Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

Vol. 2, No. 3 Page 7 March 2000

Gospel Gazette, Bible Articles

God in the Tents of Shem

Genesis 9:24-27

By D. Gene West


1. The second stage of the development of messianic prophecy in the book of Genesis is found in this passage of Scripture.

2. This prophecy has long been overlooked by those of our brotherhood who have studied the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.

3. Perhaps that was done while hastening to get to so many of the great prophecies of the book of Isaiah, or perhaps for some other reason, but we feel that we will do ourselves a great injustice if we fail to stop and take a careful look at the blessing that Noah spoke to his son Shem, and see what that blessing has to say regarding the Messiah.

4. Let us begin by reading the text: Genesis 9:24-27, (24) “So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. (25) Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.’ (26) And he said: ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. (27) May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.”

5. Now let us make some pertinent observations relating to the time that went by between Genesis three, and Genesis nine.

a) There is no way of telling exactly how many years passed by between the prophecy of Genesis 3:15, and the one of Genesis 9:24-27.

b) If the genealogies of Genesis Five are accurate representations of the time that passed, and they very likely are not, for usually only the most important men were mentioned in these genealogies, but if they are accurate at least 1656 years have passed by between the first prophecy and the flood that came in the days of Noah.

c) Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood, and he died at age 950 years. Since this prophecy was made near the end of his life, if we add the two figures 1656 and 350, that would mean that at least 2006 years have lapsed between the first and second messianic prophecies of the Bible.

6. We can see then, that many generations of men have been born, and they have died, having one eternal hope which God had spoken to them in Genesis 3:15.

7. No doubt, many of those who knew what God had said did not understand the depth of what God had spoken, and therefore, did not understand the coming of the Messiah at all. They might very well have spent much time wondering what the meaning of the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 was.

8. But in the matter that we shall now study, God again speaks to his people of a time when God (Christ) would dwell in human form.

9. Let us now turn to a background study of the prophecy.


I. The Background of the Prophecy of Genesis 9:18-29.

A. In the judgment of most Old Testament scholars, it is impossible to determine the lapse of time between the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and the time of the great flood of Noah.

1. Noah lived 350 years after the flood, according to Genesis 9:28.

2. The second messianic prophecy comes very near the end of the life of Noah.

3. Based upon the genealogies of Genesis chapter five, we would have at least 1656 years between these two awesome events.

4. Scholars believe the time to be greater than that, based upon the supposed population of the world at the time of Noah. (After all, this was a universal flood which means the whole of the earth had become populated.)

5. So, they set the time between the prophecies of Genesis Three, and Genesis Nine at least 2006 years. This, they say, would be a minimum time for the world to be populated as it appeared to be.

B. Genesis 9:18-29 is a record of what one might call “the second fall of the human race.”

1. Noah and his family came off the Ark which had come to rest in the mountains of Ararat.

2. Noah planted a vineyard, and after that matured, (some three to five years) he took the grapes and made wine with them.

3. He then consumed too much of the wine which had been made and became drunk on it.

4. During his drunken state (Genesis 9:22) “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.” (Notice that Ham is identified as the father of Canaan, so enough time had passed for these men to beget children while on the Ark, or after they had come off the Ark.)

5. Exactly what Ham did regarding his father’s nakedness, we do not know, because the Hebrew language is obscure here, but whatever it was that he did, he dishonored his father and himself.

6. Ham told his brothers Shem and Japheth about what he had seen, or what he had done in such a way as to mock his father.

7. The brothers then took a garment, laid it on their shoulders, and walked backward into the tent and covered their father’s nakedness.

8. “Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him.” (Vs. 24)

C. In the inspired Book of Genesis there is no break between this incident and the speaking of the blessings and cursings of the sons of Noah in verses 25-27.

1. Sometimes we assume that the cursings and blessings that were spoken by Noah in verses 25-27 were spoken immediately after the incident had transpired, or immediately after Noah had awakened from his drunken condition.

2. However, we should not make such an assumption because the Patriarchs of old always spoke blessing and cursing upon their children at a time just previous to their deaths. (See Jacob in Genesis forty-nine. Jacob waited many years to condemn his sons, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi for the sins by which they had dishonored their father as well as God the Father.)

3. The word “then” in verse twenty-five, does not mean that what he said was said immediately upon his awakening from his drunken state, but the word is used to mean that it came to pass that Noah said this, and this is without regard to a specific time. (Some translations render the beginning of the verse, “And he said . . .”)

4. A technical translation of the Hebrew does not stipulate the time when Noah learned what his son had done.

5. It says, “And Noah awoke from his wine, - and came to know what his youngest son had done to him.” (Rotherham Emphasized Bible, p. 41)

D. Noah’s last words contain a triple prophecy regarding Canaan, Shem, and Japheth.

1. Just why Ham is left out of this prophecy, and a curse is placed upon his son Canaan, we do not know unless Ham was already dead, or was away from Noah so that the old man could not speak directly to him.

2. Notice that Canaan is cursed by Noah, and it is mentioned three times that he would be a servant (slave) to both his brothers.

3. We now need to give attention to the cursings and blessings of Noah by citing first the text, which is as follows: Genesis 9:25-27, (25) “Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.’ (26) And he said: ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. (27) May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.’”


