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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 9

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-17




The First Typical Covenant. The Primitive Precepts (Noachian Laws). The Symbol of the Rainbow

Genesis 8:20 to Genesis 9:17

20And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and took of every20 clean beast and of every clean fowl and offered burnt offerings on the altar. 21And the Lord smelled a sweet savour,21 and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake: for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth [here, excusing]; neither will I again smite any more everything living as I have done. 22While the earth remaineth [all the days of the earth] seedtime and harvest [the order of nature], and cold and heat, and summer and winter,22 and day and night, shall not cease.

 Genesis 9:1 And God [Elohim] blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth. 2And the fear of you and the dread of you, shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, and upon all that moveth upon the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hands are they delivered. 3Every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green 4herb have I given you all things. But flesh which is the life thereof [its soul, its animation], which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat. 5And surely your blood of your lives1 [of each single life] will I require; at the hand of every beast will I require it [take vengeance for it], and at the hand of man; at the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of Man 1:6 Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by Man 1:2 shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he Man 1:7 And you, be ye fruitful, and multiply; bring forth 8abundantly in the earth, and multiply therein. And God [Elohim] spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying [לֵאמֹר], 9And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; 10And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth [that shall proceed from them in the future]. 11And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off anymore by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. 12And God [Elohim] said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: 13I do set my bow3 in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. 14And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud:4 15And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more 16become a flood to destroy all flesh. And my bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every 17living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God [Elohim] said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.


1.Genesis 8:20-22. The offering of Noah and the acceptance and promise of Jehovah. The offering of Noah is not, as has been maintained, to be referred back from the later time of the law, to the primitive history. It reflects itself, moreover, in the mythological stories of the flood (Delitzsch, p. 268). An altar to the Lord. The altar is called מִזְבֵּהַ, place of slaying the victim, from זָבַח, as θυσιαστήριον from θύειν. That the sons of Adam offered without an altar is a mere supposition. According to Keil there was no need of an altar, because God was still present in paradise to men. In the judgment of the flood was paradise destroyed; the place of his presence was withdrawn, and he had taken his throne in the heaven, that from thence, hereafter he might reveal himself to men. (Comp. Genesis 2:5; Genesis 2:7). “Towards heaven must now the hearts of the pious lift up themselves; their offerings and their prayers must go up on high, if they would reach God’s throne. In order to give the offerings this upward direction, elevated places were fixed upon, from which they might ascend heavenwards in fire. Hence the offerings derived their name of עֹלוֹת, from עֹלָה, the ascending, not so much because the animal offered was laid upon the altar, or made to ascend the altar, but rather because of the ascending (of the flame and smoke) from the altar towards heaven. (Comp. Judges 20:40; Jeremiah 48:15; Amos 4:10). In like manner Delitzsch in relation to Psalms 29:10; (according to Hofmann: “Prophecy and Fulfilment,” pp. 80, 88). If by this is meant that the religious consciousness, which once received God as present in paradise, must now, through its darkness by sin, revere him as the Holy One, far off, dwelling on high, and only occasionally revealing himself from heaven, there would be nothing to say against it; but if it is meant as a literal transfer of the place of the divine dwelling and of the divine throne, it becomes a mythologizing darkening of the divine idea (see Psalms 139:0). Christ was greater than the paradisaical Adam; notwithstanding, in prayer, he lifted up his eyes to heaven (John 11:41); and already is it intimated, Genesis 1:1, that from the beginning, the heaven, as the symbolical sign of God’s exceeding highness, had precedence of the earth. That, however, the word עוֹלָה may have some relation, at least, to the ascendency of the victim upon the altar is shown by the expression העלה in the Hiphil. The altar was erected to Jehovah, whose worship had already, at an earlier period, commenced (Genesis 4:4). Everywhere when Elohim had revealed himself in his first announcements, and had thus given assurance of himself as the trusted and the constant, there is Jehovah, the God amen, in ever fuller distinctness. As Jehovah must he especially appear to the saved Noah, as the one to whom he had fulfilled his word of promise in the wonderful relation he bore to him.—Of every clean beast.—According to Rosenmuller and others, we must regard this as referring to the five kinds of offerings under the law, namely, bullock, sheep, goats, doves, turtle doves. This, however, is doing violence to the text; there appears rather to have been appointed for offering the seventh surplus example which he had taken, over and above the three pairs, in each case, of clean beasts.—And offered it as a burnt offering.—We are not to think here of the classification of offerings as determined in the levitical law. The burnt offering forms the middle point, and the root of the different offerings (comp. Genesis 22:13); and the undivided unity is here to be kept in view. There is, at all events, contained here the idea of the thank offering, although there is nothing said of any participation, or eating, of the victim offered. The extreme left side of the offering here, as an offering for sin and guilt, was the Herem or pollution of the carcases exposed in the flood (like the lamb of the sacrifice of Moses as compared with the slain first-born of the Egyptians); the extreme right side lay in that consecrated partaking of flesh by Noah which now commenced.—And the Lord (Jehovah) smelled a sweet savor.—The savor of satisfaction. An anthropomorphic expression for the satisfied acceptance of the offering presented, as a true offering of the spirit of the one presenting it.5And said in his heart.—Not merely he said to himself or he thought with himself; it means rather, he took counsel with, his heart and executed a purpose proceeding from, the emotion of his divine love.—I will not again curse.—In words had he done this, Genesis 3:17, but actually and in a higher measure, in the decree of destruction Genesis 6:7; Genesis 6:13. With the last, therefore, is the first curse retracted, in as far as the first preliminary lustration of the earth is admitted to be a baptism of the earth. According to Knobel, the pleasing fragrance of the offering is not the moving ground, but merely the occasion for this gracious resolve, But what does the occasion mean here? In so far as the saving grace of God was the first moving ground for Noah’s thank offering, was this latter also a second moving ground (symbolically, causa meritoria) for the purpose of God as afterwards determined.—For the imaginations of man’s heart.—The ground here given for God’s forbearance and compassion seems remarkable. Calvin: “Hic inconstantiœ videtur deus accusari posse. Supra puniturus hominem, causam consilii dicit, quia figmentum cordis humani malum est. Hic promissurus homini gratiam, quod posthac tali ira uti nolit, eandem causam allegat.” Between this passage, however, and the one Genesis 6:6, there is a twofold difference. In the latter there precedes the sentence: Jehovah saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth; in connection with this corruption of actual sin, the evil imagining of the human heart itself, is reckoned for evil, as being its fountain. Here, however, the burnt offering of Noah goes before. In connection with tills sacrificial service, expressing the feeling of guilt and the want of forgiveness, the evil imagination of the human heart appears as a sufferer of temptation. The innate sinfulness is not disease merely, but as it stands in organic connection with the actual sin, is also guilt. It is, however, disease too; and precisely in its connection with the disposition for pardon, and the better desire of man, is it regarded as disease by God, and as being, therefore, an object of his compassion. Moreover it is called here simply יֵצֶר לֵב, the involuntary unconscious sense and imagination, but there (Genesis 6:6), it was “the imagination of the thoughts (the purposes) of his heart,” and, therefore, a matter of consciousness; here it is wickedness from his youth up, there, it is only wickedness, nothing else but wickedness, wickedness throughout and continually. In the effect of the flood, and in the light of the sacrificial offering, which Noah offers not only in his own name, but in that of his family and race, the guilt of the innate sinfulness of the human race appears typically weakened in the same way as in the evangelical church-doctrine, the condemnation of hereditary sin is taken away by baptism, of which the flood is a type.6 Knobel lays stress on the fact that it is said from his youth up, not from his mother’s womb; but the word evidently means that just as soon as the heart comes to its peculiar imagining, or the sensual imagining that is appropriate to it, then immediately appears the innate sinfulness.—Whilst the earth remaineth.—“The three first pairs of words do not denote, as the Jewish interpreters (see Raschi) explain it, six times of the year reckoned by two months each (a division found in the Vedas and the Avesta), but they divide the year into two halves each, as the old Greeks did into θέρος and χειμών (in Hesiod it is ἄμητος and ἀροτος), namely the summer (including the autumn), beginning with the early rising of the Pleiades, and the winter (including the spring, see Job 29:4) beginning with the early setting (Ideler, Chron. 1, p. 241).” Delitzsch. And yet the antitheses are not tautological. Seed-time and harvest denote the year according to its most obvious significance for man. Cold and heat are according to the equilibrium of the year, lying at the ground of seed-time and harvest, and conditioned by the regular change of temperature. Summer and winter present the constant appearance of this change, the order of which is imaged in the small and ordinary changes of day and night that belong to the general course of nature. Delitzsch supposes that this new course of nature, consisting in interchanges of temperature, is opposed to a “serene or uninterrupted warmth that prevailed before the flood.” That the earth in the primitive period had an even temperature may be regarded as very probable; but not that the flood, in this respect, made any sudden turning point, although such an epoch in the earth’s life must, at the same time, denote the beginning of a change. At all events, the new order of nature is not denoted as a mere imperfect earth, for this purified earth will God never again cover with a flood. Delitzsch admirably remarks: “they are God’s thoughts of peace which he gives to Noah’s inner perception as an answer to his offering; as even now every one who prays in faith gets from the heart of God an inward perception that his prayer is answered.” The doubled form, לֹא אֹסִף, has as in Isaiah 54:9, the power of an oath. As an establishment of the new order of nature, this promise corresponds to the creative words Genesis 1:0.

2. The blessing of God on the new humanity, its dominion, its freedom and its laws (Genesis 9:1-7). The benediction of Noah and his sons, Genesis 9:1, corresponds to the blessing of Adam and Eve, Genesis 1:28. In like manner, the grant of dominion over the animal world corresponds to the appointment there expressed. The distinct license here given for the slaying of the beasts corresponds to Genesis 1:29, and Genesis 2:16. The prohibition of eating blood corresponds to the prohibition of the tree of knowledge. Finally, the command against murder has relation, without doubt, to the murder committed by Cain (Genesis 4:0). Delitzsch: “After that the general relations of nature, in view of such a ruin as has happened in the flood, are made secure by promise, there are given to men new physical, ethical, and legal foundations.”—And the fear of you.—Your fear, as the effect, מוֹרָא. The exciting of fear and terror are to be the means of man’s dominion over the animals. Delitzsch remarks: “It is because the original harmony that once existed between man and nature has been taken away by the fall and its consequences. According to the will of God, man is still the lord of nature, but of nature now as an unwilling servant, to be restrained by effort, to be subjugated by force.” Not throughout, however, is nature thus antagonistic to man; it is not the case with a portion of the animal world, namely, the domestic animals. It is true, there has come in a breach of the original harmony, but it is not now for the first time, and the most peculiar striving of the creature is against its doom of perishability (Romans 8:20). Moreover, it is certainly the case, that, the influence of the fear of man upon the animals is fundamentally a normal paradisaical relation. But a severer intensity of this is indicated by the word dread. Knobel explains it from the fact, that hence-forth the animal is threatened in its life, and is now exposed to be slain. Since the loss of the harmonic relation between man and the animals (in which the human majesty had a magical power over the beast), the contrast between the tame and the wild, between the friendly innocence and the hostile dread of the wilder species, had increased more and more, unto the time of the flood. Now is it formally and legally presented in the language we are considering. Man is henceforth legally authorized to exercise a forcible dominion over the beasts, since he can no longer rule them through the sympathy of a spiritual power. Also the eating of flesh, which had doubtless existed before, is now formally legalized; by which fact it is, at the same time, commended. A limitation of the pure kinds is not yet expressed. When, however, there is added, by way of appendix, all that liveth (that is, is alive), the dead carcase, or that which hath died of itself, is excluded, and with it all that is offensive generally. There is, however, a distinct restriction upon this flesh-eating, in the prohibition of the blood: But flesh with the life thereof.—Delitzsch explains it as meaning, “that there was forbidden the eating of the flesh when the animal was yet alive, unslain, and whose blood had not been poured out,—namely, pieces cut out, according to a cruel custom of antiquity, and still existing in Abyssynia. Accordingly there was forbidden, generally, the eating of flesh in which the blood still remained.” It is, however, more to the purpose to explain this text according to Leviticus 17:11; Leviticus 17:14, than by the savage practices of a later barbarous heathenism, or by Rabbinical tradition. “With its life,” therefore, means with its soul, or animating principle, and this is explained by its blood, according to the passage cited (Deuteronomy 12:23); since the blood is the basis, the element of the nerve-life, and in this sense, the soul. The blood is the fluid-nerve, the nerve is the constructed blood. The prohibition of blood-eating, the first of the so-called Noachian commands (see below), is, indeed, connected with the moral reprobation of cruelty to animals, as it may proceed to the mutilation of the living; it is, therefore, also connected with the avoidance of raw flesh (בָּשָׂר חַי, or living flesh, 1 Samuel 2:15. Knobel). “The blood is regarded as the seat of the soul, or the life, and is even denoted as נֶפֶשׁ, or the soul itself (Leviticus 1:5), as the anima purpurea of Virgil, Æn. ix. 348; even as here נַפשׁוֹ is explained by the apposition דָּמוֹ. But the life belongs to God, the Lord of all life, and must, therefore, be brought to him, upon his altar (Deuteronomy 12:27), and not be consumed by man.” Knobel. This is, therefore, the second idea in the prohibition of the blood. As life, must the life of the beast go back to God its creator; or, as life in the victim offered in sacrifice, it must become a symbol that the soul of man belongs to God, though man may partake of the animal materiality, that is, the flesh. Still stronger is the restriction that follows: And surely your blood of your lives.—“The soul of the beast, in the blood of the beast, is to be avoided, and the soul of man, in the blood of man, is not to be violated.” Delitzsch. At the ground of this contrast, however, lies the more general one, that the slaying of the beast is allowed whilst the slaying of man is forbidden.–Will I require; that is, the corresponding, proportionate expiation or punishment will I impose upon the slayer. The expression לְנַפְשֹׁתֵיהֶם, Knobel explains as meaning “for your souls,” for the best of your life (comp. Leviticus 26:45; Deuteronomy 4:15; Job 13:7). According to Delitzsch and Keil לְ expresses the regard had for the individual. And this appears to be near the truth. The blood of man is individually reckoned and valued, according to the individual souls.—At the hand of every beast.—The more particular legal regulation is found in Exodus 21:28. Here, then, is first given a legal ground for the pursuit and destruction of human murderous and hurtful beasts. Still there is expressed, moreover, the slaying of the single beast that hath killed a man. “In the enactments of Solon and Draco, and even in Plato, there is a similar provision.” Delitzsch.—And at the hand of man. “אִישׁ אָח, brother man, that is, kinsman; comp. Genesis 13:5; so, אִישׁ כֹּהֵן, a priest-man, etc. By the words אִישׁ אָחִיו is not to be understood the next of kin to the murdered man, whose duty it was to execute the blood-vengeance (Von Bohlen, Tuch, Baumgarten), as the one from whom God required the blood that was shed, but the murderer himself. In order to indicate the unnaturalness of murder, and its deep desert of penalty, God denotes him (the murderer) as in a special sense the brother of the murdered.” Knobel. Besides this, moreover, there is formed from אִיש the expression every man (Delitzsch, Keil). Every man, brother man.—The life of man.—Man is emphasized. Therefore follows, emphatically, the formula: Whosoever sheddeth man’s blood, and at the close again there is once more man (הָאָדָם) prominently presented.—By man shall his blood be shed: “namely, by the next of kin to the murdered, whose right and duty both it was to pursue the murderer, and to slay him. He is called גֹּאֵל הַדָּם, the demander of the blood, or the blood-avenger. The Hebrew law imposed the penalty of death upon the homicide (Exodus 21:12; Leviticus 24:17), which the blood avenger carried out (Numbers 35:19; Numbers 35:21); to him was the murderer delivered up by the congregation to be put to death (Deuteronomy 19:12). Among the old Hebrews, the blood-vengeance was the usual mode of punishing murder, and was also practised by many other nations.” Delitzsch and Keil dispute the relation of this passage to the blood-vengeance. It is not to be misapprehended, 1. that here, in a wider sense, humanity itself, seeing it is always next of kin to the murdered, is appointed to be the avenger; and 2. that the appointment extends beyond the blood-vengeance, and becomes the root of the magisterial right of punishment. On the other hand, it cannot be denied that in the patriarchal relations of the olden time it was a fundamental principle that the next of kin were not only justified in the execution of the law of blood, but on account of the want of a legal tribunal, were under obligation to perform the office. This primitive, divinely-sanctioned custom, became, in its ideal and theocratic direction, the law of punishment as magisterially regulated in the Mosaic institutions (but which still kept in mind the blood-vengeance), whereas, in the direction of crude heathenism, which avenged the murder even upon the relations of the murderer, it became itself a murderous impulse. Delitzsch remarks, that God has now laid in the hands of men the penal force that belonged to him alone, because he has withdrawn his visible presence from the earth,—according to the view, before cited, of his transfer of the divine throne to the heavens.—For in the image of God made he man.—This is the reason for the command against murder. In man there is assailed the image of God, the personality, that which constitutes the very aim of his existence, although the image itself, as such, is inviolable. In murder the crime is against the spirit, in which the divine kinsmanship reveals itself, and so is it a crime against the very appearing of God in the world in its most universal form, or as a prelude to that murder which was committed against the perfect form of man (or image of God in man), Zechariah 12:10; John 3:10; John 3:15).—But be ye fruitful.—The contrast to the preceding. The value of human life forbids its being wasted, and commands its orderly increase.—Bring forth abundantly in the earth—In the spreading of men over, the earth, and out of its supplies of food (by which, as it were, the life of the earth is transformed into the life of man) are found the conditions for the multiplication of the human race. Thus regarded, there is only an apparent tautology in the verse, not an actual one.

