Book 4 - Chapter 2: Of the Doctrine of Grace Under Noah - by Herman WitsiusThe Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man by Herman Witsius
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Herman Witsius (1636-1708)
Arguably known for the best work on Covenant Theology in print (at least in the top 5).
Herman Witsius (1636-1708) was Professor of Divinity in the Universities of Franeker, Utrecht, and Leyden. A brilliant and devout student, he was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew by the age of fifteen, when he entered the University of Utrecht. He was ordained at twenty-one and served in several pastorates, filling both the pulpit and the academic chair over the course of his life.
This, his magnum opus, is a reflection of some of the most fruitful and mature thinking on federal theology during the seventeenth century, and still holds a preeminent place in our own day.
Chapter II: Of the Doctrine of Grace under Noah
I. As Noah was the patriarch of the new world, we are now to explain what was handed down to us in his time, concerning the doctrine of salvation; as soon as he was born, his father Lamech called him כנ Noach, saying, זה ינחמנו, this same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed,” Gen. 5:29.
II. And here, in the first place, we are to take notice of the name given to the child, both with respect to its etymology, and the reason assigned by the pious parent for that name. The name is נח Noah, which, if we follow the rules of grammar, is derived from the root נוח, to rest or be quiet; to which word, both as to letters and signification, נחם, he comforted, is near of kin, which Lamech used in assigning the reason of the etymology. They who keep close to grammatical niceties, endeavour to correct the words of the text, and, instead of ינחמנו would have us read יניחנר, as the Septuagint, in order to come nearer to the etymology of the word, and to the name נח, have also rendered it, οὗτος ἀναπαυσει ἡμᾶς, this same shall refresh us. But seeing the Hebrew copies, the Chaldee paraphrast, Jerome, &c. constantly read ינחמנו, we dare not rely only on our own judgment, or be willing to have any thing altered. In proper names, derived from a verb, commonly some letter or other is either added, taken away, or transposed, and the accuracy of grammatical etymology not constantly observed; which the celebrated Buxtorf has shown by several examples; in his Vindiciæ Veritatis Hebraicæ, p. 267. Whence the Hebrew doctors generally incline to derive נח from נחם, by cutting away the last letter. But Mercer’s opinion appears more probable, who affirms, here only is a resemblance of words, but not a reason taken from etymology; because the verb נחם, both in sound and signification, comes near to the noun נח, which signifies rest and comfort; and as Aben Ezra learnedly says, comfort also is rest from grief of heart. And then the Hebrews usually have a greater regard to the sense than to the sounds of words. As therefore the reason of the name is thus expressed, זח ינחמנו, he shall comfort us, it is altogether the same, as if he had said זה יניחנו, he shall make us to rest, because to the same purpose; whoever comforts, causes rest, from trouble. But these are rather niceties, though not to be overlooked, in order to preserve the integrity of the Hebrew copies inviolable. This one thing is evident, that Lamech, in the name of his son, intended a standing monument of his own wishes and hopes.
III. Let us therefore see what he intended by this name. This same, says he, shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed. Three things are contained in this sentence. 1st, The evil under which, with other pious people, he groaned. 2dly, The good opposed to that evil, which he had the hopeful prospect of. 3dly, The author of that good.
IV. He makes the evil he complains of, to consist in our work, in the toil of our hands, and in the ground which God hath cursed. The carnal Jews generally restrict this to that fatigue of body which men are forced to bear, in the culture of the earth, occasioned by the curse of God, and that these words only contain a prophecy concerning an easier method of agriculture which Noah would discover. But his pious parents were not so delicate, and so much taken up with the conveniences of this life, as to place the greatest part of their misery in those fatigues of the body. These things have a higher view. By מעשנו, our work, are principally to be understood those evil works, which bring grief and sorrow to the soul. For these are our works, opposed to the work of God in us. These produce an unspeakable trouble and fatigue to the godly, as an heavy burden, they are too heavy for them, Psa. 38:4. These were at that time visible everywhere, men being arrived at the utmost pitch of wickedness. Whence Peter, 2 Pet. 2:5, calls the men of that generation, the world of the ungodly. But to those evil works was added the toil of their hands. To this I refer all the labour, misery and calamity of this life, which were to be undergone in the sweat of our brow. This is accompanied with dwelling on the earth which is cursed; so that while man lives there, he cannot possibly enjoy a full state of holiness and tranquillity of soul, and see the light of God’s face in glory. For, “whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord,” 2 Cor. 5:6.
