Genesis 9:27

I was asked recently about Genesis 9:27 – whether the verb שׁכן has as its subject God or Japeth. I haven’t looked at any commentaries on the verse, but I’ve had a think about the text and my tentative conclusion is that the subject is God. 2 reasons:

  1. God is the closest subject to the verb. Although Japheth is the closest possible antecedent to the verb (i.e. the immediately preceding word), the name there is in a prepositional phrase acting as the object of the previous verb (פתה). Since there is no explicit subject in the second verb, it reads more smoothly to understand God as the subject. So we have “May God enlarge…and may he dwell…”.
  2. Furthermore, the structure of the passage points to God being the subject…

The big structure of these verses is that there is a narrative introduction (v24), two speeches of Noah (vv25 and vv26-27) and a narrative conclusion (vv28-29). It is vv25-27 that need our attention. These verses form two tightly connected pronouncements by Noah. Initially he curses Canaan (v25) and then goes on to talk about his other sons (vv26-27). Verses 26-27 are formed of five clauses. Two of which are identical (vv26b and 27c). Of the remaining three, one (v27b) is the problem clause. The last two clauses (vv26a and 27a) both have God as their subject.

The focuses of these verses seems to be the contrast between Canaan and Noah’s other sons. Canaan will be cursed and will serve his brothers, whereas Shem and Japheth will enjoy God’s blessings. For v27b to wish that “Japheth would dwell in the tents of Shem” makes little sense in this context.

DiagramFinally, it’s worth repeating, I’ve not read any commentaries on this yet, so I could be way off the mark.

Comments welcome…


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