Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
These divine purposes of peace, which were communicated to Noah while sacrificing, were solemnly confirmed by the renewal of the blessing pronounced at the creation and the establishment of a covenant through a visible sign, which would be a pledge for all time that there should never be a flood again. In the words by which the first blessing was transferred to Noah and his sons (Gen 9:2), the supremacy granted to man over the animal world was expressed still more forcibly than in Gen 1:26 and Gen 1:28; because, inasmuch as sin with its consequences had loosened the bond of voluntary subjection on the part of the animals to the will of man-man, on the one hand, having lost the power of the spirit over nature, and nature, on the other hand, having become estranged from man, or rather having rebelled against him, through the curse pronounced upon the earth-henceforth it was only by force that he could rule over it, by that "fear and dread" which God instilled into the animal creation. Whilst the animals were thus placed in the hand (power) of man, permission was also given to him to slaughter them for food, the eating of the blood being the only thing forbidden.
"Every moving thing that liveth shall be food for you; even as the green of the herb have I given you all (את־כּל = חכּל)." These words do not affirm that man then first began to eat animal food, but only that God then for the first time authorized, or allowed him to do, what probably he had previously done in opposition to His will. "Only flesh in its soul, its blood (דמו in apposition to בּנפשׁו), shall ye not eat;" i.e., flesh in which there is still blood, because the soul of the animal is in the blood. The prohibition applies to the eating of flesh with blood in it, whether of living animals, as is the barbarous custom in Abyssinia, or of slaughtered animals from which the blood has not been properly drained at death. This prohibition presented, on the one hand, a safeguard against harshness and cruelty; and contained, on the other, "an undoubted reference to the sacrifice of animals, which was afterwards made the subject of command, and in which it was the blood especially that was offered, as the seat and soul of life (see note on Lev 17:11, Lev 17:14); so that from this point of view sacrifice denotes the surrender of one's own inmost life, of the very essence of life, to God" (Ziegler). Allusion is made to the first again in the still further limitation given in Gen 9:5 : "and only (ואך) your blood, with regard to your souls (ל indicative of reference to an individual object, Ewald, 310a), will I seek (demand or avenge, cf. Psa 9:13) from the hand of every beast, and from the hand of man, from the hand of every one, his brother;" i.e., from every man, whoever he may be, because he is his (the slain man's) brother, inasmuch as all men are brethren. The life of man was thus made secure against animals as well as men. God would avenge or inflict punishment for every murder, - not directly, however, as He promised to do in the case of Cain, but indirectly by giving the command, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and thus placing in the hand of man His own judicial power. "This was the first command," says Luther, "having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God." It is true the punishment of the murderer is enjoined upon "man" universally; but as all the judicial relations and ordinances of the increasing race were rooted in those of the family, and grew by a natural process out of that, the family relations furnished of themselves the norm for the closer definition of the expression "man." Hence the command does not sanction revenge, but lays the foundation for the judicial rights of the divinely appointed "powers that be" (Rom 13:1). This is evident from the reason appended: "for in the image of God made He man." If murder was to be punished with death because it destroyed the image of God in man, it is evident that the infliction of the punishment was not to be left to the caprice of individuals, but belonged to those alone who represent the authority and majesty of God, i.e., the divinely appointed rulers, who for that very reason are called Elohim in Psa 82:6. This command then laid the foundation for all civil government,
(Note: Hic igitur fons est, ex quo manat totum just civile et just gentium. Nam si Deus concedit homini potestatem super vitam et mortem, profecto etiam concedit potestatem super id, quod minus est, ut sunt fortunae, familia, uxor, liberi, servi, agri; Haec omnia vult certorum hominum potestati esse obnoxia Deus, ut reos puniant. Luther.)
and formed a necessary complement to that unalterable continuance of the order of nature which had been promised to the human race for its further development. If God on account of the innate sinfulness of man would no more bring an exterminating judgment upon the earthly creation, it was necessary that by commands and authorities He should erect a barrier against the supremacy of evil, and thus lay the foundation for a well-ordered civil development of humanity, in accordance with the words of the blessing, which are repeated in Gen 9:7, as showing the intention and goal of this new historical beginning.
