************ Sermon on Genesis 9:18-10:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 2, 2011
"The Sons of Noah Today"
Where does every tribe and language and people and nation come from? I am sure you realize that many today explain this by the evolution of the species and languages and cultures. That is not what the Bible says. In Genesis 9-11 the Bible tells us the origin of races, nations, and languages:
(Gen 9:19) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.Scripture tells us that Shem, Ham, and Japehth are the fathers of the human race. From them comes every person, family, tribe, nation, people, and language on earth.
Today we will look at Noah's prophecy about mankind's races and nations. Next time we will listen as Scripture identifies the different races and nations. And, the time after that we will look at the separation of mankind into the different races and nations.
I Noah's Prophecy
A Isn't there something strange about today's Bible reading? Think of everything Noah did up to the event in front of us: Noah built a ship, gathered food, loaded the animals, weathered the worst storm in the entire history of creation, offered a sacrifice, and lived righteously for 600 years. He did all these things by faith. Yet, the text never mentions any words that Noah spoke. This does not mean Noah was a deaf mute. Remember what Peter tells us? Peter tells us that Noah was "a preacher of righteousness" (2 Pet 2:5); that is, Noah called the people of his day to repent of their sins and to turn to the Lord in faith. So, Noah was a man of words; yet, the Holy Spirit did not see fit to include any of Noah's words in Scripture until the events of today's Scripture reading. Think about it: One curse and two blessings – those are the only words we hear from someone who lived for 950 years.
Telling us what? Telling us that the words in front of us this morning are significant, laden with meaning, and important for us today. That is the first thing I want you to note.
B Second, did you notice upon whom Noah pronounced a curse? We would expect Noah to curse Ham – because it was Ham who failed to honor God by laughing at his father's drunken nakedness and then talking about it to his brothers. We would expect Noah to curse Ham because it was Ham who sinned against the fifth commandment. Yet, the curse is not on Ham but on Ham's son, Canaan. Isn't this strange?
And, did you notice on whom Noah pronounced a blessing? We would expect Noah to pronounce a blessing upon Shem – because Shem honored his father by covering Noah's nakedness. Instead, Noah pronounced a blessing on Shem's God. Isn't this also strange?
What do these two things mean? What do they tell us? They tells us that the most important person in our story is not human but divine. The most important person in our story is not Ham, nor is it Shem, nor is it Japheth. The most important person in our story is not Noah either. The main and most important person in our story is God. In Noah's sons, we see God working His purposes out – His sovereign purposes – for the entire human race.
C The third thing I want you to notice is that the prophecy in front of us was given as a result of the fall of Noah. Doesn't this sound eerily familiar? Isn't it similar to the great prophecy of Genesis 3:15-19 which was given as a result of the fall of Adam? The parallels between the two situations are striking. Both Adam and Noah were commanded to fill the earth and exercise control over it (Gen 1:28; 2:15; 9:1). Both Adam and Noah are the ancestor of all men in the present world. Both sinned by partaking of fruit – Adam by taking the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil and Noah by taking or partaking of the fruit of the vine (Gen 3:6; 9:21). As a result, each needed someone to cover their nakedness (Gen 3:21; 9:23). Finally, both prophecies resulted in a curse and a blessing which has affected mankind ever since.
We are to see Noah as a second Adam. In Noah there is a new beginning. However, our Bible reading shows us this new beginning is as disastrous as the first beginning. Telling us what? Telling us that sin is so entrenched in the human gene pool that something even more radical than the flood is needed to deal with it.
II The Curse on Canaan
A Noah starts his prophecy with a curse: "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Gen 9:25).
How are we to understand this curse? Is this a prayer? Is this a wish? Is this an immediately effective decree? Is Noah praying and wishing that Canaan will be cursed, or is Canaan actually cursed because of what Noah says?
These may be the words of Noah but notice what Noah does. Noah immediately appeals to God. "Blessed be the Lord," he says in his blessing upon Shem (Gen 9:26). "May God extend the territory," he says about Japheth (Gen 9:27). As for the curse itself, it is in the passive voice – which means someone not named is the main actor. In Scripture, the passive is almost always a "divine passive" – that is, God is the unnamed Actor Who actually does the deed.
Meaning what? Meaning this is a real curse. Not a wish. Not a prayer. Because God is the One cursing, something actually happens to Canaan because of what Noah says.