II. The Structure of Noah’s Statement Regarding His Descendants.

A. There were, in all, three curses placed upon Canaan, the son of Ham. They were as follows:

1. He would be a servant of servants to his brothers. (vs. 25) (This, no doubt, means that his descendants would be the lowest form of slave on the slavery scale, and as such he would serve his brother’s descendants.)

2. Canaan would be the servant of Shem. (vs. 26)

3. Canaan would also be the servant of Japheth. (vs. 27)

4. James E. Smith translates these verses as follows: “And he said, Blessed be the Lord, (Yahweh, par. mine, DGW) the God of Shem, and Canaan shall be a servant to him. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall lodge in the tents of Shem, and Canaan shall be a servant to him.”[1]

B. Two blessings are pronounced upon Shem. (The word “blessing” in this passage means, “to give a gift.”)

1. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem. (vs. 26)

2. He (the Lord God of Shem, par. mine. DGW) shall dwell in the tents of Shem. (vs. 27) (Notice the plural “tents” which implies that God would be with the descendants of Shem. This would be true because Christ would descend from this great man.)

C. Only one blessing is pronounced upon Japheth.

1. God shall enlarge Japheth. (vs. 27)

2. One curse is placed upon the family of Ham, two blessings upon the family of Shem, and one blessing upon the family of Japheth. (By “family” we mean “descendants.”)


III. The Relationship of God (Yahweh) to the Sons of Noah.

A. Yahweh, who is the God of redemption, is in verse twenty-six, called “the God of Shem.”

1. This does not mean that Shem possessed Yahweh, but that Yahweh possessed Shem, that is, that Shem was an upright, or righteous man in the sight of God, as were his descendants who would come after him for many generations.

2. The implication of this statement is that the redemption of mankind, and the salvation of the world would come from the God of Shem, and through the line (descendants) of Shem. The Redeemer would not come through Japheth, and certainly not through the line of Canaan.

3. Noah pronounced a curse on Canaan, and a blessing on Japheth, but he pronounced a blessing not only upon Shem, but upon the God of Shem.

4. This is very important when we consider the rest of the blessing that was pronounced upon Shem.

B. Now we come to a difficult section of the prophecy as we attempt to ascertain the antecedent of the pronoun “He.”

1. In the English the clause, “He shall dwell in the tents of Shem . . .” is found to be ambiguous because the antecedent of the pronoun can be either God or Japheth. (vs. 27)

2. Is it to be God (Yahweh) who dwells in the tents of Shem, or is it to be Japheth who dwells in the tents of Shem? We believe that it is God who was to dwell in the tents of Shem, since God was worshipped by Shem and his descendants. (For a thorough discussion of the antecedent referring to Japheth see: Keil-Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume l, The Pentateuch, pp. 156-160.)

3. We believe that it is better to accept that the antecedent of “He” is “the God of Shem.”

a) This would mean that there would be a second blessing upon Shem.

b) Jehovah would be his God.

c) Jehovah would dwell in his tents.

d) After all Yahweh is called the God of Shem in verse twenty-six.

4. God is the portion of the Shemites, and to them was given the privilege of preserving the knowledge about God, and the knowledge which God had given to them in those ancient times.

5. In chapters ten and eleven of Genesis, we have the genealogies of the three sons of Noah, and Shem is in the direct lineage of Abraham who became the father of the Hebrew nation.

6. These are just some of the reasons why one should consider the pronoun “He” as referring to God, and not to Japheth.

7. In passing, we wish to notice that even today the Jews are known as “Semites.” Those who oppose them are called, “anti-Semitic.”

C. The central idea of Genesis 9:27 is that of the advent of God into the affairs of man.

1. This contains the seed of the doctrine of the incarnation of Christ to bring redemption to the world.

2. This prophecy is at the opposite pole from Genesis 3:15, which stresses the humanity of Christ, that is, born of a virgin woman, while this passage speaks of a day when God himself would live upon this earth, in the tents of Shem, and would identify himself with his people.

3. Jesus did that, but the Jews rejected him.

D. During the long period following Noah’s flood, the righteous had two basic promises from God to sustain their faith.

1. The human Deliverer would come to crush the head of the satanic Serpent. (Genesis 3:15)

2. God himself would dwell in the tents of Shem. (Genesis 9:27)

3. The Shemites then, would be the chosen people of God through whom he would make entrance into the world.

4. The later prophets would take these two and develop them into the cloth of divine truth.

5. Look at just four of these prophecies:

a) Genesis 3:15 ¾ One from the seed of woman would give victory over the Evil One.

b) Genesis 9:23 ¾ One from the race of Shem would make his advent as God.

c) Genesis 12:3 ¾ One from the family of Abraham would be a blessing to all families of the earth.

d) Genesis 49:10 ¾ One from the tribe of Judah would bring rest to his people.


1.     How deeply thankful we are, and should be, that God, in the person of Jesus Christ, made his dwelling place in the tents of Shem.

2.     From the Jews arose the Son of God made in the fashion of a man, and from the Jews came salvation into the world.

3.     Shem was an ancestor of the Jews, and God promised to dwell in the tents of Shem, thus assuring that the world would have a Savior who can cleanse us from all unrighteousness.


[1] James Edward Smith, What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, 1993, p. 45.

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