|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
9:24-29 Noah declares a curse on Canaan, the son of Ham; perhaps this grandson of his was more guilty than the rest. A servant of servants, that is, The meanest and most despicable servant, shall he be, even to his brethren. This certainly points at the victories in after-times obtained by Israel over the Canaanites, by which they were put to the sword, or brought to pay tribute. The whole continent of Africa was peopled mostly by the descendants of Ham; and for how many ages have the better parts of that country lain under the dominion of the Romans, then of the Saracens, and now of the Turks! In what wickedness, ignorance, barbarity, slavery, and misery most of the inhabitants live! And of the poor negroes, how many every year are sold and bought, like beasts in the market, and conveyed from one quarter of the world to do the work of beasts in another! But this in no way excuses the covetousness and barbarity of those who enrich themselves with the product of their sweat and blood. God has not commanded us to enslave negroes; and, without doubt, he will severely punish all such cruel wrongs. The fulfilment of this prophecy, which contains almost a history of the world, frees Noah from the suspicion of having uttered it from personal anger. It fully proves that the Holy Spirit took occasion from Ham's offence to reveal his secret purposes. Blessed be the Lord God of Shem. The church should be built up and continued in the posterity of Shem; of him came the Jews, who were, for a great while, the only professing people God had in the world. Christ, who was the Lord God, in his human nature should descend from Shem; for of him, as concerning the flesh, Christ came. Noah also blesses Japheth, and, in him, the isles of the gentiles that were peopled by his seed. It speaks of the conversion of the gentiles, and the bringing of them into the church. We may read it, God shall persuade Japheth, and being persuaded, he shall dwell in the tents of Shem. Jews and gentiles shall be united together in the gospel fold; both shall be one in Christ. Noah lived to see two worlds; but being an heir of the righteousness which is by faith, he now rests in hope, waiting to see a better than either.
Verse 25. - And he said. Not in personal resentment, since "the fall of Noah is not at all connected with his prophecy, except as serving to bring out the real character of his children, and to reconcile him to the different destinies which he was to announce as awaiting their respective races" (Candlish); but under the impulse of a prophetic spirit (Poole, Keil, Lange, Candlish, Murphy, and expositors generally), which, however, had its historical occasion in the foregoing incident. The structure of the prophecy is perfectly symmetrical, introducing, in three poetical verses,
(1) the curse of Canaan,
(2) the blessing of Shem, and
(3) the enlargement of Japheth, and in all three giving prominence to the doom of servitude pronounced upon the son of Ham. Cursed. The second curse pronounced upon a human being, the first having been on Cain (Genesis 4:11). Colenso notices that all the curses belong to the Jehovistic writer; but vide Genesis 49:6, 7, which Tuch and Bleek ascribed to the Elohist, though, doubtless in consequence of the "curse," by Davidson and others it is now assigned to the Jehovist. That this curse was not an imprecation, but a prediction of the future subjection of the Canaanites, has been maintained (Theodoret, Venema, Willet), chiefly in consequence of its falling upon Canaan; but
(1) as the contrary "blessing" implies the inheritance of good in virtue of a Divine disposition to that effect, so does "cursing" import subjection to evil by the same Divine power; and
(2) if we eliminate the moral element from the doom of Canaan, which clearly referred to a condition of temporal servitude, there seems no reason why the language of Noah should not be regarded as a solemnly pronounced and Divinely guaranteed infliction; while
(3) as the curse is obviously aimed at the nations and peoples descending from the execrated person, it is not inconsistent to suppose that many individuals amongst those nations and peoples might attain to a high degree of temporal and spiritual prosperity. Be Canaan.
(1) Not Ham, the father of Canaan (Arabic Version); nor
(2) all the sons of Ham, though concentrated in Canaan (Havernick, Keil, Murphy); but
(3) Canaan alone, though indirectly, through him, Ham also (Calvin, Bush, Kalisch, Lange, et alii). For the formal omission of Ham many different reasons have been assigned.
(1) Because God had preserved him in the ark (Jewish commentators).
(2) Because if Ham had been mentioned all his other sons would have been implicated (Pererius, Lange).