V. The good opposed to this evil, which he desired, and was in expectation of, he calls consolation or comfort. This consists in the applying some effectual remedy against, and in the very removal of, those evils. The comfort against our vicious works consists in the expiation and remission of them, in the intimation of that gracious sentence, by which they are pardoned on the account of the Messiah, and finally, in the purging them away by the spirit of sanctification. Comfort from the miseries of this life, or from the toil of our hands, is partly a lessening of that affliction, by granting a more prosperous and happy state of things, partly the delighting the soul with an inward relish of divine goodness, whereby it is enabled to bear all those toils, with which God is pleased to exercise his people, willingly and with cheerfulness, from a sense of the love of God. Comfort, as to the ground, which God hath cursed, consists in the beginnings and preludes of the heavenly glory, which the elect are even here favoured with; but chiefly, in a freedom from the body of death, and the translation of the soul into a better state and mansion. Lamech breathed after these blessings, desired them, and hoped for them; and was willing to have a monument of this desire and hope in the name of his son.
VI. But whom did he point to as the author of this great blessing, when he said to his son, when he was born, “this same shall comfort us?” Some think, that being mistaken in the person, he flattered himself that Noah was the Messiah. And indeed, as the believers of that age, with the greatest and most assured hope, pressed earnestly, after the accomplishment of the promise made in paradise and prepossessed it in their longings, but not having any certainty about the time when it was to be fulfilled, it is not so very improbable, that in the warmth of desire they promised to themselves the expected seed in the persons of the sons, which were born to them. But what we lately observed concerning the expectation of our mother Eve, are objections to this. It seems therefore safer to believe, that, on occasion of this son, he comforted himself with the hope of the speedy coming of the Messiah, and considered him as a forerunner and type, and an extraordinary herald of the Messiah. Martyr speaks well to this purpose: “I would rather imagine, they acknowledged their sons to be shadows or types of Christ, and therefore distinguished them by such names. But Noah was not only a shadow of Christ,” &c. Though a genuine and real consolation proceeds alone from the Messiah and his Spirit, yet Lamech truly prophesied of Noah, that he also would be a comfort to wretched mortals. And he was so: 1st, By preaching, with an extraordinary zeal, the righteousness of faith; of which presently. 2dly, By obtaining a respite of the imminent destruction by means of his prayers, and exemplary holiness of life, till the ark should be completed: for, Ezekiel classes him with Daniel and Job, as one who was very prevalent by his deprecations, Ezek. 14:14, 20. 3dly, By preserving the remains of the perishing world in the ark, which he had built at God’s command, and performing very many things, in which we might see him, as a type of the Messiah, and of the spiritual and heavenly benefits to be obtained by him. Of which we are to speak more fully hereafter.
VII. We have just now said, that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. This we learn from Peter, who calls him “κηρυκα της δικαιοσύνης, a preacher of righteousness, 2 Pet. 2:5. But righteousness signifies not only that virtue of man, which consists in rectitude and a conformity to the rule, but also that obedience of the Messiah, whereby the ungodly is justified; “the righteousness which is of God, and opposed to our own righteousness,” Rom. 10:3. Noah was a preacher of both these. He not only pathetically exhorted the men of his time to a holy life, and to the practice of religion, in order to escape the wrath of God that was hanging over them, but also preached that righteousness of the Messiah, which, as it is the same with respect to its efficacy, yesterday, to-day, and for ever, so it is also “witnessed by the law and the prophets,” Rom. 3:21, and of which himself was heir, as Paul affirms, Heb. 11:7. For, seeing he was not ignorant of so great a benefit, nay, and even enjoyed it, it is quite inconsistent with the piety of the man, and the zeal with which he was animated for the glory of God, and for the salvation of his brethren, to suppose he would conceal it from them.
