Exposition of Genesis: Volumes 1 and 2
« Prev Chapter 9 Next »


(a) The Basic Ordinances Governing the Postdiluvian World (v. 1-7)

Certain things follow as a direct sequel to the Flood. Our chapter supplies the needed facts. First, basic ordinances are set forth by God. These ordinances are more nearly adapted to the altered conditions that prevail since the Flood, or at least they govern situations that are the outgrowth of sin and definitely require regulation. None of the regulations that follow is temporary or ever to be abrogated as long as the present world era continues.

1. And God blessed Noah and his sons and he said to them: Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.

The previous chapter closed with a word whereby a fixed sequence of times and seasons was guaranteed for the time of the duration of the world. Now a blessing is laid upon man to make such work to prosper as he shall undertake to do within the times and seasons appointed. First comes what God gives to man (v. 1-3); then follows what God asks of man (v. 4-6). Mercy again takes precedence over justice, even as in 3:15. When God "blesses," He not merely wishes well but imparts good. This blessing is imparted by God, Elohîm, inasmuch as it involves His relation to the creature world in His capacity as its Ruler and Sustainer, as in chapter one. It is imparted to the father and his sons, inasmuch as they are the representative heads of the human family. Of course, womankind thus shares in this blessing. The substance of the blessing is the word spoken: "Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth." In part, like the original creation blessing (1:28) it involves a gift, namely the gift of fruitfulness, That man cannot impart to himself. The second term, "multiply," involves both a gift, viz., the capacity for multiplying, as well as a duty. All things being equal, man is under obligation to propagate his kind. Coupled with this is the divine command to "fill the earth." Mankind is not to concentrate in some few spots but is to spread out so that the earth presents no unoccupied and uncultivated areas. But since this is a part of the blessings, it involves the imparting of such gifts as man needs for the successful carrying out also of this duty. It has been remarked that after the Flood the marching orders under which mankind is advancing no longer include the original "subdue" the earth. For this the explanation seems to be that fallen man no longer has the capacity for subduing the world adequately and well. Sin has marred his makeup. But here men have suggested that the rest of the truth is that the perfect man, Christ Jesus, is He for whom so high a prerogative is now reserved (cf Eph 1:22; Heb. 2:8, 9).

Luther rightly dwells on the fact that all these words of God bring encouragement to man in one way or another; for after the Flood the great grief of the survivors at the sad lot of their contemporaries tended to weigh too heavily on their souls. That man might now have assurance of success in his enterprises and so work joyfully God speaks kindly encouragement.

2. The fear of you and the terror of you shall be upon all the beasts of the earth and upon all the birds of the heavens. All of what creeps upon the ground and all the fish of the sea, into your hand is it given.

The difference between the tenor of this verse and the beautiful harmony of the original creation is immediately apparent. Now "fear" and "terror" dominate all creatures. "Terror" is the stronger of the two words. "Dread" (A.V.) is hardly strong enough. The pronominal suffixes are like objective genitives (K. S. 37; 336 a). The same two words occur in Deut. 11:25. There was really need of some such regulation. The beasts, by their great numbers, as well as because of their more rapid propagation, and in many instances also because of their superior strength would soon have gotten the upper hand over man and exterminated him. God, therefore, makes a natural "fear;" even a "terror," to dwell in their hearts. Even the birds, at least the stronger among them, need such restraint. "Cattle" are not mentioned, for by nature the domesticated animals stand sufficiently under the control of man. Distinct from this is the second thought that mankind shall have control of all the smaller forms of animal life as well as of the fish to do with them as may seem good to it. For the expression "to be given in anyone’s hand" signifies to be delivered into absolute control to be dealt with as the other may determine. Cf. the use of the phrase in Lev. 26:25 and Deut. 19:12. The beth before kol denotes the sphere and really introduces the double subject of the verb. The Septuagint translators were only making an unnecessary attempt at improvement when they added to the first half of the verse the third object "upon all the cattle" (Kit.). "Cattle" are not to flee from man. The truth of the fulfilment of this word lies in the fact that wild beasts consistently shun the haunts of men, except when driven by hunger. No matter how strong they may be, they dread man’s presence, yes, are for the most part actually filled with "terror" at the approach of man.

3, 4. Everything that moves and is alive may be food for you. As I once gave you every green plant, so now I have given you everything. Only flesh with its life, that is its blood, ye shall not eat.

Now man’s power over the animal world is enlarged in another direction: animal diet is made permissible. If men before the Flood ever ate the meat of beasts, they did so without divine sanction. The reason for man’s receiving this permission can only be surmised. Some claim that man’s strength, waning more perceptibly after the Flood, required more solid nutriment. That is not impossible. For the full impact of the deteriorating effects of sin became progressively more apparent as time went on. Others hold that among the tokens of God’s goodness there was also this, that He enlarged the scope of man’s diet in order to show man His varied and manifold mercy. In any case, if a "thing" moves (rémes in the broader sense) and is "alive," man may eat it. Of course, the manifest thing need not here be said: if the creature in question does not appeal to him, he may refrain from eating it. Consequently, no distinction is here to be made between clean or unclean. For such distinctions are largely relative. What one man or one group abhors, may be freely eaten by others. All such details need not be incorporated in a broad statement of permission such as this.