(3) Because the sin of Ham was comparatively trifling (Bohlen). For the cursing of Canaan instead of Ham, it has been urged -
(1) That he was Ham's youngest son, as Ham was Noah's (Hoffman and Delitzsch); surely a very insufficient reason for God cursing any one!
(2) That he was the real perpetrator of the crime (Aben Ezra, Procopius, Poole, Jamieson, Lewis, &c.).
(3) That thereby the greatness of Ham's sin was evinced (Calvin).
(4) That Canaan was already walking in the steps of his father's impiety (Ambrose, Mercerus, Keil).
(5) That Noah foresaw that the Canaanites would abundantly deserve this visitation (Calvin, Wordsworth, Murphy, Kalisch, Lange). We incline to think the truth lies in the last three reasons. A servant of servants. A Hebraism for the superlative degree; cf. "King of kings, "holy of holies, "the song of songs" (vide Gesenius, § 119). I.e. "the last even among servants" (Calvin); "a servant reduced to the lowest degree of bondage and degradation" (Bush); "vilissima servituts pressus" (Sol. Glass); "a most base and vile servant" (Ainsworth); "a working servant" (Chaldee); "the lowest of slaves" (Keil); παῖς οἰκἑτης (LXX.), which "conveys the notion of permanent hereditary servitude" (Kalisch). Keil, Hengstenberg, and Wordsworth see an allusion to this condition in the name Canaan (q.v., supra), which, however, Lange doubts. Shall he be to his brethren. A prophecy which was afterwards abundantly fulfilled, the Canaanites in the time of Joshua having been partly exterminated and partly reduced to the lowest form of slavery by the Israelites who belonged to the family of Shem (Joshua 9:23), those that remained being subsequently reduced by Solomon (1 Kings 9:20, 21); while the Phenicians, along with the Carthaginians and Egyptians, who all belonged to the family of Canaan, were subjected by the Japhetic Persians, Macedonians, and Romans (Keil).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
And he said,.... Not in a drunken fit, as some profane persons would suggest, for he was awaked from his wine; nor in the heat of passion, but by inspiration, under a spirit of prophecy:
cursed be Canaan; or, "O cursed Canaan", or rather, "Canaan is", or "shall be cursed" (q); for the words are either a declaration of what was his case, or a prediction of what it should be. It may seem strange that Canaan should be cursed, and not Ham, who seems to he the only aggressor, by what is said in the context; hence one copy of the Septuagint, as Ainsworth observes, reads Ham, and the Arabic writers the father of Canaan; and so Saadiah Gaon supplies it, as Aben Ezra relates; and the same supplement is made by others (r): but as both were guilty, as appears from what has been observed on the former verses, and Canaan particularly was first in the transgression; it seems most wise and just that he should be expressly named, since hereby Ham is not excluded a share in the punishment of the crime he had a concern in, being punished in his son, his youngest son, who perhaps was his darling and favourite, and which must be very afflicting to him to hear of; and since Canaan only, and not any of the other sons of Ham were guilty, he, and not Ham by name, is cursed, lest it should be thought that the curse would fall upon Ham and all his posterity; whereas the curse descends on him, and very justly proceeds in the line of Canaan; and who is the rather mentioned, because he was the father of the accursed race of the Canaanites, whom God abhorred, and, for their wickedness, was about to drive out of their land, and give it to his people for an inheritance; and in order to which the Israelites were now upon the expedition, when Moses wrote this account, and which must animate them to it; for by this prediction they would see that they were an accursed people, and that they were to be their servants:
a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren; the posterities of Shem and Japheth, who stood in the relation of brethren to Canaan and his posterity; and to those he and his offspring were to become the most mean abject servants, as the phrase implies: this character agrees with the name of Canaan, which may be derived from "to depress", "humble", and "make mean and abject".
(q) "maledictus erit Cenahan", Junius & Tremellius. (r) So some in Vatablus.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
25. Cursed be Canaan—This doom has been fulfilled in the destruction of the Canaanites—in the degradation of Egypt and the slavery of the Africans, the descendants of Ham.
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