Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:26–27

Genesis 9:26–27
He also said, “Worthy of praise is the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem!  27 May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!”
(NET Bible)

 Prayer and long-range consequences

Perhaps we are too timid in prayer. So many people express rules for how prayer is to be done that it can become a memory exercise to follow the formula. Is that what God intended?

And, of course, we are told never to pray selfishly. But what if we found a prayer in the Bible that would affect all humanity, and it was affirmed by God? And what if we found that the man who prayed it did so because he was angry about how he had been treated? Do we need to rethink prayer?

Perhaps Noah sees that the Lord stands behind Shem’s worthy behavior in limiting the damage of sin. Noah praises Shem indirectly by praising his God, and then he becomes more direct in asking that Canaan become slave to Shem.

Kenneth Mathews speaks about all the verbs in Genesis 9:25–27 when he says: “Noah’s words held no magical powers that destined the fates of future generations. His appeal was to God, whose will alone counted for what would become of the nations.”[1] When Mathews mentions “nations,” he is looking ahead to the prolific expansion of humanity that will take these individuals and make their many descendants into nations (Genesis 10). Noah was praying for things of momentous significance for the entire human race.

Contemporary people seldom realize that ancient names morphed into things that are more familiar to us today. The name Shem came to refer to Semitic peoples in the Arabian Peninsula and in ancient Mesopotamia, where many descendants of Shem settled. It was from the area that is now Iraq that Abraham migrated, at God’s direction, back to Canaan. In time the concept of Semitism came to mean the culture and ideas originating with the Jews, the descendants of Shem. Anti-Semitism is persecution of or discrimination against Jews, who are Semites. Note that since Abraham descended from Shem, the Jews consider themselves Semites.

In a similar way the word “Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13) is thought to derive from Shem’s great-grandson Eber (Gen. 10:21).[2]

Ham’s children, except for Canaan, settled in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, notably in what is now Egypt. Canaan, of course, settled in what is now Israel, but it was called “Canaan” for millennia.

Genesis 9:27  May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!” (NET Bible)

The descendants of Japheth initially settled what is now Turkey and Europe. In its open way, the NET Bible Notes say concerning Genesis 9:27, “The words ‘territory and numbers’ are supplied in the translation for clarity.”[3]

Apparently, Noah asks for a situation which includes Shem worshipping the Lord in peaceful alliance with Japheth and under terms of oppression for Canaan. In the context of Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) and especially Genesis 9:19 (“from them the whole earth was populated”), Shem, Japheth and Canaan represent peoples who would descend from them.

After saying that God is under no obligation to comply with Noah’s prayer, John Walton adds:

Nevertheless, such pronouncements were accepted with utmost gravity and confidence by the people of Israel, and there are numerous occasions where the statements do end up being fulfilled as the plan of God unfolds. In such cases their significance has been seen in retrospect.[4]

The exact fulfillment of Noah’s requests is debatable. Gordon Wenham quotes a notable Old Testament scholar with one interpretation: “Gentile Christians are for the most part Japhethites dwelling in the tents of Shem.”[5] In retrospect, it seems clear that Japheth and Shem have prospered considerably in comparison to Canaan. But the Canaanite poison of sexual depravity has penetrated all of humankind to our universal harm.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 422.

[2] ESV Study Bible, notes for Genesis 10:21.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:27.

[4] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 350.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 203, quoting Delitzsch, 1:298.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:21-23

Genesis 9:21-23
When he drank some of the wine, he got drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his fathers nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. 23 Shem and Japheth took the garment and placed it on their shoulders. Then they walked in backwards and covered up their fathers nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so they did not see their fathers nakedness.
(NET Bible)

How the Canaanites became sexually depraved

Anyone who reads today’s story must confront the reality of our own tendencies. Events happen, and people make bad choices resulting in sin. The question is: what happens next?

What is God’s reaction to those who spread the damage of sin even further? How does God respond to those who try to limit the damage of sin? What are the long-term implications of the answers to these questions?

While the Bible takes a favorable view toward wine, drunkenness is always shown to be sin. Victor Hamilton notes, “The two incidents in Genesis describing drunkenness ([Gen. 9:21] and 19:31ff) become the occasions for sins of debauchery.”[1]

The author of Genesis reached into his literary bag and pulled out a rare Hebrew form to express the gravity of Noah’s action in uncovering himself inside his tent. Only one Hebrew verb in a hundred takes this form, and such forms occur just 38 times in the fifty chapters of Genesis. Many of these instances are dramatic events: Adam and Eve frantically hide from God amidst the trees of the garden (3:8); the flaming sword whirls about to bar the man from re-entering the garden (3:24); Enoch walks with God (5:22) and is taken away without death; God is highly offended by the violence which prevails in the earth (6:6); Noah walks with God like Enoch (6:9); drunken Noah uncovers himself in his tent (9:21).

