Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Shem, Ham & Japheth: Three Branches of Noah's Family Tree

As you may have noticed, I skipped over the Biblical accounts of the creation, and now I will skip over the account of the flood. I am very interested in both accounts and will come back to these subjects at a later time, for the following reasons:

  • I need to do more studying of these matters, before I can present these subjects in the fullest light. Both creationism and the flood are complicated subjects, and I want to do the best job that I can of presenting them. I'm still thinking about the best way to accomplish that.
  • One focus of this blog is on Biblical genealogies. I'm trying to examine passages which give information about these matters, so I'm skipping ahead to these passages. However, at times I need to mention certain events which may occur between these passages so that they will make sense in context.
So far, the genealogy of Noah's family has revealed that he had three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. From them came the rest of the population of earth. After the flood, Noah plants a vineyard, and winds up becoming drunk. This seems a rather shocking start to the post-flood story of mankind. After all, the flood has just occurred, which wiped out those who had rebelled against God. Was it really smart to make this kind of beginning? We could look at it two ways. One, this is just a sad reflection that, although Noah seemed to desire to follow God's ways, he, too, had a sinful nature as a result of the fall of Adam & Eve, and was no less susceptible to the temptations of sin than any of us. Also, some postulate that conditions on earth had changed as a result of the flood. The protective water canopy which used to shield the earth was gone, since the Bible speaks of the floodgates of heaven being opened (Genesis 7:11). Perhaps this affected the lives of humans more than we know. Certainly, after the flood, people lived far shorter lives than they had previously. Sure, there were those who made it past 100 years of age, but in general, the lifespans noted in the Bible undergo a notable shortening. Some believe that things were so different that when Noah drank wine, the alcoholic effect was stronger than it had been previously, and he got drunk more easily, accidentally. The latter sounds a bit sketchy, I know, although in defense of this position, Genesis 9:21 says that Noah went to his vineyard and 'drank some of its wine'. It doesn't seem to indicate that he went overboard on a drinking binge. However, I may be reading too much into it. At any rate, he lies uncovered in his tent, and becomes the subject of mockery by his son Ham. Shem and Japheth take a garment and, walking backwards with their faces turned aside so as to not look upon Noah, cover their father's nakedness.

What does this have to do with genealogy? Well, in the process of telling this story, Genesis chapter 9 reveals that Ham is the youngest son (v. 24), that he has a son named Canaan, and that Noah lived 350 years more after the flood, for a total lifespan of 950 years. (There is probably a lesson here for those of us who are interested in genealogy to pay attention to even seemingly irrelevant family stories. Those little details may become important in the future.)

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