Gleanings In Genesis
15. Noah’s Fall And Noah’s Prophecy
In our last article we inquired into God’s Covenant with Noah—its basis, its contents, its requirements, etc. We saw, in the emerging out of the ark that from Noah and his sons the human family started out afresh. The new beginning promised well. God entered into a covenant with Noah, declaring that the earth should not again be destroyed by a flood—thus did the Lord set the heart of His creatures at rest. Then, we learned that "God blessed Noah and his sons"; that He caused the fear and dread of man to fall upon every beast of the field, and "delivered" all the lower orders of creation into his hands. Further, we discovered that man was now vested with the sword of magisterial authority, the principle of human government being ordained and instituted by God Himself.
After such a merciful deliverance from the deluge, after witnessing such a solemn demonstration of God’s holy wrath against sin, and after being started out with full provision and Divine assurance, one would have supposed that the human race, ever after, would adhere to the path of righteousness—but, alas! The very next thing we read is that "Noah began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine and was drunken, and he was uncovered within his tent" (Gen. 9:20, 21). Scholars tell us that the Hebrew word here for "uncovered" clearly indicates a deliberate act and not a mere unconscious effect of drunkenness. The sins of intemperance and impurity are twin sisters! No wonder the Psalmist was constrained to cry, "What is man that thou art mindful of him?" What a contrast there is between this section of Genesis and the last that we considered! Who would have imagined such a tragic sequel? How evident it is that truth is stranger than fiction.
Genesis 9 brings before us the inauguration of a new beginning and as we study and ponder what is recorded herein our minds revert to the first "beginning" of the human race, and careful comparison of the two reveals the fact that there is a most extraordinary resemblance in the history of Noah with that of Adam. We would here call attention to a tenfold correspondence or likeness. Adam was placed upon an earth which came up out of the "deep and which had previously been dealt with by God in judgment" (Gen. 1:12); so, also, Noah came forth onto an earth which had just emerged from the waters of the great Deluge sent as a Divine judgment upon sin. Adam was made lord of creation (Gen. 1:28) and into the hands of Noah God also delivered all things (Gen. 9:2). Adam was "blessed" by God and told to "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28), and, in like manner, Noah was "blessed" and told to "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth" (Gen. 9:1). Adam was placed by God in a garden to "dress and to keep it" (Gen. 2:15), and Noah "began to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard" (Gen. 9:20). In this garden Adam transgressed and fell, and the product of the vineyard was the occasion of Noah’s sin and fall. The sin of Adam resulted in the exposure of his nakedness (Gen. 3:7), and so, too, we read "And he (Noah) was uncovered within his tent" (Gen. 9:21). Adam’s nakedness was covered by another (Gen. 3:21); thus also was it with Noah (Gen. 9:23). Adam’s sin brought a terrible curse upon his posterity (Rom. 5:12), and so did Noah’s too (Gen. 24:24, 25). Adam had three sons—Cain, Abel and Seth, the last of which was the one through whom the promised Seed came; and here again the analogy holds good, for Noah also had three sons—Japheth, Ham and Shem, the last mentioned being the one from whom descended the Messiah and Savior. Almost immediately after Adam’s fall a wonderful prophecy was given containing in outline the history of redemption (Gen. 3:15); and almost immediately after Noah’s fall, a remarkable prophecy was uttered containing in outline the history of the great races of the earth. Thus does history repeat itself.
Noah "planted a vineyard: and he drank of the wine and was drunken, and he was uncovered within his tent" (Gen. 9:21). As we read these words we are reminded of the Holy Spirit’s comment upon the Old Testament Scriptures—"For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). What then are we to "learn" from this narration of Noah’s sad fall? First, we discover a striking proof of the Divine inspiration of the scriptures. In the Bible human nature is painted in its true colors: the characters of its heroes are faithfully depicted, the sins of its most prominent personages are frankly recorded. It is human to err, but it is also human to conceal the blemishes of those we admire. Had the Bible been a human production, had it been written by uninspired historians, the defects of its leading characters would have been ignored, or if recorded at all, an attempt at extenuation would have been made. Had some human admirer chronicled the history of Noah, his awful fall would have been omitted. The fact that it is recorded and that no effort is made to excuse his sin, is evidence that the characters of the Bible are painted in the colors of truth and nature, that such characters were not sketched by human pens, that Moses and the other historians must have written by Divine inspiration.
