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What You Need to Know about Shem in the Bible

When you sit down to read the account of Noah and the flood, who are the people who think of? For me, I naturally think about Noah and the awesome ark he built with God’s instructions. We know his family all entered the ark and left the ark once the ground dried up. That is not the end of story for Noah and his family.

Noah has three sons who do extraordinary things. One of those sons, named Shem, will play a vital role in the fulfillment of scripture.  

Let’s learn what we need to know about Shem and how extraordinary he was by discussing his lineage and the impact he had on his “family” and the world today.

Who Was Shem?

Shem was one of the three sons of Noah. Some scholars believe him to be the oldest son because his name is usually mentioned first in the lineage of Noah. The name Shem in Hebrew means name or renown. Shem is first mentioned in Genesis 5:32. “After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” His name is also repeated in Genesis 6:10.

During Shem’s life he marries and is a witness to the great flood that wipes all life on earth. He spends time in the ark with his mother and father, brothers, and his brother’s wives. We can imagine that life on the ark with his family and the animals was interesting. Scripture says the waters flooded the earth for 150 days in Genesis 7:24.

Once Shem and his family leave the ark, scriptures speak of the covenant God made with Noah and his sons. The most notable story of Shem is when Noah drinks to much and becomes drunk. He falls asleep naked, and his sons find him. Shem and Japheth cover him up while walking backward so they do not look upon him. The other brother, Ham, looks and his son Canaan is cursed.

Shem dies at the ripe old age of 600. He had five sons and witnesses the repopulation of the Earth.

What Does Shem Do in the Bible?

There is not a lot of information about Shem’s life in scripture. We have the important story of Noah, his father, building the ark and the time Shem’s family spent on the ark. His movements on the ark are not recorded, therefore one would have to use their imagination.

The recorded scripture in Genesis 9:18-27, tells the reader how Noah was a man of the soil. He plants a vineyard and when the grapes come in, he makes wine. After Noah had drunk too much wine and became drunk, his son Ham discovers him lying uncovered in his tent. It was not proper for a son to look upon his father in that condition, so Shem and his brother Japheth take a garment and cover their father. This story may seem unimportant, but because Shem did what was proper by covering his father’s naked, Ham is forever cursed and becomes a slave to his brothers.

Shem goes on to have five sons with his wife and multiple grandchildren. His lineage produces a man named Abram, who later will be known as Abraham.

There is some speculation that Shem was a high priest, specifically Melchizedek. Jewish and Catholic scholars have discussed this and believe to have evidence from the Targumin. The Targumin is the Aramaic translation of the Old Testament. The probability of Shem being Melchizedek is questionable, so we can leave this to the scholars.

The Descendants of Shem

Shem was the father to five sons. Their names were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. Of those five sons, Arphaxad is one that we will zero in on. Arphaxad had a son named Shelah when he had lived 35 years. (Gen. 11:12) Shelah became the father of Eber when he had lived 30 years. (Gen. 11:14) Eber had two sons, Peleg and Joktan. Peleg becomes the father of Reu and Reu becomes the father of Serug.

Serug will become the father of Nahor who the father of Terah is. Terah is the father of Abraham.  Each son in the lineage of Shem had many children, which the Bible does not give us names for. What we know for certain is that Abraham will become the one that God establishes a covenant with. He will be a patriarch and father Isaac.

If we continued listing the descendants of Shem, we would discover that Christ is one of them.

What Impact Did Shem Leave?

Shem’s descendants are called Semites. It is believed that when Noah died, his three sons got a portion of land. Shem’s portion was what we know as the continent of Asia. Ham received Africa and Japheth had Europe and parts of northern Asia. A total of 26 Biblical nations obtained geographical significance from the line of Shem. This may not seem important, but we must note that Shem and his descendants lived in the portion of land that included Israel.

Shem’s impact is based on the pivotal moment when Ham’s son, Canaan, is cursed. Canaan is the father of the Canaanites. The Canaanites were an idolatrous people. Noah cursed Canaan with the words from Genesis 9:25. “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”

This was only the second curse upon humanity recorded in the Bible. The first was the curse given to Cain. It is a representation of God’s sentence on the Canaanites for their sinful nature. The Canaanites will be defeated in battle because of this curse.

If we read on after the curse, we see Noah blessing Shem and his brother, Japheth. Noah is praising God and refers to Him as the God of Shem. This blessing implied that Shem was going to do something good. Noah even says may the descendants of Japheth live in the tents of Shem.  The true God was Shem’s God and Abraham would come from his line. The blessing Noah gives Shem will come to fruition with Abraham. Ultimately the Messiah will be born of the line of Abraham, which is the line of Shem.

As time goes on, the descendants of Shem and Japheth become allies. Shem’s line becomes the Semitic peoples, and many biblical nations are credited to his descendants. Those nations include the Elamites (Persia), Assyrians, Chaldeans who later become the Babylonians, Israelites, Edomites, Lydians, and Syrians.

Shem leaves behind a beautiful picture of the humble beginnings of Jew and Gentile peoples. Shem’s descendants received the blessings of God throughout history. Shem’s brother is also blessed and becomes the father of the Gentile people. His descendants were to live among Shem’s descendants. Peter and Paul will witness to the Gentile people and the early church will be born. We are all now living in the tents of Shem.

Shem is a son of Noah that God uses to bring the promised Messiah to us. God uses Shem to lead the Jewish peoples into existence. Shem allied with his brother to begin the intermingling of the Jewish and Gentile worlds.

Because of Shem faithfully following in the footsteps of God, we can receive the gift of salvation through the blood of Christ.

Photo Credit: ©Pexels


Ashley Hooker headshotAshley Hooker is a freelance writer who spends her time homeschooling her two children, ministering alongside her husband as he pastors a rural church in West Virginia, and writing about her faith. Currently, she is a contributing author for Journey Christian magazine. She has taken part in mission trips with the NC Baptist Men during the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey in Mississippi and Texas. In her local church, she has served on various committees focusing in the area of evangelism along with traveling to West Virginia and Vermont to share the Gospel. Her dream is to spend her time writing and sharing the love of Christ with all she meets.

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