Here is appended a distinct reference to the previous permission in reference to vegetable diet (1:29, 30). The first phrase "as the green plant" is really a contracted clause, which we have, therefore, expanded into a clause.

The pronoun , which here serves as a copula, occupies a position between subject and predicate adjective (cf. also G. K. 138b). The concluding kol, though without an article, still has the sign of the definite object, because, in the nature of the case, it may be regarded as in itself definite (K. S. 288 e).

4. One restriction is attached to this broad permission. This restriction, however, has to do only with the manner of eating animal food: it may not be eaten "with its life, that is its blood." The word for life is here néphesh, elsewhere commonly rendered "soul," see B D B 659, No. 1. The rendering "life" is, however, common likelihood. Luther erroneously reflects only this thought in his translation.

5. But also for your blood, as being related to your souls, I shall demand an account; from every beast I shall demand it; also from man, that is from one another, will I demand the soul of man.

As now one restriction is promulgated in reference to the blood of beasts, so another more essential one must be established in reference to the blood of man. The more frequent killing of beasts is not to beget a general indifference to the shedding of any and every blood, including man’s. Where man’s blood is shed ruthlessly, without warrant and authority, there God Himself shall demand an account. He may do this by prompting human agents to punish the evildoer, or He may achieve His ends by ultimately exacting vengeance upon the murderer who has not been brought to the bar of justice by man. Though darash primarily means "seek" or "require," this latter thought is "often joined with the collative thought of ‘avenging’"( B D B). Therefore we render: "demand an account." The explanatory phrase is in the spirit of v. 4, when it says: "as being related to your souls," lenaphshotekhem. The introductory le signifies a dative of relation. Blood as such could hardly claim such importance. But since this blood stands related to souls, vengeance must be exacted for it. Blood, souls, life rank even higher in importance than man is inclined to grant. Furthermore, it is not indicated in what way God shall demand an account of every beast. The publishing of this word is to induce man to act. If a beast, having been made for man’s sake, should in some way or other kill man, men should avenge this grievous irregularity by putting the beast to death. Exod. 21:28 furnishes an example under this head. Vilmar points out how in times of old men, especially certain Germanic tribes, rightly felt the enormity of the calamity of having a man slain by a beast. We seem largely to have lost this point of view. This same consideration, namely that the beast exists solely for man’s sake, is reflected also in words such as Gen. 3:14 and Lev. 20:15 f.

There is a measure of difficulty about translating the second half of this verse, especially the phrase miyyadh ’îsh ’achiw, literally, "from the hand of a man his brother." The phrase is the equivalent of the reciprocal pronoun "from one another." At the same time it goes a bit farther than the mere reciprocal pronoun, in actually pronouncing a man every other man’s brother.

6. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God made He man.

This verse attaches itself directly to the preceding, particularly to that part which says: "from man will I demand the soul of man." This verse now shows how God does this demanding: He lets man be the avenger. As Luther already very clearly saw, by this word government is instituted, this basic institution for the welfare of man. For if man receives power over other men’s lives under certain circumstances, then by virtue of having received power over the highest good that man has, power over the lesser things is naturally included, such as power over property to the extent of being able to exact taxes, over our persons to the extent of being able to demand various types of work and service, as need may arise. Government, then, being grounded on this word, is not by human contract, or by surrender of certain powers, or by encroachment of priestcraft. It is a divine institution. Besides, this power of life and of death is bestowed upon man only in an official capacity, insofar as the governmental power is centred in him. It has remained, for the shortsightedness of our day to claim that this verse is in conflict with the basic word of the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not kill." In reality, the Decalogue lays down principles of personal morality; this word, however, lays down principles of official conduct. Of course, it is rightly claimed that in the last analysis no man has a right to take life, unless he be properly authorized by God to do so. But the reasonableness of the word as a whole is immediately apparent. Man’s life is so valuable a thing, or, in other words, his blood is so valuable a thing, since man is made in God’s image. He that kills a man destroys God’s image and lays profane hands on that which is divine. The crime is so great that such a one actually forfeits his own right to life. There is a just retaliation about having life paid for life. No man can question the justice of the price demanded. Besides, we surely would not catch the purpose of the word if we were to take the imperfect yishshaphek as merely permissive or suggestive; it must be rendered as a strict imperative. Consequently, capital punishment is divinely ordained. For the proper safeguarding of the human race this basic ordinance is laid down. When lawgivers attempt to tamper with this regulation, they are trying to be wiser than the Divine Lawgiver and overthrow the pillars of safety that He Himself provided for the welfare of mankind.

