Who were Shem, Ham, and Japheth in the Bible? 

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Shem, Ham and Japeth

About Shem, Ham and Japeth, the Bible tells us, “Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood” (Genesis 10:1). Noah was five hundred years old, and begat them (Genesis 5:32). The sons of Noah were born before to the Flood (Genesis 5:32).  They with their wives went into the ark with Noah (Genesis 7:7).  

The meaning of their names

The names of Noah’s son have meanings. Shem means “name” or “fame,” and Ham, “warmth.” Japheth means either “beauty” or “expansion.” The latter meaning is preferred because of the blessing pronounced upon him by his father Noah (Genesis 9:27).

These names perhaps show the feelings of Noah when his sons were born. The birth of Shem asserted Noah of “fame;” there was a special “warm” place in his heart for Ham; in Japheth, he saw the expansion of his family.  

The names also have prophetic significance. Shem was famed as an ancestor of Abraham and later of the Messiah; Ham’s nature was uncontrolled and sensual; Japheth’s offspring were scattered in many continents.  

Their offspring 

Shem, Ham and Japeth had children. The special blessing of God upon the survivors of the Flood resulted in the quick growth of the human race (Genesis 9:1; 10:32). Shem is mentioned as the first of the three sons because he was the progenitor of the people from which the people of God and the promised seed, should come.

Ham is recorded next as the forefather of races with whom the Old Testament people of Moses’ time, and later, had much more association than with the offspring of Japheth, who lived in more far areas. Each of the races that exist today can trace their descent back to one of these three sons.

Noah’s prophecy

After the flood, the Bible records a story that relates to Shem, Ham and Japheth. We read that Noah planted a vineyard, drank wine and laid naked unconscious in his private tent (Genesis 9:20,21). Ham “saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside” (Genesis 9:22). Shem and Japheth didn’t wish to dishonor their father by looking at his nakedness, so they walked into the tent backward and covered their father with a blanket (Genesis 9:23).

When Noah found out what Ham had done, he cursed Ham’s child, Canaan, saying, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25). It is possible that Canaan was the one that first saw Noah and then informed his father. Then, Noah blessed his other two sons (Shem and Japheth) and repeated Canaan’s servitude to them (Genesis 9 26–27).

Noah’s curse was not a pronounced indignation, but rather a prophecy. The prophecy does not set Canaan or Ham’s sons in harsh destiny. It is only a forecast of what God envisioned and proclaimed through Noah. Later on, Canaan followed in the sins of his father, and those sins became so prominent in the national character of Canaan’s offspring that the Lord later destroyed them. As for Shem, by having Jehovah as his God, he became the heir of all the blessings of salvation.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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