Commentary on Genesis Part 51

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Nor will j.a.pheth share the blessing unless he dwells in the tents of Shem, that is, unless he a.s.sociates himself with him in faith.

198. This is a grand promise, valid unto the end of the world. But just as it is limited to those who have the G.o.d of Shem, that is, who believe, so the curse also is limited to those who abide in the wickedness of Ham. Noah spoke these words, not on the strength of human authority and feeling, but by the Spirit of G.o.d. His words then refer not to a temporal, but to a spiritual and eternal curse. Nor must we understand him to speak of a curse that is a curse only in the sight of the world, but rather of one in the sight of G.o.d.

199. The same statement has been made heretofore (ch 4 --182) regarding the curse of Cain. Judged by outward appearances, Cain obtained a greater earthly blessing than Seth. G.o.d desires that his Church in this world shall apparently suffer the curse p.r.o.nounced upon the wicked and that, on the other hand, the wicked shall seem to be blessed. Cain was the first man to build a city, calling it Enoch; while Seth dwelt in tents.

200. Thus did Ham build the city and tower of Babel and ruled far and wide, while Shem and j.a.pheth were poor, living in lowly tents. The facts of history, then, teach that both the promises and the curses of G.o.d are not to be understood carnally, or of the present life, but spiritually. Although oppressed in the world, the righteous are surely heirs and sons of G.o.d, while the wicked, though flourishing for a season, shall ultimately be cut down and wither; a warning often uttered in the Psalms.

201. There is a striking similarity in the conduct and the lot of Cain and Ham. Cain killed his brother, which shows plainly enough the lack of reverence for his father in his heart. Having been put in the ban by his father, he leaves the Church of the true G.o.d and the true worship, builds the city of Enoch, giving himself up altogether to worldly things. Just so does Ham sin by dishonoring his father. When also he subsequently receives as sentence the curse whereby he is excluded from the promised seed and the Church, he parts with G.o.d and the Church without misgivings, since the curse rests not upon his person but upon that of his son, and migrates to Babylon, where he establishes a kingdom.

202. These are very ill.u.s.trious examples and needed by the Church, Turk and Pope today; allow us to boast of the heavenly and everlasting promise in that we have the Gospel doctrine, and are the Church. They know, however, our judgment of them, that we consider and condemn both Pope and Turk as very Antichrist. How securely they ignore our judgment, confidently because of the wealth and power they possess, and also because of our weakness in character and numbers. The very same spirit we plainly see in Cain and Ham, in the condemned and excommunicated.

203. These truths enforce the lesson that we must not seek an abiding city or country in this bodily existence, but in its varying changes and fortunes look to the hope of eternal life, promised through Christ. This is the final haven; and we must strive for it with sail and oar, as eager and earnest sailors while the tempest rages.

204. What if the Turk should obtain sway over the whole world, which he never will? Michael, as Daniel says, will bring aid to the holy people, the Church (ch 10, 13). What matter if the Pope should gain possession of the wealth of all the world, as he has tried to do for many centuries with all the wealth at his command? Will Turk and Pope thereby escape death, or even secure permanence of temporal power?

Why, then, should we be misled by the temporal blessings which they enjoy, or by our misfortunes and dangers, since we know that they are banished from the fellowship of the saints, while we enjoy everlasting blessings through the Son of G.o.d?

205. If Cain and Ham, and Pope and Turk, who are as father and son to each other, can afford to despise the judgment of the true Church on the strength of fleeting and meager successes in this life, why can not we afford in turn to despise their power and censure, on the strength of the everlasting blessings which we possess? Ham was not moved by his father's curse. Full of anger against him, and despising him as a crazy old man, he goes away and arms himself with the power of the world, esteeming this more highly than to be blessed with Shem by his father.

206. This story should give us strength for the similar experiences of today. The priests and bishops heap contempt upon us, saying, What can those poverty stricken heretics do? Priest and bishop are puffed up with their wealth and power. But let us bear this insolence of the wicked with undisturbed mind, as Noah bore that of his son. Let us take consolation in the hope and faith of the eternal benediction, of which, we know, they are deprived.

207. I said above (--172) that the Holy Spirit was so greatly angered by the sin of Ham that he could not bear even to speak his name in the curse. And it is true, as the punishment shows, that Ham sinned grievously. The other reason mentioned above as not at all unlikely, I will here repeat: Ham had been called and received into the ark by the divine Word, and had been saved with the others, and Noah wanted to spare him whom G.o.d had spared in the flood. Therefore, he transferred the curse which Ham merited, to Canaan, his son, whom Ham doubtless desired to keep with him.

