25 And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 26 And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27 God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. – Genesis 9:25-27 (KJV)
Up until now, the protoevangelium was the only Gospel promise of the Old Testament. For centuries, this single promise sustained the trust of the faithful, who were in but not of a world of lodgism, atheism, and self-aggrandizement.
But Noah’s prophecy is the second of Messianic promises recorded for us in Holy Writ. This promise is given to Shem, whose name literally means “name.” Shem would be the carrier of the greater Shem, the saving “Name,” since “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
In what context is such a prophecy given? The ancient, antediluvian world had been destroyed. The preacher of righteousness and his kin were not ushered into a new Eden; they still lived in the midst of sin and death. And the world was not the only thing that changed. God also gave man the authority to deal death to animals for their sustenance. Man’s life was now to be sustained by death; a thing unheard of before the flood.
Perhaps Noah believed that his family would remain the pure church. This, however, was not the case. The church will always be a mixed body of believers and hypocrites until the Lord Jesus comes again to judge the living and the dead.
But even the faithful are fallible. The flood washed away all the outward violence and strife; it could not wash away the deep corruption found in Noah’s own breast. He, who stood alone against the hatred and mockery of the ancient world, succumbs to the brutishness of his own evil nature. He, who endured the torrential deluge with patience, is drowned in a little water turned to wine. Take heed, O saint, of your weaknesses! “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
The one who was perfect by faith in his generation stumbled and fell. It is necessary that temptations come, but woe to him through whom temptation comes! Noah’s stumbling arouses Ham’s sensuality.
This great offense of Noah causes Ham to despise his father. Ham believes that he is holier, more righteous, and more pious than Noah. Ham passes judgment on his father and delights in his sin by speaking to his brothers about Noah’s drunken, naked stupor. In short, Ham breaks the fourth commandment. He despises the autocrat, patriarch, and hierophant of the world; he looks at the frailty of Noah’s person, rather than honoring God by respecting Noah’s office.
Ham reveals that there is still enmity between the seed of the old serpent who deceives the world and the seed of the woman. Even in this new world, there is strife between the church of God and the brood of Belial. This battle will begin anew and finally culminate in the death of the Woman’s Seed, Who by death destroys death and the works of the devil.
But Shem and Japheth reveal their faith through their filial actions. They cover their father’s nakedness. They do not delight in sin or gossip, but they hide their faces from their father’s shame and seek to cover a multitude of sins with love. The faith of these two sons is worked out in love toward their father, despite his great failing.
When he wakes, the weak, drunk old man becomes as God to his children. Noah is enlightened by the Holy Spirit as to what occurred, and he speaks with prophetic majesty concerning the future descendants of his three sons.
Noah first curses Canaan. Canaan, son of Ham, is specially mentioned here because it is his descendants Israel had to deal with in the land of Canaan. They shall be slaves to Shem and to Japheth. How can this be? Don’t the children of Ham develop into mighty empires? Don’t Egypt, Ethiopia, Shinar, and Babylon all come out of Ham? Egypt, in fact, rules over Shem’s seed. How can this prophecy be true?
The promises of God are grasped by faith. God delays both the punishments and the rewards. The whole life of the godly is one of faith and hope. Even now, Christ has all His enemies under his feet and rules all things for our good. All things are ours, as St. Paul says. But it has not been revealed yet. One day, we shall see what we believe.
Shem was the one who was to carry forward the Name, as is implied by his own name and distinctly said in his father’s blessing. Shem’s descendants would form a cradle for the coming Messiah, the true and merciful Master of Mankind. Against this hateful Gospel, hateful to Satan and to his seed, mankind would rise in revolt. The kings of the earth seek to burst asunder their bands, against God and His Anointed. Nevertheless, our Father in heaven is faithful to His promise. From Shem’s loins would come the Messiah.
But Japheth is not left out. While salvation is from the Jews, Japheth is endowed with both physical and spiritual blessings. The Germanic people, the Medes, and the Greeks all share in the great blessings which the Messiah imparts. The Germans were particularly blessed by the Reformation which God worked through Luther. Darius the Mede, also known as Cyrus, was a great supporter of the Gospel and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The Greeks provided the language by which the New Testament was written. They also provided us with amazing bishops and doctors of the church.
When the Jews showed themselves as being unworthy of eternal life by their unbelief, the Gentiles were grafted into the church of God. Since Christ commissioned the eleven to preach and teach, we see that Japheth has now come into his own, to dwell in the tents of Shem, true to Noah’s prophecy.
This does not mean that Ham’s descendants are not eligible for salvation. There is a Canaanite in our Savior’s lineage, the prostitute Rahab. The Canaanite woman was commended for her faith by the Savior. The Ethiopian eunuch was baptized by Philip the Deacon. Blood does not ensure salvation, for God can bring forth sons of Abraham from these stones.
Shem, Ham, and Japheth. These three brothers reveal to us the future struggles between the righteous and the unrighteous, between the sons of God and the children of the devil. And these three also reveal to us the gospel. Judgment upon God’s enemies, like Ham and Canaan—Salvation for His people, like Shem and Japheth. God’s people shall rule over their enemies by faith; they shall be priests and kings through their High Priest and Only King: Christ Jesus.