Our last article looked at Lamech, the father of Noah, whose quiet assurance and confidence in God’s promises allowed him to faithfully await the “rest” of God. The reader is reminded that the intent of these articles is to look for exhortation in the last words of Bible characters as recorded in scripture. Our suggestion is that these “last words” no doubt are recorded as having a great deal of feeling, meaning and significance.
Noah is styled the “preacher of righteousness” in II Peter 2:5, yet if you search the Genesis account not one word spoken by Noah is recorded while he built the ark. It is simply recorded (twice) that Noah “did according to all that the LORD commanded him” (Gen. 6:22; 7:5). While we can be sure that Noah did warn the people verbally, it is interesting that the scriptures are silent about his spoken preaching efforts. Are we to learn from Noah’s example that “actions speak louder than words”? How people would have been bemused by this enormous boat being built in their midst. It would certainly have convinced people of the sincerity of Noah’s faith, even if they thought he was crazy.
The only recorded words of Noah come some time after the flood, and remind us that human nature was not destroyed by the deluge, but lived on in Noah and his sons. The tragic incident of Ham seeing “his father’s nakedness,” resulted in these prophetic words from Noah: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. 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 Canaan shall be his servant” (Gen. 9:25-27).
The flood cleansed the earth, but the heart of man was still filled with wicked imaginations from his youth! The Seed of the Serpent lived on in Ham and Canaan, but so, too, did the Seed of the woman in Shem. Noah refers to God as “the God of Shem.” In Hebrews 11:16, we are told that God is not ashamed to be called “their God” because of the faithful obedience of the believers who looked not to the earthly things, but set their minds on “heavenly things.” Can this be said of you or me? Would God be ashamed to be associated with us? What do people think of “our God” as they observe our behaviour?
Noah’s prophetic words are clear for Canaanand Shem. The former is cursed, and the latter blessed. It’s not so clear for Japheth as the word “enlarge” is awkward. The margin has “persuade,” and the concordance gives “entice” or “deceive” as possible alternate translations. It seems that Japheth took some convincing by Shem to do the right thing. He may have just been following Shem’s good example, rather than acting on his own initiative. Noah sensing this, prophesied that Japheth would be wise to “dwell in the tents of Shem,” and so be saved. The word “dwell” is shakan in Hebrew, and refers to a permanent residing — such as God’s indwelling glory in the tabernacle (Ex. 25:8), and is also used in Genesis 3:24 when God “placed” the Cherubim.
What a wonderful picture we have of the two roads. The broad way of Ham, filled with immorality and lawlessness, that leads to death. Contrasted with the narrow way of Shem, fraught with difficulties and hard choices, but that ultimately leads to life for those who “dwell” there. It is interesting that these events took place in a vineyard, and centuries later Jesus would be talking about a very special vineyard when he said: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman…Abide in me, and I in you” (John 15:1,4). The word “abide” means to stay or dwell, and echoes the last words of Noah thereby reminding each one of us to do what is right, even when it’s difficult, and to remain as permanent residents in the tents of Shem.
Chris Sales, Shelburne, Ontario