Noah was a righteous man. He was perfect in his generation. He walked with God. These qualifying characteristics are ascribed to Noah in Genesis 6:9. The next verse introduces us to his three sons. Genesis 6:10 says, “And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Were they righteous? There’s no mention of that. Were they “perfect” in their generation? There is no mention of that. Did they “walk with God?” There’s no mention of that. Yet they were brought into the Ark and saved from God’s judgment on the wicked. I think we can say that Shem was Noah’s favorite. Japheth seems to be next. Ham was not a very nice guy. We see his sin against his father in the following chapters.  The three sons’ names always appear in the order mentioned in this verse: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

There seems to be some confusion as to which of the three sons of Noah was the oldest. However, putting all the mentions of Noah’s sons together seems to render that Japheth was the oldest, Shem was the middle son, and Ham was the youngest. Genesis 5:32 tells us that Noah started to have children when he was 500 years old! In Genesis 9:24, Ham is called Noah’s “youngest son.” In Genesis 10:21, Japheth is called Shem’s “older brother.” The birth order was Japheth, Shem, and Ham. Another indication that Japheth was the oldest might be that when the sons’ descendants are listed in Chapter ten, Japheth’s sons are listed first. But it’s Shem that’s listed first in every mention of the three sons because it was from Shem that the promise of a son who will crush the head of the serpent of Genesis chapter three would be born. God elevated Isaac over his brother Ishmael. God exalted Jacob over his brother Esau. Jacob further advanced Ephraim, the younger son of Joseph, over his older brother Manasseh. Additionally, Judah was elevated over his older brothers, Reuben, Simeon, and Levi, to be the heir to the throne of Israel from whom Jesus would come.

Noah is the type of Christ. His sons are a type of the believer. The qualities of Noah were accredited to his sons even though there is no mention of them being righteous. Regarding Noah’s three sons, the ancient commentator, Nahmanides, said, “Even they were saved from the Flood only by Noah’s merits and not their own.”[1] Noah’s sons and their wives were saved because of their connection with Noah. Today, we can be saved from the coming judgment because of our relationship with Jesus. As sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth walked confidently onto the Ark for salvation. Today, as sons of God and co-heirs with Christ, we can walk confidently into the presence of God. Hebrews 4:16 encourages us to do just that. It says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

[1] Carasik, Michael, ed. 2018. Genesis: Introduction and Commentary. Translated by Michael Carasik. The Commentators’ Bible. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society.