And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.…
I. WE RETRACE SACRED HISTORY TO FIND WHEN GOD SPOKE, AND TO KNOW WHAT GOD HAS SPOKEN OF A PREDICTIVE CHARACTER. Noah "began to be an husbandman." Upon partaking of the wine produced from the first full ripe grape, unaccustomed to such a beverage, and indulging too incautiously in its use, "he was drunken"! Yes, in the most lawful duties and pleasures we are liable to temptation. Neither age nor character afford perfect security from spiritual harm. Connected with this evil of excessive drinking, was the loss of self-government. Shamelessness and drunkenness are common associates. "He lies uncovered within his tent." And as the sins of Israel rarely escape the eyes of the Canaanites, so Ham observed his father, and, "fool-like," made "a mock of his sin." It is a terrible mark of a vitiated mind when men "not only do evil, but take pleasure in them that do the same"! Shem and Japheth, displeased at the conduct of their brother, and concerned for their father's reputation, "took a garment and laid it upon their shoulders, and went backward, and cavered the nakedness of their father."
II. We shall now proceed to make some remarks relating to THE MEANING OF THESE PREDICTIONS, and thus prepare the way for marking their agreements with history.
1. The order of names is not the order of the age of the sons of Noah, but rather of the development of the truth of the predictions relating to them.
2. These predictions relate to the nations originating in these sons of Noah, and not to the sons of Noah themselves.
3. These predictions wear a general aspect. Here in some six or seven sentences we have an epitome of the world's history. There is no room for detail. Here are portrayed certain commanding features.
4. In tracing the fulfilment of these predictions we must have assistance from the geography of the world, over which these descendants of Noah were scattered. We must see these nations separate; or if together, we must see some strong physical or philological affinities between the families issuing from these several parent sources.
5. In tracing the settlement of these descendants of Noah, we must remember that their first division only embraced a small portion of the earth's surface. Now, here is wisdom; as these separate tribes enlarged, they went on to occupy regions more and more remote from each other.
III. Let us now consider THE AGREEMENT SUBSISTING BETWEEN THESE PREDICTIONS AND THE GREAT OUTLINES OF HISTORY.
1. Adopting the order before us, we shall first notice the descendants of Ham and their servitude. "Cursed be Canaan: a servant of servants — a slave — shall he be unto his brethren." Looking at the early history of his descendants, we see that Nimrod, one of that number, founded the Babylonian, and some think the Assyrian states. Reading the eleventh verse of the eighteenth chapter thus: "Out of that land he went forth to Assyria and built Nineveh": a reading the more probable, because the historian is there relating the exploits of "the mighty hunter." Mizraim established the kingdom of Egypt. Indeed, Egypt is called, in Scripture, the "land of Mizraim"; and the Easterns designate it in the same way. My brethren, you are familiar with the names of Egypt and Babylon. You know that the Hebrews, the seed of Shorn, were subdued and oppressed for a season by both of these powers. And yet the method of their deliverance from this servitude afforded a brilliant discovery of God's mindfulness of His covenant. What terrible judgments were inflicted upon Egypt, in order to effect the exodus of the Israelites! How many curses fell upon the children of Ham, because they oppressed the seed of Shem! The people that once tyrannized over the Israelites are now under despotic power, taxed in their produce almost beyond endurance, inflicting injuries upon their own persons to unfit them for the service of their proud governor: they tell us that "the sceptre of Mizraim has passed away," that "Egypt is the basest of kingdoms." They serve as slaves, and are wasted by the hands of strangers. May "He who smote Egypt, heal it." May they "return to the Lord, and He shall be entreated of them and shall heal them" (Isaiah 19). Look at Africa I See how its better portions have been subjected by the Romans, the Saraceus, the Turks. It was on her coast that a colony of emigrants from Tyre — Phoenicians, descendants of Ham, and a people distinguished for navigation and commerce — sought to make to themselves a name and a kingdom, by founding the famed city of Carthage. But the proud city was destroyed by the Romans, and a consul was directed to preside over the province as the deputy of a Japhetic power. Numbers survived the terrible massacre and ruin. And numbers still survive these and kindred calamities, and people the interior of that mighty continent. Still the children of Ham dwell upon Afric's burning sands; but what curses follow them.
