Blessed Be the God of Shem

Noah's Sacrifice  James J. Tissot (1836-1902/French)  Jewish Museum, New York

b) Gen 9:26–27: After Noah cursed Canaan (Gen 9:24–25), he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem, and let Canaan be a slave to him. May God make wide for Japheth, and let him dwell in the tens of Shem, and let Canaan be a slave to him.”

Surprisingly, Noah blessed God, rather than his son Shem, in response to his sons’ righteous act (Gen 9:20–23).[1]

Since Noah did not mention a specific benefit, he seems to have thanked the Lord for being the God of Shem.[2] His godly lineage would proceed through that son (Gen 11:10–11, 31),[3] which explains the omission of Japheth.

In this verse, Noah desired the servitude of Canaan; he did not cause it.[4] Repeating the request twice makes it emphatic.[5]

Regarding Japheth, Noah engaged in wordplay by matching the verb for “make wide” (pathah) with the name of his son (yapheth elohim leyapheth).[6]

He asked the Lord to give Japheth an extensive inheritance of land.[7] Japheth’s offspring eventually spread through Greece and Turkey, then into Europe (Gen 10:2–5).[8]

The identity of “him” in the phrase “let him dwell in the tents of Shem” remains unclear. Ancient literature suggests that Noah referred to God.[9]

For example, an Aramaic paraphrase of this verse says, “And he shall make his Shekinah to dwell in the tabernacles of Shem.”[10]

According to the Babylonian Talmud, “Although God has enlarged Japheth, the Divine Presence rests only in the tents of Shem.”[11]

When Moses recorded Noah’s words, Israel was likely constructing the tent where God took up residence (Exod 25:8–9, 22; Exod 40:17, 33–38).[12]

However, several issues persist with the interpretation that “him” refers to the Lord,[13] leading most current scholars to take a different approach.[14]

In Gen 9:27, Noah blessed Japheth, not Shem.[15] Therefore, the one who inhabits Shem’s tents is Japheth, rather than God.[16]

Furthermore, “tents” (ohel) occurs in plural form. This indicates that multiple households would reside among Shem’s descendants.[17]

Thus, the people descending from Shem and Japheth would coexist in peace.[18]

Commentators have advanced numerous possibilities regarding such an alliance.[19]

Yet, none of the suggestions emerge as strong contenders as they typically trace a people-group to the wrong ancestors. The incorporation of gentiles into the people of God has some merit (Eph 2:11–22).[20]

This section concludes with, “Let Canaan be a slave to him.”

Both Shem and Japheth’s progeny would subjugate those of Noah’s youngest son (Cf. Gen 9:22–25).[21]

The offspring of Moses’s original audience would have recognized that the people of Canaan sinned as their ancestor Ham did (Gen 10:15–19; Exod 3:8; Deut 9:5).[22]

However, God made exceptions to Noah’s curse and blessing.

Rahab the gentile prostitute and her family joined the people of the Lord (Josh 2:8–14; Josh 6:25).

Meanwhile, the Israelite Achan broke God’s command regarding taking plunder from Rahab’s city. As a result, his family received the death penalty (Josh 7:1, 15, 22–26).

Ultimately, Israel and Judah also followed the way of the Canaanites (2 Ki 17:7–20).[23]

Even then, God spared a faithful Cushite, a descendant of Ham (Gen 10:6; Jer 38:7–10; Jer 39:15–18).

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 9:26–27. Who did Noah bless for Shem’s righteous act? Why? How does this text foretell the incorporation of Gentiles into the people of God? Why do we know that the Lord made exceptions to Noah’s blessing and curse?

 

 

 

 

Go to Introduction to Chapter 11

[Related posts include The Sons of Noah (Gen 9:18–19); Noah Planted a Vineyard (Gen 9:20–21); Ham Dishonors His Father (Gen 9:22–23); A Slave of Slaves (Gen 9:24–25);  The Descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2–5); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); The Descendants of Shem (Gen 10:21–31); Seventy Nations (Gen 10:32); Jesus Sends Seventy (Two) (Luke 10:1–2); Life-Long Honor (Eph 6:2–3); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 10: Noah Curses Canaan (Gen 9:18–27)]

 

[1]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 325.

[2]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 202.

[3]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 151.

[4]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 324.

[5]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 202.

[6]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 325. Pathah is the lexical form for levaptheth.

[7] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “פתה” (pathah), BDB, 834, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/834.

[8]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 325–6.

[9]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 202.

[10]John Wesley Etheridge, trans., The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, with Fragments of the Jerusalem Targum from the Chaldee (London: Longman, Green, Longman, and Roberts, 1862), 54, Http://www.pathoftorah.com/pdf/ebooks/targum/targum_genesis_exodus.pdf.

[11]b. Yoma 10a, http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Yoma.pdf.

[12]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 326.

[13]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 202–3.

[14]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 326.

[15]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 202–3.

[16]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 326.

[17]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 202–3.

[18]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 326.

[19]Walton, Genesis, 351.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 203.

[21]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 151.

[22]Walton, Genesis, 351.

[23]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 150.