In this passage, Noah explicitly states that Japheth will have no dwelling place of his own.

May God enlarge Japheth, And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;....

Note: Japheth will not dwell in his own tents but will dwell in that of his brother !!.

If such is the case, how then does God enlarge him?

  • Tent dwellers are nomadic people whose life style is one of economic pilgrimage. As such they are never truly attached to land. If they ever became attached to land then they would be living in houses instead. But tents are mobile. So by confining Japheth to the tents and by extension the profession of Shem, how is he then enlarged.
    – user20490
    Nov 17 '17 at 18:45
  • I view his enlargement from the perspective of and because land is central to the entire biblical narrative. From Man being created from dust to God placing a curse on the ground. Then Abel's blood crying from the ground to Cain being cursed from the ground. All the way to Gen 5:29 where Lamech prophesied that Noah would bring them relief from the ground. And then climaxing in the extermination of all living things on the ground in a flood.
    – user20490
    Nov 17 '17 at 18:48

God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. - Genesis 9:27

There is no indication that anything in this verse is mutually exclusive. That is to say: Japheth would do all of these things.

We can first establish that the descendants of Japheth were enlarged:

... to them belonged all Europe, and lesser Asia, Media, Iberia, Albania, part of Armenia, and all those vast countries to the north, ... not to say anything of the new world (America) ...

We see that Japheth's descendants did inhabit the "tents" of Shem on a number of occasions:

and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem;

inhabit the countries belonging to the posterity of Shem: this was verified by the Medes, who were the descendants of Japheth, together with the Babylonians seizing upon the Assyrian empire and overthrowing that, for Ashur was of Shem; and in the Greeks and Romans, who sprung from Japheth, when they made conquests in Asia, in which were the tents of Shem's posterity; ... and particularly this was fulfilled when the Romans, who are of Japheth, seized Judea, which had long been the seat of the children of Shem, the Jews; and at this day the Turks* who are also Japheth's sons, literally dwell in the tents of Shem, or inhabit Judea: ...

There are also those who don't believe this to be a reference to Japheth, but rather a prophecy specifically for Shem. I think that this is a strange reading seeing that Shem gets his own verse previously, but not a completely absurd one.

"God shall cause his Shechinah or glorious Majesty to dwell in the tents of Shem"

- the Targum Onkelos

There is also the possibility of the "dwelling in the tents" to refer to receiving instruction and learning from:

"and his children shall be proselytes, and dwell in the school of Shem;"

- Jonathan Ben Uzziel

So we see that there are three possibilities here, all of them historically correct:

  1. Japheth's descendants ruled over the lands of Shem's descendants numerous times. (Medes, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, British.)
  2. Japheth is not the subject of that part of the prophecy, but the Messiah is. (Jesus being born to a descendant of Shem.)
  3. Japheth's descendants would learn and follow the teachings of one of Shem's descendants. (The conversion of the Gentiles to Christianity.)

* John Gill wrote this in around 1750.

  • A good answer dieuwe. +1
    – user20490
    Jan 23 '18 at 7:31

There is a play on Hebrew words here. "Enlarge" is yapht, which sounds likes Japheth.

I think that the verse is not referring to Japheth personally, but rather to his progeny. Japheth is understood to be the ancestor of the Hellenic peoples who would later dominate the western world.1

1. See, e.g., Oxford Jewish Study Bible (1st ed.), p.26n

  • This is a very unsatisfactory answer because it is obvious that their progeny is what is being spoken about.
    – user20490
    Nov 23 '17 at 2:10
  • If Japheth is enlarged, then he will expand in influence, culture etc. But then Noah states by prophecy that there will be no tent for Japhetic peoples. They will dwell in the tents of Shem!!. So that is the question. How have the Hellenic peoples been enlarged within the confines of the semitic.
    – user20490
    Nov 23 '17 at 2:12
  • The passage is speaking simultaneously of the immediate and distant futures.
    – user33515
    Nov 23 '17 at 2:26
  • In the immediate future subsequent to that prophecy, there was a Hamitic ruler called Nimrod. And he founded the first civilizations after the flood. Then there were the Pharaoh's of Egypt also of Hamitic stock. Then the mighty kingdoms of Canaan also of Hamitic stock. Then the Assyrians also a Semo-Hamitic civilization. Then the Babylonians also a Semo-Hamitic people. So in the immediate future, Japheth wasn't enlarged!!
    – user20490
    Nov 23 '17 at 2:31
  • You are correct. He was enlarged in the distant future. I'm just citing a Rabbinic explanation that resolves the inconsistency. If it is lacking, I am sure someone will come along with a better answer. You can just downvote my answer and move on. Peace.
    – user33515
    Nov 23 '17 at 5:07

I do not think Japheth was "confined" to the tents of Shem. It simply means they dwelt together cause Ham had the hot, Shem had North Africa. So Japheth hung around Shem, instead of freezing over the Caucuses, cause Ham's people were trifling and spiteful. Too cold to live in tents in Europe back then.

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