To give Noah and his sons a firm assurance of the prosperous continuance of the human race, God condescended to establish a covenant with them and their descendants, and to confirm this covenant by a visible sign for all generations. בּרית הקים is not equivalent to בּרית כּרת; it does not denote the formal conclusion of an actual covenant, but the "setting up of a covenant," or the giving of a promise possessing the nature of a covenant. In summing up the animals in Gen 9:10, the prepositions are accumulated: first בּ embracing the whole, then the partitive מן restricting the enumeration to those which went out of the ark, and lastly ל yl, "with regard to," extending it again to every individual. There was a correspondence between the covenant (Gen 9:11) and the sign which was to keep it before the sight of men (Gen 9:12): "I give (set) My bow in the cloud" (Gen 9:13). When God gathers (ענן Gen 9:14, lit., clouds) clouds over the earth, "the bow shall be seen in the cloud," and that not for man only, but for God also, who will look at the bow, "to remember His everlasting covenant." An "everlasting covenant" is a covenant "for perpetual generations," i.e., one which shall extend to all ages, even to the end of the world. The fact that God Himself would look at the bow and remember His covenant, was "a glorious and living expression of the great truth, that God's covenant signs, in which He has put His promises, are real vehicles of His grace, that they have power and essential worth not only with men, but also before God" (O. v. Gerlach). The establishment of the rainbow as a covenant sign of the promise that there should be no flood again, presupposes that it appeared then for the first time in the vault and clouds of heaven. From this it may be inferred, not that it did not rain before the flood, which could hardly be reconciled with Gen 2:5, but that the atmosphere was differently constituted; a supposition in perfect harmony with the facts of natural history, which point to differences in the climate of the earth's surface before and after the flood. The fact that the rainbow, that "coloured splendour thrown by the bursting forth of the sun upon the departing clouds," is the result of the reciprocal action of light, and air, and water, is no disproof of the origin and design recorded here. For the laws of nature are ordained by God, and have their ultimate ground and purpose in the divine plan of the universe which links together both nature and grace. "Springing as it does from the effect of the sun upon the dark mass of clouds, it typifies the readiness of the heavenly to pervade the earthly; spread out as it is between heaven and earth, it proclaims peace between God and man; and whilst spanning the whole horizon, it teaches the all-embracing universality of the covenant of grace" (Delitzsch).
The second occurrence in the life of Noah after the flood exhibited the germs of the future development of the human race in a threefold direction, as manifested in the characters of his three sons. As all the families and races of man descend from them, their names are repeated in Gen 9:18; and in prospective allusion to what follows, it is added that "Ham was the father of Canaan." From these three "the earth (the earth's population) spread itself out." "The earth" is used for the population of the earth, as in Gen 10:25 and Gen 11:1, and just as lands or cities are frequently substituted for their inhabitants. נפצה: probably Niphal for נפצה, from פּוּץ to scatter (Gen 11:4), to spread out. "And Noah the husbandman began, and planted a vineyard." As האדמה אישׁ cannot be the predicate of the sentence, on account of the article, but must be in apposition to Noah, ויטּע and ויּחל must be combined in the sense of "began to plant" (Ges. 142, 3). The writer does not mean to affirm that Noah resumed his agricultural operations after the flood, but that as a husbandman he began to cultivate the vine; because it was this which furnished the occasion for the manifestation of that diversity in the character of his sons, which was so eventful in its consequences in relation to the future history of their descendants. In ignorance of the fiery nature of wine, Noah drank and was drunken, and uncovered himself in his tent (Gen 9:21). Although excuse may be made for this drunkenness, the words of Luther are still true: "Qui excusant patriarcham, volentes hanc consolationem, quam Spiritus S. ecclesiis necessariam judicavit, abjuciunt, quod scilicen etiam summi sancti aliquando labuntur." This trifling fall served to display the hearts of his sons. Ham saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. Not content with finding pleasure himself in his father's shame, "nunquam enim vino victum patrem filius resisset, nisi prius ejecisset animo illam reverentiam et opinionem, quae in liberis de parentibus ex mandato Dei existere debet" (Luther), he just proclaimed his disgraceful pleasure to his brethren, and thus exhibited his shameless sensuality. The brothers, on the contrary, with reverential modesty covered their father with a garment (השּׂמלה the garment, which was at hand), walking backwards that they might not see his nakedness (Gen 9:23), and thus manifesting their childlike reverence as truly as their refined purity and modesty. For this they receive their father's blessing, whereas Ham reaped for his son Canaan the patriarch's curse. In Gen 9:24 Ham is called הקּטן בּנו "his (Noah's) little son," and it is questionable whether the adjective is to be taken as comparative in the sense of "the younger," or as superlative, meaning "the youngest." Neither grammar nor the usage of the language will enable us to decide. For in Sa1 17:14, where David is contrasted with his brothers, the word means not the youngest of the four, but the younger by the side of the three elder, just as in Gen 1:16 the sun is called "the great" light, and the moon "the little" light, not to show that the sun is the greatest and the moon the least of all lights, but that the moon is the smaller of the two. If, on the other hand, on the ground of Sa1 16:11, where "the little one" undoubtedly means the youngest of all, any one would press the superlative force here, he must be prepared, in order to be consistent, to do the same with haggadol, "the great one," in Gen 10:21, which would lead to this discrepancy, that in the verse before us Ham is called Noah's youngest son, and in Gen 10:21 Shem is called Japhet's oldest brother, and thus implicite Ham is described as older than Japhet. If we do not wish lightly to introduce a discrepancy into the text of these two chapters, no other course is open than to follow the lxx, Vulg. and others, and take "the little" here and "the great" in Gen 10:21 as used in a comparative sense, Ham being represented here as Noah's younger son, and Shem in Gen 10:21 as Japhet's elder brother. Consequently the order in which the three names stand is also an indication of their relative ages. And this is not only the simplest and readiest assumption, but is even confirmed by Gen 10, though the order is inverted there, Japhet being mentioned first, then Ham, and Shem last; and it is also in harmony with the chronological datum in Gen 11:10, as compared with Gen 5:32 (vid., Gen 11:10).
To understand the words of Noah with reference to his sons (Gen 9:25-27), we must bear in mind, on the one hand, that as the moral nature of the patriarch was transmitted by generation to his descendants, so the diversities of character in the sons of Noah foreshadowed diversities in the moral inclinations of the tribes of which they were the head; and on the other hand, that Noah, through the Spirit and power of that God with whom he walked, discerned in the moral nature of his sons, and the different tendencies which they already displayed, the germinal commencement of the future course of their posterity, and uttered words of blessing and of curse, which were prophetic of the history of the tribes that descended from them. In the sin of Ham "there lies the great stain of the whole Hamitic race, whose chief characteristic is sexual sin" (Ziegler); and the curse which Noah pronounced upon this sin still rests upon the race. It was not Ham who was cursed, however, but his son Canaan. Ham had sinned against his father, and he was punished in his son. But the reason why Canaan was the only son named, is not to be found in the fact that Canaan was the youngest son of Ham, and Ham the youngest son of Noah, as Hoffmann supposes. The latter is not an established fact; and the purely external circumstance, that Canaan had the misfortune to be the youngest son, could not be a just reason for cursing him alone. The real reason must either lie in the fact that Canaan was already walking in the steps of his father's impiety and sin, or else be sought in the name Canaan, in which Noah discerned, through the gift of prophecy, a significant omen; a supposition decidedly favoured by the analogy of the blessing pronounced upon Japhet, which is also founded upon the name. Canaan does not signify lowland, nor was it transferred, as many maintain, from the land to its inhabitants; it was first of all the name of the father of the tribe, from whom it was transferred to his descendants, and eventually to the land of which they took possession. The meaning of Canaan is "the submissive one," from כּנע to stoop or submit, Hiphil, to bend or subjugate (Deu 9:3; Jdg 4:23, etc.). "Ham gave his son the name from the obedience which he required, though he did not render it himself. The son was to be the servant (for the name points to servile obedience) of a father who was as tyrannical towards those beneath him, as he was refractory towards those above. The father, when he gave him the name, thought only of submission to his own commands. But the secret providence of God, which rules in all such things, had a different submission in view" (Hengstenberg, Christol. i. 28, transl.). "Servant of servants (i.e., the lowest of slaves, vid., Ewald, 313) let him become to his brethren." Although this curse was expressly pronounced upon Canaan alone, the fact that Ham had no share in Noah's blessing, either for himself or his other sons, was a sufficient proof that his whole family was included by implication in the curse, even if it was to fall chiefly upon Canaan. And history confirms the supposition. The Canaanites were partly exterminated, and partly subjected to the lowest form of slavery, by the Israelites, who belonged to the family of Shem; and those who still remained were reduced by Solomon to the same condition (Kg1 9:20-21). The Phoenicians, along with the Carthaginians and the Egyptians, who all belonged to the family of Canaan, were subjected by the Japhetic Persians, Macedonians, and Romans; and the remainder of the Hamitic tribes either shared the same fate, or still sigh, like the negroes, for example, and other African tribes, beneath the yoke of the most crushing slavery.
In contrast with the curse, the blessings upon Shem and Japhet are introduced with a fresh "and he said," whilst Canaan's servitude comes in like a refrain and is mentioned in connection with both his brethren: Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem, and let Canaan be servant to them." Instead of wishing good to Shem, Noah praises the God of Shem, just as Moses in Deu 33:20, instead of blessing Gad, blesses Him "that enlargeth Gad," and points out the nature of the good which he is to receive, by using the name Jehovah. This is done "propter excellentem benedictionem. Non enim loquitur de corporali benedictione, sed de benedictione futura per semen promissum. Eam tantam videt esse ut explicari verbis non possit, ideo se vertit ad gratiarum actionem" (Luther). Because Jehovah is the God of Shem, Shem will be the recipient and heir of all the blessings of salvation, which God as Jehovah bestows upon mankind. למו = להם neither stands for the singular לו (Ges. 103, 2), nor refers to Shem and Japhet. It serves to show that the announcement does not refer to the person relation of Canaan to Shem, but applies to their descendants.
"Wide let God make it to Japhet, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem." Starting from the meaning of the name, Noah sums up his blessing in the word יפתּ (japht), from פּתה to be wide (Pro 20:19), in the Hiphil with ל, to procure a wide space for any one, used either of extension over a wide territory, or of removal to a free, unfettered position; analogous to ל הרחיב, Gen 26:22; Psa 4:1, etc. Both must be retained here, so that the promise to the family of Japhet embraced not only a wide extension, but also prosperity on every hand. This blessing was desired by Noah, not from Jehovah, the God of Shem, who bestows saving spiritual good upon man, but from Elohim, God as Creator and Governor of the world; for it had respect primarily to the blessings of the earth, not to spiritual blessings; although Japhet would participate in these as well, for he should come and dwell in the tents of Shem. The disputed question, whether God or Japhet is to be regarded as the subject of the verb "shall dwell," is already decided by the use of the word Elohim. If it were God whom Noah described as dwelling in the tents of Shem, so that the expression denoted the gracious presence of God in Israel, we should expect to find the name Jehovah, since it was as Jehovah that God took up His abode among Shem in Israel. It is much more natural to regard the expression as applying to Japhet, (a) because the refrain, "Canaan shall be his servant," requires that we should understand Gen 9:27 as applying to Japhet, like Gen 9:26 to Shem; (b) because the plural, tents, is not applicable to the abode of Jehovah in Israel, inasmuch as in the parallel passages "we read of God dwelling in His tent, on His holy hill, in Zion, in the midst of the children of Israel, and also of the faithful dwelling in the tabernacle or temple of God, but never of God dwelling in the tents of Israel" (Hengstenberg); and (c) because we should expect that act of affection, which the two sons so delicately performed in concert, to have its corresponding blessing in the relation established between the two (Delitzsch). Japhet's dwelling in the tents of Shem is supposed by Bochart and others to refer to the fact, that Japhet's descendants would one day take the land of the Shemites, and subjugate the inhabitants; but even the fathers almost unanimously understand the words in a spiritual sense, as denoting the participation of the Japhetites in the saving blessings of the Shemites. There is truth in both views. Dwelling presupposes possession; but the idea of taking by force is precluded by the fact, that it would be altogether at variance with the blessing pronounced upon Shem. If history shows that the tents of Shem were conquered and taken by the Japhetites, the dwelling predicted here still relates not to the forcible conquest, but to the fact that the conquerors entered into the possessions of the conquered; that along with them they were admitted to the blessings of salvation; and that, yielding to the spiritual power of the vanquished, they lived henceforth in their tents as brethren (Psa 133:1). And if the dwelling of Japhet in the tents of Shem presupposes the conquest of the land of Shem by Japhet, it is a blessing not only to Japhet, but to Shem also, since, whilst Japhet enters into the spiritual inheritance of Shem, he brings to Shem all the good of this world (Isa 60). "The fulfilment," as Delitzsch says, "is plain enough, for we are all Japhetites dwelling in the tents of Shem; and the language of the New Testament is the language of Javan entered into the tents of Shem." To this we may add, that by the Gospel preached in this language, Israel, though subdued by the imperial power of Rome, became the spiritual conqueror of the orbis terrarum Romanus, and received it into his tents. Moreover it is true of the blessing and curse of Noah, as of all prophetic utterances, that they are fulfilled with regard to the nations and families in question as a whole, but do not predict, like an irresistible fate, the unalterable destiny of every individual; on the contrary, they leave room for freedom of personal decision, and no more cut off the individuals in the accursed race from the possibility of conversion, or close the way of salvation against the penitent, than they secure the individuals of the family blessed against the possibility of falling from a state of grace, and actually losing the blessing. Hence, whilst a Rahab and an Araunah were received into the fellowship of Jehovah, and the Canaanitish woman was relieved by the Lord because of her faith, the hardened Pharisees and scribes had woes pronounced upon them, and Israel was rejected because of its unbelief.
In Gen 9:28, Gen 9:29, the history of Noah is brought to a close, with the account of his age, and of his death.