The Enlarging of Japheth
Genesis Lesson #053
May 26, 2004
As we look at the post-diluvian civilization it begins with the three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham and Japheth. We are covering the section on Genesis 10 that begins with Japheth, then we get an expanded genealogy from Ham, and then we go to Shem. Genesis 11 gives us an even more detailed look at Shem. So obviously it is building to the focus on the descendants of Shem and how that fulfills the blessing that is in the Noahic oracle that comes at the end of Genesis 9. If we are going to understand what is going on in Genesis 10 & 11 the framework is really established at the end of chapter 9 with the oracle of Noah—when he curses Canaan, blesses Shem in the realm of his relationship to God under the terminology “Blessed be Yahweh, the God of Shem.” And then the blessing for Japheth in v. 27, “May God enlarge Japheth.” This works itself out when we get into Genesis 10. We don’t have a lot when it comes to the descendants of Japheth, it seems rather brief in the original and we only have five verses that give us the descendants of Japheth. He has seven sons mentioned in v. 2, and of those only two are singled out with their descendants. Gomer is mentioned in v. 3, we have three of his sons mentioned, and then the sons of Javan, another of the sons of Japheth, and there are four of his mentioned. That gives a total of fourteen, yet the emphasis here is on this expansion of Japheth. It is not that apparent to us as we look at this because when we compare the number of descendants of Japheth with the number that are listed for Ham and for Shem, Japheth seems to get a sort of a short shrift, not much is mentioned here.
The thrust here is to demonstrate not only descendancies, to who comes through what line, but it is also to demonstrate certain family allegiances that become dominant later on in history and become important in understanding different aspects of prophecy. But when we look at this structure we see that it is an expansion of the cursing and blessing of v. 25. The only time we have any diversion in this chapter is an explanation in vv. 8-11 of the beginning of Nimrod’s kingdom. There we immediately are introduced to the fact that there is an ominous overtone here that he is the founder of Babel, and that immediately tells us that this is something that is negative. So this is the only thing mentioned of the descendants of Ham, and, of course, if you were reading this as a Jew the fact that Canaan is a descendant of Ham would also have very negative overtones. Then after we have finished the three genealogies of chapter ten there is a nine-verse expansion on the tower of Babel. So everything that is happening really focuses on what is happening at Babel. But because we are so unfamiliar with these names and nations it is important to go through this in order to familiarize ourselves as to who these people groups are.
A second reason it is important is because these chapters from Genesis 1 to Genesis 11 are under assault, and have been under assault, ever since the birth of the so-called Enlightenment in the 17th century. One of the basic undergirding assumptions of the Enlightenment is that you really couldn’t trust any of the stories, any of the histories, that had been written prior to the 1600s. That is the enormous arrogance that came into western civilization through philosophy as it threw off what they considered to be the yoke of religion, and in some ways it was because of the way that the Roman Catholic theology operated and did not allow any room for investigation within a biblical framework and it was too bound by tradition. But beginning with the birth of the Enlightenment there were scholars questioning the historicity of Genesis 1-11: whether creation could have occurred that way, whether there was really a universal flood, whether the table of nations in Genesis 10 was accurate or not, and how could we know these things, and more and more scholars began to doubt the historicity of these eleven chapters. So we have many people who don’t spend any time studying them in terms of their historical value and significance, and frequently when we get to a chapter like chapter 10 we will find that pastors will simply skip over it or teach the whole chapter in one 40-minute lesson or exposition simply because they don’t want to run the risk of boring anyone to death with all of this minutia related to people that apparently don’t have any relevance to us today. But we understand that all Scripture is God-breathed and it profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, and if the Holy Spirit took the time to record this n Scripture then it is important for us to understand it. And it may simply be that this gives us a framework for our thought, and may also be because it is going to increase our confidence in the historicity and accuracy of the Scripture so that when the Scripture teaches us others things related to either our spiritual life or other dimensions of life then we know that we can count on it, that in areas where we can evaluate the Scripture because of known history or historical events we know that it is trustworthy and therefore what it claims to be, the Word of God.
The first son that is mentioned is Japheth in v. 2. One of the interesting things that happens in history is that there is the division of the human race into three groups, according to Genesis chapter nine: the Hamitic descendants, the Shemitic descendants, and the Japhethic descendants. The Japhethic descendants split very early on into two basic groups. There is the western branch and an eastern branch. The eastern branch became known as Arius or Arians. The western branch which goes on into Europe had a different name, Iavanos [under Javan]. So it can be seen that just two generations from Noah there was a major split between two groups. The eastern group know as the Arians give birth to the Persians and the northern Indian tribes in India, which would include modern Afghanistan and Pakistan. On the Indian side of this family tree the Noah character is known as Satyaurata—the Arian Noah. Satyaurata has three sons. The oldest son is call Iapiti (easy to see how that relates to Japheth), the second son is Sharma (like Shem), and the third son is Karma (like Ham). So ancient Arian legend correlates with biblical information. What is interesting is that when we read these ancient mythologies we realize that ther4e are certain things there that are just fantastic, fantasy, they don’t fit into reality. Then when we come over into Scripture we just see this bare-bones outline, there are no extreme claims, we don’t find odd or unusual things going on that stretch our credibility. So these things correlate the Scripture. They don’t prove the Scripture is right but they give us confirmation that what the Scripture is giving us is accurate historical information.
