Commentary on Genesis, Vol. II - Luther on Sin and the Flood
by Martin Luther
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67. The colors have been thus arranged by God for a definite purpose. The blue should be a reminder of bygone wrath; the fiery color, a picture to us of the future judgment. While the interior or blue portion is restricted, the outer and fiery color is without bounds. Thus, the first world perished by the flood, but an end was set to God's wrath. A remnant was preserved and a second world arose, but bounds are set to it. When God shall destroy the world by fire, this bodily life will never be restored. The wicked will suffer the everlasting punishment of death in the fire, while the saints will be raised up unto a new and everlasting life, which, though in the body, shall not be of the body, but of the spirit.

68. Let this sign teach us to fear God and to trust in him. So may we escape the punishment of fire, even as we have escaped the punishment of the flood. It will be more practical to think of these things than to consider those philosophical arguments concerning the material cause.



1. Luther at first given to allegories 69-70.

2. How and why monks and Anabaptists esteem them so highly 71.

3. How we should regard them 72.

4. Are they to be entirely rejected 73.

5. Some are, and others not 74-76.

6. How to regard Origen's, Augustine's and Jerome's allegories 77-78.

7. Pope's allegories of the sun, moon and ark 79-80.

8. What to think of the doctrine of these allegories 81.


A. Allegories in General.

69. At last we have finished the story of the flood, which Moses satisfactorily describes at great length. It is a fearful example of the immeasurable and all but boundless wrath of God, which is beyond the power of human utterance. There remains to be said a word or two concerning its allegorical meaning. I have often declared that I take no great pleasure in allegories, although in my younger days they had such a fascination for me that I thought everything ought to be shown to have an allegorical meaning. I was influenced in this respect by the example of Origen and Jerome, whom I admired as the greatest of all theologians. I may add that Augustine also uses the allegory quite frequently.

70. But while I followed the example of these men, I discovered at last that, to my great loss, I had followed a shadow, and had overlooked the very sap and marrow of the Scriptures. Thereupon I began to hate allegories. They are pleasing, to be sure, especially when they contain happy allusions. They may be compared to choice pictures. But as much as real objects with their native hues surpass a picture, even though it should glow, as the poet has it (stat silo V. 1, 5), with Apelles-like colors, closely copied from nature, so much the historical narrative itself is superior to the allegory.

71. In our day the ignorant mob of the Anabaptists is as much filled with immoderate craving for allegory as are the monks. They love to delve in the more mysterious books, such as the Revelation of John, and that worthless fabrication passing under the title of the second and third books of Esdras. For, there you are at liberty to follow your fancy as you please. We recall that Muntzer, the seditious spirit, turned everything into allegory. But true it is, that he who, without judgment, makes allegories or follows those made by others, will not only be deceived but sustain deplorable injury, as there are examples to prove.

72. Allegories must either be avoided altogether or be worked out with the best judgment. They must conform to the rule followed by the apostles, of which we shall soon have occasion to speak. Let us avoid falling into those ugly and baneful absurdities, not only of those who are misnamed theologians, but also of the Canonists, or rather Assinists, of which the decretals and decisions of that most detestable master, the pope, are an example.

73. This statement, however, must not be taken for a general condemnation of all allegory. Christ and the apostles made use of allegories at times. These, however, were in keeping with the faith according to the injunction of Paul (Rom 12, 6) that prophecy, or doctrine, should be according to the proportion of faith.

74. When we put the allegory under the ban, we confine ourselves to that species which, with the setting aside of scriptural warrant, is altogether the product of man's mind and fancy. Those which are tested by the analogy of faith, serve not only as ornaments of the doctrine but also as consolation for the soul.

75. Peter turns this very story of the flood into a most beautiful allegory, saying that baptism is symbolized by the flood, and saves us. For, in it not only the filth of the flesh is washed away, but conscience makes good answer toward God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is enthroned at the right hand of God and has destroyed death in order to make us heirs of eternal life; who, moreover, is gone into heaven; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him, 1 Pet 3, 21-22. This is, indeed, a theological allegory, in accordance with faith, and full of solace.

76. Such is also the allegory of Christ in John 3, 14, concerning the serpent lifted up in the wilderness and the healing of those bitten by the serpent's tooth who gazed upon it. Again, there is that one by Paul (1 Cor 10, 1), All our fathers did drink from the same spiritual rock, etc. Such allegories as these not only agree with the matter itself, but also instruct the heart in faith and are a help to the conscience.

77. But take a look at the ordinary allegory of Jerome, Origen and Augustine. These men, when they create an allegory, leave faith altogether out of consideration, and merely air philosophical opinions, foreign alike to the sphere of faith and to that of morals; not to speak of the fact that they are quite silly and a mass of absurdities.

78. In a former chapter (ch 3. paras 61, 298, 304), we heard of Augustine's allegory concerning the creation of man and woman, by which he illustrates the higher and the lower attributes of man, that is, reason and the emotions. But, I ask you, what is the value of this figment?

79. The pope, however, carries away the real honors for piety and learning when he thunders from his high seat as follows: God made two great lights, the sun and the moon; the sun represents the authority of the pope, from which his imperial majesty borrows its light as the moon does from the sun. Away with such rash impudence and vicious ambition!

80. In a similar style the ark, of Noah's story, is compared to the Roman Catholic Church, in which is found the pope with his cardinals, bishops, and prelates, while the laymen are swimming in the sea. That is, the laymen are altogether given to earthly business and would not be saved did not those helmsmen of the ark, or Church, cast boards and ropes to the swimmers, drawing them into the ark by these means. Pictures of this nature were frequently painted by monks to represent the Church.

