The Legacy of Noah's Sons

After the flood, Shem, Ham, and Japheth renewed the human race

Noah's Sons
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Noah had three sons according to the book of Genesis: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. After the Flood, Noah's sons and their wives and offspring repopulated the world. 

Bible scholars debate over who was the oldest, middle, and youngest. Genesis 9:24 calls Ham Noah's youngest son.  Genesis 10:21 says Shem's older brother was Japheth; therefore, Shem had to be born in the middle, making Japheth the oldest.

The issue is confusing because birth order usually is the same as the order names are listed. However, when the sons are introduced in Genesis 6:10, the passage reads "Shem, Ham, and Japheth." Shem was probably listed first because it was from his line that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, descended.

It's logical to assume the three sons and perhaps their wives helped build the ark, which took over 100 years. Scripture does not give the names of these wives, nor of Noah's wife. Before and during the Flood, there is nothing to indicate Shem, Ham, and Japheth were anything but loyal, respectful sons.

The Defining Episode After the Flood

Everything changed after the Flood, as recorded in Genesis 9:20-27:

Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend Japheth’s territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” ( NIV)

Canaan, the grandson of Noah, settled in the area that would later become Israel, the territory God promised to the Jews. When God rescued the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, he ordered Joshua to wipe out the idolatrous Canaanites and take the land.

The Sons of Noah and Their Sons

Shem means "fame" or "name."  He fathered the Semitic people, which included the Jews. Scholars call the language they developed shemitic or semitic.  Shem lived 600 years.  His sons included Arpachshad, Elam, Asshur, Lud, and Aram.

Japheth means "may he have space" or "may God enlarge."  Blessed by Noah along with Shem, he fathered seven sons:  Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. Their descendants spread to the coastlands around the Mediterranean and lived in harmony with Shem's people. This was a first hint that the Gentiles also would be blessed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ham means "hot" or "sunburnt."  Cursed by Noah, his sons were Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. One of Ham's grandsons was Nimrod, a mighty hunter, king over Babel. Nimrod also built the ancient city of Nineveh, which later played a part in the story of Jonah.

The Table of Nations

An unusual genealogy occurs in Genesis chapter 10. Rather than just a family tree listing who fathered whom, it details descendants "by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations." (Genesis 10:20, NIV)

Moses, the author of the book of Genesis, was making a point that explained later conflicts in the Bible.  Descendants of Shem and Japheth might be allies, but Ham's people became enemies of the Shemites, such as the Egyptians and Philistines.

Eber, meaning "the other side," is mentioned in the Table as a great-grandson of Shem. The term "Hebrew," which originates from Eber, describes a people who came from the other side of the Euphrates River, from Haran. And so in Chapter 11 of Genesis we are introduced to Abram, who left Haran to become Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, which produced the promised Savior, Jesus Christ.

Key Takeaways

  • Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, accompanied Noah and his wife on the ark to escape the flood.
  • After the flood, Noah's sons and their wives and offspring repopulated the earth. 
  • The offspring of Shem inherited the Promised Land, displacing the Canaanites, the descendants of Ham.
  • Shem and Japheth received Noah's blessing because they had covered their father's drunken nakedness, while Ham, on the other hand, violated their father by looking on his nakedness. As a result, the descendants of Ham were cursed.


  • Answers in Genesis. "My Three Sons."
  • James Orr, general editor. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
  • Trent C. Butler, general editor. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary.
  • William Smith, editor. Smith's Bible Dictionary.