3.Genesis 9:8-17. The covenant of God with Noah, with his race, and with the whole earth.—To Noah and to his sons with him.—Solemn covenanting form. The sons are addressed together with Noah; for the covenant avails expressly for the whole human race.—And I, behold I establish.—The words, and I, (וֹאני) form a contrast to the claims of God on the new humanity as an introduction to the promise. According to Knobel, God had established no covenant with the antediluvians. Not, indeed, in the literal expressions here employed; since it was after men had had the experience of a destroying judgment. According to the same (Knobel), the Jehovist, in Genesis 8:21 presented the matter in a way different from that of the Elohist here. Clearly, however, does the offering of Noah there mentioned, furnish the occasion for the entire transaction that follows in this place. The making of a covenant with Noah is already introduced, and announced Genesis 6:13; it stands in a development conditioned on the preservation of Noah’s faith, just as a similar development is still more evident in the life of Abraham (see James 2:20-23). Keil remarks that “חֵקִים בְּרִית is not equivalent to כָּרַת בְּרִיתּ, that is, it does not denote the formal concluding, but the establishing, confirming, of a covenant,—in other words, the realization of the covenanting promise” (comp. Genesis 22:0 with Genesis 17:15). Delitzsch: “There begins now the era of the divine ἀνοχή(Romans 3:26) of which Paul preached in Lystria (Acts 14:15).” In its most special sense, this era begins with the origin of heathenism, that is, from the Babylonian dispersion. With a right fulness is the animal world also included in this covenant, for it is elohistic,—universalistic; it keeps wholly predominant the characteristic of compassion for the creaturely life upon the earth, although man forms its ethical middle point, with which the animal world and the kosmos are connected. The covenant with the beasts subsists not for itself, and, in respect to its nature, is only to be taken symbolically.—Shall not be cut off any more.—This is the divine covenant promise—no new destruction,—no end of the world again produced by a flood.—My bow in the cloud, it shall be for a token.—In every divine covenant there is a divine sign of the covenant; in this covenant it is said: my bow do I set. According to Knobel the rainbow is called God’s bow, because it belongs to the heaven, God’s dwelling place. It is a more correct interpretation to say, it is because God has made it to appear in the heaven, as the sign of his covenant. According to the same, the author of the account must have entertained the supposition that there had never been a rainbow before the time of the flood. Delitzsch is of the same opinion.7 It is, indeed, a phenomenon of refraction, which may be supposed of a fall of water, and sometimes, also, of a dew-distilling mist. But the far visible and overarching rainbow supposes the rain-cloud as its natural conditioning cause. We have already remarked that from the appointment of the rainbow, as the sign of the covenant, it by no means follows that it had not before existed as a phenomenon of nature (Genesis 2:0). The starry night, too, is made the sign of a promise for Abraham (Genesis 15:0). Keil is not willing to infer that hitherto it had not rained, but only presents the conjecture that at an earlier period the constitution of the atmosphere may have been different.—And I will look upon it that I may remember.—An anthropomorphising form of expression, but which like every other expression of the kind, ever gives us the tenor of the divine thought in a symbolical human form. Here it is the expression of the self-obligating, or of the conscious covenant truthfulness, as manifested in the constant sign. “In his presence, too, have they power and most essential significance.” (Von Gerlach).

[Note on the Appointment of the Rainbow as the Sign of the Covenant.—In regard to this it may be well to give the views of some of the older Jewish commentators, if for no other purpose, to show that what is really the most easy and the most natural interpretation comes from no outside pressure of science, but is fairly deducible from the very letter of the passage. Thus reasons Maimonides respecting it: “For the words are in past time, אֵת קַשְׁתִּי נָתַתִּי, my bow have I set (or did set) in the cloud, not, I am now setting, or about to set, which would be expressed by אֲנִי נוֹתִן, according as he had said just before, הַבְּרִית אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן, the covenant which I am now establishing. Moreover the form of the word קַשְׁתִּי my bow, shows that there was something to him so called from the beginning. And so the Scripture must be interpreted: the bow which I put (נתתי) in the cloud in the day of creation, shall be, from this day, and henceforth, for a sign of the covenant between me and you, so that every time that it appears, I will look upon it and remember my covenant of peace. If it is asked then, what is meant by the bow’s being a sign, I answer that it is like what is said Genesis 31:48, in the covenant between Jacob and Laban, הִנֵּה הַגַּל הַזֶּה עֵד, lo, this heap is a witness, etc., or Genesis 31:52, עֵדָה הַמַּצֵּבָה, and this pillar shall be a witness, etc. And so also Genesis 21:30, אֶת שֶׁבַע כְּבָשׁוֹת תִּקַּח מִיָּדִי, seven lambs shalt thou take from my hand, לְעֵדָה for a witness. In like manner everything that appears as thus put before two, to cause them to remember something promised or covenanted, is called אוֹת. And so of the circumcision; God says, it shall be a sign of the covenant, לְאוֹת בְּרִית, between me and you. Thus the bow that is now visible, and the bow that was in nature (בטכע) from the beginning, or from of old (מעוֹלם) are one in this, that the sign which is in them is one.” He then proceeds to say that there are other and mystic interpretations made by some of the Rabbins, but this great critic is satisfied with the one that he has given. Aben Ezra says that the most celebrated of the Jewish Rabbins held the same opinion as Maimonides, namely, that the rainbow was in nature from the beginning, though he himself seems to dissent.

“And I will look upon it to remember the בְּרִית עוֹלָם, the covenant of eternity.” Let us not be troubled about the anthropopathism, but receive the precious thought in all its inexpressible tenderness. Lange most beautifully characterizes such mutual remembrance as eye meeting eye. We all know that God’s memory takes in the total universe of space at every moment of time: but there are some things which he remembers as standing out from the great totality. He remembers the act of faith, and the sign of faith, as he remembers no other human act, no other finite phenomenon. May we not believe that there is the same mutual remembrance in the Eucharist? The “remember me” implies “I will remember thee.” The eye of the Redeemer looking into the eye of the believer, or both meeting in the same memorial: this is certainly a “real presence,” whatever else there may be of depth and mystery in that most fundamental Christian rite—the evangelical אוֹת בְּרִית עוֹלָם, or sign of the everlasting covenant.

The Hebrew אוֹת is not used of miraculous signs, properly, given as proofs of mission or doctrine. It is not a counteraction of natural law, or the bringing a new thing into nature. Any fixed object may be used for a sign, and here the very covenant itself, or a most important part of it, being the stability of nature, there is a most striking consistency in the fact that the sign of such covenant is taken from nature itself. The rainbow, ever appearing in the “sunshine after rain,” is the very symbol of constancy. It is selected from all others, not only for its splendor and beauty, but for the regularity with which it cheers us, when we look out for it after the storm. Noah needed no witness of the supernatural. The great in nature, in that early age when all was wonderful, was regarded as manifesting God equally with the supernatural. Besides, in the flood itself there was a sufficient witness to the extraordinary. There was wanted, then, not a miracle strictly as an attestation of a message, or as a sign of belief, like the miracles in the New Testament (when there was a necessity for breaking up the lethargy of naturalism), but a vivid memorial for the conservation rather than the creation of faith. The Hebrew word for miracle is more properly פֶּלֶא, though it may be used simply for prodigy, like the Greek τέρας, in distinction from the New Testament σημεῖον, which is properly a proof or attestation of a miraculous kind. Τέρας simply means anything wonderful, whether in nature or not. Superstition converts such appearances into portents, or signs of something impending, but in the Bible God’s people are expressly told “not to be dismayed at the signs of the heavens as the heathen are.” Jeremiah 10:1. The word there used is this same אוֹתוִֹת in the plural, but accommodated to the heathen perversion. To the believing Israelites the signs of the heavens, even though strange and unusual, were to be regarded as tokens of their covenant God above nature yet ruling in nature, and ever regulating the order of its phenomena. There is a passage sometimes quoted from Homer, Il. xi. 27, Genesis 28:0 :

̔́Ιρισσιν ἐοικότες ἅστε Κρονίων

’Εν νέφεϊ στήριξε ΤΕΡΑΣ μερόπων�.

“Like the rainbows which Zeus fixed in the cloud a sign to men of many tongues.” But τέρας there has the sense of prodigy, or it may denote a wonderful and beautiful object. We cannot, therefore, certainly infer from this any traditional recognition of the great sign-appointing in Genesis. So Plato quotes from Hesiod the genealogy of Iris (the rainbow), as the daughter of Θαύμας or Wonder, as a sort of poetical argument that Wonder is the parent of philosophy, as though the rainbow were placed in the heavens to stimulate men in the pursuit of curious knowledge. But it is the religious use that is prominent in this as in all the Bible appeals to the observation of nature. It is for the support of faith in the God of nature, “that we may look upon it and remember;” and this is admirably expressed in a Rabbinical doxology to be found in the Talmudic Kidduschin, fol. 8, and which was to be recited at every appearance of the rainbow, ברוך אתה יהוה אלהינו וגו, “Blessed be thou Jehovah our God, King of eternity (or of the world), ever mindful of thy covenant, faithful in thy covenant, firm in thy word,” comp. Psalms 119:89, Forever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven. The Targum of Oukelos translates Genesis 9:13 : “And it shall be a sign, בין מימרי ובין ארעא, between my word and the earth.”

It is not unreasonable to suppose some reference to this place in that difficult passage Habakkuk 3:9, עֶרְיָה תֵּעוֹר קַשְׁתֶּךָ, most obscurely rendered in our English version, “thy bow was made quite naked—the oaths of the tribes—the word.” Kimchi translates it revealed, made manifest. It is commonly thought that all that is said in that sublime chapter has reference to events that took place during the exodus, but there is good ground for giving it a wider range, so as to take in other divine wonders, in creation and in the patriarchal history.—T. L.]


1. There are the most distinct indications that the flood, as the greatest epoch of the primitive time, made a turning point, not only in the spiritual life of humanity, but also in its physical relations,—yea, in the very life of the earth itself. Only we may not, in the first place, regard this turning point as a sudden change of all relations; just as little as the fall (Genesis 3:0) suddenly brought in death, or as the confusion of tongues produced immediately the wide-spread diversities of language. And, in the second place, again, it must not be regarded as a change of all relations for the worse. There is supposed to have been a change of the atmosphere (concerning the rain and the rainbow, see above). At all events, the paradisaical harmony of the earth had departed at an earlier day. But, on the other hand, there comes in now a more constant order of the atmospherical relations (Genesis 8:22). Again, some have called it a sudden change in the duration of human life. But to this is opposed the fact that the aged Noah lived 350 years after the flood. It is evident, however, that during the period of Noah’s life the breaking through of death from the inner to the outer life had made a great advance. And to this the fear which the flood brought upon the children and grandchildren of Noah (not upon himself) may have well contributed. As far as relates to the increasing ferocity of the wild beasts towards men, the ground of their greater estrangement and savageness cannot be found in their deliverance in the ark. Already had the mysterious paradisaical peace between man and beast departed with the fall. Moreover, the words: “all flesh had corrupted its way,” (Genesis 6:12) indicate that together with men’s increasing wickedness the animal world had grown more ferocious. But if the mode of life as developed among men made the eating of flesh (and drinking of wine) a greater necessity for them than before, then along with the sanctioning of this new order of life, must there have been sanctioned also the chase. And so out of this there must have arisen a state of war between man and the animal world, which would have for its consequence an increased measure of customary fear among the animals that were peculiarly exposed to it.