It is true that this fundamental ordinance does not specify details as to how it is to be carried out, except that the work is to be done "by man" (be’adham, the preposition being a beth instrumentalis, K. S. 106). In other words, the ordinance is made elastic enough to cover all conditions. When at first no formally constituted government is at hand to be the agent, then individuals will be authorized to act. Under certain circumstances, on the frontiers of civilization, such a situation may arise even at this late date. Later on when governments came into being, they were the logical agency to act. Strictly speaking, K. C. is correct when he claims that the custom of blood revenge (Blutrache) is not ordained in the Scriptures. For blood revenge, unfortunately, substitutes revenge for the purposes of fair justice, and frequently it degenerated into the most cruel of feuds. When, therefore, the Scriptures do speak of blood revenge, it is merely for the purpose of mitigating its cruelty, Exod. 21:13; Deut. 4:41 f.; 19:2-10; Num. 35:6 ff. However, words like Deut. 19:12 are in entire harmony with our passage.

The article with ’adham is generic.

7. But as for you, be fruitful and multiply; bring forth abundantly in the earth and multiply in it.

Though this seems practically like a repetition of v. 1, in this connection it is more. It sets off strongly by contrast with v. 6 that man is not only not to be slain, but that it very definitely is the Lord’s purpose to have man be fruitful and multiply and have numerous offspring in the earth, for shirtsû literally means: "swarm ye." It must be regarded as a basic ordinance actually binding upon man for all time as long as the earth shall stand, to multiply upon the earth.

That a contrast with v. 6 is actually intended in the above verse is indicated by the emphatic personal pronoun, ’attem, which we have rendered, "as for you" (K. S. 17).

(b) The Covenant of the Rainbow (v. 8-17)

As the section v. 1-7 abounded in tokens of God’s mercy toward the family of Noah, so our section (v. 8-17) gives an added token by way of a visible external proof and guarantee.

8-10. And God spake unto Noah and unto his sons with him as follows: As for me, I shall carry out my covenant with you and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature which is with you, birds, domestic animals, and wild animals of the earth that are with you, as many as go forth from the ark of all the wild animals of the earth.

Since this is a merciful act, it might have been ascribed to Yahweh. The author with equal propriety prefers to have it regarded as the work of the mighty Creator (Elohîm), for it establishes permanent future conditions for all God’s creatures. Again Noah and his sons in their representative capacity are addressed. The covenant which was promised Gen. 6:18 before the Flood, here goes into effect. A covenant (berîth) is the most solemn and binding form of divine promise, given for man’s double assurance and because of man’s carnal weakness, but quite unnecessary when God’s part of the agreement is concerned. Therefore, such covenants are not to be put on a parallel with human covenants in which two contracting parties meet on the same level and make mutual pledges. Divine covenants emanate from God—therefore the emphatic initial ’anî, "as for me"—He makes them, He fixes the terms, and the conditions, He in sovereign freedom binds Himself. The emphatic ’anî is completely misunderstood when it is set in contrast with the "you" (attem) of v. 7, for this pronoun belongs into a different situation that deals with basic ordinances. Yet in the very nature of the case a contrast is implied in such covenants. Here the verb used for the setting up of the covenant is not karath, which signifies strictly the entering upon a covenant, but. the Hifil heqîm, "to cause to stand," used like Lev. 26:9; Deut. 8:18, in the sense of "keeping" or "carrying out." For when Gen. 6:18 promised a covenant as future, this word reckons with the covenant as practically existent and concerns itself merely with "carrying into effect" (B D B) its provisions.

Consequently, the discussion runs quite beside the point when it asks whether v. 1-7 are preliminary to this section in the sense of laying down the terms to which man must obligate himself in order to meet his part of the covenant. The section v. 1-7 does lay down basic ordinances with such finality that Noah and his sons most naturally accepted them. But these divine regulations stand quite apart from what attitude man might take in reference to them. Therefore nothing is reported about the attitude taken by man. Procksch, in the fashion characteristic of critics when they purpose to correct what to them seems a very unreliable text, sets the section v. 8-17 first and lets v. 1-7 follow though not even a single other critic has ventured upon such a step. Such efforts confirm critics in the erroneous thoughts they read into the text.

Now, with marked fullness of expression, the ones whom the present covenant includes are listed. This fullness of expression is to be accounted for, as Luther above all others rightly contends by the fact that Noah and those with him must have "lived in great trembling, fear and sorrow, and so it was absolutely necessary to repeat and reimpress continually one set form of speech." So, then, the beneficiaries under this covenant are the eight persons then living ("you") and their "descendants" after them (here the Biblical term "seed" is used) as well as all "living creatures," which may as yet quite properly be said to be "with" Noah, because either they had just come forth from the ark and were in the immediate vicinity, or else they were still in process of coming forth. Even the subdivisions under the head of the term "living creatures" are mentioned being introduced by a beth of enumeration, (bethsphaerae), which we have covered in the translation by a simple apposition. The reason for such detail is to make the divine concern for even the least of the creatures strongly apparent to Noah. "The wild animals," chayath ha’árets, are for that matter even mentioned twice (v. 10) for the same reason, for they of all beings might seem to need divine favour least. Though the min in mikkol is a min partitive, there can be no objection to translating it, as many do: "as many as," for the partitive idea here actually merges into the appositional.