VIII. Here we are to explain another passage of Peter, 1 Pet. 3:19, 20; where he thus speaks of Christ, who was quickened by the Spirit: “Εν ᾧ (πνεύματι) και τοῖς ἐν φυλακῇ πνεύμασι πορευθεὶς εκήρυξεν, ἀπειθήσασί ποτέ, by which (spirit) also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was a preparing.” It is to no purpose to say, how variously this passage has been treated by interpreters, though if it be well considered the meaning will appear easy and plain. The Lord Christ, says he, who was raised from the dead by the infinite power of his Spirit, formerly went, came out of heaven, not indeed in the flesh assumed, and personally united to himself, but in the demonstration of his Spirit, by which he formed the prophets and among them also Noah. By the ministry of these prophets, who were stirred up by his Spirit, he himself preached. For not so much the prophets, as the “Spirit of Christ, which was in them, spake,” 1 Pet. 1:11. By that preaching, he invited the spirits to faith and repentance, that is, those souls of men which are now separated from the body, and such are usually called spirits, Heb. 12:25, and now are in prison, in שיול, according to the Syriac interpreter, in hell; compare Rev. 20:7; because they were disobedient and rejected the preaching of Christ by Noah, when the divine goodness and long-suffering called them to repentance. Peter therefore declares, that Christ formerly, and especially in the days of Noah, preached by his Spirit by the prophets; and what else did he preach, but himself, and faith and repentance, whereby they might come to him? In this sense also Peter writes, chap. 4:6, that the “Gospel was preached to them that are dead;” namely, when they were formerly alive. Thus to the same purpose, Naomi said to her daughters in law, Ruth 1:8, “as ye have dealt with the dead and with me.”
IX. Neither improperly, nor without authority does Peter refer the preaching of the prophets, and especially of Noah, to Christ. For Christ, who calls himself Jehovah the Redeemer, expressly proclaims, “I have not spoken in secret from the beginning,” Isa. 48:16, 17. And what else can the meaning be, but that I have publicly preached, from the very beginning? Nor is it altogether improbable, that Peter had a view to Gen. 6:3: “and the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” that is, “I will not always contend against their wickedness by fruitless exhortations and rebukes, made by my prophets, actuated by my Spirit; but for the determined space of a hundred and twenty years, will invite them to repentance by my long-suffering and forbearance of wrath; but when that term is once expired, I will destroy them all by a deluge.” From this it appears, that, in the time of Noah, Jehovah contended with men by the preaching of his Spirit. That Spirit, by whose inspiration, the word of life was declared, is by Peter justly called the Spirit of Christ; not only because he is the Spirit of the Son no less than of the Father; but also because it is owing to the suretiship of Christ, that the word of grace is proposed to sinful man. The Spirit therefore preaching that word, may, by a peculiar appropriation, be pointed out as the Spirit of Christ the surety. All this is to inform us, that the same doctrine of salvation concerning the same Christ, and through him, was, by means of the prophets, preached from the remotest antiquity.
X. I cannot here but take notice, how strangely Grotius perverts and corrupts the eminent testimony of Peter. He seems to envy us, and refuse that we can find Christ and his works in the ancient ages of the world; and therefore, he applies what Christ is said to have performed in the time of Noah, to what was done by the apostles, and to the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles. By the spirits in prison, he understands “the souls of men in the body as in a sheath”. But how does he prove it to you? Peter, says he, borrows a similitude from the times of Noah. Then God said, לא ידון דוח באדם, that is, if we regard the propriety of the words, “my Spirit shall not be so detained in man as in a sheath,” that is, the soul, which I gave him (Wisd. 12:1) shall not be useless as a sword in its sheath, which by no means answers the end it was made for. Let us proceed. A prison is usually called φυλακὴ, but the sheath is, as it were, the prison of the sword, the Chaldees calling a sheath נדנה. The same name they give to the body of a man, as Dan. 7:15, and the Talmudists often. But on the words “who were disobedient, &c., he observes: they were such as the “souls, who did not obey formerly in the times of Noah; he speaks as if they had been the same: and they were the same spirits or souls, not numerically, as Aristotle speaks, but generically, that is, souls equally useless to God; namely, as those who did not obey the preaching of Noah. Men altogether alienated from God did not believe Noah, did not believe Christ.” If I rightly take the meaning of the intricate discourse of this otherwise illustrious person, the sum of his opinion comes to this, Christ, by the Spirit put into the apostles, preached the Gospel to the Gentiles, whose souls were shut up in the body as in a prison and sheath, and who are justly accounted the same with the disobedient men who lived in the days of Noah, the same, I say, not numerically, but by imitation of their wickedness. I tremble at the reading such things, and imagine I see in them a spirit, which will not have the Holy Ghost to have said, what he actually has, and which shamefully misapplies its learning: let us now make this appear.