B "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Gen 9:25). Back to my earlier question: Why Canaan and NOT Ham? Noah could not have cursed his son, for Ham – along with his brothers and father Noah – was blessed by God. Remember God's covenant with Noah?
(Gen 9:1) Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth ...This is the important thing to remember: Ham was blessed by God. Neither Noah nor anyone else can reverse such a blessing with a curse.
Last Sunday night Pastor Godfrey preached on Balaam and his talking donkey. Remember what Balaam was asked to do? Balaam was asked to curse the children of Israel.
(Num 22:12) But God said to Balaam, "Do not go with them. You must not put a curse on those people, because they are blessed."Neither Balaam nor Noah nor anyone else can curse those whom God has blessed.
Isn't this our comfort and our song? We are blessed by God so we are safe in God. Ours is a covenant relationship with God – a relationship which nothing and no one can threaten. Though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God is our Fortress and our Might.
We know why Ham was NOT cursed. But, then, why was Canaan cursed? Isn't this unfair and unjust?
God's curse assumes that the offspring are evil just like their parents. Children of the wicked often persist in sin and justify their damnation, but the curse is removed from those who repent. Think of Rahab, a Canaanite. By faith, she hid the two spies of Israel and was blessed (Josh 2; 6:22-25; Heb 11:31). When it comes down to it, God's curse remains on a people only because they refuse to repent and believe.
Now, think of Canaan. What do we know of him other than his name? When we look ahead to Genesis 10, we see he became the ancestor of people later called the Canaanites or Amorites (Gen 10:15ff; Num 21:13). This group was very numerous and was broken up into a great many peoples, as we can judge from the list of nations in Genesis 10:
(Gen 10:15-18) Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, (16) Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, (17) Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, (18) Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites (cf Exod 3:5,8,17; 23:23; 33:2; 34:11).These descendants of Canaan were known for their great wickedness: they were sexually perverted, morally depraved, and bloodthirsty murderers. Their depravity is repeatedly mentioned in the Bible (Gen 13:13; 15:16; 19:1-11; Num 25:1-3; Judges 19:14-25; 1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7). Canaan's seed continued in sins even worse than Ham's. Apparently, Noah saw something in the youngest son of Ham that would bear this kind of fruit in later generations. Ultimately, however, the curse on Canaan was based on a lack of faith.
C The curse on Canaan tells us he is to be "the lowest of slaves to his brothers" (Gen 9:25). The blessing on Shem says Canaan is to "be the slave of Shem" (Gen 9:26). And, the blessing on Japheth says "may Canaan be his slave" (Gen 9:27). This certainly is plain and easy to understand, isn't it?! Canaan is to be a slave. Canaan is to be a slave to both Shem and Japheth.
But now we come across a problem. Do you remember what the Israelites were commanded to do when they came to the Promised Land? They were commanded to utterly destroy the descendants of Canaan because of their great wickedness (Exod 23:23; Num 33:52-53; Deut 20:16-17). If, as Noah prophesied, the descendants of Canaan were to be slaves why did God command their destruction? What happened to the curse?
Let me mention four things. First, the extermination of the tribes of Canaan was never fully carried out. Second, when we look ahead in Scripture and history we do see slavery for the descendants of Canaan. Think of the Gibeonites who tricked Joshua and Israel into a peace treaty; as punishment, they were turned into slaves at the time of conquest (Josh 9). Others were made slaves to Israel at the time of Solomon (1 Kings 9:20, 21). Third, the Canaanites were slaves – but only until the Exile. Fourth, the descendants of Canaan include the Phoenicians and Hittites, who constituted two of the greatest nations of the Ancient world; we can hardly say they were slaves to Shem and Japheth. With all this in mind the question can be asked if the "curse" has ever really been fulfilled?
"Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Gen 9:25). What exactly does this prophecy mean, then? How and with whom has it been fulfilled? Keep this question at the back of your mind.
D I am sure you realize that Noah's curse on the Canaanites has been used to justify the mistreatment of blacks and other races throughout history. This was the argument of the South African churches to justify apartheid. And, this was the argument of those supporting black slavery at the time of the Civil War. There are some who even connect the curse of Canaan with God's curse upon Cain – though we know the line of Cain died out in the Flood; they mistakenly claim that God's mark on Cain was black or colored skin. Noah's curse says nothing about race; it is based on faith or, we should say, lack of faith.