A peculiar difficulty arises in v. 10 for those who hold that the Flood was partial and not universal. They must support the strange supposition that God made a covenant with those creatures only which went forth from the ark. Others that never entered the ark must do without the benefits of such a covenant.

The participle yotse’ey is here treated rather as a noun and so stands in the construct state. In v. 18 the same participle is regarded more as a verb and is construed with a prepositional phrase to express the same idea (K. S. 241 d, 336 f). Lekhol is used instead of the construct relationship, because a noun has crept in between yotse’ey and kol (K. S. 281 g).

11. And I shall carry out my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be destroyed by the waters of the flood; and never again shall there be a flood to lay waste the earth.

Summing up all classes of living beings by the expression "all flesh," the promise reassures man that the preservation of all these shall be made as a result of God’s covenant. All flesh shall never again "be destroyed," yikkareth, i. e., "cut off" from life, neither shall a flood "lay waste" shachcheth, i. e., "ruin" the earth. Floods on a smaller scale may destroy much flesh; a universal flood shall never occur. It seems the article before mabbûl ("flood") in the first case has not been sufficiently considered. Its use signifies first that this particular flood which has just about receded is not going to cut off all flesh again. The second use of the word without the article signifies that not any such flood will ever recur (mabbûl="a flood").

12, 13. And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I am establishing between myself and you and every living creature which is with you for all future generations: I have put my bow in the clouds and it shall serve for a covenant sign between me and the earth.

The connection does not so much aim to express strict sequence of acts in the expression wayyó ‘mer, but rather is used in the frequent rather loose sense "further." Surely, man must have been much disturbed and greatly in need of assurance, if, in addition to a promise of future safety, which promise was guaranteed by a covenant, God gave a visible outward sign to make assurance doubly sure. Since God was in reality just then establishing this covenant, the durative participe is used nothen, i. e., "I am in process of giving." The verb nathan for establishing a covenant occurs also in Gen. 17:2 and Num. 25:12. The ones involved in this covenant are again distinctly named: on the one side God, on the other, man and every living creature, God dwells with emphasis on the fact that He is good even to the animal world. But, in reality, the animals are preserved for man’s sake, as the expression "with you" indicates. That the covenant is to hold as long as the earth stands is indicated by the expression "to generations of eternity,"ledhoroth ‘ôlam. Of course, ’ôlam signifies the hidden future, so "to all future generations" is a good rendering.

13. With emphasis this verse sets the word qashtî, "my bow," first in the verse. Literally, the verse says God "has given" (nathátti) his bow in the cloud. The perfect most likely is the perfect of solemn assurance or promise, like that found in Gen. 1:29; 4:14, 23; yet cf. G, K. 106 i, m, n. Now in itself this determines nothing on the question of the previous existence of the rainbow, for the perfect might mean, "I have just given," as well as, "I gave long ago." Still we hold that the preponderance of evidence points to the fact that the rainbow in the clouds now first came into being. For, though it is possible that a phenomenon which existed previously might now serve a new purpose, still the effect would be comparatively weak, and the effectiveness of the sign would be much impaired. It would be a case much like that where two by mutual agreement arrive at the conclusion to let something serve as a reminder. But how much more effective would be a sign that appears for the first time, especially so solemn and awe-inspiring a sign as the rainbow with its ethereal beauty and vast span! There would, furthermore, be a splendid propriety to have a promise, which brings into being a relationship which did not exist before, attested by a sign which did not exist before. As the sign by its newness is a token of God’s vast power, so the covenant, though promising a new situation, will be effective by the same vast power. It might be that the same physical laws prevailed on earth prior to this time, so that light falling on a spray of water against a dark background produced a miniature rainbow. But the text says: "My bow do I give in the clouds," (’anaon, "cloud" used collectively). It is not impossible that with the Flood came altered atmospheric and cloud conditions, for geologic evidence points to an earlier age when a climate uniformly tropical prevailed also in the arctic region.

So now when the marvellous and beautiful rainbow puts in its appearance, all believers in revelation recall with joy its higher significance as outlined in this chapter. Delitzsch has perhaps interpreted the deeper propriety of the various elements involved more adequately than any other interpreter. He writes: "As it (the rainbow) shines forth against a dark background which but shortly before flashed with lightnings, it symbolizes the victory of bright, gentle love over the darkly luminous wrath; growing as it does out of the interaction of sun and dark clouds, it symbolizes the readiness of the heavenly to interpenetrate the earthly; extending from heaven to earth, it proclaims peace between God and man; reaching, as it does, beyond the range of vision, it declares that God’s covenant of grace is all-embracing." Our fathers did well to teach their children to pray at least the Lord’s Prayer whenever the rainbow appeared.

We may also dismiss as utterly ungrounded and entirely worthless the notion that the sign in reality stands for Yahweh’s warbow, which He used to shoot His lightnings but now hangs up in the clouds as no longer destined for such cruel purposes. Legends of India, Arabia and Greece, which the critics are wont to draw upon at this point, certainly, do not prove that such opinions were also held by Israel in days of old. Certainly, the passages adduced do not apply except by injecting the desired opinion: see Hab. 3:9-11 and Ps. 7:13. When critics then themselves admit that no traces of this peculiar interpretation of the bow are any longer discernible in Hebrew literature (Procksch), how can they venture to prove that these traces once were discernible? But this much is true: "The bow in the hands of man was an instrument of battle, the bow bent by the hand of God has become a symbol of peace" (Wordsworth, cited by Whitelaw).