XI. 1st, The explication of the words of God, Gen. 6:3, though countenanced by some Jewish and Christian doctors, is absurd. Among others, see Buxtorf in Vindic. Verit. Hebrace. p. 639. For the soul of man is no where in Scripture called the Spirit of God. It is indeed formed in man by God, Zech. 12:1, yet not called the Spirit of God, but “the spirit of man,” Eccles. 3:21, and “the spirit of man which is in him,” 1 Cor. 2:11. In vain are alleged to the contrary, Ezek. 37:14, and Psa. 104:30; for there the Spirit of God does not denote the soul, or life of the creatures, but the author of that life. Nor does the grammatical analogy admit the deriving ידון yadon from נדגה, for, in that case, the points ought to be altered: the letter daleth ought to have a dagesch forte, because nun is excluded, and under yod, a Chirek. Not to mention, that neither in the Talmudists nor Chaldee, nor books of the Old Testament, is there any word derived from נדנה, which signifies to be detained in a sheath; so that this explication is rashly urged, without either reason or authority. 2dly, The application of those words to the words of Peter is still more absurd, as if hence we could understand what is meant by the “spirits in prison”. For certainly, the Spirit of God is one thing, the “spirits of disobedient men” another. And should we grant, which yet we do not, that there is in Hebrew a verb derived from נדנה, a sheath, this נדנה, a sheath, is certainly on thing, which the Septuagint render κολεὸν, 1 Chron. 21:27, and φυλακὴ another, which, according to the venerable Beza’s observation, when it does not signify the fourth part of the night, always denotes a prison. To conclude, what method of commenting is this? That the words of Peter, namely, “the spirits in prison,” shall be explained from Gen. 6:3, ידון רוחי; and ידון moreover explained from נדנה; and again נדנה denotes a prison, because a sheath is the prison of the sword; and then the body be the prison of the soul; and therefore, the “spirits in prison” in Peter, shall denote the souls contained in the body, as in a sheath. How far fetched, uncertain, and trifling is all this! 3dly, It is most absurd of all, to make the Gentiles, to whom the apostles preached, the same with the disobedient who lived in Noah’s days, who were not only men of another age, but, by an interval of many ages, men of another world. Indeed, Grotius refers us to his book de jure B. and P. lib. iii. c. ix. §. 3, where he proves, that a people is accounted to be the same at this day which they were a hundred years back, as long as that community subsists which constitutes a people and binds them together by mutual ties. Though this be true, it is nothing to the purpose; for the Gentiles, to whom the apostles preached, were knit by no tie of mutual union to the same society with the cotemporaries of Noah. They who were disobedient when the ark was a preparing, were all of them entirely destroyed by the deluge, nor from any of them did any of the Gentiles derive their origin; so that it is inconceivable how they could coalesce into one people with the Gentiles. And Peter is so far from making the unbelievers of his time to be one body with those who lived in the time of Noah, that, on the contrary, he calls the old world “the world of the ungodly,” 2 Peter 2:5, and chap. 3:6, 7, opposes “the world that then was, to the world which is now.” A similitude of manners is not enough to make them the same people. Who that trembles at the word of God, can ascribe such a weak and foolish speech to the divine apostle as to think he could say, that when the apostles preached to the men of their time, they preached to those who were disobedient in the time of Noah? Be it far from us to trifle with sacred writ. The reader may be pleased to see a very solid defence of this passage in Disputat. Placæi, Disput. 15.
