Noah’s Sons – Shem, Japheth, and Ham

Noah had three sons, Shem, Japheth (JAY-feth), and Ham (who had a son named Canaan who will become important to our story below).  In the ancient times, seeing your father naked was frowned upon.  It was considered disgraceful to the father.  “Honor thy father and mother” was the rule and was so important to their culture, that striking or cursing a parent was punishable by death.

Noah had drunk too much wine and had fallen asleep, naked, in his tent.  Ham, Noah’s son, stumbled in (probably by accident) and saw his father naked.  Afterward, Ham went to his brothers, Shem and Japheth, and bragged about what he had seen.  Ham boasted to his brothers and ridiculed his father when he should have honored him.  He expressed outspoken delight in seeing his father in a disgraceful condition.

Rather than condone Ham’s actions, Shem and Japheth hid their eyes and went into the tent and covered their father with a blanket.  Sham and Japheth refused to take advantage of their father when he was vulnerable.  They treated their father with proper respect, even though their father may have been in the wrong (drunk and naked).

Noah awoke and was very angry at Ham for what he had done.  Noah predicted what would happen to Ham’s son, Canaan.  Noah said that Canaanites would forever be servants of Shemites (Shem’s family) and Japhethites (Japheth’s family line).

Canaan would go on to become the nation of Canaanites.  As you will see in later bible writings, the enslavement of Canaanites turns up in many stories in the Bible.

What the story means to us today

This story is a preface or introduction to the explanation of how the Earth was populated and how people were spread throughout the planet.  The many nations of Noah are introduced in the paragraphs after this story and these nations form the base of the rest of the biblical history.  This story sets the stage for the upcoming characters in the Bible including Abraham and Jesus.

In addition to explaining how Noah’s three sons went on to populate the Earth, with both good and bad descendants, the story points out the importance of respecting your parents.

Additional thoughts and considerations

The similarities between Noah and Adam and Eve

There are many parallels between the story of Noah’s uncovering and the story of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel.  Both were responsible for populating the Earth and before this endeavor, both were involved in a sinful act which involved nakedness or being ashamed because of their nakedness.

Other similarities include (1) both shared the same profession (farmers who worked the ground), (2) both involved a curse or prediction, (3) both involved strife with their descendants, (4) when their nakedness was uncovered, Noah’s sons covered him just as God covered Adam and Eve once they recognized their nakedness.

Noah is indeed the “2nd Adam” acting both as a recipient of blessings and the father of a sinful child.

Why did Noah curse Canaan and not Ham himself?

The scripture is pretty clear on this.  Noah did not put a curse on Ham but rather predicted or prophesized Canaanite’s eventual failure.

Note that the Bible does indeed say that Noah was drunk.  Although this sin was minor, Ham’s sin was much greater.  Just after the story of Noah’s ark, we see that man is already headed in a sinful direction.

Noah’s tribes

This story goes on to document the tribes of Noah and leads into the story of the Tower of Babel.  Immediately after the great flood, we can see that there are three tribes inhabiting the Earth.  These tribes went on to develop their own political, cultural, and ethnic traits as they spread out and replenished the Earth’s population.  The story of Babel goes on to explain how the tribes came to be scattered and developed their own languages.

Some of Noah’s ancestors can be traced to the inhabitants of our modern day countries.

Ham’s sons

Cush – Ethiopia

Mizraim (mis-RAY-im) – Egypt

Lehabites (LEE-huh-bite) – Lybians

Canaan – Canannites

Japheth’s sons

Javan (JAY-van) – Greeks

Tarshish (TAHR-shish)- Spain

Tubal (TYOO-buhl), Meshech (MEE-shek) and Tiras (TIGH-ruhs) have been identified with Turkey

Europeans and America probably descended from this tribe

Shem’s sons

Abraham, the Jews, and hence Jesus Christ, descended from this tribe

Eber (EE-buhr) – Hebrews

Aram (AHR-uhm)- Syria

Arphaxed or Arphaxad (ahr-FAX-ad) – possibly Iraq


Bible Text

NIV Version

Genesis Chapter 9

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.)  19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard.  21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.  22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.  23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,  25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!

The lowest of slaves

will he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem!

May Canaan be the slave of Shem.

27 May God extend the territory of Japheth;

may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,

and may Canaan be his slave.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years.  29 Altogether, Noah lived 950 years, and then he died.