14-16. And it shall come to pass whenever I mass together clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, then will I remember my covenant terms which stand between me and you and every living soul of all flesh, and there shall never again be waters of a flood to lay waste all flesh. And the bow shall stand in the clouds and I shall see it to remember the everlasting covenant terms between God and all living creatures of all flesh which are upon the earth.

One may disregard the situation and man’s need of definite assurance and regard the whole promise as exceedingly verbose; or else one may rightly claim, with Delitzsch, that these words are like blows of the hammer, which make the whole more firm and impress it more deeply.

After an infinitive governed by a preposition ("in my clouding together clouds"—cognate object after Piel infinitive with suffiX) the construction proceeds with a converted perfect to complete the protasis ("and the bow appears in the clouds"); v. 15 follows with the apodosis. Cf. G. K. 52 d and 117 r; also 114 r; also K. S. 413 a.

15. God’s remembering is not to be thought of as over against the possibility of forgetting, as would be the case with man; but rather as a divine activity whereby His "covenant terms" (berîth here by metonomy signifying "covenant terms" rather than "covenant," K. C.) will be vividly before Him, and man may take joy from the fact that God thus thinks upon what He promised. The ones for whose good the covenant was made are again listed in terms used previously. Hammáyin lemabbûl furnishes an example of the use of le in place of the construct relationship. That yikyeh before máyim is singular is due to the fact that the verb frequently begins with the masculine singular when the number of the subject is not yet determined (K. S. 348 b).

16, The combination berîth ‘ô1am without the article literally would yield the translation "to remember an everlasting Covenant," which is the equivalent of: "to remember that there is an everlasting covenant."When God speaks and says the covenant is "between God and," etc., this is merely a more formal type of expression appropriate for a covenant.

17. And God said to Noah: This is the sign of the covenant which I shall carry out between me and all flesh which is upon the earth.

With this formal summary statement God’s pronouncement closes. God could hardly have done more for man than to set forth with such simplicity and emphasis promises calculated to rouse new courage in the heart of the few survivors. Critics speak of material compounded laboriously from various sources. The devout mind sees God’s adaptation to man’s special need.

(c) The Future of the Races of Mankind Foretold (v. 18-29)

The episode that follows serves only as an occasion for the patriarchal prediction that follows. It has so little importance comparatively that it would certainly be an ill-balanced judgment to give to this portion the heading, "Noah the Vinegrower."

18, 19. The sons of Noah that came forth from the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from them were spread abroad all the inhabitants of the earth.

Since now the sons of Noah are going to be dealt with, especially in chapter ten, as the founders of the three great branches of the human family, they are formally mentioned, and their going forth from the ark is connected with their names, inasmuch as their going forth was really epoch-making and an actual new departure made by these notable three branches. There can hardly be any doubt about it that these are mentioned in the order of their age, Shem being the oldest. For the same order is observed each time that all three are mentioned; see 5:32; 6:10; 7:13; 9:18; 10:1; 1 Chron. 1:4. This fact must be borne in mind for the understanding of v. 24. Preparatory to the tale about to be related the fact is inserted that Ham was the father of Canaan. That is not a statement that is to be ascribed, here and v. 22, to some later redactional activity, but a fact absolutely essential to the understanding of the whole episode. Only previous misconception of the facts of the case would deny this.

19. Nor should the opening of this verse be regarded as superfluous, or merely as a somewhat verbose statement. One might well suppose that Noah had begotten more sons after the Flood, for he was yet to live more than 300 years (v. 28). So this statement, that "these three were the sons of Noah," disposes satisfactorily of that matter; and the concluding :statement prepares for the elaborate table of the nations given in chapter ten.

In v. 18 the participle yotse’îm, appearing in a connection which has reference to the past, must represent an adjective clause in the past tense, "who went forth" (K. S. 237 a; 411 a). In v. 19naphetsa is best derived from a Kal naphats, used in a passive sense (See K. W.).

20, 21. Now Noah began as farmer to plant a vineyard. And he drank some of the wine and became drunk and he uncovered himself in the midst of the tent.

