The Early Chapters of Genesis: Chapter 9:25-29

Genesis 9:25‑29  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 10
HUMILIATING as the fall of Noah was, far was he from being forsaken of our faithful God, Who knows how to restore and can make even the weakest to stand. When restored, Noah had fresh honor put on him. We may be assured that the righteous man deeply judged himself, and not the less because it gave occasion to Ham's impiety, if it also brought out the reverent sorrow of Shem and Japheth. There was no waiting in their case as in Jacob's for the Spirit of prophecy on his dying bed. It would seem to have ere long followed that event in his circle which led to the striking prediction here given. It is the first prophecy properly so called which man was given to utter recorded in Genesis. The word given in Gen. 3:1515And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Genesis 3:15) is of a yet higher nature. It was worthy of Jehovah Elohim to make known, in judging the old Serpent, His gracious purpose in the woman's Seed. Nor is the poetic strain of Lemech to his wives more than typical of the future, though most interesting in that way. Here it is strictly a prophetic prayer.
As Peter, honored among the twelve, was reinstated after his still more grievous and inexcusable sin, so was Noah given to present the broad outlines of what should befall his sons throughout the ages, yet in an aspect precisely suiting that government of man on earth, which he was the first to exercise, and which God would sustain notwithstanding the fault of its representative. Enoch was inspired to prophesy in a wholly different vein of the judgment which the Lord, when He comes with myriads of His saints, will execute on all the ungodly here below. This, however surely uttered at that early day, and appropriate then, was fittingly reserved for its best place of permanent record and warning in the Epistle of Jude. But that of Noah is just where it should be no less certainly, and of a character and scope exactly in keeping with the context.
“And he said, Cursed [be] Canaan; and he said, Bondman of bondman be he to his brethren.
Blessed [be] Jehovah God of Shem, and Canaan be bondman to him;
God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in tents of Shem,
And Canaan be bondman to him” (vers. 25-27).
Appearances were long as usual against the truth. Experience seemed to favor the sons of Ham. His grandson Nimrod, as we know from the next chapter, “began to be a mighty one in the earth.” “He was a mighty hunter [or plunderer], before Jehovah.” It became a proverb. Wherefore it is said, Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before Jehovah. Babel, that ominous tower of confusion, was the beginning of his kingdom, and his kingdom did not stop there. No doubt an evident curse, which none could deny but an infidel, fell on Canaan, when because of their enormous wickedness the guilty cities of the Plain were destroyed by fire out of heaven. But even this was far from being an event of Noah's age, nor growing out of a condition of things yet existent, nor affording any such contact with the then circumstances as rationalists pretend prophecy requires. There was of course a true link which the Holy Spirit saw between Ham's sin, and his descendants' corruption; but it was in no way the mere immediate fortune-telling to which this deplorable unbelief would pervert the prophets. Still less can it be said of Canaan reduced to the lowest bondage, as when Israel took possession of the land of promise. Yet scripture is plain that both the curse and the blessing are not complete till Israel re-enter the land under Messiah and the new covenant, to be rooted there and blessed as long as the earth endures. “And in that day there shall be no more a Canaanite in the house of Jehovah of hosts.”
Undoubtedly for the earth, and God's government, Shem has the richer promise, as that day will establish and proclaim. But all history even in the past attests God's enlarging Japheth, the great colonizer of the earth, and in the strongest contrast with Shorn as to this. For he was not only to spread nationally as Shem never was, but to dwell in Shem's tents. Europe and the north-east of the old world sufficed not, nor yet the new world of America, Australia, &c., but he must also encroach on Shem's tents in the east. So it was to be, according to this earliest oracle; and so it has been, to the letter, as no foresight of man could have anticipated. This closes the divine account of Noah: “And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years; and all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died” (vers. 28, 29).
The reader may note the exquisite propriety of “Jehovah the God of Shem” in ver. 26, and of “God” only in ver. 27 for Japheth, where enlargement in providence is meant rather than the promised blessing of special relationship with Himself. And here is an internal ground, in addition to grammatical reason, against the idea, which many like the late Mr. S. Faber adopted, that the same verse means (not Japhet's, but) God's dwelling in Shem's tents. Had this been intended by the Spirit of God in Noah, would it not have been said Jehovah Elohim, rather than simply Elohim?