What does Genesis 9:19 mean?
ESV: These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.
NIV: These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
NASB: These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.
CSB: These three were Noah's sons, and from them the whole earth was populated.
NLT: From these three sons of Noah came all the people who now populate the earth.
KJV: These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.
God's covenant with Noah also included the rest of humanity (Genesis 9:9) as well as the animal kingdom (Genesis 9:10). That promise is to never again destroy the entire earth with a flood. That vow is important; the number one priority for every living thing which came off the ark (Genesis 8:17) is to reproduce and re-populate the land. God's sign of the rainbow serves as a reminder of God's oath to not wipe out life as He has just done (Genesis 9:14–15).
The previous verse reintroduced Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Now we're reminded that all of the people of the earth to come will be born of these three men. Every human being ever to live, from that day forward, will hold one of these three men as their original ancestor, along with Noah, along with Adam. This is an important reminder that, ultimately, all human beings are from the same ancestors (Genesis 3:20; Galatians 3:28), giving explicit biblical support to the idea that all races are equally human.
The verses to follow will tell a troubling story and reveal God's plan for the generations to come.
Genesis 9:18–29 comes immediately after God has established his promise to never again destroy all life with a flood. This includes a sign: the rainbow. The passage reintroduces Noah's three sons as the fathers of all the people of the earth to come. This passage also states that Ham was the father of Canaan. Next, we're told the embarrassing story of when Noah became drunk and lay naked in his tent. After seeing Noah uncovered, Ham went out and told his brothers about it. When Noah woke up, he cursed the descendants of Ham's son Canaan to be subservient to the descendants of Shem and Japheth.
Chapter 9 describes God's interactions with Noah and his sons following the flood. First, God gives blessings and instructions, including the command to reproduce and fill the earth. Next, God makes a unilateral covenant with humanity and animals never to end all life with a flood again. He offers the rainbow as a sign of this promise. Finally, Noah prophesies about the future of his son's descendants after an awkward episode in which Ham talks to his brothers about seeing Noah passed out drunk and naked.
Chapters 6, 7, and 8 describe God's destruction of the world in a massive flood. Now, in Genesis 9, Scripture describes God's dealings with Noah and his sons following the flood. First, God blesses them and gives specific instructions, including the command to fill the earth. Next, God expands on His promise to never again end all life on earth a flood. Finally, Noah curses Ham and blesses Shem and Japheth after Ham tells his brothers about seeing Noah passed out drunk and naked. Chapters 10 and 11 will sketch out the history of mankind from Noah to Abraham.
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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