XII. Memorable also is that blessing with which Noah blessed his pious sons, containing many doctrines of the true religion. Gen. 9:26, 27: “Blessed be Jehovah the God of Shem, and Canaan shall be his servant: God shall enlarge (or allure) Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem.” When he calls Jehovah, “the God of Shem,” he gives an imitation of that covenant, which was to subsist between the Supreme Being and the posterity of Shem above other men. For Abraham and all Israel were descended from Shem. These God had chosen to himself for a peculiar people. Whence, with a remarkable compellation, Shem is called the “father of all the children of Heber,” Gen. 10:21, that is, of the Hebrews. He also publishes the piety of Shem, who was constantly to adhere to the worship of the true God, and to oppose to the utmost, the spreading of idolatry: teaching, both by his doctrine and example, that he acknowledged none to be God but Jehovah. Generally interpreters also observe, that these words set forth that the Messiah should descend from the posterity of Shem, since he does not celebrate so much Shem himself, on the account of his piety, as he transfers the whole praise to God, saying, “blessed be Jehovah,” he shows that God is the author of every good inclination of the soul, and pious action of the life, to whom, therefore, all the glory of them is due. He had denounced a curse on the guilty in his own person, on account of the crime he had committed; because the fuel and source of evil is in man himself. But being pleased with the piety of Shem, he was willing rather to bless God, that he might not seem to ascribe too much to his son, or to sacrifice to his own net, and attribute any thing to his good education. He gives thanks to God, who had heard his vows, and had abundantly blessed the pains he had taken in forming the morals of his son. Nor is it without a mystery, that though Japheth was the first born of his three sons, yet Noah should, by the Spirit of prophecy, prefer Shem before him, to teach us that, in election, God has no respect to age, and that the order of grace is not the same with the order of nature. He was, therefore, justly called שם, that is, famous and of a great name, because he was eminent for so many and so great privileges above his brethren; and especially because with him and his posterity שם יהוה את שמו, Jehovah puts his name, as it is, Deut. 12:5. Noah adds, “and Canaan shall see his servant:” providing him with a servant after he had provided him with a Lord. This prophecy was not fulfilled till eight hundred years after, when the Israelites who descended from Shem, invading the land of Canaan, vanquished above thirty kings of the Canaanites, and having utterly destroyed the greatest part of the inhabitants, made slaves of the rest, laying a heavy tribute upon them. And they employed the Canaanites in cutting wood, and drawing water for the service of the tabernacle, down to the days of David, who changing their name called them נתינים, Nethinim, that is, dedititious, or persons given or offered, Ezr. 8:20, because they willingly surrendered themselves. See Bochart. Phaleg. lib. ii. c. 1.
XIII. What is said to Japheth is variously explained. The verb פתה, from whence Japheth is derived, as also the term Japht, which Noah here uses by an elegant paronomasia, or illusion, signifies in Chaldee to enlarge. Hence, in the Chaldee paraphrase, Psa. 104:25, ימא פתיא, is the wide sea; and 1 Kings 4:29, פתיות לבא, largeness of heart. But in Hebrew, the same verb signifies in kal to be allured, in piel to allure, and is generally taken in a bad sense, to denote an alluring or seducing into error; though sometimes in a good sense, as Jer. 20:7: “פתיתוי ואפת, thou hast persuaded me, and I was persuaded;” and Hos. 2:14, or according to another division, ver. 16: חנח אנכי מפתיה, behold, I will allure her, or persuade her.” Both significations are applied by great men to this passage.
XIV. They who contend that the signification is to enlarge, insist on the following arguments. First, that Noah makes use of the conjugation hiphil, which is never used to signify alluring; nor does it elsewhere occur in hiphil but in the Chaldee, where אפתי signifies to enlarge. Secondly, that מתה is a verb of a common signification, nevertheless it is almost always taken in a bad sense, excepting in one or two places. The Greeks generally render it ἀπατᾶν by a manifest allusion, but which rightly expresses the force of the word. Thirdly, that פתה when it signifies to allure, always governs an accusative: but here it is joined to the dative for lamed. Seeing, therefore, it cannot be said, “God shall allure to Japheth,” we must render it, “God shall enlarge to Japheth,” place or habitation being to be understood. For thus the Hebrews speak, as Gen. 24:22: “הרחיב יהוה לנו, the Lord hath made room for us;” and to the same purpose generally elsewhere. Moreover this explication is very consonant to the event. For in the division of the earth, the largest portion fell to be inhabited by Japheth. For besides Europe in all its extent, Asia the less belongs to the portion of Japheth; and Media, and a part of Armenia, and Iberia, and Albania, and those vast regions towards the north, which the Scythians formerly occupied, and the Tartars possess at this day; to say nothing about the new world, to which it is not improbable that the Scythians formerly passed over by the straits of Anian, as Fuller in his Miscellan. Scar. lib. ii. c. 4, has shown at large.
