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Shem, Ham and Japheth
By: Robert Berendt (published September 25, 2014)

There were four men and four woman who lived before, during and after the flood as recorded in Genesis 6 and 7. Many scholars differ in their setting of dates and order of birth, and under what circumstances. Large segments of history are covered with few words in parts of the Bible. In spite of the arguments one way or another, there are some fascinating observations that we can make when we see what the Bible has to say about these people. The genealogy of Adam is recorded and in spite of differences or discussion as to detail, some important information becomes clear. The Bible records the fact that God at first gave humans nearly a full thousand years of life before the flood and that length of life was reduced to seventy or eighty years soon after the flood (Psalm 90:10). No reasons are given - that was the decision God made and like all of His decisions, there are good reasons since God does not make mistakes. He makes allowances for humans to choose their path to some extent, but His decisions are not without sound reason. He is supreme, perfect and totally in control of everything.

Adam lived to be 930 years old, but no number of years is given for Eve (Gen. 5:5). All of the men who lived during that time seem to be the heads of the genealogy line and although women were present, they are not often listed by name. It seems that 10 generations passed from the time of Adam and Eve until the time of Noah. That is to say that Noah was of the tenth generation from Adam. Some who count generations have also concluded that Abraham was of the tenth generation from Noah. The Bible simply tells us that Noah was 600 years old when the flood came. (Gen. 7:6). His three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth were begotten when Noah was about 500 years old (Gen. 5:32). Under normal conditions, we realize the sons could have been a few years apart - there is nothing to indicate they were triplets. Nothing is said about other children that Noah and his wife may have had. The names of the four women who were the wives are not given. It seems that the people God chose to work with are named first. Shem for example (Gen. 5:32,6:10,7:13). The order seems to show importance with God rather than the oldest - although Shem could have been the oldest.

God saw violence and corruption throughout the world at that time and decided to act against that. He said He would allow 120 years for humans to reconsider (Gen. 6:3). Since the flood came when Noah was 600 years old and the three sons were born when he was about 500 years old, we can calculate that the three sons were about 100 years old when the flood occurred. All three had a wife - but no children were born to them. We can wonder why God says little about the lives of Ham and Japheth and the Bible does not record the number of years they lived. Shem, however, lived to be about 600 years old. That would mean that Shem lived for another 500 years after the flood. He lived to the age of about 600 years while Noah lived to be 950 years of age and that means Noah lived for 350 years after the flood (Gen. 9:28,29). The first recorded son of Shem was born 2 years after the flood. His name was Arphaxad. The children of Ham and Japheth are listed by name (not all of them as no girls are listed) but nothing is said about how long these pre-flood men and their wives lived after the flood.

It did not take long for sin to rear its ugly head after the flood. Humans seem to learn lessons with great difficulty or not at all. Noah became drunk and a sinful act took place (Gen. 9:20-23). Ham came and saw his father's nakedness and told his brothers. Shem and Japheth covered their father by going in backward with a blanket so they could not see their father. Sin did not leave the earth after the flood - on the contrary, people decided to build the tower of Babel to thwart God from scattering them (Gen. 11:4). This seemed to take place shortly after the flood when the population was still quite small. If we take a number like 300 years after the flood, we can note that almost all people who lived in the Middle East could only be numbered in the thousands. After the flood it seems children were born to the men that were named in intervals of about 30 years. We cannot count accurately because God only gives us accuracy with those He has chosen. For example Shem's line that God worked with began with Arphaxad, but the Bible records other brothers of Arphaxad such as Elam, Asshur, Lud and Aram (Gen. 10:22). The continued work of God followed the line of Arphaxad (I Chron. 1:24-27). Little is said about what became of the nations God scattered at the tower of Babel, but they were separated and went in all directions as God had determined it (Gen. 11:8,9). It seems God just let them go and continued working with those He had chosen. That does not mean God forgot about them or ceased caring about them as God does love all of His Creation (John 3:16). The Bible simply tells us how God continued to work to complete His plan as He wanted all men to be saved (I Tim. 2:4).

Adding up the years in which the line of people God worked with were born, we can calculate that Noah died just before Abraham was born and Shem was still alive and active when Abraham was born. Shem would have been able to converse with Abraham for 150 years. Abraham died at 175 years of age (Gen. 25:7). Shem would have been alive at the birth of Isaac and Ishmael and the death of Sarah. All the sons of Shem mentioned in Gen. 11 with the exception of Eber died before Shem died. The remarkable point to note is that the people who lived for 100 years before the flood also lived for hundreds of years after the flood and were able to pass on vital information to Abraham and the generation God worked with. The number of years that people lived declined rapidly after that according to the plan of God. He said 70 or 80 as a general rule (Psalm 90:10). Of course we realize death can occur much earlier due to illness, accident or war and some live into their 90s today. Science cannot determine what makes the body grow old and then slip into death after the age of 80, but that is something we all know happens by observation. Nobody lives for hundreds of years now, though a few live to be one hundred. The overlap in years of Noah and his sons to Abraham was an important time.

Although Shem, Ham and Japheth were all sons of Noah, God chose to work through Shem. Japheth also received a special position. These three brothers were instrumental in the repopulation of the earth. Part of the reason God chose to work with Shem was due to Shem's respect for his father and (Gen. 9:26,27) it seems Shem was the oldest (verse 24). It is always shocking to read about the quickness of humans to revert back to ways that are evil. As mankind populated the globe - God and His just wrath were soon forgotten and humans retreated back into the protective shell of ignorance and neglect.



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