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Shem, Ham, and Japheth

Shem, Ham, and Japheth

Now that we have had some time to digest the things that were covered in part one of Blessing, Cursing, and Big Time Rebellion, it’s time for us to get back to our analysis of Vignette #9 of Act 1, Scene 1 of God’s One Big Story.  As a little reminder, just before our break, we were introduced to the idea that Noah was, in his cursing of Ham and blessing of Japheth and Shem, prophetically assigning them (and their descendants) to their respective roles as the corporate Body, Soul, and Spirit of humanity—roles naturally bringing with them some specific responsibilities.  In this part of our critique, we will take a look at these responsibilities in an effort to see…

  • How well Noah’s sons fulfilled their prophetic assignments;
  • How one line of Ham’s descendants rebelled against their divinely ordained destiny; and,
  • How that rebellion led to the division of languages which resulted in the development of nations.

Additionally, in the process of all of this, we will meet two of the shady and rather illusive New Characters who will be playing such vital yet largely unseen roles throughout the remainder of the Heavenly Story now unfolding before us.

The Prophetic Assignments of Noah’s Sons

1. Ham

Ham as the Body of MankindAlthough Ham was the youngest of Noah’s sons, since he was the first son that Noah dealt with, we will also begin with him.  As we learned last time, because of his fleshly response to his father’s drink-induced nakedness, and his apparent disregard for the spiritual position and reputation of his father, Ham and his descendants were “cursed” by being relegated to the role of the corporate Body of mankind.  In this capacity, their chief responsibility was to learn how to make the best use of the natural resources around them so they could provide not only for their own physical or material needs, but also for those of Shem, Japheth, and their descendants.  In so doing, they would be fulfilling Noah’s charge for them to be “…a servant of servants” to their brothers.

As for how well they served their “brothers” in this capacity, history has shown that, for the most part, Ham and his descendants have been highly successful in the accomplishment of this task.  For, if we were to research the history of their contributions to mankind, we would find that the development of…

…almost any essential element of our highly complex civilization—aircraft, paper, weaving, metallurgy, propulsion of various kinds, painting, explosives, mechanical principles, food, the use of electricity, virtually anything technological in nature…leads surely and certainly back to a Hamitic people and exceedingly rarely to Japheth or Shem.[1]

Through their development of such things as new farming techniques, writing and printing, the domestication of animals, fabrics and weaving, and building tools and materials…

…the Hamitic peoples have shown an amazing ability to exploit the immediate resources of their environment to the limit…”[2]

…and have, in the process, made life on the earth sustainable and far more comfortable and enjoyable for everyone.

2.  Shem

Shem as the Spirit of MankindAfter assigning his youngest son to the task of service to his brothers, Noah redirected his attention from the physical to the spiritual, and from cursing to blessing, as he called upon God to bless his son, Shem.  Although his reason for singling Shem out in this way remains unclear—especially considering that, in Genesis 9:23, both Shem and Japheth had responded to their father’s unfortunate situation in the same thoughtful and respectful way—in his blessing of Shem, Noah was prophetically elevating this son to the role of the corporate Spirit of mankind.

In other words, Shem was being designated as the conduit through whom God would progressively reveal Himself to humanity; first through the Law and the Prophets, and then through His Own Son, Jesus Christ.  However, in order for them to fulfill the responsibilities associated with this role, Shem and his descendants would have to maintain a unique relationship with God by being obedient to His laws (so that when the Lord blessed them for their obedience, they would become witnesses of the reality of God to the rest of the world) and, protecting and preserving that which would be entrusted to them by God.

As for how well the Semites fulfilled this assignment, they were successful in that the revelation of God was preserved until it was made flesh in the coming of Christ; however, this was due more to the faithfulness of God than to the faithfulness of the people.   Had God not preserved a righteous remnant to guard this divine treasure, it would have been lost to the world as a result of Shem’s descendants’ flagrant violations of God’s statutes and their repeated disavowals of their unique relationship with Him.

3. Japheth

Japheth as the Soul of MankindOnce the roles of the Body and Spirit had been filled, Noah turned to assigning the role of the corporate Soul to his son, Japheth; something he accomplished by pronouncing a blessing on Japheth; a blessing in which he asked God to enlarge Japheth and his descendants, and to allow them to eventually become partakers in the spiritual blessing of Shem.

As for the significance of the order of Noah’s cursing and blessing, and of Japheth’s positioning in between his two brothers, we need only refer back to But Why Couldn’t We Stay the Way We Were…, where we learned that, on an individual level…

…when God created man, He first fashioned a physical Body for him, then He breathed His Spirit into that body, and when He did, the human Soul came into being.  This, then, set up the system that God intended to use when He wanted to relate to and to communicate with the man that He had created.  Once again, this is the way it worked:  God’s Spirit would speak to man’s spirit, man’s spirit would speak to his soul, and then man’s soul would speak to his body—each part relaying to man the will that God wanted to be carried out on the earth on His behalf.

