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Christ In Type And Prophecy: Volumes 1&2 by Rev. A.J. Maas S.J.

MESSIANIC CHARACTER OF THE PROPHECY.—a. Reasons from the Text.—1. The very words indicate that Jahveh, the God of the supernatural order, will be the God of Sem. It is therefore quite plain that all the supernatural blessing of the human race will come through Sem’s family. 2. Besides, it is implied that these blessings will be many and various; instead of enumerating them all, the holy patriarch simply praises Jahveh for them: “Blessed be Jahveh, the God of Sem.” 3. Bochart (Phaleg, ii. 65 seqq. ed. iv.) beautifully explains why Noe does not bless Sem in his own person, as he blesses Japhet and curses Chanaan. For the evil that is in us, and to some extent also the natural and supernatural good, is owing to ourselves, but the benefit of redemption is owing to God’s goodness alone. Hence, Noe blesses God when he comes to speak of Sem. 4. It must also be noted that the present prophecy is the counterpart of the protevangelium: the latter indicates that the redemption will come through the seed of the woman, i.e., through man; Noe’s prophecy announces that our supernatural good will come through God’s special dwelling in the tents of Sem, i.e., through God. In the subsequent development of the Messianic prophecies sometimes the human side of the Redeemer, sometimes the divine side, is represented, until finally the two lines of predictions coalesce in the God-man Jesus Christ (cf. Briggs, “Messianic Prophecy,” pp. 82 f.).

b. Reasons from Authority.—St. Augustine understands the prophecy in a Messianic sense where he explains the blessing of Japhet: “It was precisely this that was predicted when it was said: May God enlarge Japhet, and may he dwell in the tents of Sem, i.e., in the churches which the sons of the prophets, the apostles, have constructed.” The Messianic reference of the blessing is then, according to the great African Doctor, certain beyond all doubt. St. Jerome too refers Noe’s words to the same Messianic fulfilment (Quæstiones Gen., Opp. t. iii. p. 134): “When he says: May he dwell in the tents of Sem, he prophesies about us, who are in possession of the knowledge and the science of the Scriptures after Israel has been rejected.” Even Jonathan explains the holy patriarch’s words concerning Sem as referring to Sem’s spiritual blessedness: “The Lord will render illustrious the boundary of Japhet, and his sons will become proselytes, and live in the school of Sem.” St. Justin agrees in his exposition with that of St. Augustine, interpreting the living of the Japhetites in the tents of Sem as their conversion to the faith in Christ (cf. Justin., Dialog. cum Tryphone, August., de Civitate Dei, l. xvi. c. 2, etc.). Rupertus too sees in the patriarch’s blessing a prediction of the Gentiles’ conversion to Christianity (1. iv. in Gen.). As to Jewish authorities, we may first of all point to the above words of the Targum of Pseudo-Jonathan. The ancient book Bereshith Rabba (sect. 36, fol. 35, 4) remarks on “may he dwell in the tents of Sem”: “The Shechinah dwells only in the tents of Sem.” And since the Shechinah is repeatedly identified with the Messias, it follows that the treatise quoted sees a Messianic reference in Noe’s words.

c. Reasons from Convenience.—It may be of interest to consider a few reasons which show a priori, as it were, the Messianic reference of Noe’s blessing to the Messianic times. a. When the human race is split up into different families, the divine names too are distributed among the various families: Elohim is the God of the Japhetites, Jahveh is the God of the Semites (cf. Orelli, “Old Testament Prophecy,” p. 98). It is therefore fit that on the same occasion the general promise of salvation given to the whole human race should be in so far particularized as to determine the branch which would be the saving mediator. b. Again, since Messianic promises are connected with all the mediators with whom God made a special covenant—with Adam, Abraham, Moses—it is antecedently probable that a Messianic promise should be connected with the remaining Old Testament mediator too; for the covenant which God made with Noe is the second of the four great covenants regulating the relations between God and man before the time of Jesus Christ (cf. Elliott, “Old Testament Prophecy,” p. 194).

d. Exceptions Answered.—1. If any one should find it hard to understand the tents of Sem as designating the Church, it must be kept in mind that the word has a similar figurative meaning repeatedly. Thus in Zach. 12:7 “the tents of Juda,” in Mal. 2:12, “the tents of Jacob” are designations for the theocracy. In the Gospel of Luke, 16:9, there is question of a reception into everlasting habitations, instead of admittance into the kingdom of God. At any rate, this difficulty affects only those who prefer Japhet to God as the subject of the clause “may he dwell in the tents of Sem.” 2. The exception that several of the patristic testimonies are irrelevant, because they evidently regard Japhet and not God as the subject of the clause “may he dwell,” is not to the point. For whatever special interpretation they may give of the details of Noe’s prophecy, they certainly refer the whole to the Messias, and this is all we need for the truth of our thesis.

e. Arguments from the New Testament.—Finally, the Messianic promise given to Noe, or rather through Noe to Sem, is several times alluded to in the New Testament. St. Paul, in his epistle to the Ephesians (2:14), consoles them with the following words: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and breaking down the middle wall of partition, the enmities in his flesh.” These words alone would perhaps be too obscure to be taken as an allusion to the partition between the three human races; but then the apostle adds (2:19): “Now, therefore, you are no more strangers and foreigners: but you are fellow-citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God.” What more striking fulfilment of the prediction “may Japhet dwell in the tents of Sem,” i.e., of Jahveh’s special client, could St. Paul have pointed out in the Christian dispensation? And lest any one should imagine that Sem has been dispossessed entirely of his tents, the same apostle writes to the Romans (11:25): “For I would not have you ignorant, brethren, of this mystery (lest you should be wise in your own conceits): that blindness in part hath happened in Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles should come in, and so all Israel should be saved.”

GEN. 9:18–27

And the sons of Noe, who came out of the ark, were Sem, Cham, and Japhet, and Cham is the father of Chanaan. These three are the sons of Noe, and from these was all mankind spread over the whole earth. And Noe, a husbandman, began to till the ground, and planted a vineyard. And drinking of the wine, was made drunk, and was uncovered in his tent. Which when Cham, the father of Chanaan, had seen, to wit that his father’s nakedness was uncovered, he told it to his two brethren without. But Sem and Japhet put a cloak upon their shoulders, and going backward, covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, and they saw not their father’s nakedness. And Noe, awaking from the wine, when he had learned what his younger son had done to him, he said: “Cursed be Chanaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” And he said: “Blessed be the Lord God of Sem, be Chanaan his servant. May God enlarge Japhet, and may he dwell in the tents of Sem, and Chanaan be his servant.”

a. By means of this prophecy the Messianic blessings were certainly connected with the family of Sem. b. Probably it was also understood that man’s salvation was to be accomplished by God’s dwelling in a special manner among men.








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