He shall dwell in the tents of Shem (Genesis 9:27)

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Puritan Board Sophomore
"May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And may Canaan be his servant." (Genesis 9:27)

A brief questions, to ask for the thoughts of the board as to who "he," refers to in the above text. It would seem that the majority of the commentators, would take "he," to refer to Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem, with implications including the Gentiles being brought in, which I would agree with. However, Pink, seems to give scope for both views.

Thoughts welcome...

A.W. Pink
"God shall enlarge Japheth" (v. 27). The word Japheth means "enlargement" so that here there was a play upon words. "And he shall dwell in the tents of Shem." This expression is somewhat ambiguous, the obscurity being occasioned by the difficulty to ascertain the antecedent. Scholars and students have differed as to whether the "he" refers to God or to Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem. Personally, we incline toward the latter alternative, though we believe that each of them has been verified in subsequent history. May it not be that the Holy Spirit has designedly left it uncertain, to show that both interpretations are true? Sure it is that God did dwell in the tents of Shem, and equally sure is it that the descendants of Japheth are now doing so.


Ordinary Guy (TM)
I think the promises of God on Ham, Shem, and Japheth laid out the destiny of them and their descendants. The later promises to Ishmael as well.

The prophecy of Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem means that the majority of those blessed by the Gospel would not be Shemite but Japhetite as the Gentiles came to faith as the great majority of Jews have rejected their Messiah.

Gentiles form almost the entirety of the body of the Universal Church at present. Prophecy fulfilled.

Ellicott's Commentary:

"He shall dwell in the tents of Shem.--(Rather, let him dwell). In one sense Shem now dwells in the tents of Japheth: for the Jews, the noblest representatives of Shem, dwell dispersed in Aryan countries; and except in the Arabian peninsula, once Cushite, the Shemites have no home of their own. But the religious privileges of their race now belong to the family of Japheth. Carried by Jewish missionaries, like St. Paul, throughout the Roman world, they have become the property of the leading members of the Aryan race; and thus Japheth takes possession of the tents which by right of primogeniture belonged to Shem. For "to dwell in the tents of Shem" is not so much to share them as to own them; and if the Jews retain some degree of faith, it has lost with them all expansive power; while the right interpretation of their Scriptures, and as well the maintenance as the propagation of the religion of their Messiah, are now in the hands of the descendants of Japheth. Yet Shem does not lose all pre-eminence: for again we read--

Canaan shall be his servant (rather, their).--If Shem lose the foremost place of primogeniture, he is still a brother, and Canaan but a slave."


Puritan Board Sophomore
Some commentaries say "he" refers to both brothers; another said "he" refers to the descendants of Canaan. I stopped looking after about six commentaries, but none of them thought it referred to only one brother.

It was more "And may he dwell in the tents of Shem," that I was referring to Ed.


Puritan Board Junior

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,
  • because the refrain, "Canaan shall be his servant," requires that we should understand Genesis 9:27 as applying to Japheth, like Genesis 9:26 to Shem;
  • 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
  • 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.
The fulfillment is plain enough, for we are all Japhethites dwelling in the tents of Shem; and the language of the New Testament is the language of Javan entered into the tents of Shem.
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