2. Immediately after the flood, Noah built an altar to Jehovah, his covenant God, who had saved him. The living worship (cultus) was his first work, the culture of the vineyard was his second. The altar, in like manner, was the sign of the ancestral faith, as it had come down from paradise and had been transmitted through the ark. This faith was the seed-corn as well as sign of the future theocracy and the future church. It was an altar of faith, an altar of prayer, an altar of thanksgiving, for it was erected to Jehovah. But it was also an altar of confession, an acknowledgment that sin had not died in the flood, that Noah and his house was yet sinful and needed the symbolic sanctification. In this case, too, was the offering of an animal itself an expression of the greater alacrity in the sacrifice since Noah had preserved only a few specimens of the clean animals. This readiness in the offering was in that case an expression of his faith in salvation, wherein, along with his prayer for grace and compassion, there was inlaid a supplication for his house, for the new humanity, for the new world. His offering was a burnt-offering, a whole burnt-offering (Kalil) or an ascending in the flame (Olah), as an expression that he, Noah, did thereby devote himself with his whole house, his whole race, and with the whole new earth, to the service of God. The single kinds of offering were all included in this central offering. It was this sense of his offering which made the strong burnt odor of the burning flesh, a “sweet savor” for Jehovah in a metaphorical sense. The attestation of Jehovah makes it evident in what sense Noah offered it. It expresses 1. an averting of the curse from the ground, 2. the fact that the hereditary sinfulness of man was to be an object of the divine compassion. The sinful tendency in its connection with the act of sin is guilt, but in its connection with the need of salvation and salvation itself, it is an evil, the sorest of diseases and suffering (see above); 3. the promise that Jehovah would not again destroy every living thing; 4. the establishment of a constant order of nature; such as the prosperity of the new human race demanded. On this promise of sparing compassion for sinful men, and which God as Jehovah pronounces, there is grounded the renewed relation into which, as Elohim, he enters with all humanity, and the creature world connected with it. This relation is denoted by grants made by God to man, and demands which he makes of man, whereupon follows the establishment of the Elohistic covenant with Noah and all living. The Grants of God: 1. the repetition of the blessing upon Noah and upon all his house, as before upon the animals; 2. the renewed grant of dominion over the beasts; the sanction given to the eating of flesh. In contrast with these grants that guarantee the existence and well-being of the human race, stand the demands or claims made in respect to human conduct. The first is the avoidance of the eating of flesh with the blood, whereby there is together established the sanctification of the enjoyment, the avoidance of savageness as against nature, and of cruelty as against the beast. The second not only forbids the shedding of human blood, but commands also the punishment of murder; it ordains the magistracy with the sword of retribution. But it expresses, at the same time, that the humane civil organization of men must have a moral basis, namely the acknowledgment that all men are brothers (אִישׁ אָחִיו every man, his brother man), and with this again, a religious basis, or the faith in a personal God, and that inviolability of the human personality which rests in its imaged kinsmanship with God. On this follows the establishment of the covenant. Still it is not made altogether dependent on the establishment of the preceding claims. It is a covenant of promise for the sparing of all living that reaches beyond this, because it is made not for individuals but for all, not merely for the morally accountable but for infants, not merely for men but also for the animal world. Notwithstanding, however, this transcending universality of the divine covenant, it is, in truth, made on the supposition that faith in the grace and compassion of Jehovah, piety in respect to the blessing, the name and the image of Elohim, shall correspond to the divine faithfulness, and that men shall find consolation and composure in the sign of the rainbow, only in as far as they preserve faith in God’s word of promise.

3. In the preceding Section we must distinguish between what God says in his heart, and what Elohim says to Noah and his sons. The first word, which doubtless was primarily comprehensible to Noah only, is the foundation of the second. For God’s grace is the central source of his goodness to a sinful world, as on the side of men the believing are the central ground for the preservation of the world, as they point to Christ the absolute centre, She world’s redeemer, having, however, his preserving life in those who are his own, as his word testifies: Ye are the salt of the earth. We must, then, again distinguish between the word of blessing, which embraced Noah and his sons, and with them humanity in general, and the word of the covenant which embraced all living (Genesis 9:10).

4. The institutions of the new humanity: 1. At the head stands the altar with its burnt-offering as the middle point and commencing point of every offering, an expression of feeling that the life which God gave, which he graciously spares, which he wonderfully preserves, shall be consecrated to him, and consumed in his service. 2. The order of nature, and, what is very remarkable, as the ordinance of Jehovah, made dependent on the foregoing order of his kingdom of grace. 3. The institution of the marriage blessing, of the consecration of marriage, of the family, of the dispersion of men. 4. The dominion of man over the animal world, as it embraces the keeping of cattle, the chase, manifold use of the beasts. 5. The holding as sacred the blood—the blood of the animal for the altar of God, the blood of man for the priestly service of God; the institution of the humanitat,8 of the humane culture and order, especially of the magistracy, of the penal and judicial office (including personal self-defence and defensive war). 6. The grounding of this humanitat on the religious acknowledgment of the spiritual personality, of the relation of kinsman that man bears to God, of the fraternal relation of men to each other, and, consequently, the grounding of the state on the basis of religion. 7. The appointment of the humanization of the earth (Genesis 9:7) in the command to men to multiply on the earth—properly, upon it, and by means of it. As men must become divine through the image of God, so the earth must be humanized. 8. The appointment of the covenant of forbearance, which together with the security of the creature-world against a second physical flood, expresses also the security of the moral world against perishing in a deluge of anarchy, or in the floods of popular commotion (Psalms 93:0). 9. The appointment of the sign of the covenant, or of the rainbow as God’s bow of peace, whereby there is at the same time expressed, in the first place, the elevation of men above the deification of the creature (since the rainbow is not a divinity, but a sign of God, an appointment which even the idolatrous nations appear not to have wholly forgotten, when they denote it God’s bridge, or God’s messenger); in the second place, their introduction to the symbolic comprehension and interpretation of natural phenomena, even to the symbolizing of forms and colors; thirdly, that God’s compassion remembers men in their dangers, as indicated by the fact, that in the sign of the rainbow his eye meets their eye; fourthly, the setting up a sign of light and fire, which, along with its assurance that the earth will never again be drowned in water, indicates at the same time its future transformation and glorification through light and fire.

5. In the rainbow covenant all men, in their dealings with each other, and, at the same time, with all animals, have a common interest, namely, in the preservation of life, a common promise, or the assurance of the divine care for life, and a common duty in the sparing of life.
6. The offering as acceptable to God, and its prophetic significance.

7. The disputes concerning original sin have variously originated from not distinguishing its two opposing relations. These are, its relation to actual sin, Romans 5:12, and to the desire for deliverance, Romans 7:23-25.

8. The magical or direct power of man over the beasts is not taken away, but flawed, and thereupon repaired through his mediate power, derived from that superiority which he exercises as huntsman, fisher, fowler, etc. In regard to the first, compare Lange’s “Miscellaneous Writings,” vol. iv. p. 189.

9. The ordinance of the punishment of death for murder, involves, at the same time, the ordinance of the magistracy, of the judicial sentence, and of the penal infliction. But in the historical development of humanity, the death-penalty has been executed with fearful excess and false application (for example, to the crime of theft); since in this way, generally, all humane savageness and cruelty has mingled in the punitive office. From this is explained the prejudice of the modern humanitarianism against capital punishment. It is analogous to the prejudice against the excommunication, and similar institutes, which human ignorance and furious human zeal have so fearfully abused. Yet still, a divine ordinance may not be set aside by our prejudices. It needs only to be rightly understood according to its own limitation and idea. The fundamental principle for all time is this, that the murderer, through his own act and deed, has forfeited his right in human society, and incurred the doom of death. In Cain this principle was first realized, in that, by the curse of God, he was excommunicated, and driven, in self-banishment, to the land of Nod. This is a proof, that in the Christian humanitarian development, the principle may be realized in another form than through the literal, corporeal shedding of blood (see Lange’s treatise Gesetsliche Kirche als Sinnbild, p. 72). It must not, indeed, he overlooked, that the mention is not merely of putting to death, but also of blood-shedding, and that the latter is a terrific mode of speech, whose warnings the popular life widely needed, and, in many respects, still needs. Luther: “There is the first command for the employment of the secular sword. In the words there is appointed the secular magistracy, and the right as derived from God, which puts the sword in its hands.” Every act of murder, according to the Noachian law, appears as a fratricide, and, at the same time as malice against God.

10. To this passage: “for in the image of God made he man,” as also to the passage, James 3:9, has the appeal been made, to show that even after the fall there is no mention of any loss of the divine image, but only of a darkening and disorder of the same. Others, again, have cited the apparently opposing language, Coloss. Genesis 3:10, and similar passages. But in this there has not always been kept in mind the distinction of the older dogmatics between the conception of the image in its wider sense (the spiritual nature of man) and the more restricted sense (the spiritual constitution of man). In like manner should there be made a further distinction between the disposition of Adam as conformed to the image (made in, or after the image) and the image itself as freely developed in Christ (the express image, Hebrews 13:0.), as also finally between the natural man considered in the abstract, in the consequences of his fall, and the natural man in the concrete, as he appears in the operation of the gratia prœveniens. This perfect developed image Adam could not have lost, for he had not attained to it. Neither can men lose the ontological image as grounded in the spiritual nature, because it constitutes its being; but it may darken and distort it. The image of God, however, in the ethical sense, the divine mind (φρόνημα πνεύματος), this he actually lost to the point where the gratia prœveniens laid hold on him, and made a point of opposition between his gradual restoration and the fall in abstracto. But to what degree this image of God in fallen man had become lost, is shown in this very law against murder, which expresses the inalienable, personal worth, that is, the worth that consists in the image as still belonging to man, and thus, in contrast with grace, must man become conscious of the full consequences of his sinful corruption according to the word: what would I have been without thee? what would I become without thee?

11. With this chapter has the Rabbinical tradition connected their doctrine of the seven Noachic precepts. (Buxtorf: Lexicon Talmudicum, article, Ger, גֵר). They are: 1. De judiciis; 2. de benedictione Dei; 3. de idolatria fugienda; 4. de scortatione; 5. de effusione sanguinis; 6. de rapina; 7. de membro de animali vivo sc. non tollendo. The earlier supposition, that the Apostolical decree (Acts 15:0) had relation to this, and that, accordingly, in its appointments, it denominated the heathen Christians as proselytes of the gate (on whom the so-called Noachian laws were imposed) is disputed by Meyer, in his “Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles” (p. 278), though not on satisfactory grounds. The matter of chief interest is the recognition, that in the Israelitish consciousness there was a clear distinction between revealed patriarchal precepts and the Mosaic law. Such a distinction is also expressed by Christ, John 7:22-23. So, too, did the Levitical law make a distinction between such precepts as were binding upon aliens (proselytes of the gate) and such as were binding upon the Jews (Leviticus 17:14; see Bibelwerk, Acts of the Apostles, p. 215). It lies in the very nature of the case, that in Acts 15:0 the seventh precept of the tradition, according to its wider appointment, was divided into two (namely, abstinence from blood and from things strangled), and that, moreover, only those points came into the general view, in respect to which heathen Christians, as freer Christians, might be liable to fail. It was, in fact, a monotheistic patriarchal custom, which, as the expression of the patriarchal piety and humaneness, became the basis of the Mosaic law, and on this basis must the heathen Christians have come together in ethical association, if, in their freedom from the dogmas of the Mosaic law, they would not endanger even the churchly and social communion of the Jewish Christians (see Lange: Geschichte des Apostolischen Zeitalters, ii. p. 187). The prohibition of blood-eating has here no longer any dogmatic significance, but only an ethical. The Greek Church mistook this in its maintenance of the prohibition (Trullanic Council, 692), whereas, the Western Church, in the changed relations, let the temporary appointment become obsolete.

12. On the symbolical significance of the rainbow, see Delitzsch, p. 277, and Lange’s “Miscellaneous Writings,” i. p. 277, from which Delitzsch gives the following passage: “The rainbow is the colored glance of the sun as it breaks forth from the night of clouds; it is its triumph over the floods—a solar beam, a glance of light burnt into the rain-cloud in sign of its submission, in sign of the protection of all living through the might of the sun, or rather the compassion of God.” To this adds Delitzsch: “As it lights up the dark ground that just before was discharging itself in flashes of lightning, it gives us an idea of the victory of God’s love over the black and fiery wrath; originating as it does from the effects of the sun upon the sable vault, it represents to the senses the readiness of the heavenly light to penetrate the earthly obscurity; spanned between heaven and earth, it announces peace between God and man; arching the horizon, it proclaims the all-embracing universality of the covenant of grace.” He then cites some of the mythical designations of the rainbow. It is called by the Hindoos, the weapon of Indras; by the Greeks, Iris, the messenger of the gods; by the Germans, Bifröst (living way), and Asen-brücke, “bridge of Asen;” by the Samoeids, the seam or “border of God’s robe.” There are, besides, many significant popular sayings connected with its appearance. Knobel: “The old Hebrews looked upon it as a great band joining heaven and earth, and binding them both together; as the Greek ἶρις comes from εἴρω, to tie or bind,9 they made it, therefore, the sign of a covenant, or of a relation of peace between God in heaven, and the creatures upon the earth. In a similar manner the heavenly ladder, Genesis 28:12.” On this, nevertheless, it must be remarked, that the Hebrews were conscious of the symbolic sense of the designation; not so, however, the Greeks, who were taken with the fable merely. In like manner, too, did the Hebrew view rest upon a divine revelation. How far the mere human interpretation may be wide of the truth, is shown by the fact, that classical antiquity regarded the rainbow as for the most part announcing “rain, the wintry storm, and war.”

[Note on the Ancient, the Universal, and the Unchanging Law of Homicide.—The divine statute, recorded Genesis 9:6, is commonly assailed on grounds that are no less an abuse of language, than they are a perversion of reason and Scripture. The taking the life of the murderer is called revenge—no distinction being made between this word, which ever denotes something angry and personal, and vengeance, which is the requital of justice, holy, invisible, and free from passion. On this false ground there is an attempt to set the Old Testament in opposition to the New, notwithstanding the express words of Christ to the contrary. This perverse misnomer, and the argument grounded upon it, apply equally to all punishment, strictly such—to all retributive justice, or to any assertion of law that is not resolvable into the merest expediency, excluding altogether the idea of desert, and reducing the notion of crime simply to that of mischief, or inconvenience. It thus becomes itself revenge in the lowest and most personal sense of the term. Discarding the higher or abstract justice, giving it no place in human law, severing the earthly government wholly from the divine, the proceeding called punishment, or justice, is nothing more nor less than the setting the mere personal convenience of the majority, called society, against that of the smaller numbers whom such society calls criminals. This has all the personality of revenge, whether with passion, or without; whereas, the abstract justice, with its moral ground, and its idea of intrinsic desert, alone escapes the charge. Intimately connected with this is the question respecting the true idea and sanction of human government,—whether it truly has a moral ground, or whether it is nothing higher than human wills, and human convenience, by whatever low and ever falling standard it may be estimated. If the murderer is punished with death simply because he deserves it, because God has commanded it, and the magistrate and the executioner are but carrying out that command, then all the opposite reasoning adverted to falls immediately to the ground. It has neither force nor relevancy.

The same, too, may be said in respect to much of the reasoning in favor of capital punishment, so far as it is grounded on mere expediency, and is not used as a collateral aid to that higher principle by which alone even a true expediency can be sustained. Should it even be conceded that this higher principle is, in itself, and for its own sake, above the range of human government, still must it be acknowledged in jurisprudence as something necessary to hold up that lower department of power and motive which is universally admitted to fall within it. Reformation and prevention will never be effected under a judicial system which studiously, and even hostilely (for there can be no neutrality here) shuts out all moral ideas. There may be a seeming reform in such case; but it has no ground in the conscience, because it is accompanied by no conviction of desert, to which such influences must be wholly alien. The deterring power, on the other hand, must constantly lose its vigor, as the terror of the invisible justice fades away in the ignoring of the law, and there takes its place in the community that idea of punishment which is but the warring of opposite conveniences, and the collision of stronger with weaker human wills.

