Because of their sin, humans were expelled from the Garden of Eden and would no longer be able to live their lives in the Presence of God—worshiping and obeying Him.
Because of extreme sinfulness humanity was punished by God with the flood. Noah, his sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth), and their spouses survived. Afterward God graciously promises a number of things but the part that I like to emphasize on the Mount of Olives is found in Genesis 9:25–27:
Gen. 9:25 So he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brothers.”
Gen. 9:26 He also said,
“Blessed be the LORD,
The God of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.
Gen. 9:27 “May God enlarge Japheth,
And let him dwell in the tents of Shem;
And let Canaan be his servant.” (NASB)
The question that I am interested in is, in v. 27, to whom does “him” refer? It should be noted that the Hebrew text really has “him” at this point—NOT Japheth. The NIV and some other translations insert an interpretative “Japheth” but Japheth is not actually in the original Hebrew text! In fact, it is difficult to have the “him” refer back to Japheth in the previous line, for there Japheth is the object of the verb and this grammatical construction would be rare.
It is much more natural to have “him” refer back to the previous subject, namely God! And thus the verse should be read:
Gen. 9:27 “God will enlarge Japheth,
But He [= God] will dwell in the tents of Shem;
Let Canaan be a slave to him.” (Kaiser, p. 82)
If this interpretation is correct, then God is promising that He intends to reverse the “unnatural” situation that the humans find themselves in because of their sin—living their lives apart from Him. It is God’s intention to again reside with humanity—so that they can live their lives in His presence in worshipful obedience.
It is of course noteworthy that a distant descendent of Shem is Terah, and that Terah is the father of Abram (Abraham), who is the father of . . .! (Genesis 11:10–27)
More next Monday on God dwelling in the tents of Shem via Abraham and his descendants. [BTW — future posts will not have as much Hebrew grammar as these first posts have had!]
Walter Kaiser first drew my attention this interpretation of Genesis 9:27.
Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. Toward an Old Testament Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978, p. 82.