As we can see, this was the very same order in which Noah prophesied over his sons; first, he dealt with Ham as the Body, then with Shem as the Spirit, and finally with Japheth as the Soul, in the middle, acting as mediator between his two brothers.  There, he was in a position to take the spiritual revelations given to Shem and, through the use of his “soul” attributes of intellect and communication, relay them to Ham for their implementation.  Or, as Arthur Custance explains the process, as it has taken place over time…

Thus it has come about that the pioneering task of opening up the world, subduing it, and rendering it habitable, was first undertaken by the descendants of Ham…

Centuries later, Japheth settled slowly into the areas already opened up by Ham, in almost every case adopting the solutions, suited to local survival, which the predecessors had already worked out.  Yet in all cases Japheth took with him a certain philosophizing tendency which acted to modify the somewhat materialistic culture which he was inheriting…

In the providence of God the Semitic people, represented in Israel, remained at the center until their spiritual education had reached a certain point.  They were then scattered among the nations and carried with them their pure monotheistic faith.  But when they should have received their King, they failed to recognize Him, and their particular Kingdom was taken from them and the responsibility of its administration given to Japheth instead.

The enlargement of Japheth has continued to this day…frequently at the expense of the Hamites who first possessed the land…This “enlargement” has also brought its own undesirable consequences.  Perhaps this is because the spiritual responsibility taken over from Shem has never been completely undertaken by Japheth who received the commission.[3]

The First Big Rebellion at Babel 

From what we can gather, then, each of Noah’s sons managed to fulfill his prophetic assignment to some degree. While the divine revelation entrusted to Shem was “stewarded” by him, it was not always done faithfully; and, even though Japheth did take up that revelation, he has not been entirely successful at passing it on to the rest of the world. Likewise, in spite of his many successes at subduing the earth and exploiting its resources—and, given the natural conflict existing between the flesh and the spirit— Ham has all too often rejected the revelation of God, and rebelled against submitting to any higher spiritual authority other than himself, something which this revelation has always demanded.

We witnessed our first recorded instance of this sort of rebellion in Vignette #9 where, from Genesis 10:6, 8 and Genesis 11:1-9, we learned that Ham’s grandson, Nimrod, rather than submitting to his God-ordained assignment to serve his brothers, determined that he would rule over them instead.  In his efforts to seize control, we also have documented for us man’s first attempt at hijacking and corrupting the system of human government, which had so recently been established by Noah at God’s direction.

Although the Bible tells us very little about Nimrod, there are numerous references to him in ancient extra-biblical literature.  We find one such reference in Antiquities of the Jews, compiled by the Jewish historian, Josephus

Now it was Nimrod who excited them to such an affront and contempt of God. He was the grandson of Ham, the son of Noah, a bold man, and of great strength of hand. He persuaded them not to ascribe it to God, as if it were through his means they were happy, but to believe that it was their own courage which procured that happiness. He also gradually changed the government into tyranny, seeing no other way of turning men from the fear of God, but to bring them into a constant dependence on his power…

From what we read here, Nimrod sounds very much like “the man of lawlessness” the Apostle Paul warned his readers about, later in 2 Thessalonians 2:3-10.  There, he described this man as…

…the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God…The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan, with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing because they refused to love the truth and be saved.

And, from Josephus’ description of them, it would seem that those who were following Nimrod were very much like those just described by Paul…

Now the multitude were very ready to follow the determination of Nimrod, and to esteem it a piece of cowardice to submit to God; and they built a tower, neither sparing any pains, nor being in any degree negligent about the work: and, by reason of the multitude of hands employed in it, it grew very high, sooner than anyone could expect; but the thickness of it was so great, and it was so strongly built, that thereby its great height seemed, upon the view, to be less than it really was. It was built of burnt brick, cemented together with mortar, made of bitumen, that it might not be liable to admit water.[4]

It should be noted here that the building of this tower…

…was not an innocent, scientifically naive, primitive effort to reach the highest heavens! It was, instead, a brilliant but blasphemous effort to dismiss forever the God who had commanded Noah and his three sons after the Flood to ‘be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Genesis 9:1). Instead of honouring His name (i.e. His character and attributes), they said, ‘Let us build for ourselves a city … and let us make for ourselves a name; lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth’ (Genesis 11:4).[5]

Tower of Babel

The Tower of Babel

In reality, this tower was created to be a religious center; one designed in the shape of a mountain which, when “scaled” through the accomplishment of varying degrees of religious ritual, would elevate men to the status of deity and to the pinnacle of human power.  The ziggurat—or stepped tower–is probably what this “mountain” would have looked like; a place where…

The top compartment represented heaven. The inner walls, in all probability, were decorated with blue glazed tile, with the sun, the moon, and the five known planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) lined up along the plane of the zodiac. In the centre of the room would be their “god” seated upon a throne! Nebuchadnezzar later rebuilt such a tower in Babylon, which the Sumerians had called E-TEMEN-AN-KI (‘the building of the foundation-platform of heaven and earth’).  The pyramids of Egypt and, much later, the great Mayan temples of Central America, reflected the design of the original Tower of Babel.[6]

So, in addition to his corruption of the established governmental system and the establishment of himself as the first tyrannical emperor in human history, Nimrod was also responsible for the development of the first false religious system in the world; one…

…based primarily upon a corruption of the primeval astronomy formulated by Noah’s righteous ancestors before the flood. In the original this system depicted by means of constellations the story of Satan’s rebellion and the war in the heavens, his subversion of mankind, the fall of Adam and Eve, the promise of One to come who would suffer and die to relieve man from the curse of sin then be installed as Lord of Creation, and the final re-subjugation of the cosmos to God through Him.

