Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What Does it Mean to Dwell in Tents?

After the flood, Noah prophesies over his sons. The prophecy over Japheth is that he will dwell in the tents of his brother Shem.

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

Have you ever wondered why Japheth would live in the tents of Shem, not his houses, buildings or even cities? Is there any significance to the fact that we are talking about tents and not permanent dwelling places? Abraham was a prominent descendant of Shem. After God called him out of Ur and he left Haran for the Promised Land, Abraham dwelled in a tent as did Isaac and Jacob.

The writer of Hebrews says their choice to dwell in tents was an act of faith!

Hebrews 11:9 NKJV 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise;

They weren’t looking for a permanent city on earth; they were looking for the eternal city. In the meantime, they were strangers on the earth.

Hebrews 11:15-16 NKJV 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

What about the sons of Ham? We know that one son, Canaan, would be a servant to Japheth and Shem. Nimrod, another descendant of Ham builds cities.

Genesis 10:8-10 NKJV 8 Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD." 10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.

Ham was not the first builder of cities though. We have to go back before the flood to see who builds the first cities.

Genesis 4:16-17 NKJV 16 Then Cain went out from the presence of the LORD and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. 17 And Cain knew his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch. And he built a city, and called the name of the city after the name of his son-Enoch.

Cain left the presence of God and built a city. He has forsaken the idea of returning to the Garden of Eden and built himself a permanent home. Nimrod founds cities and builds empires beginning with Babel. It is there at Babel that he builds a tower to reach into the heavens striving to be like God. But Abraham leaves the empire to follow after God and wait for the Promise.

We see that same contrast between Jacob and Esau. It’s found in just one verse which is easy to overlook and our English gets in the way of understanding the implication contained in it.

Genesis 25:27 NKJV 27 So the boys grew. And Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field; but Jacob was a mild man, dwelling in tents.

First, Esau was like Nimrod, a skillful hunter. This sounds like a good thing but the phrase about Nimrod being a mighty hunter before the LORD is misleading. The word translated before comes from the Hebrew word paniym meaning face. It could be a good thing as in “before the face of the LORD” or it can be a bad thing as in “in the face of the LORD.” We also see the Esau is a man of the field. The word field is from the Hebrew word sadeh meaning to spread out, field or country. Esau has spread out to the country of the Canaanites. He mingles with them and even marries Canaanite women.

Next we see the description of Jacob. In the New King James Version, he is a mild man; in other translations, he is a plain man. Sounds uninspiring! But the Hebrew word translated as mild or plain is tam meaning complete, pious, perfect, undefiled, and upright. And he dwells in tents! He, like Abraham and Isaac, chooses to focus on the Promise of God.

When will God fulfill this Promise? When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, they lived tents. At the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles, they were to remember that God had them dwell in booths another word for tents or temporary dwelling places.

Leviticus 23:42-43 NKJV 42 'You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 'that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.'"

God Himself dwelt among them in the center of the camp in a Tabernacle built for Him. Like their own dwelling places, it was a temporary dwelling place. It wasn’t until King David that God began to establish a connection with the permanent dwelling place. David established the city of Jerusalem as the place where God put His name. When Solomon dedicated the temple to God, God placed His name there forever.

1 Kings 9:3 NKJV 3 And the LORD said to him: "I have heard your prayer and your supplication that you have made before Me; I have consecrated this house which you have built to put My name there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.

When Yeshua returns, He will establish His reign from Jerusalem and all nations will travel to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles!

Zechariah 14:16 NKJV 16 And it shall come to pass that everyone who is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles.

We will remember that when we were in our temporary dwelling places here on earth that we looked for the eternal city. After the millennial reign of Messiah, the eternal city of Jerusalem comes down from heaven and it is there that we have our permanent dwelling place!

Revelation 21:2 NKJV 2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

So, let us be like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Let us consider that our dwelling places here on earth are merely tents. But let us choose those tents with care. Another famous descendant of Shem is Yeshua haMashiach, Jesus our Messiah. Let us dwell in His tent; there is plenty of room in His tent. The name Japheth means expansion and the word enlarge can mean to expand. The name Shem means “the name.” God will expand the expansion of Japheth to dwell in the tents of The Name.

Genesis 9:27 KJV 27 God shall enlarge (expand) Japheth (expansion), and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem (The Name).

 שלום ברוך
Shalom and be blessed!
Dan and Brenda Cathcart

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  1. I was trying to find out if Japheth dwelling in the tents of Shem means some sort of subordination to him, as when in the psalms it talks about dwelling in the house of the lord, which obviously does indicate that the writer is seeking the protection of the Lord. What I'm trying to determine is whether Shem is the inheritor of the divine blessing based on 9:27. It would make sense. If Shem=Melchizedek as traditionally believed by both Jewish and Christian commentators, it wd help explain why militarily powerful Abraham is clearly subordinate to Melchizedek and receives his blessing (Gen 14). Thank you, hope you are able to answer.
    Ps 27:5:
    For he will hide me in his shelter
    in the day of trouble;
    he will conceal me under the cover of his tent,
    he will set me high upon a rock.
    Jose B., Miami, Florida

  2. Moed Ministries responds:

    The passage in Genesis 9 does indeed imply that Ham and Japheth are subordinate to Shem. The line of Abraham and, ultimately, the messiah come through the line of Shem. If Melchizedek was Shem, it would definitely make sense that Abraham would pay homage to his many times great grandfather and that Shem would come out of his city to greet Abraham after his miraculous victory. The genealogies confirm that Shem was still alive at the time of Abraham’s rescue of Lot in this battle. Finally, the Bible traces the line of Shem in preference to the lines of Ham and Japheth.

    We don’t have any other direct information about Shem and his relationship with God, but I agree that this prophecy about the relationship between Shem, Ham and Japheth is the first sign that God has chosen the lineage of Shem to bring redemption.


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