Second, we learn from Noah’s fall that man at his best estate is altogether vanity, in other words, we see the utter and total depravity of human nature. Genesis 9 deals with the beginning of a new dispensation, and like those which preceded it and those which followed it, this also opened with failure. Whatever the test may be, man is unable to stand. Placed in an environment which the besom of destruction had swept clean; a solemn warning of the judgment of heaven upon evil-doers only recently spread before him; the blessing of God pronounced upon him, the sword of magisterial authority placed in his hand, Noah, nevertheless, fails to govern himself and falls into open wickedness. Learn then that man is essentially "evil" (Matthew 7:11) and that naught avails but "a new creation" (Gal. 6:15).
Third, we learn from Noah’s fall the danger of using wine and the awful evils that attend intemperance. It is surely significant and designed as a solemn warning that the first time wine is referred to in the Scriptures it is found associated with drunkenness, shame and a curse. Solemn are the denunciations of the Word upon drunkenness, a sin which, despite all the efforts of temperance reformers, is, taking the world as a whole, still on the increase. Drunkenness is a sin against God, for it is the abusing of His mercies; it is a sin against our neighbors, for it deprives those who are in want of their necessary supplies and sets before them an evil example; it is a sin against ourself, for it robs of usefulness, self-government and common decency. Moreover, drunkenness commonly leads to other evils. It did in Noah’s case; Noah’s sin gave occasion for his son to sin.
Fourth, in Noah’s sin we learn our need of watchfulness and prayer. A believer is never immune from falling. The evil nature is still within us and nothing but constant dependency upon God can enable us to withstand the solicitations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" is a word that every saint needs daily to take to heart. Neither age nor character is any security in the hour of testing. Here was a man who had withstood the temptations of an evil world for six hundred years, yet nevertheless, he now succumbs to the lusts of the flesh. And this is one of the things which is written for "our admonition" (1 Cor. 10:11). Then let us not sit in judgment upon Noah with pharisaical complacency, rather let us "consider ourselves, lest we also be tempted" (Gal. 6:1). No experience of God’s mercies in the past can deliver us from exposure to new temptations in the future.
Finally, Noah’s fall utters a solemn warning to every servant of God. It is deeply significant that following this prophecy, recorded in the closing verses of Genesis 9, nothing whatever save his death is recorded about Noah after his terrible fall. The last three hundred years of his life are a blank! "But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection; lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway" (1 Cor. 9:27).
Having dwelt at some length upon Noah’s fall and the lessons it is designed to teach us, we turn now to examine the prophecy which he uttered immediately after. Three things will engage our attention: the occasion of this prophecy, the meaning of this prophecy, and the fulfillment of it.
1. The occasion of Noah’s prophecy. The setting of it is a remarkable one. The terrible fall of the illustrious patriarch and the wonderful prediction he uttered concerning the future history of the three great divisions of the human family are placed in juxtaposition. The fact that the Holy Spirit has thus joined these two together is a striking illustration of the truth that God’s ways are different from ours. The devout student of the Word has learnt that not only are the very words of Scripture inspired of God, but that their arrangement and order also evidence a wisdom that transcends the human. What then are we to learn from this linking together of Noah’s fall and Noah’s prophecy?
In seeking an answer to our last question we need to observe the scope of the prophecy itself. Noah’s prediction contains an outline sketch of the history of the nations of the world. The great races of the earth are here seen in their embryonic condition: they are traced to their common source, through Shem, Ham end Japheth, back to Noah. The nature of the stream is determined by the character of the fountain—a bitter fountain cannot send forth sweet waters. The type of fruit is governed by the order of the tree—a corrupt tree cannot produce wholesome fruit. Noah is the fountain, and what sort of a stream could flow from such a fountain! Read again the sad recital of Noah’s fall and of Ham’s wickedness and then ask, what must be the fruit which springs from such a tree, what must be the harvest that is reaped from such a sowing! What will be the history of the races that spring from Noah’s three sons? What can it be? A history that began by Noah abusing God’s mercies; a history that commenced with the head of the new race failing, completely, to govern himself; a history that started with Ham’s shameful impropriety can have only one course and end. It began with human failure, it has continued thus, and it will end thus. Here then is the answer to our question: Why is Noah’s prophecy, which sketches the history of the three great races of mankind, linked to Noah’s fall? The two are joined together as cause and effect, as premise and conclusion, as sowing and harvest!
