The original question was:
Genesis chapter 5:32 talks of Noah being 500 when he begat Shem, Ham and Japheth. Now, the Bible is very clear on what age people were when they had children but when it came to Noah it seems to be that Noah’s children could have been triplets. People have argued that they are not because later in Genesis when Noah gets drunk, they refer to Ham as the youngest. However; even when you’re triplets, one has to be the eldest and one the youngest. So, my question to you is are they triplets?
Answer by John Mackay
Genesis 5:32 reads: “Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth”. So were they all born at once? Or is it simply an announcement that after 500 years without kids Noah started a family.
Here are some clues to the answer that other scriptures reveal:
Gen 7:6 reads: “Noah was six hundred years old when the floodwaters were on the earth. “
Gen 11:10 informs us that; “Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood”.
A little bit of subtraction tells us that therefore Shem was born when Noah was in his 502nd year.
Which also means we now know the comment in 5:32 refers to when Noah started having children, so Shem could not have been the first son. What about Ham and Japheth?
In Genesis 9:24 we find that; “Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.” Reading the surrounding verses tells us the guilty party here is Noah’s son Ham. So it’s fairly easy to conclude that Ham is the youngest or the third born of Noah’s three sons, and that thought has been in Bible commentaries since the days of Josephus in the first century AD. This view is also reinforced in some modern translations, which use the term “youngest son” in this verse.
Therefore at this point we can be dogmatic: Noah’s sons could not have been triplets!
But where does Japheth fit?
Since Noah was mentioned as being 500 when his child rearing started, and since Shem and Ham could not have been born then, it leaves only Japheth to fill the bill. So traditionally Genesis 10:21 has been translated: “Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.” This would make Japheth the first born or oldest, who would therefore have been 100 years old during the year of the flood which occurred in Noah’s 600th year.
There is one more interesting feature to point out. The list in Genesis 5:32 gives the second born son Shem precedence over Japheth, and the reason is simple. This list is not age based but importance based, and Shem had the top honour of being the ancestor of Abraham, through whom the world would be blessed in Jesus Christ. Noah hints at this when he pronounces in Genesis 9:26 “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem …”
A similar arrangement in order of precedence regardless of age is seen in other instances in the Bible text, such as Jacob being named before his elder brother Esau, and Ephraim before Manassas. (Genesis 28:5; 48:20.) Likewise King David had at least 19 sons, and Solomon was not the first, but he is given precedence because of his importance with the result being that most of us can barely name any of David’s other sons.
All of which is a reminder that the hand of the Holy Spirit who guided the writers of Scripture had a purpose; to point out clearly that our Creator God’s aim from the very beginning has been to declare His plans for the salvation of his people from their sin through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Anything else in history is more or less a sidetrack so it is played down or simply skipped. So don’t be surprised that fisherman Peter writes in the New testament that: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith”. (Hebrews 11:7). May we share the obedient faith of Noah to the saving of our households also.
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