The last group, Tiras, mentioned in v. 2, is identified by Josephus as the father of the Thracian people in the northern part of Greece. But Josephus was mistaken. He based his identification simply on the similarity of sound which in many ways can help but also in many way can lead astray. When we take out the vowels here we end up with the three consonants, TRS. What seems to survive down through the language historically is the RS consonants, and they show up in Egyptian, Assyrian, and Hittite records. These people were quite dominant in the ancient world—talking about 2500 BC, which is not long after they came off the ark, to 1500 BC. They began to go through a military decline between 1500 and 1300 BC and as a result of that they dominated in eastern Turkey, Armenia, north-west Syria. They eventually went due north into Russia. It is those descendants who, incidentally, were blue-eyed and blonde. Where we are going with this is Tiras is the Rosh of Ezekiel chapter 38. “Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal” [NKJV]. In some modern translations they will translate that as the chieftains of Meschech and Tubal. They translate Rosh that way because the Hebrew word for beginning, bereshith: resh is also the Hebrew consonantal pattern for beginning, or first one, or it came to mean chieftain. So there are certain number of commentators today who take the word Rosh of Ezekiel 38:2 as an adjective referring to the chief of these nations. Early translators didn’t understand that Rosh was a form of Tiras. So once again this traces right back to the table of nations.
Genesis 10:3, “And the sons of Gomer; Ashkenaz, and Riphath, and Togarmah.” Togarmah is important because his name is mentioned under the terminology bethtogarmah in Ezekiel 38. The descendants of Ashkenaz go into western Europe. The Jews have had in their records for centuries before Christ that Ashkenazi is related to the group that went north west into Europe and, in fact, most Jews that come out of Europe are divided into two groups, the Ashkenazi—those who were in the Germany and Poland part of Europe, and the Sephardi, the Jews that were down in the areas of Spain. But if we look at the etymology of Ashkenaz, there is an SH or S sound, a K and an N, and this becomes the root that we begin to look for. There are a couple of lakes in Turkey which simply retain elements of the original name of Ashkenaz. They operated in an area of Turkey after they came off Ararat and eventually they migrated north and to the west. As they moved they left clues, and variants of this name are found everywhere. Then we have Togarmah, mentioned in Ezekiel 38 as part of the Gog and Magog alliance that invades to the south from Russia. Jewish tradition puts them in the area of Armenia. In fact, the ancient Armenians claimed that their ancient ancestors, the founder of the Armenian race, was a man named Hiak, the son of Targom (which sounds like Togarmah) who was a grandson of Noah. So again there is correlation with the Scriptures. The Jews often refer to the Turks as Togarmah, and sometimes the Black Sea area is called by the Jews, The Sea of Togarmah. The Greeks called them Phrygians. This group ultimately moves north and west, and they, too, end up in the area of Germany.
Verse 4, “And the sons of Javan; Elishah, and Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim.” Javan is the father of the Greeks, and these names all come down into Greek history. In fact, Elishah is a name that is corrupted into Hellis, and the Greeks are known as the Hellenes. Josephus connected this name to Cyprus, as well as to Crete. Tarshish is often associated wit Spain, and it is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 9:21 that the king (Solomon) had ships that went to Tarshish …” Kittim is also a name that is associated with the islands around Greece and the Aegean Sea, and so were the Dodanim about which not much is said. There is a passage in 1 Chronicles 1:7 that is a parallel to this, but instead of having Dodanim it has Rodanim. The thought is that the Dodanim are probably related to those who settled on the Isle of Rhodes. So all these people who are the descendants of Javan merge into what becomes the Greek people.
Verse 5 summarizes: “By these were the isles [coastland peoples] of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue [language], after their families, in their nations.” The word “coastland” is the Hebrew word ayyiy. This word means coastland but it is applied in a tremendous number of passages and it refers basically to Gentiles who are living off to the north west somewhere. It doesn’t just refer to people who are living on the coast but it basically refers to western European. It includes everyone from the Russians to the western Europeans and it is the beginning point for the fulfillment of their expansion. Eventually the western Europeans expand to North America and South America, and through all of the great explorers of the 15th, 16th, 17th centuries there is the establishment of western European colonies all over the world, so that in the early 19th century there was a saying that the sun never set on the Union Jack, the British flag. So this is the ultimate fulfillment of the expansion blessing of Japheth. Japhethites have expanded further than any of the other descendants. Of course, now there are people scattered all over the world and we have the global environment; but that is why that happened. Other groups were not sending explorers around the world, it was the western Europeans that went out and basically conquered and controlled the world, and as a result of the establishment by the Japhethites of trade routes and international trade there is then the expansion of Hamites and Shemites all over the world. But there would not have been that cultural trade in exchange if it weren’t for the foundation laid by the Japhethites. They were the ones who had that commercial and intellectual and geographical expansion that provided the blessing for the rest of the world.