[However] These eternal truths were corrupted…into a mythic cycle wherein the great dragon is depicted as the rightful lord of the universe whose throne has been temporarily usurped by One whom we can recognize as the God of the Bible. The serpent creates man in his present miserable state, but promises that a child would one day be born of a divine mother—which child would supplant God, become a god himself, and return rulership of the Earth to the serpent. These fables were based upon the then widely-known story of the constellations, and were introduced under the guise of revealing the hidden esoteric knowledge concealed in them (regardless of the fact that the original was quite straightforward).

…this esotericism…only masked the actual goal which was the worship of the “heavenly host,” which the Bible equates with Satan’s army of fallen angels. Satan was quite willing to receive worship “by proxy”, hence the third major element of the mystery religion was emperor-worship. This religion was propagated by a hierarchy of priests and priestesses, to whom were assigned the task of initiating the populace at large into its ascending degrees of revelation, culminating at the highest level in both direct worship of Satan and demon-possession.[7]

The Division of the People into Nations

Given the true nature of this rebellious and blasphemous endeavor—and the fact that it was God’s declared will from the beginning that human beings scatter abroad over the earth so that the earth would…

…be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)…

…it was no wonder that God so quickly “came down” to earth and put a stop to it.  In the face of these men’s arrogant aspirations, He simply confused “…their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech…” and, in this way, He “…dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth (Genesis 11:7-8).”  From this map, we can see which way each of Noah’s sons went…

Table of Nations

Noah’s Descendants Scatter

The Introduction of New Characters

From what we have just learned about Nimrod, it should now be easier for us to see that, with his appearance on the earthly stage of God’s One Big Story, we are also being introduced to a sinister new character, simultaneously making an entrance onto the heavenly stage of our Story.  This character is none other than the Antichrist—and even though he will not always be visible to us, we will certainly be able to see evidences of his work throughout the remainder of the Story.  That’s because he will not be working alone, but with a co-conspirator—one who also made her first appearance on our stage at the Tower of Babel.  Her name is Mystery Babylon and she became a reality in our Story in the following way…

As the sons and grandsons of Shem, Ham, and Japheth made their way into strange new lands, one of the familiar things they all carried with them was the false religious system which had first been established in the land of Shinar at Babel—later to be known as Babylon.  And, it was…

…from Babylon this mystery-religion spread to all the surrounding nations…Everywhere the symbols were the same, and everywhere the cult of the mother and child became the popular system…The image of the [Madonna] queen of heaven with the babe in her arms was seen everywhere, though the names might differ as languages differed. It became the mystery-religion of Phoenicia, and by the Phoenicians was carried to the ends of the earth. Ashtoreth and Tammuz, the mother and child of these hardy adventurers, became Isis and Horus in Egypt, Aphrodite and Eros in Greece, Venus and Cupid in Italy, and bore many other names in more distant places. Within 1,000 years, Babylonianism had become the religion of the world, which had rejected the Divine revelation.[8]

As a result of this, Babylon came to be known as the “mother” who had given birth to every pagan religious system in the world— the system referred to in the Bible as Mystery Babylon.  This system is described in Revelation 17:1ff as…

…a woman arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and jewels and pearls, holding in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality;

…the great prostitute…with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality, and with the wine of whose sexual immorality the dwellers on earth have become drunk; and,

…having written on her forehead a name of mystery: Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations… 

…and it will be through her and the Antichrist that Satan will, throughout the remainder of our Story, attempt to deceive and seduce people into worshiping him, rather than the true God.

Mystery Babylon5 Ottheinrich_Folio300r_Rev17 Matthias Gerung [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mystery Babylon, the Mother of all False Religions

 

Smiley Face with Earphones2
In spite of all the lies Satan has put out, Steve Green reminds us that there is only one who is deserving of our worship, and that is “God and God Alone”…

 

 

 

[1] Arthur C. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons: Human History in Three Dimensions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), 37-38.

[2] Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, 27-28.

[3] Custance, Noah’s Three Sons, 42.

[4] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews: Book 1 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1960), 79-80.

[5] https://answersingenesis.org/tower-of-babel/babel/

[6] https://answersingenesis.org/tower-of-babel/babel/

[7] Bryce Self, Semiramis, Queen of Heaven (http://www.ldolphin.org/semir.html)

[8] Harry A. Ironside, Babylonian Religion (http://www.biblelineministries.org/articles/)

 

 

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