XV. But others, who contend for the signification to allure, can make use of these reasons: 1st, That Noah did not speak in Chaldee, but in Hebrew, in which language פתה has scarce, if at all, any other signification but to allure. 2dly, That not without reason he used the conjugating hiphil, though occurring nowhere else in Scripture; namely, to renter the paronomasia or allusion more elegant, which in piel cannot come so near to the name Japheth. And that a change of conjugation does not necessarily infer a change of signification. 3dly, That from the instances above alleged, it appears, פתה is also taken in a good sense; and that it is not to the purpose, whether more rarely or more frequently so. And indeed, the word πέιθω, used by the apostle, 2 Cor. 5:11, when he speaks of the doctrine of the Gospel, has a greater affinity with פתה, than the verb ἀπαταω. 4thly, Buxtorf shows, by many examples, that the change of the dative for the accusative with active verbs is frequent, Thesaur. Grammat. lib. ii. c. 12. And more especially, that though verbs of commanding are indeed oftener construed with the accusative, yet also sometimes with the dative, as Numb. 9:8, יצזח לבם, Isa. 38:1, צו לכיתיך. As is also השא, to seduce, construed sometimes with the accusative, Jer. 49:16; at other times with the dative, Jer. 4:10. And why not the same thing hold in פחה? 5thly, That neither did the event disagree with this explication: seeing upon rejecting the Jews, the Gospel by which they are allured to the communion of God in Christ, was more than to all others revealed to the posterity of Japheth, and that in their own language. And as this was a far greater blessing than the possession of the whole earth, why not rather think that by those words was predicted what they may most conveniently signify?
XVI. Now what follows, and let him dwell, or he shall dwell in the tents of Shem, may be applied either to God or to Japheth. They who apply it to God, as, among the ancients, Theodoret. in Gen. quæst. 58; among the moderns, Fuller in Miscellan. Sacr. lib ii. c. 4: Musculus in commentar. and others, have a regard to the word ישכן, whence שכינה Shekinah σκήνωσις; by which words, the inhabitation of the divine majesty is generally signified. The Shechinah was in the tabernacle of the Israelites in Mount Sion, and in the temple built there, of which God said, “that he would dwell in the thick darkness, that is, in an amazing cloud, the sign of the divine glory, which filled the house,” 1 Kings 8:11, 12. And the city, where either the tabernacle or temple stood, was called the “place which the Lord chose to place his name there,” Deut. 14:23. But above all the Shechinah is in Christ, in whom “dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily,” Col. 2:9, and by whom manifesting himself to the Israelites, and travelling over their country, God dwelled in the tents of Shem. To which John seems to allude. John 1:14: “The word was made flesh, and εσκήνωσε, tabernacled, dwelt among us;” and Rev. 21:3, behold, “ἡ σκηνὴ τοῦ Θεοῦ, the tabernacle of God is with men, and σκηνωσει, he will dwell with them.” Onkelos, the Chaldee paraphrast, led the way to our writers in this explication: who speaks thus: “May God enlarge to Japheth, and may his Shechinah, majesty, dwell in the tents of Shem.” Hence Erpenius’s Arab interpreter, “and may his light,” that is, the glory of God, “dwell in the tents of Shem.” Which is certainly a beautiful explication, and contains a prophecy of Christ’s walking and dwelling in the land, given to the posterity of Shem.