It was written of old that "the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God." A striking illustration of this is discovered today in the wicked writings of the self-termed "Higher Critics." These blind leaders of the blind aim to degrade God’s Word to the level of human productions and in this remarkable prophecy of Noah regarding his sons they see nothing more than a hasty ejaculation caused by the knowledge of his humiliation and expressed in this curse and blessing. That these words of Noah were not uttered to gratify any feeling of resentment, but were spoken under a Divine impulse is proven by the fulfillment of the prophecy itself. A very superficial acquaintance with the facts of ancient history will evidence the fact that there is far more in Noah’s words than a local expression of indignation and gratitude. A careful comparison of other scriptures shows that this utterance of Noah was a prophecy and its remarkable fulfillment demonstrates that it was a Divine revelation.
"And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
"And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant."
God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Caanan shall be his servant" (Gen. 9:25-27).
2. Let us consider now the meaning of Noah’s prophecy. This utterance consists of two parts: a malediction and a benediction. Noah’s prediction concerning his sons corresponds with their conduct on the occasion of their father’s drunkenness. Fearful had been the fall of Noah, but it was a still greater sin for Ham, on discovering the sad condition of his parent, to go out and report with malignant pleasure to his brethren. It is "fools" who "make a mock of sin" (Proverbs 14:9). For a child to expose and sneer at his parent’s fall was wickedness of the worst kind, and evidenced a heart thoroughly depraved.
In the curse passed upon Canaan we find an exceedingly solemn instance of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children. In this day of human pride and skepticism, when everything is questioned and challenged, men have dared to criticize the ethics of this hereditary law. It has been termed unmerciful and unjust. The humble believer does not attempt to pry into things which are too deep for him, it is enough for him that the thrice holy God has instituted this law and therefore he knows it is a righteous one whether he can see the justice of it or no.
Ham’s sin consisted of an utter failure to honor his father. He was lacking, altogether, in filial love. Had he really cared for his father at all he would have acted as his brothers did; but instead, he manifested a total disrespect for and subjection unto his parent. And mark the fearful consequence: he reaped exactly as he had sown—Ham sinned as a son and was punished in his son! The punishment meted out to Ham was that his son shall be brought into subjection to others, his descendants shall be compelled to honor, yea, "serve" others—"servant of servants" (v. 25) implies the lowest drudgery, slavery.
It is to be noted that the "curse" uttered by Noah did not fall directly on Ham but upon one of his sons, the fourth—"Canaan " (Gen. 10:6). As we shall seek to show, this curse was not confined to Canaan but embraced all the descendants of Ham. It is highly probable that "Canaan" was specifically singled out from the rest of his brethren as a special encouragement to the Israelites who, centuries later, were to go up and occupy the Promised land. Moses would thus be taught by the Holy Spirit that a special curse rested upon the then occupants of the land, i.e., the Canaanites. Yet, as we have said, all of Ham’s children appear to have been included within the scope of this malediction as is evident from the fact that no blessing at all was pronounced upon Ham as was the case with each of his brothers.
"Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant" (v. 26). The reward of Shem was in the sphere of religious privileges. The Divine title employed here supplies the key. In the following verse we read, "God shall enlarge Japheth," but here "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem," this being the title expressive of covenant relationship. God was to enter into covenant relationship with the children of Shem. The realization that Jehovah was to be the God of Shem caused Noah to break forth into thanksgiving—"Blessed be the Lord God of Shem."
"God shall enlarge Japheth" (v. 27). The word Japheth means "enlargement" so that here there was a play upon words. "And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem." This expression is somewhat ambiguous, the obscurity being occasioned by the difficulty to ascertain the antecedent. Scholars and students have differed as to whether the "he" refers to God or to Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem. Personally, we incline toward the latter alternative, though we believe that each of them has been verified in subsequent history. May it not be that the Holy Spirit has designedly left it uncertain, to show that both interpretations are true? Sure it is that God did dwell in the tents of Shem, and equally sure is it that the descendants of Japheth are now doing so.