2. We pass on to notice the descendants of Shem and their privileged connection with Jehovah. "Blessed be the Lord God of Shorn, and Canaan shall be his servant." As there is a special line of descent referred to in the tenth chapter of Genesis, we shall confine our remarks to the prediction before us as agreeing with certain facts in the history of the Jewish people. Now, the prediction refers us not so much to their temporal importance, or to the extent of their territory, as to certain moral and religious advantages. "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem." Some critics render it, "Blessed of Jehovah my God be Shorn." Following our oxen version, it amounts to the same; for "blessed is that people whose God is the Lord." But there is a difference in the form of "cursing" and "blessing." The prophetic patriarch says, "Cursed be Canaan," for all evil is from men themselves; and you will remember that the children of Ham were first wicked and then wretched. But when he speaks of "blessing," he ascribes all the praise to that Being "from whom cometh every perfect gift." The holiness of Shem must be traced to the free grace of God. And had the holiest Hebrew been dealt with according to his desert, he would have lost "the blessing." "Not unto them, O Lord, but unto Thy name be all the praise, for Thy mercy and Thy truth salve." The facts of Jewish history, which we think at agreement with the prediction before us, are these. The knowledge of the true religion, the knowledge of God, and covenant relationship to Jehovah as a visible Church, were confined, from Noah to Christ, two thousand years, almost entirely to the descendants of Shem, and especially to the Hebrews. It appears that Eber was living, and bad two sons at the time the earth was divided (Genesis 10:25); and upon the supposition that his name gave rise to that of the Hebrew language and people, it is likely that by him and by his posterity the original Adamic and Noahic language (supposing that the Hebrew) was preserved uncorrupt; that he was the follower of Shem, his pious ancestor, and that from him proceeded that visible Church which has remained in "the midst of a crooked and perverse generation" a "witness" for Jehovah. The sacred historian having told us of "the children of Eber," informs us that "then was the earth divided," and henceforward the genealogy of Noah's descendants is confined to the line of Shem. Reading on in the eleventh chapter of Genesis, we arrive at the Abrahamic era; whence Matthew, the New Testament historian, traces the ancestry of Messias. As a pledge to Abram that his seed should possess the land of promise, and to intimate their religious distinction, we find the patriarch leaving Ur, entering Canaan, and there "building an altar unto the Lord who appeared unto him." It would be easy to show you how God entered into covenant with Abraham, and renewed the same with the other ancestors of the Jewish people. How He at length conducted their posterity out of Egypt, established a system of religion amongst them, caused them to rear a tabernacle and then a temple for His worship, sanctuaries consecrated by a visible and luminous cloud, the symbol and token of His peculiar presence. How He raised up prophets for their instruction, and how "the lively oracles" of His word were preserved amongst them notwithstanding all their difficulties and dispersions. Brethren, compared with this favoured nation, all the other nations were "without God." "Darkness covered the earth, and gross darkness the people." Think of their religious peculiarities; think of the unusual and miraculous interpositions of "the Most High" so often made for their rescue and supply; think how subservient all the vicissitudes of surrounding nations were made to their well-being; and say, Did not Jehovah dwell in Zion, and was not her King in her? And then, when you remember, "how oft they provoked the Most High, and lightly esteemed the rock of their salvation," will you not unite with Noah in the language of adoration, the ascription of praise, "Blessed be the Lord God of Shem"! Nor is this all. After the lapse of two thousand years, and "in the fulness of time, God sent forth His Son as the spiritual Deliverer of a fallen world." "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself." "God was manifest in the flesh." But "to them is He sent first." And do you ask His genealogy? He is "the Son of David, the Seed of Abraham, the Descendant of Shem." Yes; "of him, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is God over all, and blessed forever." "Blessed be the God of Shorn, who remembered us in our low estate, for His mercy endureth forever." Let the seed of Abraham, on whose nature He took hold, say so; for "His mercy endureth for over."
3. It remains for us to notice the descendants of Japheth, and their enlargement. The prediction concerning Japheth is, as his name imports, "enlargement" or "persuasion." Some expositors prefer the latter rendering. Then it may be said to have been accomplished in the accession of the Gentiles to the Church of God. It is an important fact, that Christianity has prevailed chiefly in the countries of Japheth. Japheth "dwells in the tents of Shem." Shem laboured, and Japheth enters into his labours. But few of the descendants of Ham or Shem have as yet professed the Christian faith in its purity, whilst multitudes of Japheth's posterity, in Asia, America, and Europe, "bless the God of Shem," and enjoy His former distinction. But as the word, when meaning "to persuade," usually has a bad sense; we incline to our version: "God shall enlarge Japheth." And we ask you if history is not at agreement with this ancient prediction? Understand it as referring to multitude, territory, or dominion, Japheth is enlarged. It appears that Ham had four sons, Shem had five, and Japheth had seven. We cannot think of the Germanic and northern nations, without associating the idea of multitude: the invasion of the barbarian hordes! The northern hive has always been remarkable for its fecundity, sending forth swarms to colonize the more southern parts both of Europe and Asia. Consider the nations of Japhetic origin — Median, Grecian, Roman, Turkish, and many others, and ask whether multitude, if that be the meaning of the prediction, is not traceable in the history of Japheth's posterity. We attach importance to the ideas of territory and influence — dominion. Possibly, in the early ages of the world, this prediction appeared obscure and its truth doubtful. Ham and Shem put on strength, and the former was subjected to the latter, when Canaan was gained for a possession. But where is Japheth? Where is his enlarged territory or extended sway? I said it might have appeared obscure, but, possibly, we have not well considered its meaning. God "shall enlarge." Then the early, as well as later, history may yet accord with the prediction. It may, by subsequent enlargement, imply original straitness. God is "wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working," but we must sometimes "wait to see"! Well, since "upon us the ends of the world are come," let us now look abroad. Where does Japheth dwell? Take the map in your hand, divide the hemisphere you tenant pretty nearly equally north and south: the northern half is Japheth's home; yes, his alone. Then turn to the new world, the western hemisphere. The Aborigines seem to be of Shemitic origin; but the civilized parts, the United States, these acknowledge Japheth. I know not how to avoid anticipating the closing part of my subject. These "tents of Shem" are the "dwellings of Japheth," and so are Australia and Canada and Newfoundland. Finally, the sacred text intimates one direction of Japheth's enlargement. "He shall dwell in the tents of Shorn."Conclusion: —
1. From this subject we should learn to dread sin and to repose implicit confidence in the Word of God. "It is a bitter thing to sin!" See it in the history of nations, and let Britons not be high-minded, but fear.
2. And learn to trust in God's Word. Look at these predictions. Think when they were uttered and how they have been fulfilled; and dare you think Moses an impostor, or can you suppose that Noah spake these words except as "moved by the Holy Ghost"?
3. Let us seek the establishment of the kingdom of Christ. He alone is fit to be "King over all the earth."
(B. S. Hollis.)
Blessed be the Lord God of Shem. —
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.