The facts presented in the previous paragraph imply that the sin of Noah’s drunken nudity is more important than the simple words of the verse might lead us to think. This event is a big deal! The NET Bible Notes explain: “It is hard for modern people to appreciate why seeing another’s nakedness was such an abomination, because nakedness is so prevalent today. In the ancient world, especially in a patriarchal society, seeing another’s nakedness was a major offense.”[2] Noah’s drunkenness and resulting nakedness present Noah’s sons with an opportunity to show their inner qualities.

Ham sees the nakedness of his father Noah, and, instead of covering Noah, Ham spreads the problem further by telling his two brothers (Gen. 9:22). They did not need to know; that they are told increases their fathers shame and dishonor.

Shem and Japheth become part of the solution by acting to cover their father without further dishonoring him (Gen. 9:23). The fact that they go to great lengths to keep from seeing Noah demonstrates their desire to protect him. It may be this very incident that leads Peter to say, “Above all keep your love for one another fervent, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

A second thought about the serious of Noah’s sin and Hams response is the context in which it happens. God has previously destroyed the world for sexual depravity and violence. With unfortunate speed, the world starts down a sinful path again. Will God again destroy what he has made? We tend to be blind to that possibility because we know how the story ends.

Before we leave this section, note that the author of Genesis again asserts that Ham is father to Canaan (Gen. 9:22). The NET Bible Notes explain, “The Canaanites, Hams descendants through his son Canaan, were cursed because they shared the same moral abandonment that their ancestor displayed.”[3] We will get to the curse in due course, but the author of Genesis wants us to see that the deep sexual sin of the numerous Canaanite peoples finds its source in this incident. Noah’s folly of drunkenness led to his nakedness. Encountering his father in this state brought out the moral abandonment in Ham; the father’s choice became the shared conviction of the son.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 321.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:22.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:18.

Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:18-20

Genesis 9:18-20

The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Now Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the sons of Noah, and from them the whole earth was populated.
Noah, a man of the soil, began to plant a vineyard.
(NET Bible)

The re-development of humanity

Most of us have never given a second thought to where we came from. Perhaps that sentence makes you think of your parents or where you were born. You might even be among the small group of people who have studied their family tree. Mine goes back about 400 years to England, near Cambridge.

But where did England come from? And how did humanity develop into what we are today? Does our identity stop with our family of origin or does it go much deeper? Why are we oblivious to how things began?

Kenneth Mathews tells us the purpose of Genesis 9:18-19 by saying, These two verses subtly shift the narratives eye from Noah to the sons and their role in the future progression of Gods blessing for humanity.[1]

Keep in mind that the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) explain the events between the creation of the world and the preparation for Israel to invade Canaan. These five books explain to the Israelites how they came to be a people and how they were chosen to be the people through whom God would reach the world.

Returning to our verses, we note that Noah and his sons are the new origin point for all humanity alive today. We must also consider that from one of these sons, Shem, will ultimately come Jesus Christ, the savior of the world. Throughout Genesis the story always contains the story of the family that will include the Messiah; the narrative about other lines ends abruptly. Genesis is not merely a history of the world; it is a theological history of the world for the period it covers.

While we are noticing things, let the name Canaan resonate in your mind. Before Canaan was a place-name, it was a mans name, the man who became the ancestor of the Canaanite peoples who play such a big role in biblical history. How did they become so sexually depraved? Stay tuned!

We know that Shem is the ancestor of the Israelites (and Jesus) while Ham is the ancestor of the Canaanites. How this alignment, one people distinguished and one reviled, eventually came about is a story that will soon emerge.

Genesis 9:19 looks ahead to chapter 10 in which the author of Genesis will present the Table of Nations, showing the spread of humankind. For the moment the author merely states that Shem, Ham and Japheth are the three from whom the nations and peoples dispersed. Gordon Wenham says, The obvious contrast with the small number who emerged from the ark shows that the command to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (9:1, 7) was indeed carried out by Noahs descendants.[2]

Before Adam was created, the narrator observed, There was no man to cultivate the ground (Gen. 2:5). When Noah leaves the ark, he is the one who takes up the mantle of Adam in filling that role. He did so by planting a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). Wenham notes, It is interesting that the vine comes originally from Armenia, which is where the biblical ark landed.[3]

In this statement about Noah we again have a blank slate: a man and his vineyard. Will Noah improve on the record of Adam? In tomorrows post, the author of Genesis will give attention to a particular incident that shapes all following events.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 413.

[2] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 198.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 198.