3. The fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy. The wonderful prediction uttered by the builder of the Ark gives in a few brief sentences the history of the new world, and shows the positions that were delegated by God to the three great divisions of the human family. In the closing verses of Genesis 9 we have a remarkable unfolding of the future destinies of the new humanity. The various parts which are to be played in human history by its leading characters are now made known. The subjection of one, the religious preeminence of the second, and the enlarging of the third head of the postdiluvian race, is here revealed.
"Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren" (v. 25). Above, we intimated that as no blessing at all was pronounced upon Ham as was the ease with each of his brothers, it would seem that the curse was not intended to be limited to Canaan (there being a particular reason why Canaan should be thus singled out, namely, as an encouragement to the Israelites,) but included all of his children. By tracing the history of Ham’s other sons it becomes evident that the scope of Noah’s prophecy reached beyond Canaan. Nimrod sprang from Ham through Cush (Gen. 10:6-8), and he founded the city and empire Babylon. Mizraim was another of Ham’s children and he was the father of the Egyptians (Gen. 10:6 and Ps. 78:51). For a time Babylon and Egypt waxed great, but subsequently both of them were reduced to subjection, first by the Persians who descended from Shem, and later by the Greeks and Romans who were the children of Japheth. And from these early subjugations they have never recovered themselves. The whole of Africa was peopled by the descendants of Ham, and for many centuries the greater part of that continent lay under the dominion of the Romans, Saracens, and Turks. And, as is well known, the Negroes who were for so long the slaves of Europeans and Americans, also claim Ham as their progenitor.
"Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant" (v. 26). Two things are promised here: Jehovah was to be the God of Shem and Canaan was to be his servant. Shem was "the father of all the children of Eber," that is, the Hebrews (Gen. 10:21). Thus, in the Hebrews, the knowledge and worship of God was preserved in the family of Shem. The fulfillment of this part of the prophecy is well known to our readers. God was in a peculiar sense the God of the Hebrews—"And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will be their God" (Ex. 29:45). And again, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2).
"And Canaan shall be his (Shem’s) servant." This received its first fulfillment in the days of Joshua—"And Joshua made them (the Gibeonites) hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation" (Joshua 9:27). The following scriptures set forth its further accomplishment: "And it came to pass, when Israel was strong, that they put the Canaanites to tribute" (Judges 1:28). "And all the people that were left of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, which were not of the children of Israel, their children that were left after them in the land, whom the children of Israel also were not able utterly to destroy, upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bond service unto this day" (1 Kings 9:20, 21).
"God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem" (v. 27). Two things were also predicted of Japheth: first, he should be enlarged; second, he should dwell in the tents of Shem or, in other words, should receive blessing from Shem. The accomplishment of this prediction is witnessed to by history both sacred and secular. Those nations which have been most enlarged by God have descended from Japheth. The Greeks and the Romans who in their time dominated practically all of the then known world; and more recently the European Powers who have entered into the rich possessions of Asia (inhabited by the children of Shem); and, today, the Anglo-Saxon race, which occupies more territory than any other people, are all the descendants of Noah’s firstborn! In Genesis 10, where a list of Japheth’s sons is found, we read, "By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands."
"And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem" intimates that Japheth was to be Shem’s guest, that he should share the rest and shelter of Shem’s tabernacles. How remarkably has this prophecy been fulfilled spiritually! "The revelation which we prize is that of the God of Israel; the Savior in whom we trust is the seed of Abraham; the Old Testament was written principally for Israel; and the New Testament though written in a Japhetic tongue, and, therefore for us, was penned by Jewish fingers" (Urquhart). To this may be added the words of our Lord, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22); and that remarkable statement of the Apostle Paul’s in Romans 11 where, writing of the Gentiles, he says, "And thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them (Israel), and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree" (v. 17). Thus do we see Japheth "dwelling in the tents of Shem."
Who but He who knows the end from the beginning could have outlined the whole course of the three great divisions of the postdiluvian race so tersely and so accurately!