We have advanced quite a time from the Flood; at least, Noah’s son Ham already has children, and even his youngest Canaan (see Gen. 10:6) is born already. Several decades may well have passed. Men have begun to rehabilitate themselves. Noah apparently took to agriculture at once, even as we already found the second man Cain engaged in this pursuit (4:2). The notion that mankind took a long time to advance to the point of becoming agriculturalists does not agree with the Biblical evidence. Nor is our contention invalidated by the article in ’ish, ha’adhamah, which does not need to be translated "the farmer" and so drive us to the translation: "Now Noah was the first farmer to plant a vineyard" (Meek). For Noah as a proper noun may impart of its definiteness to the noun in apposition with it (K. S. 333 z); or we may have the generic or categorical article (K. C.). Besides, it would seem strange indeed if the uses of wine were now first being discovered by man, whose earliest works, wherever we find them, give, evidence of great, ability. Besides in the case of Noah’s being the first winegrower, Noah’s drunkenness is entirely excusable; and yet the nature of this record seems to imply guilt on Noah’s part. Consequently, we are rather led to the conclusion that Noah began to cultivate a plant of whose cultivation, and uses he had previously known, Nor should we regard wine as a gift of God, given to refresh, the soul (nephesh) of man, even as animal food was to help invigorate man’s body (Vilmar). Such thoughts are pure surmises. Yachel is a converted Hifil of chalal. "He began and planted"—"He began to plant," (K. S. 369 m).

21. The having of grapes led to the making of wine. The having of wine leads to the drinking of it. In all this, taken by itself, there is no wrong. We have every reason to believe, however, that Noah was not ignorant of the potency of the drink he had prepared. But he neglected caution. He who maintained his ground over against a wicked and godless world, neglecting watchfulness and prayer in a time of comparative safety, fell prey to a comparatively simple temptation, which should have been easy to meet. It is not the young and untried Noah who sins. It is the seasoned man of God, ripe in experience, who is here brought low. The sober tone of the detailed narrative points strongly to Noah’s guilt. Noah drinks to excess and actually "becomes drunk" (shakhar). The heat of wine leads the aged patriarch involuntarily to thrust back his garment, wherewith he had been covered or had from force of habit covered himself as he lay down in his tent. Yithgal as Hithpael should be rendered as a reflexive, "he uncovered himself." "He was uncovered" (A.V.) substitutes the actual result for this.

Criticism quite fails to recognize the unimpeachable impartiality of the Scriptures, which record the faults as well as the virtues of God’s saints. So criticism calls this quite a different "cycle of tradition’." than that which told about "the blameless patriarch, who is the hero of the Flood." Besides, in its attempt to create variations and contradictions criticism makes Noah’s sons in our account appear as minors still dwelling in the tent with their father—of which the text surely reveals nothing; whereas in P they are already married. Such an approach leads men to abandon a safe and easy road and to become mired in the morass of fruitless speculation.

Min ("from") before "wine" is one of the Hebrew modes of expressing the indefinite pronoun "some" (K. S. 81).

22. And Ham, the father of Canaan, looked at the nakedness of his father and told his two brethren outside.

For the right understanding of what follows we are again reminded, as in v. 18, that Ham is the father of Canaan. At the same time, the repetition of the statement in this connection seems to point more definitely to a kinship of mind between the two. The trait of inclination to the unclean is shared by father and son alike, in fact, it even appears that the trait manifested by the father has reached a higher measure of intensity in the son. But as far as Ham himself is concerned, the expression wayyar is not a mere harmless and accidental "and he saw," but "he looked at" (B D B) or "he gazed with satisfaction." What ordinary filial reverence should have restrained is given free rein. The unclean imagination feeds itself by gazing. But at the same time a measure of departure from the faith is also revealed by Ham. That the son should have treated with such levity a father eminent for true piety, the one man whom God spared in the destruction of the world, indicates that this son no longer esteemed such true godliness as he ought to have done. Similarly, wayyaggedh is not a mere "and he told," though we know of no other way of translating it. The circumstances suggest that it means: "and he told with delight." No object need be expressed grammatically either in Hebrew or in English. In a modified sense this event may be named a second fall into sin, or the fall of the postdiluvians, yet with this proviso that, of course, since Adam’s fall all men were born sinners. But the event does most assuredly show how soon the salutary warnings conveyed by the Flood were forgotten, and mankind began to incline toward a downward course.

23. And Shem and Japheth took the robe and laid it upon the shoulder of both of them and they, walking, backward, covered the nakedness of their father, their faces being turned backward so as not to see their father’s nakedness.

The conduct of these two brethren stands forth in strong contrast to that of Ham. They were men of pure mind and wholly given to the religion of their father. They are truly grieved at what befell their father—not amused. They seek promptly to veil their father’s weakness with the mantle of charity. They promptly take "the robe," (hassimlah), the robe that was pushed back and so had very likely fallen off his couch to the ground. For in days of old the robe worn through the day was a man’s covering by night (Exod. 22:26, 27). See K. S. 299 b rather than G. K. 126 r. This robe they take upon the shoulders of them both, and then, "walking backward they covered the nakedness of their father." To all this, practically clear enough in itself, is added the very explicit statement that "their faces were turned backward, so as not to see their father’s nakedness." This was all, no doubt, done before Ham’s eyes. No words are recorded as having been spoken by these two, apparently for the reason that none were spoken. The excess of restraint thus self-imposed spoke quite loudly for itself. If Ham could feel a rebuke, he would feel it sufficiently if no words were spoken, in fact, the finer tact of the two brothers discerns that a spoken rebuke often rouses opposition. So with silent sorrow they go about their task.