208. The Jews offer a different explanation: Canaan, the son, having been the first to see his grandfather Noah lying naked, announced it to his father, who then saw for himself; hence, Canaan gave his father cause to commit the sin. Let the reader judge what value there is in this exposition.

209. But there is also a philological question which must be discussed in connection. Scholars call translators to account for the rendering, "G.o.d enlarge j.a.pheth," when the Hebrew words do not permit it, though not only the Hebrews but also the Chaldeans, are mostly agreed that the word _jepheth_ means "to enlarge." Technical discussions of this kind, however, are sometimes very useful to clear up the precise meaning of a pa.s.sage.

210. Some scholars derive the name _j.a.pheth_ from the verb _jephah_, which signifies _to be beautiful_, as in Ps 45, 2: _j.a.phj.a.phita mibene Adam_, "Thou art fairer than the children of men." But this may easily be shown to be an error; for the true origin of the word is the verb _phatah_, which means "to persuade," "to deceive with fair words" as in Ex 22 16: _ki jephateh isch betulah_, "If a man entice a virgin, he shall surely pay a dowry for her." And in Jer 20, 7: _pethithani jehovah va-epath_, "O Jehovah, thou hast persuaded me and I was persuaded;" Prov 1, 10: _Im-jephatukah_, "If sinners entice thee."

There is no need of more examples, for the word occurs frequently, and I have no doubt that it is derived from the Greek word _peitho_, for it has the same meaning.

211. But let us turn to the question: Why have all translators made it read, "G.o.d enlarge j.a.pheth," while it is not the word _pathach_, which means "to enlarge" or "to open", but rather the word _pathah_? I have no doubt that the translators were influenced by the harsh expression.

Since this is a promise, it seemed too harsh to state that Noah had said, "G.o.d deceive j.a.pheth." This would appear to be a word of cursing, not of blessing. Hence they chose a milder term, though it violated the rules of language. And since there is but a slight difference between _pathach_, and _pathah_, they used one for the other. They meant to preserve the important fact that this is a promise.

212. But there is no need for us to alter the text in this manner, and to violate its grammatical construction, since the word _pathah_, offers a most suitable meaning. Being a word of double meaning, as the word _suadere_ in Latin, it may be accepted either in a bad or in a good sense. Hence, it is not irreverent to apply this word to G.o.d. We find it clearly so used in Hosea 2, 14, where the Lord says: "Therefore, behold, I will (_mephateha_) allure her (or, entice her by coaxing), and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her." I will suckle her, speak sweetly unto her, and thus will I deceive her, as it were, so that she may agree with me, so that the Church will join herself to me, etc.

In this sense the word may here rightly be taken to mean "allure,"

"persuade," "coax by means of friendly words and flattery." G.o.d suckle, persuade, deceive j.a.pheth by persuasion, so that j.a.pheth himself, being allured, as his name signifies, may be invited in a friendly way and thus be beguiled.

213. But you say, what will be the meaning of this? or why should there be need for j.a.pheth to be beguiled or persuaded, and that by G.o.d himself? I answer: Noah makes the names to serve his purpose in this prophecy. He gives thanks to G.o.d that he establishes them to stand like a firm root from which Christ was to spring. For the verb _sum_, signifies "to place," "to put in position," "to establish."

214. For j.a.pheth, however, he prays that he may become a true j.a.pheth.

Since he was the oldest son, who ordinarily should have been given the right of the first-born, he prays that G.o.d would persuade him in a friendly manner, first, not to envy his brother this honor, nor to be dissatisfied that this privilege was taken from him and given to his brother. Furthermore, because this matter touches the person of j.a.pheth only, G.o.d includes his entire offspring in the blessing.

Though the promise was given to Shem alone, yet G.o.d does not shut out from it the offspring of j.a.pheth, but speaks to them lovingly through the Gospel, that they may also become _jepheth_, being persuaded by the Word of the Gospel. This is a divine persuasion, coming from the Holy Spirit; not from the flesh, nor from the world, nor from Satan, but holy and quickening. This expression is used by Paul in Gal 1, 10, where he says, "Am I now persuading men or G.o.d?" And Gal 3, 1, "Who did bewitch you that ye should not obey the truth?"--that ye do not agree to the truth, that ye do not permit yourselves to be persuaded by that which is true?

215. Viewing the name j.a.pheth in this case, it signifies a person of the kind which we call guileless, who believes readily, permitting himself to be easily persuaded of a matter, who does not dispute or cling to his own ideas but submits his mind to the Lord and rests upon his Word, remaining a learner, not desiring to be master over the words and works of G.o.d.

Hence it is a touching prayer which is here recorded, that G.o.d might persuade j.a.pheth; that is, that he might speak fondly with him. Noah prays that, though G.o.d does not speak to j.a.pheth on the basis of a promise, as he does with Shem, yet he would speak with him on the basis of grace and divine goodness.

216. This prayer of Noah foresees the spread of the Gospel throughout the whole world. Shem is the stem. From his posterity Christ was born.

The Church is of the Jews, who had patriarchs, prophets, and kings.

And yet G.o.d here shows Noah that also the wretched Gentiles were to dwell in the tents of Shem; that is, they were to come into that heritage of the saints which the Son of G.o.d brought into this world--forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life. He prophesies clearly that also j.a.pheth will hear the sweet message of the Gospel as his name suggests; so that, though he have not the same t.i.tle as Shem, who was set to be the stem from which Christ was to spring, yet he should have the persuader, namely the Gospel.

217. It was Paul through whom this prophecy was fulfilled. He almost unaided taught the Gospel doctrine to the posterity of j.a.pheth. He says: "From Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyric.u.m, I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ" (Rom 15, 19). Almost all of Asia, with the exception of the oriental peoples, together with Europe, belongs to the posterity of j.a.pheth. The Gentiles, therefore, did not, as the Jews did, receive the kingdom and the priesthood from G.o.d. They had neither the law nor the promise. Yet by the mercy of G.o.d they have heard that sweet voice of the Gospel, the persuader, which is indicated by the very name of j.a.pheth.

218. The interpreters failed to recognize this as the true meaning, and G.o.d permitted them to make this mistake. Still they did not miss the true meaning altogether. For the verb _hirchib_, which means "to enlarge," means also "to give consolation," just as conversely in Latin the word _angustiae_ (narrow place) signifies also "pains," or "perils," or "disaster." Thus we read in Psalms 4, 1: "Thou hast set me at large when I was in distress." The only real enlargement, or consolation, is the Word of the Gospel.

219. Thus the several expositions are harmonized by proper interpretation. But the primary meaning of _enlarge_, which conveys the idea of _persuasion_, is the native and proper one. It sheds a bright light upon the fact that we Gentiles, although the promise was not given to us, have nevertheless been called by the providence of G.o.d to the Gospel. The promise pertains to Shem alone, but j.a.pheth, as Paul has it in Romans 11, 17, was grafted into the olive tree, like a wild olive, and became a partaker of the original fatness, or the sap, of the olive. The older portions of the Bible agree with the newer, and what G.o.d promised in the days of Noah, he now carries out.

220. "Ham" signifies "the hot and burning one." This name was given to him by his father, I believe, because of the great things he hoped for his youngest son. To Noah the other two were cold men in comparison.

Eve rejoiced greatly when Cain was born (Gen 4, 1). She believed that he would restore whatever had been wrought amiss. Yet he was the first to harm mankind in a new way, in that he killed his brother.

221. Thus G.o.d, according to his unsearchable counsel, changes the expectations even of the saints. Ham, whom his father, at his birth, had expected to be inflamed with greater zeal for the support of the Church than his brothers, was hot and burning, indeed, when he grew older, but in a different sense. He burned against his parent and his G.o.d, as his deed shows. Hence, his name was one of evil prophecy, unsuspected of Noah when he gave it.

222. This is Noah's prophecy concerning his sons, who have filled the earth with their offspring. The fact, therefore, that G.o.d has permitted the light of the Gospel to shine upon Germany, is due to the prophecy anent j.a.pheth. We see today the fulfillment of that which Noah foretold. Though we are not of the seed of Abraham, yet we dwell in the tents of Shem and enjoy the fulfilment of the prophecies concerning Christ.

Vs. 28-29. _And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died._

223. History shows that Noah died fifty years after the birth of Abraham. Abraham, therefore, enjoying the instruction of so able and renowned a teacher until his fiftieth year, had an opportunity to learn something of religion. And there is no doubt that Noah, being filled with the Holy Spirit, cared for this grandchild of his with special care and love, as the only heir of Shem's promises.

224. At that time the offspring of Ham flourished, spreading idolatry throughout the regions of the East. Abraham was in touch with it, and not without danger to himself. He was saved, however, by Noah, being almost alone in recognizing the greatness of a man who was the only survivor of the early world. The others, forgetful of the wrath which had raged in the flood, taunted the pious, old man; particularly Ham's progeny, puffed up by wealth and power. They heaped insults upon Father Noah, and--frenzied by success--they divided the curse of servitude p.r.o.nounced upon them as a sign of his dotage. Amen.

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Commentary on Genesis Part 51 summary

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