Men are not merely permitted to take the life of the murderer, if the good of society require it, but they are commanded to do so unconditionally. In no other way can the community itself escape the awful responsibility. Blood rests upon it. Impunity makes the whole land guilty. A voice cries to heaven. Murder unavenged is a pollution. Numbers 35:33; Psalms 106:38; Micah 4:11. Such is the strong language of the Scripture as we find it in Genesis, in the statute of the Pentateuch—which is only a particular application of the general law—and in the Prophets. Such, too, is the expression of all antiquity—so strong and clear that we can only regard it as an echo of this still more ancient voice—the τριγέρων μῦθος, as Æschylus styles it in a passage before referred to, Note, p. 257. The Greek dramatic poetry, like the Scriptures, presents it as the crime inexpiable, for which no lesser satisfaction was to be received: “Moreover ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of the murderer, who is guilty of death.” Numbers 35:31.

τὰ πάντα γάρ τις ἐκχέας�̓ αἳματος

ἑνός, μάτην ὁ μόχθος—

Lavish all wealth for blood, for one man’s blood—
’Tis all in vain.      Æsch., Choæph. 518.

And this gives the answer to another false argument: It was only a law for the Jews, it is said. The first refutation is found in this passage, which is certainly universal, if anything can be called such. It was just after that most fearful judgment which had been brought upon the earth by lust and murder. It is not a prediction, but a solemn statute made for all, and to all, who then constituted the human race. It has the strongest aspect of universality. The reason for it, namely, the assailing the image of God, not only embraces all earthly humanity, but carries us into the spiritual and supernatural world. The particular law afterwards made for the Jews refers back to this universality in that repeated declaration which makes it to differ from all other Jewish laws that do not contain it: “This shall be a statute to you in all your places, in all generations.” The language is universal, the reason is universal, the consequences of impunity are universal.
Such, too, was the sentiment of all antiquity, a thing we are not to despise in endeavoring to ascertain what is fundamental in the ideas of ethics and jurisprudence. The law for the capital punishment of homicide was everywhere. The very superstitions connected with it, as shown in the expiatory ceremonies, are evidence of the deep sense of the human mind, that this crime, above all others, must have its adequate atonement; and that this could only be, life for life, blood for blood—

φόνοι φόνους αἰτούμενοι.

Even in the case of accidental homicide, an expiatory cleansing was demanded. These ideas appear sometimes in harsh and revolting forms. The language is occasionally terrific, especially as it appears in the ancient tragedy; but all this only shows the strength and universality of the feeling, together with the innate sense of justice on which it was grounded. Aristotle reckons the punishment of murder by death among the νόμιμα ἄγραπτα, the universal “unwritten laws,” as they are styled by Sophocles in the Antigone, 451, although, in the latter passage, the reference is to the rights of burial, and the sacredness of the human body—ideas closely connected with the primitive law against murder as a violation of the divine image in humanity. All of this class of ordinances are spoken of as very ancient. No man knew from whence they came, nor when they had their origin.

οὐ γάρ τι νῦν γε κἀχθές, ἀλλ’ ἀεί ποτε

ζῇ ταῦτα, κοὐδεὶς οἶδεν ἐξ ὅτου ’φάνη.

Not now, nor yesterday, but evermore
Live these; no memory tracks their birth.

To the same effect does the philosopher quote the lines of Empedocles, περί τοῦ μὴ κτείνειν τὸ ἔμψυχον, “on the crime of taking life,” or slaying that which has soul in it,

Very much in the language of the Hebrew phrase הֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ. Numbers 31:19. For this, he says—namely, the punishment of homicide by death—is not the law in one place, and not in another,

ἀλλὰ τὸ μὲν πάντων νόμιμον.

See Aristotle’s Rhetorica, lib. i. ch. xiii. Comp. also Sophocles: Ajax, 1343, and the Œdipus Tyran. 867.

The “blood revenge,” or rather, “the blood vengeance,” as it should be called, Die Blutrache, has an odious sound, because pains have been taken to connect with it odious associations, but it is only a mode of denoting this strong innate idea of justice demanding retribution in language corresponding to the horror of the crime,—the enormity of which, according to the Scripture, is not simply that it is productive of inconvenience—pain and deprivation to the individual and loss to society—but that it is assailing the image of God, the distinguishing essence of humanity. So that it seems to justify the Rabbins in what might otherwise appear an extravagant saying, namely, that “he who slays one man intentionally is as though he had slain all men.” He has assailed humanity; as far as lies in his power, he has aimed at the destruction of the human race. The same thought, Koran, v. 35.

The crime of murder must be punished, the land must be cleansed; and so before organized human government had, or could have had existence, to a sufficient extent for prompt and methodical judicial processes, it was not merely permitted, but enjoined upon, those nearest the transaction, to execute the divine sentence. Those who were disobedient to this command were themselves stained with blood, or as long as it was unexecuted. Hence the phrase גוֹאֵל הַדָּם, which becomes the general name for the pursuer or prosecutor; whence it has passed into the law language of almost all criminal codes. He is also called the Redeemer or rescuer. In this sense it is transferred to the Great Redeemer, our next of kin, the avenger of the spiritual murder of our race, as against the great demonic homicide who is called ἀνθρωποκτόνος�’ ἀρχῆς—“a manslayer from the beginning,” John 8:44; compare also Job 19:25. From the criminal side of justice, we may say, this term, by a very natural transition of ideas, is carried to the civil, and so the Goel, or Redeemer, is also the next of kin who buys back the lost inheritance.

Sometimes the objection to capital punishment assumes a pious tone, and quotes the Scriptural declaration: “Vengeance is mine.” See, however, the true interpretation of this phrase, as given by the Apostle himself, Romans 12:19, and in what immediately follows in Genesis 13:0, about the magistracy as ordained of God. It is God’s justice, not merely delegated to, but imposed upon, human society, thus making it the very antithesis of that revenge with which it is so sophistically confounded. The odious term, it may be repeated, is far more applicable to that doctrine of expediency which, in discarding the idea of desert, has nothing deeper or firmer to build upon than the shifting notions of human convenience, and the antagonism of human wills. There is undoubtedly given to men great freedom in determining the details of jurisprudence, and in fixing the gradations of punishment. Here, to a certain extent, expediency may come in as a modifying influence, harmonizing with the higher moral principle which cannot be kept out of law without destroying all its healthy, conserving power. But some things are fundamental; and they cannot be changed without weakening all the sanctions of human government. Among these is the punishment due to the crime of blood-shedding. God has fixed it. The State, indeed, may disobey; it may contemn other social ordinances having a like divine institution; but in so doing it discards its own highest idea, and rejects the only foundation on which it can permanently rest. It builds alone on human wills, and that is building on the sand.

The reason here given: “for in the image of God made he man,” seems to have an intensity of meaning which forbids its being confined to the spiritual or immaterial. It penetrates even the corporeal or organic nature, as Lange appears to intimate. There is a sense in which it may be said to inhere even in the body, and, through it, to be directly assailable. The human body itself is holy, as the residence of the Spirit, as the temple in which this divine image is enshrined, and through which it is reflected. Compare the ναὸς Θεοῦ, 1 Corinthians 3:16. Something like this seems to be implied in the strange expression הֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ, as it occurs, Numbers 31:19, and which is identical with the ancient Arabian phrase قتل ذـفس, as found in the Koran. See Surat. v. 35, صن قتل ذـفس دـغم ذـغس , “he who slays a soul except for a soul,” that is, unless in retribution for a soul. This is the literal sense, strange as it may sound; but נֶפֶשׁ may be taken here in the general sense of person, as ψυχὴ is used in several passages of the New Testament—the soul put for the whole personality. Or there may be the ellipsis of some such word as אֹהֶל, the tabernacle of the soul, an assault upon which is an assault upon the soul itself; and this may also be the explanation of the Hebrew phrase מַכֵּה נֶםֶשׁ, he who smiteth a soul. Compare Genesis 37:21, לֹא נַכֶּנּוּ נֶפֶשׁ, “let us not smite him (Joseph) the soul.” But in a still closer sense the body may be called the image of the soul, the reflection of the soul, even as the soul is the image, or in the image of God. And this furnishes good ground for such transfer of the sense, even to that which is most outward in the human constitution. We may trace the shadow of the idea as surviving even in the Greek poetry, where the human body is styled ἄγαλμα θεῶν. See Euripides: “Suppliants,” 616, where it is applied to the decomposed and mouldering remains of the Argive warrior when carried to the funeral-pyre:

τὸ σὸν ἄγαλμα πόλεος ἐκκομίζομαι
πρὸς πυρὰν ὑβρισθέν.

To the funeral-pyre thine image bear I forth
Marred as it is.
It is spoken of as something sacred to the patron deity of the Argive state, like a statue or a shrine. See also Plato: Phœdrus, 251 A. The expression הֹרֵג נֶפֶשׁ may also have some connection with the old idea of the blood as the seat of the soul, regarded as representing it, and thus indirectly bearing the image of God. In any view, there is implied something holy in humanity, and even in the human body—something in it transcending matter or material organization, and which is not thus inherent in any other organic life, or corporeal structure.

But the murderer, too, it may be said, is made in the image of God, and therefore should he be spared. The answer to this is simply the citation of the divine command. His life is expressly demanded. He is חֵרֶם, ἀνάθεμα, one devoted. See 1 Kings 20:42 : “Because thou hast sent away אישׁ חֶרְמי, the man of my doom (or of my dooming), therefore shall thy soul be in place of his soul,” נַפְשְׁךָ תַּחַת נַפְשוֹ. See also עַם חֶרְמִי, “the people of my doom,” Isaiah 34:5. The judicial execution of the murderer is truly a sacrifice, an expiation, whatever may be objected to such an idea by a false humanitarianism which seems to have no thought how it is belittling humanity in its utter ignoring of anything above man, or of any relation between the human and the eternal justice.

Harsh as they may seem, we need these ideas to give the necessary strength to our relaxing judicial morality, and a more healthy tone to the individual and social conscience. The age is fast going into the other extreme, and crime, especially the crime of blood-shedding, is increasing in the ratio of our spurious tenderness. The harshness is now exhibiting its other and more hypocritical phase. Those who speak with contempt of the divine law, are constantly railing at society as itself the criminal in the punishment of crime, and as especially malignant and revengeful in discharging the divinely imposed duty of executing justice upon the murderer.—T. L.]


See the Doctrinal and Ethical. Genesis 8:20 would present a good text for a thanksgiving sermon. In connection with Genesis 9:21, it would be suitable for an exposition of thankfulness. Genesis 9:21 would be adapted to a sermon on human sinfulness in the light of the divine compassion. How God’s speaking in his heart re-echoes in the innermost heart of the believer. Genesis 9:22 would be suitable for a representation of the connection between the kingdom of grace, and the kingdom of nature with its laws. Genesis 9:1, A marriage-blessing at the celebration of a wedding. Genesis 9:2-3, The worth and sacredness of the creaturely life (sparing of the animal, consecration of all enjoyment). Genesis 9:5, The holy estimation of human life. The chief point of view in the whole Section is the covenant of God with Noah as the type of all covenants that follow; since they all rest upon the personal relation of God to man; all are of God’s free institution; all, moreover, as ethically personal alliances (after the manner of a contract), are an interchange of divine promises and human vows, of divine claims and human faith; all are sacramentally sealed. How God binds himself in his sacramental signs, and in them truly remembers the man who remembers him. How the divine eye of grace and the human eye of faith meet each other in the sacrament. The rainbow, the extraordinary phenomenon of heaven, and, on that account, an image of the divine kindness, compassion, and friendship. The light of the heavenly sun in the colors of the earthly rainbow.

Starke: Genesis 8:20. The building of the altar; probably upon the mountains of Ararat. Noah valued thankfulness before all earthly business. It is not said through what means God made known to Noah his acceptance of the offering. We may conjecture that the offering was set on fire by fire from heaven (but the expression of satisfaction here follows the burning of the offering).

Genesis 8:21, concerning the abuse of these words in the exculpation of sin (in many ways does the element of mildness in them become misapprehended).—Genesis 9:1, Because before the flood God was provoked at the sin of unchastity, it becomes necessary, in consideration of the fearful display of wrath, to show that he is not hostile to the lawful connection of man and woman, nor does he condemn, but rather designs through it the multiplication of the human race. Therefore, in this text is the marriage-state praised and celebrated, since thereout flows not only the order of the family and the world, but also the existence of the church.

Genesis 9:3, Just as every herb does not serve for food, so also is not everything thereto serviceable that, by means of life, moves upon the earth.

Genesis 9:4, The aim of the prohibition is mainly that the way of cruelty may be barred to men.

Genesis 9:6, The magistracy is God’s ordinance, and derives the sword from no other authority (Romans 13:14). Starke prefers the view that the rainbow had existed before the flood, as in like manner he supposes, that before the flood men might eat of flesh.

Genesis 9:15, Luther: When the Scripture says “God remembers,” it means that we feel and are conscious that he remembers it, namely, when he outwardly presents himself in such a manner, that we, thereby, take notice that he thinks thereon. Therefore it all comes to this: as I present myself to God, so does he present himself to me.

Schröder: After God’s curse on the occasion of the fall, we meet with the offerings of Cain and Abel; again do offering and altar connect themselves with the judicial curse of the flood.—“The Lord smelled a sweet savor,” in the Hebrew, a savor of rest (resting, or satisfaction); (“it denotes that God rests from his wrath and has become propitiated.” Luther). Therefore is it a savor of satisfaction—a chosen expression that becomes fixed in its application to the burnt-offering.—“Jehovah spake to his heart,” that is, he resolved with himself. In the creation of man, Genesis 1:26; Genesis 2:18, and also in his destruction, there precedes a formal decree of God; and no less does the divine counsel precede the covenant for man’s preservation. Prayer was always connected with the sacrifice; in fact, every offering was nothing else than an embodied prayer.—While the earth remaineth. There is, therefore, even to the earth in its present state, a limit indicated (2 Peter 3:5; 2Pe 3:7; 2 Peter 3:10; Isaiah 66:0.; Revelation 20:11; Revelation 21:1).—Genesis 9:1, The Noachian covenant is a covenant of Elohim, a covenant with the universal nature. Luther finds in our Section the inauguration of an order of instruction, of economy, and of defence (Noah’s offering, the blessing of the family, inauguration of the magistracy).

Genesis 9:7, God does not love death, but life. The covenant is re-established, for as made with Adam it had failed. According to Calvin the rainbow had existed before, but was here again consecrated as a sign and a pledge.


[20][Genesis 8:20.—מִכֹּל—from all the pure of the cattle, and from all the pure fowl. The word denotes selection. It can hardly mean one of every kind deemed pure among the cattle; much less can it have this large meaning in respect to the fowl (or the birds), among whom the pure species far excelled the impure, which are mentioned as exceptions (twenty-four in number), Leviticus 11:13; Deuteronomy 14:12. If Noah had had every earthly species of bird in the ark (seven of all that were regarded as pure), and offered of each in sacrifice, it would have required an immense altar. There was evidently a selection, and such use of the term מִכֹּל here may serve as a guide in respect to its antecedent uses, justifying us in limiting it to the more common kinds of all species known to Noah, and inhabiting the portion of the earth visited by the flood.—T. L.]

[21][Genesis 8:21.—נִיחֹחַ A word of a very peculiar form, like נִיצֹץ, Isaiah 1:31. Aben Ezra compares it with נַאֲפוּף, Hosea 2:4. It denotes rest intensively; the rest, not of mere quietude, or cessation, but of satisfaction, complacency, delight. An odor of rest—of complete and gratified acceptance. Compare the suggested language, Zephaniah 3:17, expressing God’s great satisfaction in Jerusalem, יַחֲרִישׁ בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ, He shall rest in his love. The word ניחח occurs here for the first time, and is evidently meant to have a connection with the name נֹחַ (Noah), but becomes the common phrase (ריח ניהח) to denote the pleasant odor of the sacrifice, in Exodus, Leviticus, etc. Hence the New Testament Hebraism as seen in the word εὐωδία, in such passages as 2 Corinthians 2:15, a sweet savour of Christ, Ephesians 5:2, a sweet-smelling savour, Philippians 4:18, as also the use of ὀσμή, 2 Corinthians 2:16, the savour of life unto life. The Jewish interpreters here, as usual, are afraid of the anthropophatism, and so the Targum of Onkelos renders generally, The Lord received the offering graciously. In like manner the Jewish translator Arabs Erpenianus. Aben Ezra affects a horror of the literal sense. חלילה, he says—“O profane! away with the thought that God should smell or eat.” With all their reverence for their old Scriptures, these Jewish interp reters had got a taste of philosophy, and hence their Philonic fastidiousness, as ever manifested in a desire to smooth over all such language.—T. L.]

[22][Genesis 8:22.—חֹרֶף, rendered winter—more properly autumn, though it may include the winter, as קַיִץ may include the spring.—T. L.]


[1][Ch. 9. Genesis 9:5.—דִּמְכֶם לְנַפְשׁוֹתֵיכֶם, your blood of (or for) your souls. Maimonides renders it דמכם שהוא נפשותיכם, your blood which is your souls. LXX., αἶμα τῶν ψυχῶν ὑμῶν, blood of your souls.—T. L.]

Genesis 9:6; Genesis 9:6.—בְּאָדָם. E. V. by man. This would seem rather to require the term בְּיַד, by the hand of man, the usual Hebrew phrase to denote instrumentality. That it was to be by human agency is very clear, but the ב in באדם may be better taken, as it is by Jona ben Gannach (Abul-Walid), in his Hebrew Grammar, p. 33, to denote substitution,—for man, in place of man—life for life, or blood for blood, as it is so strongly and frequently expressed in the Greek tragedy. The preposition ב, in this place, he says, is equivalent to בַּעֲבוּר, on account of, and he refers to 2 Samuel 14:7, “Give us the man who smote his brother, and we will put him to death, בְּנִפֶשׁ אָחִיו, for the soul (the life, or in place of) his brother,” Exodus 20:2, וְנִמְכַּר בִּגְנֵבָתוֹ, “and he shall be sold for his theft,” as also, among many other places, to Genesis 44:5. וְהוּא נַחֵשׁ יְנַהֵשׁ בּוֹ, where, instead of “divining by it,” as in our English versions and the Vulgate, he gives what seems a more consistent rendering: “he will surely divine for it” (בעבורו), that is, find out by divination, who has in his possession the lost cup. Such also seems to have been the idea of the LXX. in Genesis 9:6, where they have nothing for באדם but ἀντὶ τοῦ αἵματος αὐτοῦ, in return for his blood. Arabs Erpenianus renders it فر قول اذـسا ن by the word, or command, of man, indicating a judicial sentence. So the Targum of Onkelos, by the witnesses according to the word of judgment, and so also Rushi and Aben Ezra, בארם בעדים, by man, that is, by the witnesses.—T. L.]

[3][Genesis 9:13.—קַשְׁתִּי, my bow, as just before, Genesis 9:11, בְּרִיתִי, my covenant. The language seems, on the very face of it, to imply a thing previously existing, called, from its remarkable appearance, the bow of God, and now appointed as a sign of the previously existing covenant. Had it been a new creation, the language would more properly have been: I will make, or set, a bow in the cloud. See remarks (in the Introd. to the I. ch. p. 144) on the rainbow as the symbol of constancy in nature, from its constant and regular appearance whenever the sun shines forth after the rain. For further views on this, and for the opinions of the Jewish commentators, see also note, p. 328.—T. L.]

[4][Genesis 9:14.—This verse should be connected, in translation, with the one following. As it is rendered in E. V., the appearing of the bow is made the subject of the sentence (though apparently the predicate), whereas the sequence of the conjunction ו, and of the tenses, would give the sense thus: And it shall come to pass, when I bring the cloud, etc., and whenever the bow appears in the cloud, that I will remember my covenant; the conjunction before זָכַרְתּי having an illative force.—T. L.]

[5] [The flame mounting heavenward from the great altar of Noah, the vast column of smoke and incense majestically ascending in the calm, clear atmosphere, transcending seemingly the common law of gravity, and thus combining the ideas of tranquillity and power, would of itself present a striking image of the natural sublime. But, beyond this, there is a moral, we may rather say, a spiritual sublimity, to one who regards the scene in those higher relations which the account here indicates, and which other portions of Scripture make so clear. It offers to our contemplation the most vivid of contrasts. There comes to mind, on the one hand, the gross selfishness of the antediluvian world, ever tending downward more and more to earth and a sensual animality—in a word, devoting life to that which is lower than the lowest life itself; whilst now, on the contrary, there rises up in all its rich suggestiveness, the idea of sacrifice, of life devotion to that which is higher than all life, as symbolized in the flame ascending from the offered victim. It is, moreover, the spirit of confession, of penitence, of perfect resignation to the will of God as the rational rule of life,—all, too, prefiguring One who made the great sacrifice of himself for the sins of the world, and who, although historically unknown to Noah, was essentially embraced in that recognition of human demerit, and of the divine holiness, which is styled “the righteousness of faith.” Whilst thus the new spirit of sacrifice ascends from the baptized earth, heaven is represented as bending down to meet the symbol of reconciliation; the infinite descends to the finite, and humanity, in verification of the Scripture paradox, rises through its very act of lowliness and self-abasement. The wrath all gone, infinite compassion takes now its place, and this is expressed in that striking Hebraism, רִיחַ נִיחֹחַ “the odor of rest,” typifying the εὐωδία Χριστοῦ (2 Corinthians 2:4) “the sweet savor of Christ in them who are saved.”

The writer of this old account knew as well as Philo, or Strauss, or any modem rationalists, that God did not smell nor eat; but the emotional truthfulness of his inspiration made him adopt the strongest and the most emotional language without fear of inconsistency or anticipated cavil. “How gross!” says the infidel, “this representation of God, snuffing up the odor of burning flesh;” but it is he who “snuffs” at God’s holy altar (Malachi 1:13). It is he who is “gross” in his profane mockery of a spirituality which his carnal earthliness utterly fails to comprehend.—T. L.]

[6] [There is no need here of labored attempts to remove apparent inconsistencies. The most simple and direct interpretation of Scripture is generally that which is most conservative of its honor as well as of its truthfulness. The passage seems to assign the same reason for sparing the world that is given Genesis 6:5-6, for its destruction; and in both cases there is used the same particle כִּי. Some would render it although: “I will not again smite, etc., although the imagination of the heart of man is evil.” Others, like Jacobus, would connect it with the words בַּעֲכוּר הָאָדָם for man’s sake, intimating that it should never more be done for this reason. But nothing of the kind helps the difficulty, if there be any difficulty. There are but very few places (if any) where כִּי can be rendered although. The passages cited by Noldius under this head in almost every case fail to bear him out. It is n particle denoting a reason, and sometimes a motive, like the two senses of the Greek ὅτι and the Latin quod, or the two English conjunctions because and that. The idea presented by Lange gives the key. Sin is both guilt and disease. Man’s depravity, therefore, is the object both of vengeance and compassion, two states of feeling which can exist, at the same time, perfect and unweakened, only in the divine mind, but which are necessarily presented to us in a succession, produced by varying circumstances on the finite or human side. It is in reference to the former that the language is used, Genesis 6:5-6, where כִּי denotes the reason of the vengeance. Here, in like manner, it expresses the reason of the mercy. Noah’s offering had made the difference, not changing God, but placing man in a different relation to him as viewed under a changed aspect. He is the poor creature, as well as the guilty creature. He is depraved from his youth, not meaning, we think, a less severe description of his sinfulness, as Lange seems to intimate, but giving a deeper view of it, as a greater calamity. It is not the mere habit-hardening or world-hardening of manhood and old age, as contrasted with the comparative innocence of childhood; but the seeds of the evil lie deep, away back in his very infancy. It is the hereditary, or disease, aspect that induces the language, which seems like regret on the part of Deity for an act so calamitous, though so just and necessary: “neither will I again smite every living thing as I have done.” It is as though his heart smote him, to use a transplanted Hebraism elsewhere employed of man, or as it is said of David. 1 Samuel 24:6. It would not be a stronger expression, or more anthropopathic, than that used Genesis 6:6,” and he was grieved at his heart.” It is not, however, simply the idea of hopelessness in view of man’s incorrigibility, but an expression of holy and infinite compassion, such as the closest criticism will more and more discover as abounding in this old book of Genesis, even in the midst of the severest threatening of judgment. The greatness of man’s sin reveals the greatness of the divine sorrow on account of it. The sinner, too, is allowed to feel it, and make it a ground of his pleading for forgiveness; as the Psalmist prays, Psalms 25:11pardon mine iniquity, for (כִּי) it is great.” In that passage, too, some would render כִּי although, to the great marring of the force and pathos of the supplication. Christ did not die for small sins, as Cranmer has well said.

It is a peculiarity of the Holy Scriptures thus to set forth unshrinkingly the sharp contrasts, as we may reverently call them, in the divine attributes. None but inspired writers could venture to do this; and how boldly do they present them! often, too, in closest connection without betraying any fear of cavil, or charge of inconsistency. The tremendous wrath, and the most melting mercy appear in the same chapters, and sometimes in immediately succeeding verses. Among others, compare Nahum 1:1; Nahum 1:7. What a burning stream of indignation finds its closing cadence in the words: “Jehovah, he is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, he knoweth them that put their trust in him.” Such strong contrasts appear especially in portions of Scripture which the careless reader passes over as indelicate, like Ezekiel 16:0, that awful picture of impurity and utter depravity, as presented in the history of the meretricious and utterly abandoned woman who symbolized the Jewish and Israelitish people. A too fastidious taste would forbid the reading of that chapter, at least in any public religious service, but it is this most revolting representation (as some would style it) which is the very thing that makes the divine forgiveness and compassion at the close so full of a melting tenderness, beyond what any other kind of language could express: “Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish with thee a covenant of eternity. Then shalt thou remember thy ways, and be ashamed, and thou shalt know that I am thy Lord, that thou mayest remember and be confounded, and never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame, when I am pacified toward thee for all that thou hast done, saith Adonai Elohim, thy Lord and thy God.” The Hebrew is, literally, when I have made an atonement (בְּכַפְרִי לָךְ) for thee, or a covering for thee. Ezekiel 16:63. It is in these strong contrasts,—in these apparent inconsistencies, as some would call them,—that the great power and pathos of the Scripture appear.—T. L.]

[7][The opinion of Delitzsch is not so broad as this. He seems, rather, to hold that the rainbow existed in nature before the flood, but had not appeared, on account of the absence of the conditions. See Delitzsch, p. 276.—T. L.]

[8][Our word humanity will not do here at all; as it corresponds to the German menschheit; whilst our humanitarianism, on account of its abuse, would be still worse. It is defined by what follows.—T. L.]

[9][Plato, in the Cratylus, fancifully connects it with εἴρω, εἴρομαι = φημι, to speak, and gives it the idea of messenger (Hermes], or interpretation.—T. L.]

Verses 18-29


The Revelation of Sin and of Piety in Noah’s Family—The Curse and the Blessing of Noah—The twofold Blessing, and the Blessing in the Curse itself.

Genesis 9:18-29

18And the sons of Noah that went forth of the ark were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan. 19These are the three sons of Noah; and of them was the whole earth overspread. 20And Noah began10 to be a husbandman, and he planted a vineyard; 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. 23And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. 24And Noah awoke from his wine [his sleep of intoxication], and knew what his younger son had done unto him. 25And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants11 shall he be unto his brethren. 26And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem [Jehovah, God of the name, or who preserves the name]; and Canaan shall be his servant. 27God shall enlarge Japheth12 [one who spreads abroad], and he shall dwell13 in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. 28 And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. 29And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.


1. The Significance of this Jehovistic Section. This second event in the life of Noah after the flood is evidently of the highest meaning; as was the first, namely, Noah’s offering and God’s blessing and covenant. In the first transaction there are delineated the ground-features of the new constitution of the earth, as secured by the covenant of God with the pious Noah. In the present Section we learn the advance of culture, but we recognize also the continuance of sin in the new human race; still, along with the earlier contrast between piety and perverseness, there comes in now the new contrast of a blessed life of culture as compared with the religious life of a divine cultus, or worship. In what Noah says of his sons, we read the ground-forms of the new state, and of the world-historical partition of mankind. In Knobel’s representation of it, this higher significance of the Section is wholly effaced. In the curse upon Canaan (according to this view), and in his appointment to servitude, the Jehovist would give an explanation of the fact, that the Canaanites were subjugated by the Hebrews, and that Phænician settlers among the Japhethites14 appear to have had a similar fate. But that the curse was pronounced upon Canaan, and not upon Ham, was because other Hamitic nations, such as the Egyptians, etc., were not in the same evil case. Still, it is not Canaan, but Ham himself, who is set forth as the shameless author of the guilt, (?) because the writer would refer certain shameless usages of the Hamitic nations to their first ancestor. Now, on the simple supposition of the truth of the prediction, and of the connection between the guilt of the ancestor, and the corruption of his descendants, this construction must fall to the ground. Knobel cites it as “an ancient view,” that the cursings of those who are distinguished as men of God, have power and effect as well as their blessings.

2.Genesis 9:19. By them was the whole earth overspread.—A main point of our narration. “The second event in the life of Noah after the flood shows us the germs for the future development of the human race in a threefold direction, which is prefigured in the character of his three sons.” To this end the repetition of their names. The mention of Canaan introduces the mention of the land in the following verse, as used for the inhabitants of the land; as in Genesis 10:25; Genesis 11:1, and other passages in which cities and lands are frequently named instead of their population.” Keil.

3.Genesis 9:20-21. Noah’s Work, his Indulgence and his Error. The translation: “and Noah began to be a husbandman” is rightly set aside by Delitzsch and Keil. The word for husbandman has the article, and is, therefore, in apposition with Noah. Noah, as husbandman, began to plant a vineyard. The agriculture that had been interrupted by the flood, he again carries on, and makes it more complete by means of the new culture of the vine. Armenia, where he landed with the ark, is an anciently known vine-land. “The ten thousand (Xen., Anab. 4, 4, 9) found in Armenia old and well flavored wines: even at this day the vine grows there, producing wine of great excellence, even at the height of four thousand feet above the level of the sea (Ritter: Geography, x. p. 554). That the culture of the vine came from Asia is well known. The Greek myth ascribes it to Dyonysus or Bacchus, representing it, sometimes, as derived from the Indians, and again, as belonging to the Phrygians, who were related to the Armenians (Diod. Sic. 362; Strabo, 10).” Knobel. The story designates a hill on the northwest, adjacent to the Great Ararat, and furnishing the means of its ascent, as the region where Noah set out his vine-plants. The village of Arguri (Agorri), which in 1840 was destroyed in an eruption of Ararat, stood upon the place referred to. Frequent projections of stones, and outpouring streams of lava and mud, have, in the course of time, destroyed all the fertile soil of Ararat (K. Koch, in “Piper’s Year Book,” 1852, p. 28).” Delitzsch. The wine-garden of Noah is a mild reflex of paradise in the world of the fallen human race; and this enjoyment, in its excessively sinful use, to which Noah led the way, although he was not aware of its effect, has become a reflex of Adam’s enjoyment of the tree of knowledge; with this difference, however, that Noah erred in ignorance, and not in the form of conscious transgression. Intoxication by wine makes men lax in respect to sexual sin; and this connection is gently indicated in the fact that Noah, as he lay unguarded in his tent, exposed himself contrary to the law of modesty. In the error of the father there reveals itself the character of the sons.

4.Genesis 9:22-23. The Behavior of the Sons. Ham’s conduct was, at first, a sin of omission. He saw the nakedness (the shame) of his father, and neither turned away his eyes nor covered him; then he told it to his brethren without, and this was his sin of commission. His behavior had the character not merely of lustful feeling, but of utter shamelessness; whereas the act of the two brothers presents a beautifully vivid image of delicacy, being at the same time an act of modesty and of piety. Reverence, piety, and chastity, are, in children, the three foundations of a higher life; whereas in impiety and sensual associations, a lower tendency reveals itself. Out of the virtues and the vices of the family come the virtues and the vices of nations, and of the world. At the same time, the manner in which the two sons treat the case, presents a charming image of prudence and quick decision. They seize the first best robe that comes to hand, and that was the שִׁמְלָה, spread it out, and as they go backward with averted faces, lay it upon the nakedness of their father.

5.Genesis 9:24-29. Noah’s Curse and Blessing. His end.—And Noah awoke from his wine; that is, the intoxication from wine (see 1 Samuel 1:14; 1 Samuel 25:37).—And knew.—This seems to suppose that his sons had told him, which, however, may have been occasioned by his asking about the robe that covered him. The whole proceeding, however, must have come to light, and that, too, to his own humiliation.—His younger son (literally, his son, the little, or the less; see Genesis 5:32).—The effect upon him of the account is an elevated prophetic state of soul, in which the language of the seer takes the form of poetry.—Cursed be Canaan.—The fact that he did not curse the evil-doer himself, but his son, is explained away, according to Origen, in a Hebrew Midrash, which says that the young Canaan had first seen his grandfather in this condition, and told it to his father—clearly an arbitrary exegesis. According to Hävernik and Keil, all the sons of Ham were included in the curse, but the curse of Ham was concentrated on Canaan. Keil and Hengstenberg find, moreover, a motive in the name כְּנַעַן, which does not mean, originally, a low country, but the servile. “Ham gave to his son the name of obedience, a thing which he himself did not practise.” Hengstenberg supposes that Canaan was already following his father’s footsteps in impiety and wickedness. According to Hofmann and Delitzsch, Canaan had the curse imposed upon him because he was the youngest son of Ham (Genesis 10:6), as Ham was the youngest son of Noah. “The great sorrow of heart which Ham had occasioned to his father was to be punished in the suffering of a similar experience from his own youngest son.” Rightly does Keil reject this. The exposition of Knobel we have already cited; according to it the later condition of the Canaanites was only antedated in the prophecy of Noah. Before all things must we hold fast to this, that the language of Noah is an actual prophecy; and not merely an expression of personal feeling. That the question has nothing to do with personal feeling is evident from the fact, that Ham was not personally cursed. According to the natural relations, the youngest grandchildren would be, in a special manner, favorites with the grandfather. If now, notwithstanding this, Noah cursed his grandchild, Canaan, it can only he explained on the ground that in the prophetic spirit he saw into the future, and that the vision had for its point of departure the then present natural state of Canaan. We may also say, that Ham’s future was contained in the future of Canaan; the future of the remaining Hamites he left undecided, without curse and without blessing, although the want of blessing was a significant omen. Had, however, Noah laid the curse on Ham, all the sons of Ham would have been denoted in like manner with himself; even as now it is commonly assumed that they were, though without sufficient ground (see Delitzsch, p. 281). There is no play upon the name Canaan, as upon the name Japheth—a thing which is to be noted. But that in the behavior of Canaan Noah had a point of departure for his prophecy, we may well assume with Hengstenberg.—A servant of servants; that is, the lowest of servants. If the language had had in view already the later extermination of the Canaanites, it must have had a different style. The form of the expression, therefore, testifies to the age of the prophecy. We must also bear in mind, that the relation of servant in this case denotes no absolute relation in the curse, or any developed slave relation, any more than the relation of service which was imposed upon Esau in respect to Jacob. There even lies in it a hidden blessing. The common natures must, of themselves, take a position of inferiority; through subordination to the nobler character are they saved, in the discipline and cultivation of the Spirit.—Blessed be Jehovah, God of Shem.—The blessing upon Shem has the form of a doxology to Jehovah, whereby, as Luther has remarked, it is distinguished as a most abundant blessing, which finally reaches its highest point in the promised seed. “If Jehovah is the God of Shem, then is Shem the recipient and the heir of all the blessings of salvation which God, as Jehovah, procures for humanity.” Keil.—And Canaan shall be his servant.—The word לָמוֹ (regularly לָהֶם) is taken by Gesenius as a poetical expression for לוֹ; Delitzsch refers it, as plural, to both brothers—Keil and Knobel to their descendants. The descendants, however, are represented in the ancestor, and, therefore, the explanation of Gesenius gives the only clear idea.—God shall enlarge Japheth, [or, as Lange renders it], God give enlargement to the one who spreads abroad.—In the translation we retain the play upon the word, and the explanation of the name Japheth. Keil explains the word (meaning literally, to make room, to give space for outspreading) as metaphorical. To make room is equivalent to the bestowment of happiness and prosperity. It must be observed, however, that the name Shem, and the blessing of Shem, denotes the highest concentration; whilst in opposition to this the name Japheth and the blessing of Japheth, denotes the highest expansion, not only geographically, but also in regard to the spread of civilization through the earth, and its conquest both outwardly and intellectually. This is the spiritual mission of Japhethism to this day—namely, the mental conquest of the world. The culture life of Japheth, as humanitarian, scientific, stands in harmonious contrast with the cultus, or religionism, of Shem. Therefore, too, must Japheth’s blessing come from Elohim.—And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.—The words, he shall dwell, are by some (Onkel, Dathe, Baumgarten) referred to Elohim. But this had already been expressed in the blessing of Shem, and had therefore nothing to do with the blessing of Japheth. What is said relates to Japheth; and that, too, neither in the sense that the Japhethites shall settle among the Shemites, or that they shall conquer them in their homes (Clericus, Von Bohlen, and others), but that Japheth’s dwelling in the tents of Shem shall be in the end his uniting with him in religious communion (Targum Jonathan, Hieronymus, Calvin, and others). The opposite interpretation (Michaelis, Gesenius, De Wette, Knobel, and others), which explains Shem here (שם) as meaning literally name, or fame (dwell in the tents of renown), appears to have proceeded from a misapprehension of the prophetic significance of the language. To dwell in the tents of any one, Knobel holds, cannot mean religious communion. That would be true, if the one referred to had not immediately before been denoted as an observer of the true religion. That the Japhethites, that is, the Greeks, early dwelt in the tents of renown, is, in this respect, a matter by itself, which had already been set forth in Japheth’s own blessing, as implied in what is said of his expansion. As the brothers, whatever contrast there might have been in their characters, had been one in their piety towards their father, so must their posterity become one in this, that they shall finally exchange with each other their respective blessings—in other words, that Japheth shall bring into the tents of Shem what he has won from the world, and, in return for it, share in the blessing of the Name—the name Jehovah, or the true religion.—And Noah lived.—In the Armenian legend, Arnojoten, in the plain of the Araxes, has the name of his place of burial. With the death of Noah, the tenth member of the Genealogical table, ch. v., finds its conclusion.

[Note on the Curse of Canaan—the supposed Curse of Ham—the Blessing op Shem and Japheth. Genesis 9:24. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. וַיִּיקֶץ, LXX. ἐξένηψε, became fully conscious of his condition. Comp. 1 Corinthians 15:24. וַיֵּדַע, knew, became sensible of. It is not the word that would have been employed had he learned it from the information of others. It denotes intelligence—by the eye, as Isaiah 6:9,—by the touch, Genesis 19:33,—experience by any sense, Deuteronomy 11:2,—or by the exercise of the mind as following such experience, Judges 13:21. Had done unto him, עָשָׂה לו. This is, something more than an omission or a neglect. The word is a very positive one. Something unmistakable, something very shameful had been done unto the old man in his unconscious state, either the stripping off his robe, or some act of abuse or mockery of such a nature that it becomes manifest to him immediately on his recovery. It may be remarked, too, that אֵת אֲשֶׁר may more properly be rendered, indefinitely, a thing which, or something which, his youngest son had done unto him. But who was the culprit? Of this, too, the patriarch appears to have been immediately sensible, or to have immediately inferred it from something he must have known of the supposed perpetrator. He seems to have had no doubt. Now Ham had done nothing to his father. On discovery of his state he hastens to his brothers, it may be with the same filial intentions that they more promptly carried out. The sight appears to have been accidental and involuntary. The word is וַיַּרְא, he saw, not וַיַּבֵּט, he looked at, spectavit, ἐθεάσατο, gazed at, implying interest, emotion. There is in the account no intimation of any of that scoffing demeanor that some commentators have so gratuitously charged upon him. He saw and told his brothers. At all events, his fault, if there was one, was simply an omission, which seems to fall altogether short of the force of the words עָשָׂה לוֹ, had done unto him, regarded, too, as something obvious or immediately discoverable by the one who had suffered the indignity. There seems to be a careful avoidance of particularity. The language has an euphemistic look, as though intimating something too vile and atrocious to be openly expressed. Thus regarded, everything seems to point to some wanton act done by the very one who is immediately named in the severe malediction that follows: “Cursed be Canaan.” He was the youngest son of Ham, as he was also the youngest son of Noah according to the well-established Shemitic peculiarity by which all the descendants are alike called sons. Beside the general designations, sons of Israel, בני ישראל, sons of Judah, etc., see such particular cases as Genesis 29:5, where Laban is called the son of Nahor; Ezra 5:1, where the prophet Zachariah is called the son of Iddo; whereas, as appears from ZaGen Genesis 1:1, he was his grandson. בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן is rendered in our English version, his younger son, to make it applicable to Ham, on the supposition that he was the middle son, younger than Shem. But this will not do. It would be a vague way of designating him at any rate, even if the language would allow it. But the term קטן can only denote the younger (minor) when used of one of two, and standing in contrast with גדול. Standing alone, as it does here, or in connection with three or more, it can only be rendered minimus, the little one distinctively, the least or youngest of all. The terms are derived from the early family state with its disparity of appearance in size, though afterwards retained or transferred to express simply juniority, as the Latin major and minor in like cases. The primitive association, however, is not wholly lost, and this makes the term such a favorite to express the very youngest in the family, who is regarded as the little one long after he has grown up to maturity of age and size. So Benjamin, even when he was twenty-three years of age, was still הַקָּטָן, the little one. The term, it is true, denotes comparative juniority, yet still it derives its etymological emphasis from the fact that he was יֶלֶד זְקֻנּים, τηλυγέτος, the late-born, the child of old age, and so still thought of as the little one of the family. To the father, especially, or to the grandfather, an epithet of this kind retains all its force. Such, most likely, was the relation between Noah and the young Canaan, until his vile abuse of it called out the greater severity of malediction. So David, too, was specially named after he had arrived at robust manhood. The other sons of Jesse are called collectively גְדֹלִים, and are named, moreover, first, “second, third, etc., but of David it is said הוּא הַקָּטָן, he was the little one, minimus, youngest of all. See also Genesis 29:18, where, from a similar association of ideas, Rachel is called בִּתְּךָ הַקְּטַנָּה, thy little daughter, though in that, case there were but two of them.

Everything points to Canaan as the youngest son, at that time, of all the Noachic family. He was the direct object of the curse, which, instead of ascending to the father, contrary to everything else of the kind in the Bible, was so fully accomplished in Canaan’s own direct descendants. So clear is this, that some of the best commentators, including most of the Jewish, although still keeping Ham as the main figure, in consequence of the old prepossession, represent Canaan as playing an active part in the business. It is the current Jewish tradition, that he first saw the exposure and told it to his father. Others ascribe to him a shameful act of mutilation, from whence it is thought came the old fable of Saturn. “It was Canaan that did it,” says Aben Ezra, “although the Scripture does not in words reveal what it was.” Rashi also gives the story of mutilation, יש אוֹמרים סרסו, and he refers to the Sanhedrin of the Talmud. That most acute critic, Scaliger, not only ascribes the act to Canaan, whether it was a positive exposure or anything else, but acquits Ham of all positive blame: “Quid Cham fecit patri suo? Nihil; tantum fratribus de patris probro nuncius fuit.” Scalig., Elench., p. 54.

Ham might have been called the younger son in respect to Shem, as he was the elder in respect to Japheth, but this would neither answer to בן קטן here, nor suit the evidently intended distinctiveness of the designation. On the other hand, he was in no sense minimus or youngest, unless there is wholly disregarded the order in which the names occur at every mention of the three: Shem, Ham, Japheth. See Genesis 5:32; Genesis 6:10; Genesis 7:13; Genesis 9:18; Genesis 10:1. This would make him the middle one, at all events, whether Shem or Japheth were regarded as the eldest. The determination of the latter question would depend upon the interpretation of Genesis 5:32; Genesis 10:21. “Noah was five hundred years old and begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” It is not at all credible that the births of these sons should have been so near together that they all took place at, or even about, the time when Noah was five hundred years old. It appears from Genesis 11:10, that Shem was born about this time, making him about one hundred years old at the beginning of the year after the flood. Now, if we render Genesis 5:32 : “Noah was five hundred years old, and had begotten,” or, when he had begotten, etc., making the series end at that time, which is perfectly consistent with the Hebrew idiom, then the first-named would probably have been the youngest, as last begotten, and marking the date. If they were all born afterwards, the inference would, for the same reason, have been just the other way. In favor of the first view, which would make Japheth the elder, there is the rendering which our English version gives to Genesis 10:21 : Shem, the brother of Japheth the elder, instead of, the elder brother of Japheth. Some commentators have favored this on the ground that Shem must have been born after Noah was five hundred years old, because his own age is stated as being one hundred years, two years (שְׁנָתַיִם or the second year, or, as the dual form more strongly implies, between one and two years) after the flood. But besides the minute trifling of such an interpretation, there is a grammatical difficulty in the way which is insuperable. In the expression הַגָּדוֹל אֲחִי יֶפֶת, the two first ords being in regimen, the epithet הַגָּדוֹל must belong to the whole as a compound: Japheth’s brother, the elder; otherwise it would be like making the adjective in English agree with the possessive case. Compare Judges 2:7, כָּל מַעֲשֵׂה יְהוָֹה הַגָּדוֹל, every great work of the Lord;1 Samuel 17:28, אֱלִיאָב אָחִיו הַגָּדוֹל, Eliab his elder brother, where the pronoun corresponds to the noun in regimen, and, especially, such cases as Judges 1:13; Judges 3:9, which are precisely like this, logically and grammatically: אֲחִי כָלֵב הַקָּטֹן, Caleb’s younger brother, not, the brother of Caleb the younger. So far the sense may be said to be fixed grammatically, but the fair inference from the context, and the fact that appears in it that there were three brothers, would seem to give it not only a comparative, but a superlative sense: the brother of Japheth, the elder one,—implying that there were two brothers older than Japheth, and that Shem was the oldest of them. If we look at the whole context (Ham and his genealogy having been just disposed of), we shall see that there was more reason for the narrator’s saying this than for merely mentioning that Shem was older than Japheth. These considerations would seem to fix the position of Ham as the middle son; although, without them, it might have been reasonably argued that Ham himself was the oldest, from the fact that his descendants, with the exception of Canaan (unless we may reckon the Phœnicians among them), so get the start, in history and civilization, of both Shem and Japheth.

A very strong argument against the hypothesis that Ham was cursed here instead of Canaan, arises from the want of allusion, in all other parts of the Scripture, to any such sweeping malediction as involving all Ham’s descendants. The accomplishment of the curse upon Canaan is mentioned often, and the frequent allusion to them as “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” is only an emphatic repetition of Noah’s words, עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים, servant of servants—not slave of slaves, as some would take it, but an intensive Hebrew idiom to denote the most complete subjugation, such as the Canaanites were reduced to in the days of Joshua and Solomon.15 How utterly strange would such language have sounded, had it been applied, at any time during the national existence of the Jews, to the lordly descendants of Cush, Mitzraim, and Nimrod! “Shall be servant to them,” לָמוֹ, a collective term for the descendants of Shem, who had just been blessed. So is it taken by all the Jewish expositors, who regard the antecedent in Genesis 9:26 as being Shem alone, no other being mentioned or implied, and in Genesis 9:27, as being Shem and the God of Shem who should dwell in his tents. See also Gesenius, Lehrgeb., p. 221. Instead of having ever been servant to Shem, either in the political or commercial sense, Mitzraim held the Israelites for centuries in bondage; Cush (the Æthiopians and the Lubims) conquered them (see 2 Chronicles 12:3; 2 Chronicles 16:8); the nation that Nimrod founded sacked their cities and brought their land under tribute. Instead of being servants to Japheth, the descendants of Ham were founding empires, building immense and populous cities, whilst the sons of the younger brother, with the exception of the Mediterranean or Javanic line, were roaming the dense wilds of Middle and Northern Europe, or the steppes of Central Asia, ever sinking lower and lower into barbarism, as each wave of migration was driven farther on by those that followed. The more abject race, as some would hold them, were the pioneers of the world’s civilization, advancing rapidly in agriculture and the arts, organizing governments admirable for their order though despotic in form, digging canals and lakes to fertilize the desert, everywhere turning the arid earth into a luxuriant garden, whilst the early Gomerites, and those who followed them in their wilderness march to the extreme west of Europe, were falling from iron to copper, from copper to stone, from the implements of Lamech, and of the ark and tower-builders, to the rude flint axes and bone knives that some have regarded as remains of pre-adamite men. The Hamites go down to Egypt, or ascend the Euphrates, and how soon uprise the pyramids, the immense structures of Thebes, the palaces of Babylon and Nineveh, whilst the other wretched wanderers of the wild woods and marshes were building rude huts on piles, over lakes and fens, to protect themselves from the wild beasts, or herding in caves with the animals whose bones are now found mingling with their own. Such was their progress until there met them again that primitive central light, which had been preserved, especially in the Shemitic, and had never gone wholly out in the Hamitic and Javanic lines. Even this Greek or Javanic branch of the Japhethan family, though ever preserving a position so much higher than that of their Northern consanguinii (this coming from their Mediterranean route furnishing greater facilities of intercourse, and keeping up an accessible proximity between the different pioneering waves and the source whence they came) derived, nevertheless, their earliest culture, from the Egyptians and Phœnicians, as, in still later times, they received their highest cultus from a Shemitic source. The wisest among the Greeks ever traced their best thinking to the East, that is, to a Shemitic or Hamitic origin. They were ever kept in connection with the primitive light and primitive spiritual vigor, and this was the chief respect in which they differed from our Japhethan ancestors who were so early lost in the woods, and who had no fresh emanations from this central life until long after, when it had been renewed to more than its primitive power by the coming of Christ and Christianity.

The application of this curse to Ham was early made by commentators, but its enormous extension to the whole continent of Africa belongs to quite modern times. The first, though having so little support in the letter of the Scripture, had some plausible ground in the unfavorable contrast that Ham’s neglect, or carelessness, presents to the pious earnestness of his two brethren; and this may give the reason why he is, personally, neither cursed nor blessed. It derived countenance, also, from the subsequent wickedness of the great Hamitic nations, and that constant antagonism between them and Israel which appears throughout the Bible. The second feeling seems almost wholly due to certain historic phenomena that have presented themselves since the discovery of America. What has favored this tendency has not been alone, or mainly, the defence of slavery, as some would allege; since men have supported it, like Dr. Lange and others, who abhorred the idea of human bondage in all its forms. It has been, rather, the desire to give a worldly, political importance to the Scriptural predictions, especially the early ones, thus magnifying the Scriptures, as they suppose, and furnishing remarkable evidences of the truth of revelation. Very modern changes in the relative position of continents are seized upon for this purpose, to the ignoring or obscuring the true dignity of the Divine Word. It is safest to regard prophecy as ever being in the direct line of the church, and to judge of the relative importance of world-historical changes solely by this standard. Except as standing in visible relation to the chosen people, the chosen church, or to that extraordinary divine doing in the world which is styled revelation, the greatest earthly revolutions have no more super-earthly value than have to us the dissensions of African chiefs, or the wars of the Heptarchy. To the divine eye, or to the mind that guided the Biblical inspiration, human politics, whether of monarchies or republics, and all human political changes, in themselves considered, or out of this visible relation, must be very insignificant things. Judged by such a rule, Trojan wars, Peloponnesian wars, or the wars of Bonaparte, fall in importance below the wars of Canaan, or Hiram’s sending cedarrafts to Joppa to aid Solomon in the construction of the temple.

It is this feeling which has also affected the interpretation of Noah’s blessing of Shem and Japheth, Genesis 9:26-27, especially the words וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָחֳלֵי שֵׁם, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem. It is somewhat remarkable that the Jewish authorities should have given what seems the more spiritual, and even evangelical, interpretation here, whilst so many Christian commentators have been fond of what may be called the political or secular aspect of the prophecy, referring it, as many of them do, to the mere predominance of European power and culture among the Asiatic nations in these latter days. To support this there is carelessly assumed an ethnological view untenable in the wide extent given to it. Europe is Japheth, Shem Asia, Ham Africa. At all events, the prophecy is supposed to set forth three types, embracing all mankind. It is thought to be greatly to the honor of Scripture that it should display such a philosophy of history bearing upon the remote, latter ages, as though this were a greater thing than that fixed spirituality of view which is the same for all ages, and for less or greater territory in space. It is easy to find events which are regarded as supposed fulfilments. The English in India, the French in Tonquin, Opium wars in China, Russia forcing its way into Central Asia; it is all Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem; it is the fulfilling of the Scriptures. There is a bad moral influence in this. An interest in the prediction, or in its supposed interpretation, blinds the moral sense to the enormity of some of the acts by which it is thought to be verified. Much of it, moreover, is false ethnology. The British subjugation of the Hindoos, instead of being Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem, is nothing more than Japheth dwelling in the tents of Japheth. This political mode of interpretation has affected other prophecies of the Bible, and there is reason to believe that it has been especially blinding in the study of the Apocalypse. It proceeds, often, upon the idea that events which seem very large to us, greatly magnified as they are by nearness or other perspective influences, must have the same relative rank in the divine estimation. Now, the Scriptures teach us, that it is ofttimes directly the reverse; see Luke 16:15, what is said about “things highest in the sight of men,” τὸ ἐν�. Great as they may seem to us, they may have comparatively little bearing upon that which is the special object of the divine care in human history; whilst their over-estimate favors the false idea, that the church is for the world, and not the world for the church. They may even have much less to do, than is generally imagined, with the highest secular progress of mankind. One political eruption may be the mere filling up of a vacuum produced by another, leaving unaffected the general historical evenness, or making even less deflection from the general course of things than other events of seemingly much less show and magnitude.

Now, in distinction from the political, there is what may be called the spiritual interpretation of this very ancient prophecy, as given by some of the best Christian commentators (see the references to them in Pole’s “Synopsis,” and the Philologica Sacra of Glassius, p. 1998), and held, with few exceptions, by the Jewish authorities. The Targum of Onkelos interprets the Hebrew by making אֱלֹהִים the subject of יִשְׁכֹּן and renders it araphrastically, וְיַשְּׁרֵי שְׁכִנְתֵּהּ בְּמַשְׁכְּנֵהּ דְּשֵׁם, His Shekinah shall dwell in the dwelling of Shem (or of the Name). Maimonides, Rashi, and Aben Ezra, all follow this, though they also allude to a secondary sense: that Japheth should learn in the schools of Shem, which is also expressed in the Targum of Jonathan. This, however, is founded on the former idea of the divine indwelling light, in the blessing of which all nations are ultimately to share. So the Judaico-Arabic translation of Arabs Erpenianus: His Light shall dwell in the tents of Shem; the words light and Shekinah being interposed to avoid the seeming anthropomorphism. The rendering, the Shekinah, is suggested to them, moreover, by the etymological connection between שׁכן (Shakan), the verb here for dwelling, and שְׁכִינָה, the Shekinah: as though such language as we have Deuteronomy 12:11, לְשַׁכֵּן שְׁמוֹ שָׁם, and Psalms 85:10, לִשְׁכֹּן כָּבוֹדִ בְּאַרְצֵנוּ, came directly from this passage. Some Christian commentators carry this still farther, recognizing the same etymology in the Greek ἐσκήνωσε (root, s k n) of John 1:14. Surely the fact has been so. God has specially dwelt in the tents of Shem; “He hath put his glory there.” The Shemite family alone preserved the pure monotheism as against the Eastern pantheism and the Western polytheism lying on each side of it. Even the Arabians and the Syrians kept the holy Name. A chosen branch had the Shekinah, the visible, divine presence, the temple, the promise, and the type of the Messiah. There is, finally, the presence and dwelling of the Messiah with the spiritual Israel down to this day. The interpretation, too, must have been very ancient, antecedent to Targums and Talmuds, as it seems to have colored everywhere the poetry and language of the Old Testament. Hence that frequent imagery of God’s dwelling with his people, or the converse in expression, though essentially the same in thought, His being his people’s “dwelling-place in all generations.” See 1 Kings 6:13; 1 Kings 8:29; Exodus 25:8; Psalms 90:1; Ezekiel 43:9; ZeGen Genesis 8:3. Such was Shem’s blessing here literally expressed, though clearly implied in the previous verse: blessed be the Lord God of Shem (the name), which was the highest mode of saying, blessed be Shem himself, the people whose God is Jehovah. Psalms 33:12; Psalms 144:15.

But besides its Scriptural and evangelical fitness, this interpretation has the strongest grammatical reasons. Two verbs in Hebrew, like יפת and ישכן, joined by the conjunction, whether taken copulatively or disjunctively (that is, whether rendered and or but), must have the same grammatical subject, unless a new one clearly intervenes, or the context necessarily implies it. Neither of these exceptions exist here, and, without them, it is irregular to make the object of the first verb the subject of the second. He (God) will enlarge Japheth, but he will dwell in the tents of Shem. The contrast is between the two acts of Deity, the enlarging—the indwelling—an antithesis that seems demanded by the parallelism, but is wholly lost in the other version. If it is the same subject (the blesser), then there are two objects; and two distinct blessings stand in striking contrast. It is outer growth and inner sacredness. Two states, moreover, and two dispositions are described: Japheth, the foreign rover, Shem, the home devotee, abiding mainly in the old father-land, preserving the

Sacra Dei, sanctosque patres.

Japheth is to have enlargement of territory, and, ultimately, worldly power; Shem, though small, is to have the special divine presence and indwelling. He is the divine inheritance (see Deuteronomy 32:9) among the nations.

The more secular interpretation has, indeed, some strong points of seeming fulfilment, which may affect the sense and the imagination; but for the reason, as well as for faith, how much greater is the idea of such divine indwelling than that of any outward changes, whether of power or culture, in the relations of mankind! Our estimate of causes, as great or small, even in their earthly aspect, is much affected by an after-knowledge of the effects with which they are seen to be connected. As we look back they appear greatly magnified through the medium of such sequence. It is like the mind correcting the perspective errors of the sight in respect to size and distance. What Philosophy of History, written three hundred years before Christ, even though it had been more acute than any modern production of the kind, could have given the true place of the Jewish people of that day, or would even have taken any notice of them, or regarded them as having any rank among the potent causalities of the world! How small, how secluded, how unrecognized their earthly position at that time! Nothing short of prophetic insight could discover what then lay concealed from all the learning and wisdom of the age,—the divine Name and the divine presence, unfigured on Egyptian monuments, unknown in Athenian temples (see Acts 17:23), but dwelling, as a reserve power, in the sequestered tents of Shem.—T. L.]