Wayyiqqach begins as singular, though a double subject follows, since the masculine singular frequently begins a statement when number and gender of the subject are as yet undetermined (K. S. 349 u). The author does not aim to distinguish Shem as the prime factor in this act (contra Hengstenberg).

24. And Noah awoke from his wine-stupor and learned what his younger son had done to him.

Yáyin, of course is the word for "wine," but in a connection such as this it must mean the stupor, or state of drunkenness caused by wine (metonomy). Wayyeda’ usually would mean "and he knew," but here it implies "knowing as a result of inquiry," i. e., "he learned," or "found out." Something struck the man as unusual at his awakening—perhaps the manner in which the robe was placed upon him. Surely, no one will have volunteered information. Certainly, the verb can hardly indicate that he perceived by prophetic inspiration. Ham is here called "his younger son." True, the adjective with the article may indicate the superlative. But such is not necessarily the case; cf. 1:16haggadhol—"the greater," and haqqaton—"the lesser." Besides, on that score, according to 10:21, Japheth would then be "the oldest" (haggadhol), and the customary order (cf. our comments on v. 18): Shem, Ham, Japheth would be entirely meaningless, and a reasonable explanation for this sequence, would be impossible. Yet some, who insist on making this verse offer a superlative, make Gen. 10:21 offer only a comparative (Meek). Apparently, critical commentators take delight in making Scripture seem to contradict Scripture.

25. And he said: Cursed is Canaan; servant of servants shall he be to his brethren.

Altogether too much emphasis has been placed upon the idea of the curse at this point. Meek represents one-sidedness when he provides the caption "The Curse of Canaan" for v. 18-28. In this section the curse is the subordinate element. Besides, without trying to eliminate the idea of the curse, for it manifestly lies in the text, all who associate personal resentment or any form of ill will with this utterance of Noah, do the godly man a gross injustice. Furthermore, to hold that this word broods like a dark and inescapable fate over the future of a race, is to hold to a very grievous misunderstanding. True, the feelings of a good man have been outraged. Equally true, he gives vent to righteous indignation. But, for the most part, being a man who has the Holy Spirit, he speaks, a word of prophecy. This prophetic word is to serve as a guide for the human race as well as for a solemn warning for all times to come. Blessings and curses of parents may be more than idle words, but a parent who stands in the fear of God would hardly venture to lay grievous disabilities upon great portions of the human race, nor would God grant their wish if they attempted it. Being so accurate a delineation of the future of the three branches of the human family as we shall find this word to be, it approves itself to the thinking man as a truly prophetic utterance.

Much serious misunderstanding has grown out of a refusal to take this word at its actual face value, especially the word "Canaan." Ham is not cursed, no matter how freely proslavery men may have employed this text. Canaan is the fourth son of Ham (Gen. 10:6) and so may roughly be said to represent one fourth of the Hamitic race. He alone is under consideration here. The rest of the Hamitic stock, apparently, does not come under consideration because it is neither directly blessed nor cursed. Its influence on the development of the rest of the human race is practically nil and, therefore, need not be mentioned here.

Now the descendants of Canaan, according to Gen. 10:15-20, are the peoples that afterward dwelt in Phoenicia and in the so-called land of Canaan, Palestine. That they became races accursed in their moral impurity is apparent from passages such as Gen. 15:16; 19:5; Lev. 18 and 20; Deut. 12:31. In Abraham’s day the measure of their iniquity was already almost full. By the time of the entrance of Israel into Canaan under Joshua the Canaanites, collectively also called Amorites, were ripe for divine judgment through Israel, His scourge. Sodom left its name for the unnatural vice its inhabitants practiced. The Phoenicians and the colony of Carthage surprised the Romans by the depth of their depravity. Verily cursed was Canaan!

But how about the justice of this development of history? From our point of view most of the difficulties are already cleared away. We render "Cursed is Canaan" not "be" (A.V.); and "servant of servants shall he be," not in an optative sense may he be. The evil trait, displayed by Ham in this story, had, no doubt, been discerned by Noah as marking Canaan, the son, more distinctly. Canaan’s whole race will display it more than any of the races of the earth. To foretell that involves no injustice. The son is not punished for the iniquity of the father. His own unfortunate moral depravity, which he himself developes and retains, is foretold. Therefore, such unfortunate explanations as: Ham, Noah’s youngest son, is punished in his own youngest son, are rendered quite unnecessary. For this explanation is wrong already from its first assertion that Ham is the youngest son of Noah.

Of course, "servant of servants" is a Hebrew superlative, implying something like "lowest of slaves." In reality, Carthage became slave to Rome, and what was left of Canaan became slave to Israel. Therefore "brethren" is here used in its broadest sense.

