Who was Japheth in the Bible?

Japheth was one of Noah's three sons, his brothers being Shem and Ham, who was saved from the flood. Therefore, he was also part of the Noahic covenant and his descendants helped repopulate the earth after the devastation of the flood. The account of Japheth's life can be found in Genesis chapters 6 through 10.

Japheth and his brothers were born to Noah sometime after Noah was 500 years old (Genesis 5:32). Japheth is thought to be the second oldest of the brothers because his name is never listed first and the author stated in Genesis 9:24 that Ham was the youngest. The flood arrived when Noah was 600 years old (Genesis 7:6) and all three sons had wives by that time (Genesis 7:7). God instructed Noah, his sons (including Japheth), and their wives to enter the ark in order to be recused from the flood (Genesis 6:18). "And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons' wives with him went into the ark to escape the waters of the flood" (Genesis 7:7).

After the flood subsided (over a year later; cf. Genesis 7:11; 8:13–19), Noah and his family exited the ark and built an altar to God (Genesis 8:20). God then made a covenant with Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their descendants, to never again destroy the earth by flood and He placed a rainbow in the sky as a sign of this everlasting covenant (Genesis 8:21—9:17). During this covenant-making process, God commanded Noah and his sons to "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (Genesis 9:1, 7), echoing His command to Adam and Eve at the start of creation in Genesis 1:28. He gave them permission to eat animals as food (Genesis 9:3), but did instruct them not to eat "flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Genesis 9:4). God also warned against taking human life the way Cain did in Genesis 4:8 (Genesis 9:5–6). With these simple instructions harkening back to the account of the original creation, it is clear God was starting anew with Noah and his three sons.

Unfortunately, because Noah and his sons were still humans tainted by a sinful nature (Romans 5:12), the very next account is filled with shame, selfishness, and anger. Noah planted a vineyard to provide for his growing family, but he ended up drunk and naked inside his tent (Genesis 9:21). When Ham saw his father in this shameful state, instead of helping his father, he told his two brothers (Genesis 9:22). Japheth and Shem, rather than publicly ridiculing their father like Ham did, chose instead to cover their father's nakedness and restore his honor (Genesis 9:23). For this commendable good deed, when Noah awoke, he pronounced blessings over both Japheth and Shem. Japheth's blessing included these desires, "May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan [Ham's son] be his servant" (Genesis 9:27).

Japheth did go on to obey God's command to be fruitful and fill the earth. His descendants are listed in Genesis chapter 10 in what's known as the Table of Nations. His sons were "Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras" (Genesis 10:2). People groups who traced their lineage to Japheth included: Medes, Persians, Armenians, Greeks, Romans, Macedonians, and Scythians. His descendants mostly settled in western Asia, along the Mediterranean coast, and on Mediterranean islands, thus spreading out to fill the earth as God had commanded.

Through Japheth's story, we learn of humans' need for rescue from the power and consequences of sin. God provided a way for Japheth to escape the flood by entering the ark. The flood came and went as God's wrath destroyed all who were not inside the ark. While the ark saved those inside from the raging waters, it did not save them from sin. Only faith in Jesus' work on the cross and His resurrection can rescue us from the power of sin in our lives (Romans 8:2). Like Japheth and Shem covered their father's nakedness with a cloak, Jesus' righteousness can cover our lack of holiness (Philippians 3:9). Praise God that He provides this way of salvation for humanity in need (Romans 1:16)!

Related Truth:

Who was Noah in the Bible?

What is the biblical account of Shem, Ham, and Japheth?

What is the Table of Nations in Genesis 10?

What was the effect of the fall on humanity? How did the fall affect our world?

What does it mean to 'be fruitful and multiply' in Genesis?

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