XVII. They who explain this prophecy, not of God, but of Japheth, who was to dwell in the tents of Shem, affirm, that it was fulfilled partly literally, partly mystically. Literally, because it is apparent, that the Greeks and Romans who descended from Japheth, invaded a great part of Asia, the lot of Shem; as also Balaam prophesied, that Chittim, the posterity of Japheth, shall afflict Ashur, and afflict Eber, that is, the Assyrians and Hebrews, the posterity of Shem, Numb. 24:24. Mystically, because the posterity of Japheth were, by the preaching of the Gospel, brought to dwell in the same church with the Jews who believed; or to succeed the unbelieving Jews who were cast off. And the church is compared to tabernacles; not only because the patriarchs lived in tabernacles or tents as strangers, Heb. 11:9, but also because this is the condition of all believers in this life, 2 Pet. 1:13; 2 Cor. 5:1. Moreover, these tabernacles are said to be Shem’s, because the church, even to the coming of Christ, was confined to the family of Shem. And to them the believers of the Gentiles are united by him, who made both one, Eph. 2:14. In fine, the posterity of Japheth is the principal part of the church of the Gentiles. For though God excludes neither the posterity of Shem nor of Ham from the church, in which there is neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian, Scythian, but Christ is all and in all,” Col. 3:11; yet it is certain, that the faith of Christ, from the days of the apostles, has chiefly flourished in Europe, and in those parts of Asia which fell to Japheth’s lot.
XVIII. But, indeed, seeing both these things, the habitation of God by Christ in the tents of Shem, and the habitation of Japheth in the same tents, have been joined not only in time, but also that the latter is a consequent and effect of the former, that is no reason why we may not affirm that both are included in the latitude of the words: and the meaning to be, that the time should come when God would visibly dwell by Christ in the church, descended of Shem; and this extraordinary grace be preached through the whole habitable world with such powerful persuasion that many nations, and among these chiefly the descendants of Japheth, should, by a true faith, be united with the church of the Israelites.
XIX. Lastly, it is added, that Canaan should also be the servant of Japheth. And history testifies, that those parts of Asia, which had been long possessed by the Canaanites, were conquered by the Greeks and Romans; and that if any remains of the Canaanites continued, supposing Tyre built by the Sidonians, Thebes by Cadmus, and Carthage by Dido, they were all of them destroyed either by the Greeks or by the Romans. Here I again recommend to the reader Bochart’s Phaleg. lib. iii. c. 1.
XX. Let us now take a summary view of the doctrines pointed out by this prophecy of Noah. 1st, We find that the praise of every virtue, and of every good action is to be ascribed to God, as the supreme author thereof; whom therefore Noah blesses on account of the piety of his son. 2dly, God, by a special covenant, laid claim to Shem and his posterity, as his peculiar people, so as to be called their God. 3dly, In the election to grace and glory, and in the bestowing of spiritual benefits, external prerogatives are of no manner of avail. For Shem, who was younger than Japheth, is preferred to the elder. 4thly, The heinous crimes of parents are sometimes visited on their descendants unto several generations. For Canaan, with his posterity, is, on account of the sin of Ham, condemned to be slaves to the descendants of Shem and of Japheth. 5thly, Godliness has the promises even of this life, as well as of that which is to come, and obtains for its reward not only blessings for the soul, but also for the body: for a large part of the earth is promised to Japheth, if we derive his name from enlarging, and a large dominion over the Canaanites to Shem and to Japheth 6thly, The word of grace, published in the Gospel, has a great power of alluring and persuading. 7thly, Such is the condition of the church on earth, as to resemble tabernacles, expecting a fixed habitation in heaven made without hands. 8thly, The divine majesty, shining forth in the Messiah, who was to arise from the posterity of Shem, was afterwards to dwell in his tents. And then, 9thly, the Gentiles, especially the descendants of Japheth, who were before aliens from the covenants of promise, were to be allured, by the preaching of the Gospel, to the communion of the church of Israel.
XXI. We are, also, here to take notice of the longevity of the patriarchs in this period; by which means, the doctrine of grace could be very conveniently and safely propagated by them. For our father Noah, not to mention now the others, lived to see all the Antediluvians, excepting the first three; and his son Shem, who also had seen the first world, lived to the fifty-first year of Jacob. But as these testimonies concerning the doctrine of the ancient church, were, in that period, both more obscure and sparing, we have been the fuller in treating of them; we shall therefore study more conciseness in the others, where the lustre of divine grace was made known in greater plenty and perspicuity.