, and heaped up silver like dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets. Behold, the Lord will cast her out, and He will smite her power in the sea, and she shall be devoured with fire.|

The objection raised by Tuch and Hofmann, that the Greeks and Romans made Shem also their servant, is, after what has been remarked, destitute of all weight, inasmuch as the servitude then had reference only to the lower territory. Shem and Judah were not injured in that which, in ver.26, had been pointed at as their chief and peculiar good. On the contrary, it shone out, on that occasion, in its highest glory. Canaan, however, lost that upon which he set the highest value. In the case of Canaan, the servitude was the consequence of the curse; but in the case of Shem, the outward servitude was a consequence of [Pg 45] the blessing, the most emphatic verification of the words: |Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem.|

It must indeed fill us with adoring wonder when we see how clearly and distinctly the outlines of the world's history, as well as of the history of Salvation, are here traced. |This,| says Calvin, |is indeed a support to our faith of no common strength, that the calling of the Gentiles was not only predestined in God's eternal decree, but also publicly proclaimed by the mouth of the Patriarch; so that we are not required to believe that by a sudden and fortuitous event merely, the inheritance of eternal life was proclaimed to all men in common.|

It is not a matter of chance that this prophecy was given immediately after the deluge, which stands out as so great an event in the history of the fallen human race, -- the first event, indeed, subsequent to the fall, with which the Protevangelium was connected. A new period begins with the calling of Abraham, and in it we obtain another link in the chain of the prophecies, -- a link which fits as exactly into that which is now under consideration, as did this into the Protevangelium. The import of this prophecy is: |The kingdom of God shall be established in Shem, and Japheth shall be received into its community.| -- The meaning of the prophecy which is now to engage our attention is: |By the posterity of the Patriarchs all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.| The promise to the Patriarchs differs, however, from the prophecy upon which we have just commented, not only in the natural progress -- that from among the descendants of Shem a narrower circle is separated -- but in this circumstance also, that in the former the blessing is extended to all the nations of the earth, while in the latter Ham is passed over in silence. This difference, however, has its main foundation in the historical circumstances of the latter prophecy; although, it is true, the complete silence which is observed regarding him, calls forth apprehensions about his being less susceptible of salvation, or, at least, of his not occupying any prominent position in the development of the kingdom of God. Here, where the object was to punish Ham for his wickedness, not the prosperous, but the adverse events impending upon him in his posterity, are brought prominently out; while, on the other hand, to Shem and Japheth blessings alone are foretold.

Footnote 1: The object of this event, as pointed out by Calvin, viz., that God intended to give to all coming ages, in the person of Noah, a warning and an exhortation to temperance, would likewise be frustrated by this unwarrantable apology.

Footnote 2: The reverse is the case with reference to Aram, which is essentially a lowland, while these critics would have us to believe that it means |highland.| (Compare Baur on Amos, S.229.)

Footnote 3: Bochart remarks: |He cursed the guilty one in his own person, because the source and nourishment of evil is in man himself. But, rejoiced at Shem's piety, he rather blessed the Lord, because he knew that God is the Author of everything which is good.|

Footnote 4: With reference to the difference between these two names, compare the disquisitions in the author's |Genuineness of the Pent.,| vol. i. p.213 ff.

Footnote 5: Our English authorized version translates the first clause of this verse thus: |And Leah said, A troop cometh,| -- a rendering which cannot be objected to on etymological grounds, and which receives some support from Gen. xlix.19. The ancient versions, however, are quite unanimous in assigning to the [Hebrew: gd] in [Hebrew: bgd] the signification of |fortune,| |good luck;| and render it either: |in or for good luck;| |luckily,| |happily| (so the LXX. et Vulg.), or, following Onkelos and the Mazorets: |good luck has come.| -- (Tr.)

[Pg 46]

<<  Contents  >>





©2002-2021 SermonIndex.net
Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy