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And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
And he said, Blessed be the LORD God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.
God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

New Defender's Study Bible Notes

9:25 Cursed be Canaan. Noah’s curse was spoken concerning Canaan instead of Ham for possibly one or more of the following reasons: (1) As Ham was his youngest son, so Canaan was Ham’s youngest son, and Noah wished to emphasize that the prophecy extended through Ham to all his seed, even his youngest; (2) Noah could gladly bless his two faithful sons, but could not bear to pronounce the prophetic curse directly on his other son, whom he also loved dearly; (3) He knew his grandsons well enough to recognize in the sons of Ham the same rebellious attitudes that were in Ham, and he knew that they would actually experience the resultant effects of his sin even more than would Ham himself.

9:25 servant of servants. The phrase “servant of servants” is never used elsewhere in Scripture. If it means “slave of slaves,” then the prophecy has failed, for neither the Hamitic nations in general nor the Canaanitic nations in particular have ever been such. The Hamites have included such great empires as Sumeria, Phoenicia, Egypt, Ethiopia, etc., and quite possibly the great Asian nations (China, Japan, etc.) as well. The word “servant,” however, is more often used in the sense of “steward,” so the prophecy more likely speaks of Ham’s descendants as superlative stewards. That is, all men were stewards of God’s created world, in the sense of exercising dominion over its resources; and Ham, with his physical and materialistic bent, would be especially effective in subduing the world and developing its resources. Since the ground had been cursed, however, this meant Ham’s lot would be uniquely associated with the physical world, thus itself becoming a curse. Noah’s statement, it should be remembered, was a prophecy and not an imprecation, given under divine inspiration and on the basis of Noah’s own insight into the developing characters of his sons and grandsons and, therefore, of their descendants. As a prophecy, this interpretation is fitting, since the Hamitic nations have, indeed, been the great explorers, cultivators, builders, navigators, tradesmen, inventors and warriors of mankind.

9:25 unto his brethren. It is obvious that his prophecy applies not only to Canaan but also to all of Ham’s descendants, for the following reasons: (1) its scope is obviously intended to be symmetrical, worldwide and age-long, with all the progeny of the three sons of Noah included; (2) if taken as applicable only to Canaan specifically, then it must also apply specifically only to Canaan’s brethren, who were Cush, Mizraim and Phut. Their descendants included the nations of Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya. Not only would such a judgment be unfair (it was Ham who sinned, not Canaan), but it was never fulfilled, since the Canaanites were never servants of the Libyans or Ethiopians, and only briefly of the Egyptians; (3) as a matter of fact, the descendants of Canaan, who included the Phoenicians and Hittites, were prominent nations through most of their history, not slave nations.

9:26 Shem. Noah associated Shem especially with the worship of Jehovah, recognizing the dominantly spiritual motivations of Shem and thus implying that God’s promised Deliverer would ultimately come from Shem. The Semitic nations have included the Hebrews, Arabs, Assyrians, Persians, Syrians and other strongly religious-minded peoples.

9:27 enlarge Japheth. The enlargement of Japheth was not to be primarily geographical (Hamitic and Semitic nations have been enlarged geographically as much as the Japhethites) but intellectual. The Japhetic peoples (Greeks, Romans, Aryans, Europeans) have largely supplied the philosophers and scientists of mankind. The tripartite nature of man (body, mind, spirit) is shared by every man and every nation. However, each man (and each nation) reflects one of these as a predominant characteristic. Noah recognized that Ham, Japheth and Shem were dominated, respectively, by physical, intellectual and spiritual considerations, and so could see prophetically that these attributes would likewise be emphasized in the nations descending from them. Thus, every nation would contribute its own part to the corporate life of mankind as a whole.

9:27 tents of Shem. Japheth was peculiarly God’s steward in the intellectual analysis and utilization of earth’s resources, and Shem was peculiarly His steward with respect to the propagation of God’s will and plan for mankind, especially the transmission of His saving Word. Both services would require an adequate physical base from which to operate, and thus would require the stewardship of Ham in the physical world. Thus, Ham was steward to Shem and Japheth in their stewardship–in this sense also, he would be a servant of servants.

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