26. He also said: Blessed be Yahweh the God of Shem and Canaan be his servant,

Looking upon the oldest son next, Noah is moved to a lively statement of praise of Yahweh because of the magnitude of the blessings that He will bestow upon Shem. Mark well, it is Yahweh who is called Shem’s God. This implies that the Eternal Unchangeable One is fulfilling promises of mercy to Shem. Only in relation to Shem does God manifest His Yahweh qualities. But what are these great blessings that move Noah to break out in benedictions? Shall we answer in general terms, the blessings of religion as offered by Shem; or, the knowledge of the One God which Shem transmitted to the world? Why be so vague when more definite facts are available? The answers just given will suit all those whose conception of history and religion is evolutionistic. But then Shem’s heritage is largely the achievement of his own religious genius, and then Shem ought rather to have been praised, not Yahweh. However, if a promise of definite victory through the seed of the woman is the substance of Gospel as man knows it, it seems almost impossible at this important juncture to have so weightly an utterance as this, which is to guide humankind for some time to come, fail to tie itself up with the Protevangel and fail to tell from which branch of the human family "the seed of the woman" in particular is to be expected. Modern commentators can still learn from Luther on this verse, for he says: "Noah here speaks not of bodily or temporal blessing but of the blessing through the future promised seed, which blessing he recognizes to be so great and rich that words cannot fully express it nor do justice to it." But Luther, too, recognizes that such a hope, though seen to be so marvellous as to stir a man to praise, is for the present but dimly apprehended. Men could not discern such truths as yet with the New Testament clearness.

Canaan’s relation to Shem is specifically defined as a dismal echo of v. 25 running into v. 26. Lamô, though usually plural, "to them," must here be taken as a singular, even as is the case in Isa. 44:15. Therefore, a literal rendering would be: "and let Canaan be servant to him." Note that we have rendered wîhî "and let be." This does not overthrow our conception of the whole word of Noah because it is optative ("let") rather than pure future. The word is still prophetic rather than damnatory. Indeed, we should not venture to claim that Noah could not wish personally that these things might actually come to pass. The prophecy foretells what God will bring to pass. Why should not a godly man wish that God’s will be done? Noah himself could discern that a position of servitude might serve a wholesome pedagogic purpose of restraint upon lascivious Canaan. Therefore, he might well wish that this befall Canaan for his own good.

27. May God grant ample territory to Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant.

There is a manifold propriety about the words of this blessing. Canaan, kená’an, has analogy with the root kana’," to be humbled." Ham, as interpreters have remarked, not too ready to submit to his own father, seems to have expected ready submission from his son and named him accordingly. In any case, Canaan finds his lot to be humiliation. So Shem means "name" also in the sense of "fame." Shem has the most prominent fame among the brethren. Similarly, Japheth is in the blessing by an equally apt paronomasia, associated with the analogous root pathah, "be open"; Hifil imperfect jussive yapht, "cause to be open"—"grant ample territory." It is foretold and hoped for that Japheth will be what his name implies. For, in reality, his descendants, the Indo-Europeans or Aryans, do spread out over vast stretches of territory from India across all Europe and of a later date over the Western Hemisphere. With surprising accuracy this feature of his history is foretold. But since Shem is the central figure, both of the brothers are shown in their relation to him, which is here said to be: Japheth is to "dwell in the tents of Shem." Such a sudden change of subject is not unusual in Hebrew (K. S. 399 B). To try to make God the subject would render Japheth even more richly blessed than Shem, a situation which would have called for a "blessed" upon Japheth’s lot rather than upon Shem’s. "To dwell in the tents of one" implies friendly sharing of his hospitality and so of his blessings. It cannot mean "displace" or "conquer," for that would conflict with the pure blessedness pronounced upon Shem. But the fulfilment bears out what this means. The Japhethites have now very largely come in to share Shem’s blessings, for as Gentiles they have been grafted on the good olive tree. Shem’s spiritual heritage is ours. Abraham is become our father in faith and we are his true children. The same sombre echo closes this verse: "May Canaan be his servant."

28, 29. After the Flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years, so that all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

With an appropriate summary, cast after the pattern of chapter five, the total age of Noah is recorded, so that we are enabled to compare his age with the rest of the antediluvian patriarchs. To our surprise we find that he lived twenty years more than Adam. On the other hand, a bit of computation based on chapter eleven will reveal that thus Noah lived quite far into the life of Abraham. So the "history of Noah," which began with 6:9, appropriately closes with the length of Noah’s life and with his death.


In this chapter v. 1-7 constitute a distinct unit. Each preacher may word the theme as he sees fit; but in the last analysis it will have to concern itself with "The Basic Divine Provisions Governing the World since the Flood." These provisions are still in force and are living issues, with the exception that where v. 4 prepared the mind of men to realize the importance of blood, particularly in the matter of sacrifices, now at least this verse helps us to recall the supreme importance of the blood atonement, a truth sadly neglected and but little understood. Then vv. 8-17 are seen to deal quite naturally with "God’s Covenant of the Rainbow." Lastly, the section v. 20-27 concerns itself with the "Development of the Three Branches of our Race." The emphasis lies on Noah’s drunkenness only in an incidental way, in so far namely, as it illustrates the propriety of Canaan’s "curse." This section affords an excellent opportunity to preach Christ the Saviour who even, in these early days stirred the hearts of godly men to deep-felt praise; for faith has always been faith in the Christ.

« Prev Chapter 9 Next »


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |