“GOD shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.”
The will of God concerning the world and its people is revealed in the events that occur from day to day in its history. History is a record of past events. Prophecy, however, dares more than history, and looks into the unrevealed future, declaring’ what is yet to be brought forth from the womb of time. Noah’s words quoted above are prophecy, and are an instance of God’s method of communicating with the fathers of old by the prophets, and not by his Son, as now. (See Hebrews i. 1, 2.) This one bit of prophecy is fraught with deep significance; it contains the key to much of the world’s history, but much more, it contains the secret to the history of the visibility of the church of Christ. I hope we may be able to obtain a glimpse of both meanings of the text. Noah does not deserve any credit for unusual sagacity and foresight, for his saying is the fruit of faith. Noah did not understand what he was talking about any more than the people of the Lord in this day understand fully their own thoughts and emotions when under the exercise of this same faith. Noah was warned of God of things not seen as yet, and moved by fear builded an ark to the saving of his house. How was Noah warned of God? By faith, that mighty principle which has moved the people of God aright in all ages of the world. Faith is the magnetic needle of the soul’s compass which points always to the same star – the Star of Bethlehem, and will not let us go wrong. Noah could not warn others of the coming disaster, because none had this faith, and the things of God are revealed “from faith to faith,” and not from faith to no faith, assertions to the contrary notwithstanding. The lessons taught in all these faithful sayings of old, instead of being wasted upon the world of that day, were reserved for us unto whom the better things of the gospel are come.
Certain circumstances surrounded the utterance of this prophecy quoted at the beginning. Noah was drunk with wine, and lay naked in his disgrace. His son Ham discovered him in this condition and exposed it to the two other sons, Shem and Japheth, who, instead of gloating over the incident, spread a garment over their father with their faces turned away. Upon awaking, Noah, aware of Hani’s treachery and of the faithfulness of Shem and Japheth, cursed the offspring of the one but blessed the others. The blessings are promises unto us. So is God’s will made known. He makes use of wicked things and base to further his purpose concerning his elect. Who dare question, the predestination of God in these things, or who, acknowledging his predestination, dare lay the charge of guilt before his throne? These circumstances which accompanied the utterance of this truth by the lips of Noah furnished an unworthy setting for so precious a stone. Truth is a gem often found in the most unlikely places, and in settings unworthy of it, yet devoid of its habitation its brilliancy would not appear so wonderful nor its rarity be appreciated.
Shem was the forefather of Terah, the father of Abram, whose name was afterward changed to Abraham, who was the father of Isaac, the father Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, from whom sprang that nation of old so singularly favored of the Lord above all nations of the earth. Japheth had seven sons, whose posterity divided the “isles of the Gentiles,” every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. From Noah sprang both Jew and Gentile. Japheth, the father of the Gentiles, was to be enlarged by the Lord, and should come to “dwell in the tents of Shem,” meaning that his posterity should so increase in power and influence as to gain the ascendancy over the sons of Shem, and dwell in their dwelling-places. For many centuries the Jews were the ruling power in Jerusalem and the “land of Canaan,” but finally passed under the government of Rome, and were gradually borne down under the yoke until their national identity became lost, about 70 A. D., when the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed by the Roman army and many of the Jews were put to the sword, resulting in the massacre and banishment of hundreds of thousands of the unhappy people who were scattered among their brethren in all parts of the, world. Josephus estimates the total number slain to have been no less than 1,356,460. This is the historical fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy concerning Japheth. This is also the “abomination that maketh desolate,” spoken of in Daniel xii. 11. It is also the fulfillment of the prophecy in Hosea i. 4: “I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.” Jezreel, meaning “God’s seed,” prefigures Christ the only begotten Son of God. Historically speaking, the widespread desolation that came upon the Jewish nation in the year 70 was the awful vengeance of God upon that people for the crucifixion of Christ.
Now, with the help of God’s Spirit to give us understanding, let us turn from the external to the internal or spiritual meaning of the text. Note the language, “tents of Shem,” not land of Shem. Quite a decided difference. Not only was the seed of Japheth to possess the land of Shem, but the home of the Israelite was to be the home of the Gentile; he was to have the same roof for a covering, and be protected by the same wall. Israel dwelt beneath the wings of the Almighty. God was his covering and his wall of salvation. He was eyes unto Israel and a strong arm. Who was it that for Israel’s sake caused the lied Sea to become a way of escape from the bondage of Egypt? Who was it satisfied their thirst with water from the smitten rock, and who sent manna from heaven in time of great hunger? Even the Lord God Omnipotent did all this, and more, for his mercies unto that rebellious people are beyond recounting. This same God gave Shem by the mouth of his prophets many sweet and precious promises whose fulfillment was treasured in the Savior to be revealed. But the Israelites blundered, they based their right to the promises upon endless genealogies, establishing their lineal descent from Abraham. That they were altogether wrong in so doing is clear from the words of John the Baptist to them, as recorded in Matthew iii. 6: “Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our Father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” We have also the direct words of Christ concerning this matter in his address to the Jews, as recorded in John x. 26: “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” Now, as to who are the heirs of the promise, ask the great apostle to the Gentiles and he will tell you: “If ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Since we are Gentiles, my brethren, we have great reason to thank God that our right to the promise does not depend upon our being able to trace our descent from Abraham, for we could never do that, being descended from Japheth, and not from Shem. The whole thing depends upon the election of God in Christ before the foundation of the world. If we are included in that election, then are we heirs; if we are not so elected, then all the genealogies in the world will not make us heirs. Christ did not permit his disciples to bear this news unto the Gentiles until after his death, but sent them only unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. After his resurrection, however, he sent them on the great apostolic mission: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” “All the world,” meaning Gentiles as well as Jews. By the way, permit me to say that this mission was finished prior to 63 A. D., when Paul, while a prisoner in Rome, wrote his letter to the brethren at Colosse, in which he said that the word of the truth of the gospel had come unto them as it had “in all the world.” So now it is clear that God no longer gives unto the Jew his peculiar care and providence, but has brought the Gentile to trust in him also. Thus Japheth dwells in the tents of Shem. The election of God in Christ includes both Jew and Gentile, all whom the Holy Ghost has circumcised in heart, for the circumcision of the flesh avails nothing.
“God shall enlarge Japheth.” “Enlarge,” according to the marginal reading, means to persuade or convince. This convincing is the work of the Spirit in the heart of the sinner, whether Jew or Gentile, and brings him to dwell beneath the love and mercy of an all-wise God, to know his gracious providence disposes each event, and to trust in that everlasting arm which is able to save unto the uttermost, thanking his heavenly Father through Jesus Christ our Lord that he has redeemed his soul from destruction and keeps his feet from falling.
HORACE H. LEFFERTS
Philadelphia, Pa., August 10, 1904
Signs Of The Times
Volume 72. , No. 18.
SEPTEMBER 15, 1904.