E As I already mentioned, Noah is a second Adam and in Noah is a new beginning. We see that because of sin there can be no perfect society. Instead, there is slavery and domination and pain and suffering. Man's attempts at perfection and utopia and a great society of justice are doomed before they start.
III The Blessing on Shem and Japheth
A Noah also said, "Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem" (Gen 9:26).
This is the prophecy about Shem: he was to be the father of a people whose God is to be blessed. Notice, as I said earlier, that God is said to be blessed here, not Shem. Shem's blessing is all wrapped up in God Himself. Have you ever thought of God this way? Have you ever thought of God as your greatest and best and most important blessing? We are being reminded that knowing God and Jesus Christ Whom He has sent is always the Christian's greatest blessing.
God, or the knowledge of God as the one only true and living God, is Shem's greatest blessing. John Calvin calls this the seed of religion. That is Shem's greatest blessing. So, we look ahead in Scripture and what do we see? From the line of Shem comes Abraham. From the line of Shem comes David. From the line of Shem comes the Messiah. That was Shem's blessing.
B Noah's prophecy ends with a statement about Japheth: "May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave" (Gen 9:26-27).
When we look at Genesis 10, we see that the seed of Japheth includes the so-called "Gentile" nations. Look at the prophecy that is made regarding these nations: "May God extend the territory of Japheth ..." So, by the time of Jesus the Gentile nations were spread over the best and largest portion of the world.
C Noah announces the enlargement of Japheth's territory. But he also announces that Japheth will "live in the tents of Shem" (Gen 9:27). In other words, it is Shem – the forefather of Abraham and of Israel – who is to rule over a kingdom so large that Japheth's descendants get the privilege of dwelling within it. It is Shem, then, who will rule over Canaan.
When did this happen? When did Shem rule over Canaan? When did Japheth live in the tents of Shem? The rest of the Old Testament tells the story of Israel who gains a kingdom temporarily but loses it due to unfaithfulness (2 Chron 36:1-21). During the Persian empire there was a partial return of the throne (2 Chron 36:22-23) but by the time of Christ Israel was once again under foreign domination. So, what became of Shem's blessing?
IV Fulfilment in Christ
I have left three problems or questions hanging. First, what came of the curse upon Canaan to be the lowest of slaves? Second, when did Japheth live in the tents of Shem? Third, when did Shem rule over Canaan?
By the plan and purpose of God, we are to see the fulfilment in Christ.
First, what did Christ do when He went to the cross? He became a curse for us (Gal 3:10,13). At the cross, Christ took on the curse upon Canaan. He became a slave and servant of all (Mt 20:28). This is why it is so wrong to think of certain races as being under the curse on Cain or Canaan – because, in Christ, the curse has been lifted.
Second, when did Japheth live in the tents of Shem? Well, do you remember what happened at Pentecost? "God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven" [the emphasis here is on "every nation under heaven'] heard the good news and repented and believed (Acts 2:5). This marked the start of the church's mission when the Gentiles were grafted into the olive root of Christ (Romans 11).
Third, when did Shem rule over Canaan? Revelation 5 answers this question. In this chapter, John sees the heavenly throne room. At the center of the throne is someone from the line of Shem: the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, Who has triumphed (Rev 5:5). He is worthy to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise (Rev 5:12). He is sovereign (Rev 5:13-14). He is the true Israel in whom God's plan for Shem's reign is consummated. Why or how does this happen? Because He is the Lamb Who was slain (Rev 5:6). It is Christ Who gains a crown and a throne for Shem and Shem's descendants by means of His death and resurrection.
Remember the words of our text? We are told that from "the three sons of Noah ... came the people who were scattered over the earth" (Gen 9:19).
Every person comes from one of these three. And, everyone is like one of these three. So, let me end by asking, are you like Shem, are you like Ham, or are you like Japheth? Think about this.
The path of Shem emphasizes religion and faith and piety. These are the people who live by faith in the living God and someday will reign with Christ. The path of Ham is the path of disobedience and a lack of faith. In the end, those who walk this path will be destroyed by the second death – even as God commanded their death at the time of the conquest. The path of Japheth is the path of materialism, of enlarged territories, of earthly things. This path also ends in death unless there is repentance and faith.
So, let me ask you this: which path do you take, in whose foot-steps do you follow? I pray that, by the grace of God, you follow in the steps of Shem and reign with Christ forever.
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