Albert McShane, N. Ireland
Next to the family of Adam there is no other family mentioned in Scripture so important as that of Noah. To a great extent he was a repeat of the first man, and the second head of the human race. From him has issued the entire population of the world. Like Adam, he had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Which one of these was the oldest cannot easily be determined. Certainly Shem was not, for he was 98 years old when he entered the Ark, and his father had at least one son earlier, who was 100 years old, for Noah had a son when he was 500, and entered the Ark when he was 600 years old. Ham may have been the youngest, but many believe that Shem, like so many others in Genesis who were honored of God, was the baby of the family.
To rear a family in the days when the world was ripening for judgment was a heavy responsibility. Noah not only found grace in the sight of the Lord, but his wife, his boys and their wives also found grace. Thus, all eight were delivered. While mention is made of the different nations which sprang from the three sons, the history of the family of Shem is specially developed because it was from it that Abram sprang. No mention is made as to how long Japheth and Ham lived, but the age of Shem at his death is given as 600 years (Gen. 11:10-11). Perhaps few men ever lived who had such a variety of experiences. His lifes story would have been most interesting for anyone to hear. He did not know Adam, but he knew a man, Methuselah, who was on earth with Adam, so he could have learned from him the story of the fall. At the end of his life he was on earth for at least 150 years with Abraham. Some think that he even lived until Jacob was 50 years old, but on this there is no general agreement.
Perhaps the experiences of Shem have a message for saints at the present time for, like him, they are living at the end of an age. Their lot has been to be alive at the eve of the Lords return. The Lord told His own of the similarity of the days of Noah and the time preceding His return. There ought to be an awareness in every believers mind that the rapid development of the corruption in the world is a sure sign that the end is near. The rapid increase in the worlds population, the abolition of moral standards, the amalgamation of nations, and the influence of spiritual Babylon, are stark realities which ought to be seriously pondered.
It was a solemn day in Shems life when he learned of the coming deluge. Life for him could never be the same, nor could earthly things attract his heart. Possibly he helped his father to build the Ark, and may even have heard with his ears the call of the Lord from it, "Come thou and all thine house into the ark." As he stepped into it, and took his last look at the world that then was, he could have said "Farewell vain world, your charms are spread in vain." The shut door separated the believers from the faithless, just as the Lords coming will divide mankind. As regards the body, the believer is still in the earth, but as regards his spirit, he ought to be like those in the Ark, separated from the world in all respects.
The year and some days spent in the confined space provided, was a time when the sound of the deluge must have been alarming, and a time when the eight souls must have been deeply thankful that they were saved from it. However, it was also a time of testing for four men and their wives to live together in such a small compartment. To do this and not disagree, was indeed an evidence of the grace of God. Most can live happily with others if not too near them, but find great difficulty bearing with those who are constantly in close contact.
Stepping out of the Ark into a cleansed earth must have been a memorable experience for the eight souls. The first exercise of Noah was to build an altar, the first one mentioned in Scripture. On this he offered the first burnt offering of the clean beasts and fowls which had been with him in the Ark. From this time forward most offerings were put upon an altar. This lifting up of the sacrifice was typifying the lifting up of Christ. Most probably Shem, who witnessed this altar, instructed Abraham relative to this, so he too built altars when offering to God. Should any dread of a repeat of the deluge have lingered in the hearts of the delivered, this was dispelled, by the bow in the cloud, which was the visible symbol of the covenant that God made with Noah that never again would the earth be destroyed by a flood.
Provision for the maintenance of their bodies must have been a major concern for the delivered family, so naturally their thoughts turned to cultivation of the land. Hence we learn of Noah becoming a husbandman and planting a vineyard. The disgrace which ensued was the result of his drinking too much wine. He may not have known that the fermented grape juice would intoxicate, for the Lord did not directly rebuke him for his misconduct. What we must note is that as soon as he was sober he could bless and curse his offspring. That Canaan was cursed and not Ham, the wrongdoer, is not explained in the passage, but the outstanding son, Shem, was the one who was singularly blessed as a reward for how he had acted in the crisis.
Shem had seen an ark built, an altar built, and was on earth to witness the tower of Babel being built. Until its erection all men were speaking the same language, but he found himself in a world where diversity of tongues made a difference in relationships.
Perhaps the worst feature of the world which developed in Shems day was the introduction of idolatry. Had it been confined to the descendants of some of his brothers, this could be easily understood, but that the family specially blessed by God should turn to such an evil is indeed surprising. For almost half of Shems lifetime he was surrounded with idols. His descendant, Abram, had to leave the idolatry of his fathers, and become a pilgrim who worshipped the Lord alone. How Shem was preserved in such difficult times is not stated, but surely his experience with the living and true God would have been sufficient to convince him of the vanity of these new gods.
Like Shem, many of the older brethren and sisters have lived to see great changes in the world, and sad to say, in some cases also in the assemblies. The tendency of man, in all ages, is to drift away from God and His ways, so grace is needed to trust and obey the Lord, who knows no change (Heb. 13:8).