1. See the preceding Annotations.
2. Noah the enlarger and the ennobler of human culture. The dangers of progress in civilization. Men become intoxicated with the success of their worldly efforts—especially in the beginning. After the waters of the flood the gift of wine. Under the sacrament of the rainbow, Noah as husbandman and vineyard-keeper, prepares the elements of the New Testament sacrament, bread and wine.
3. The vine is a mild reflex of the tree of knowledge; how Noah’s sin becomes a mitigated figure of the sin of Adam.
4. Noah, whom all the waters of the flood did not harm, received hurt through his unguarded indulgence in a small measure of wine. The history of Adam teaches us the sacredness of limitation, the history of Noah teaches us a holy carefulness in respect to measure or degree. Moderation was a fundamental law of the ancient Chinese, as the piety that preserved Shem and Japheth.
5. The intimate connection between intoxication by wine and sexual unguardedness, or sensual indulgence in the sins of voluptuousness (see the history of Lot).
6. The three sons of Noah. The simple contrast: Cain and Abel, or godless culture and a holy cultus, develops itself in a more manifold contrast: Shem and Japheth, Shem and Ham, Japheth and Ham. For the interpretation of these contrasts, see just above. It is evident, however, that many Christians even now recognize only the contrast of Cain and Abel; that is, they do not recognize that the line of Japheth had likewise its blessing from God, although he can only reach the blessing of Shem after great wanderings. In the heart of the prophecy, Japheth has already taken up his abode in the tents of Shem, when, on the contrary, Shem himself, in the unbelieving Jews, has been given up to a long-lasting alienation.

7. Shem and Japheth are very different, but are, in their piety, the root of every ideal and humane tendency. The people and kingdom of China are a striking example of the immense power that lies in the blessing of (filial) piety; but at the same time a proof that filial piety, without being grounded in something deeper, cannot preserve even the greatest of peoples from falling into decay, like an old house, before their history ends.
8. The blessing of Shem, or the faith in salvation, shall avail for the good of Japheth, even as the blessing of Japheth, humanitarian culture, shall in the end avail for Shem. These two blessings are reciprocal, and it is one of the deepest signs of some disease in our times, that these two are in so many ways estranged from each other, even to the extent of open hostility. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder.

9. It is a fearful abuse of God’s word, when men refer to the curse of Canaan in defence of American slave-traffic, and slave-holding—as is done in the southern portions of the United States. For in the first place, Canaan is not the same as Ham; in the second place, the conception of a servant in the days of Noah is not that of a slave in modern times; in the third place, Canaan’s servitude is the service of Shem, therefore of the Prince of Shem, that is, he becomes the servant of Christ, and in Christ is free; fourthly, as servant of Shem, and servant of Japheth, he becomes a domestic partner in the religion of Shem, as well as in the civilization of Japheth. On the other side, however, it is a misapprehension of the curse as exhibited in history, when the essential equality of all men before God is regarded as a direct abstract equality of men in their political relations. This comes from not taking rightly into account the divine judgments in history, and the gradualness of the world’s redemption (see Romans 10:12). The reader is referred to Michel’s “History of the Cursed Races of France and Spain” (Paris, 1847), as also the “History of the Cursed Villages” (Delessert, Paris). But such histories do not weigh merely on Canaan, or even generally on Ham. They are always economic, that is, temporary, not perpetual dooms. They are districts in which human compassion shall yet appear as a prophet announcing the turning away of the divine wrath, or as a priest interceding against it.

10. The sons of Noah do not appear to clear up the facts in respect to the race-formations. It is quite evident, however, that Ham (the hot, the dark, the southern) forms a special race, and that with the Æthiopian type the Malayan stands in close relation. On this side there becomes evident the whole power of the life from nature, as the spiritual life becomes subservient to it. Whilst, therefore, it is partly an imperfect distinction when we regard the Shemitic and the Japhethic race (the people of renown, as consisting in the name of God, the δόξα τοῦ θεοῦ, and the people of the outward and bold dispersion over the earth) as having become blended in the Caucasian, it is also in part a proof of the fact that community in the higher spiritual tendency may cause very great contrasts to lose themselves in almost imperceptible distinctions. It is, however, quite consistent with the nature of the “outspreading,” that is, of Japheth, that whilst, on the one side, he may become one with Shem in the Caucasian, he may, on the other, represent the Mongolian, and in the American, even make a near approach to the race of Ham. On the question of races, see Lange’s “Posit. Dogmatic,” p. 324. On the theocratic significance of Shem, Ham, Japheth, compare Delitzsch, p. 282.

11. The fact that Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood, is a proof that the cosmical change which was brought on by the flood is not to be regarded as sudden in all respects—not, at least, in its relation to human life.
12. The poetical form of Noah’s blessing shows that he spake in a highly rapt state of soul, in which he was as much elevated above any passionate, inhuman wrath against Canaan, as above any weak human sympathy for him. The form of curse and blessing, where both are divinely grounded, indicate a prophetic beholding of the curse and blessing, but not a creating, much less any arbitrary or magical production of the same.
13. The tenor of the Noachian blessing in its Messianic significance, cannot be mistaken. It connects itself with the name Shem. The Protevangel announced a future salvation in the seed of the woman; the language here connects the same with the name of God which was to be entrusted to Shem. Shem is to be the preserver of the name of God, of Jehovah—the preserver of his religion, of his revelation. With this office is he, as the thoughtful, the contemplative one, to dwell in tents, whilst, in some way, God is to be glorified in him, a fact which Noah can only express in the form of a doxology. In this way Shem has it as his task: 1. to rule over Canaan, and to educate him as the master the servant; 2. to receive Japheth as a paternal guest who returns after a long wandering, and to exchange with him good for good—the goods of cultus and the goods of culture.

14. The number of Noah’s sons is three, the number of the Spirit. The Spirit will get the victory in the post-diluvian humanity that has been baptized in the flood.


See the Doctrinal and Ethical. The form of life in Noah: 1. Wherein similar to that of Adam? 2. wherein similar to that of Christ? 3. wherein it possesses something peculiar, that lies between them both. Noah’s wine-culture—the sign of a new step in progress in the life of humanity.—The vine in its significance: 1. In its perilous import; 2. in its higher significance.—God hath provided not merely for our necessity, but also for our refreshment and festive exhilaration. The more refined his gifts, so much the more ought they to draw us, and make us feel the obligation of a more refined life. Noah’s weakness; its connection with his freedom, his struggle and inquiry. The watchfulness and discipline of the Spirit is the only thing that can protect us against the intoxication of the sense.—How one sensual excess is connected with another.—How the sins of the old have for their consequence the sins of the young. Impiety (irreverence, want of a pious fear), a root of every evil, especially those of an impure tendency.—Piety a root of everything noble. It has two branches: 1. devoutness; 2. moral cultivation. The harmony of Shem and Japheth. O, that it were so in our times. How they should mutually feel the obligation to cover their father’s nakedness; that is, in this case, the harm of the earlier time and tradition. What glorious effects would come from the harmony of Christendom and civilization? Shem, Ham, and Japheth: 1. All three distinct characters and types; 2. regarded as two parts, they are two sons of blessing, one child of the curse; 3. as one group. Canaan the servant of Shem and Japheth. Japheth the guest and the domestic inmate of Shem.—The blessing of Noah: 1. Its most universal significance; 2. its Messianic significance.—Noah’s joy, sorrow, and consolation after the flood: 1. The expanding race; 2. the new development of evil; 3. the pre-signal of the patriarchal faith.

Starke: Inebriatus est, non quod vitiosus esset, sed quod inexpertus mensurœ assumendœ. Basil.—Noah ad unius horœ ebrietatem nudavit femoralia sua, quœ per sexcentos annos contexerat. Hieron.—Quem tantœ moles aquarum non vicerant, a modico vino victus est. Ephraem (Natalis Alexander i. p. Genesis 228: Ebrietas hœc non solum innoxia sed et mystica fuit. Hieronymus interprets the planting of the vine of the planting of the Church; Noah exposed, he interprets of Christ on the cross; Ham, of the Jews, and so on. In a similar manner Augustine). (As it happens to people in sleep, when they become warm; they uncover themselves unconsciously to get air; and so it happened to Noah.) The sin of excess cannot be excused by the example of Noah. This transgression did not, however, cast him out of the grace of God; for we see that in the prophetic spirit he announces the future destiny of his sons, which certainly could never have happened if the Spirit of God had departed from him. But none the less holds true in this respect what Luther says, namely, that they who go too far in excusing the patriarch throw away the consolation which the Holy Spirit has deemed it necessary to give the Church in the fact that the greatest saints do sometimes stumble and fall (Psalms 34:9).—The nobler the gift, the worse the abuse (1 Corinthians 9:7; Sirach 31:35; 1 Timothy 5:23).—Ham: Sic in sacro Dei asylo inter tam paucos diabolus unus servatus est. Calvin.—Hedinger: The spreading of sin is just as much an evil as the perpetration of sin.—Lange: The curse went not forth properly, against the spiritual in men, as though beforehand they had been declared to have forfeited eternal life, but properly against the corporeal only. So it was, that among the Canaanites there were some who were actually blest (there are cited as examples the cases of Melchisedek and the Gibeonites). Even at this day, it is true that Japheth dwells in the tents of Shem, since the promised land has come into the hands of the Turk instead of the Egyptian sultan. This appears also in a more spiritual manner, since in the New Testament heathen and Jews have become one in their conversion to Christ. (Noah’s long life after the flood is represented as designed to instruct his posterity in the knowledge of God.)

Gerlach: It is worthy of remark, that the father of Prometheus in the Grecian fable, and who was a giant, bears the name of Japetus.—Bunsen: Genesis 9:18 is the introduction to an old family tradition concerning the irreverence and dissoluteness in the family of Ham, with special reference to Canaan.

Calwer Handbuch: Noah’s human sin regarded as excusable, gives occasion to Ham’s inexcusable sin. The curse comes mainly upon Canaan, since it was just in his race that the most shameless and unnatural abominations prevailed. At the present day the last trace of this people, together with their name, has disappeared from the earth. The highest distinction is that which God hath appointed for Shem. It is the propagation of the kingdom of God by means of his descendants (John 10:16). Luther: And so there was a real scandal in the case, in that when Ham stumbled upon his father’s drunkenness, he judged him wrongly, and even took satisfaction in his sin.

Schröder: Valer. Herberger: Here will the reviler say, this is the text for me: Noah behaved himself in a sottish and unseemly way, and therefore may I do the same. Hold, brother. Noah’s example serves not at all your turn. Only once in his life had Noah overshot the mark; but how oft hast thou already done as much? Noah did not do it purposely or wittingly. The lesson thou art to learn from Noah is not drunkenness, but to guard thyself from drunkenness, that thou mayest not, through his example, come to mischief, and cause a scandal. Wouldst thou be joyful, so let it joy remain. Pleasant drink, and wholesome food God grudges not to thee. Drink and eat, only forget not God and thine hour of death. Neither forget the death of Christ; on this account it was, that formerly the image of the cross was made in the bottom of the tankard. Let a man come to the table as to an altar, says Bernhard. In the weakness of Noah there is enkindled the wickedness of Ham. “Then saw Ham.” Love covers; he (Ham), instead of veiling his father’s nakedness, only the more openly exposes what he had left uncovered. As a son he transgresses against his father; so, as a brother, would he become the seducer of his brother.—Calvin: His age did not excuse him. He was no merely mischievous boy, who, in his inconsiderate sport betrayed his own thoughtlessness, for he had already gone beyond his hundredth year. Luther; Whilst, in other cases, the servant has only one master, Canaan here is the servant of two lords, therefore doubly a servant. (In this way, indeed, it is, that by Shem he is drawn to piety, whilst by Japheth he is educated to a human civilization.)—The sins of Ham, as the deep stain of the Hamitic race in general. Farther on the writer speaks of the corruption of Canaan, and the evil reputation of the Phœnicians and Carthaginians.

Calvin: Shem holds the highest grade of honor. Therefore it is that Noah, in blessing him, expresses, himself in praise of God, and dwells not upon the person. Whenever the declaration relates to some unusual and important pre-eminency, the Hebrews thus ever ascend to the praise of God (Luke 1:68).—Japheth: God gives enlargement to the enlarged.—Luther: Since Abraham, in his fiftieth year, had so good and excellent a teacher in Noah, he must have had quite a growth in doctrine and religion.—Herberger: Fear not the cross, since here thou hast before thee one who bore it for nine hundred and fifty years.


[10][Genesis 9:20.—וַיָּחֶל נֹחַ אִישׁ הָאֲדָמָה, rendered “and Noah began to be a husbandman,”—man of the adamah, or man of the soil—γεωργός—agricola. It cannot mean that this was the first time he had practised husbandry, but the beginning of it after the flood, when he and his sons had descended into the low country.—T. L.]

[11][Genesis 9:25.—עֶבֶד עֲבָדִים, “a servant of servants,”—a Hebraism to denote the intensity or degradation of Canaan’s servitude—the lowest and vilest of servants, or, as they are afterwards characterized, “hewers of wood and drawers of water,” in distinction from the ordinary subjugation of a conquered people. For remarks on בְּנוֹ הַקָּטָן, “his younger son,” or little son, and its reference to Canaan alone, see appended Note, p. 337, on Noah’s curse and blessings.—T. L.]

[12][Genesis 9:27.—יַפְתְּ—לְיֶפֶת, “shall enlarge Japheth.” Europe (εὐρώπη), wide-faced, extensive, spacious. This supposed residence, as it mainly was, of the sons of Japheth, had this name very early. From its unknown extent it was probably so called in comparison with the better known parts of contiguous Asia. The Greeks may have simply translated the early tradition of the prophecy into the name εὐρώπη, and afterward perverted it, according to their usual course by one of their absurd fables.—T. L.]

[13][Genesis 9:27.—יְיִשְׁכֹּן, “and he shall dwell,” etc. Who shall dwell? The Jewish authorities, with few exceptions, say it is God, the subject of the verb just preceding, and this is, doubtless, according to grammatical regularity. See Aben Ezra, Rashi, and others. Sometimes, to avoid the seeming anthropopathism, they substitute for God the word אוֹרוֹ, his light, or שְׁכִינָה (Shekinah), deriving it from this very verb ישכן. Thus, the Targum of Onkelos, וְיַשְׁרֵי שְׁכִנְתּהּ בְּמַשְׁכּנֵהּ דִּשֵׁם, “His Shekinah [or indwelling) shall abide in the dwelling (mashkeneh) of Shem.” So the Arabic, both of the Polyglott and of Arabs Erpenianus, ويساَـن ذـورة فو اجبيا ىثىم, “His Light shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” See further, appended note, p. 337. on the blessing of Noah.—T. L.]

[14][The Phœnicians, as distinguished from the Canaanites and Sidonians, were probably Shemites, as they spake the Shemitic language, and thus made it the language of the whole district. This corresponds to what is said by Herodotus and Strabo, that they came from the Persian Gulf—the land of Shinar, the old home-land.—T. L.

[15][The fact that, of all the descendants of Ham, Canaan was the nearest object of interest to the Jews, and so historically of most importance to them, gives the reason of the somewhat peculiar designation, Genesis 9:18, where a kind of note is affixed to Ham’s name, stating that he was the father of Canaan, or rather that this was another name specially given to him by the Israelites, as being beet known to them, or called to mind to them, through his son; יְחָם הוּא אֲבִי כְנַעַן, “Ham, that is, the father of Canaan,” or Ham, that is, ’Abi-Canaan,—according to a method of naming that has ever prevailed among the Arabians, down to this day, as Abu-Beker, Abulwalid, or, as in this case, Abu-Canaan, where the son is better known, or an object of nearer interest than the father who is thus named after him.—T. L.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 9". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-9.html. 1857-84.
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