81. Origen shows more sanity than the papists, in that his allegories conform to moral standards, as a rule. Yet, he ought to have kept in view the rule laid down by Paul, who demands that prophesy is to be the guardian of faith; for faith is edifying and the proper sphere of the Church. Rules governing morals can be laid by even heathen philosophers who know nothing whatever concerning faith.


1. Allegory of the baptism of the Israelites under Moses; the ark and the flood 82ff.

* Points of likeness and unlikeness in the death of believers and unbelievers 84-86.

* In what way is death to be conquered 87.

* How all temptations are to be overcome and believers be preserved 88-90.

2. Allegories of the ark's proportions 91-92.

3. Allegories of the sun and moon 93.

* To what all allegories should point 94.

4. Allegory of the cup 95-96.

5. Allegory of the dove Noah sent out of the ark 97-99.

6. Allegory of the raven Noah sent forth.

a. Thoughts of the fathers on this point 100.

b. The correct allegory of the raven 101-116.

* The law and the teachings of the law 101-116.

(1) How illustrated by the raven 102-105.

* Luther's opponents falsely accuse him of forbidding good works 106-107.

(2) They are no better than the intelligent moralists among the heathen 108-110.

(3) They cannot quiet the conscience 111.

* The raven a perfect representative of the Papists 112-113.

(4) How the Papists make the unrighteous righteous and condemn the righteous 114-115.

7. Allegories of the doves in detail 116-124.

* Characteristics of the dove 116.

a. First dove sent forth.

(1) A figure of the office of grace 117.

(2) A figure of the Old Testament prophets 118-119.

b. Second dove returned with the olive leaf.

(1) A figure of New Testament preachers 120-122.

* The fanatics and Anabaptists wait in vain for new revelations 121.

* Nature of true Gospel preachers 122.

(2) A figure of the New Testament 123.

c. Third dove did not return 124ff.

8. Allegory of the seven days Noah waited after he sent forth the first dove 125.

9. Allegory of the evening the dove returned 126-127.

* Several things to be remembered in this connection.

(1) Allegories are not to have a world-wide treatment like the articles of faith 128.

(2) Defects in the allegories of the fathers 129-130.

* Lyra is to be preferred to all commentators 131.

(3) Right use of allegories 132.


82. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul says (1 Cor 10, 2) that the Israelites "were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea." If you regard only the outward circumstance and the words, even Pharaoh was baptized, but he perished with his men, while Israel passed through safe and unharmed. Noah and his sons were saved in this baptism of the flood, while all the rest of the world, being outside of the ark, perished thereby. Such a way of speaking is appropriate and forcible. "Baptism" and "death" are interchangeable in Scripture. Paul says (Rom 6, 3): "All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death," and Jesus says, "I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Lk 12, 50). And to his disciples he said, "Ye shall ... be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with" (Mt 20, 23).

83. In this sense the Red Sea was a baptism indeed. It represented to Pharaoh death and God's anger. Yet though Israel was baptized with the same baptism, they passed through it unharmed. So the flood is truly death and the wrath of God, and yet, the faithful are saved in the midst of the flood. Death engulfs and swallows all mankind; for, the wrath of God smites both the good and the bad, the pious and the wicked, without distinction. The flood was sent upon Noah the same as upon the rest of the world. The Red Sea that engulfed Pharaoh was the same as that through which Israel passed unharmed. But in both cases the believers are saved while the wicked perish. That is the point of difference. The ark was Noah's salvation, and it was but an expression of the promise and Word of God. In these he had life, but the wicked, who believed not the Word, were left to perish.

84. This is the difference which the Holy Spirit desired to bring out, so that the righteous, warned by this example, might believe and hope for salvation through the mercy of God in the very midst of death. They consider baptism as bound together with the promise of life, as Noah did the ark. Therefore, though the wise man and the fool must suffer the same death—for Peter and Paul die, not otherwise than Nero and other wicked persons die—yet the righteous believe that in death they will be saved unto eternal life. And this hope is not vain, for they have Christ, who receives their souls, and will, on the last day, raise up also the bodies of his believers unto eternal life.

85. This class of allegory is of great service, and tends to comfort the heart when you consider the contrast in the ultimate outcome. The testimony of the material eye would seem to confirm the statement of Solomon (Ec 2, 16) that the wise man dieth as the fool, that the righteous man dieth as though he were not the beloved of God. But the eyes of the soul must view this point of difference, that Israel enters into the Red Sea and is saved, while Pharaoh, pressing upon the heels of Israel, is overwhelmed by the waves and perishes. It is the same death, then, which takes away the righteous and the wicked, and almost always the end of the former is ignominious, while that of the latter is attended by elements of splendor and power; but in the eyes of God, while the death of sinners is deplorable, that of his saints is precious, for it is consecrated by Christ, through whom it becomes the beginning of eternal life.

86. As the flood and the Red Sea were instruments to save Noah and Israel from death, so to us, death is but the instrument to give us life, if we remain in faith. When the children of Israel were in utmost peril, suddenly the sea parted and rose on the right side and on the left, like an iron wall, so that Israel passed through without danger. Why was it? In order that so death might be made to serve life. Divine power overcomes the assaults of Satan. Thus it was in Paradise. Satan purposed to slay all mankind by his venom. But what happens? By reason of the truly happy guilt of our first parents, as the Church sings, it comes to pass that the Son of God became incarnate to free us from evil.

87. This allegory, then, beautifully teaches, strengthens and consoles us, enabling us to fear neither death nor sin, but to despise all perils, giving thanks to God that he has so called and dealt with us that even death, the universal destroyer, is compelled to be a servant of life, just as the flood, an occasion of destruction to the rest of the world, was one of salvation for Noah; and the Red Sea, when Pharaoh met his doom, served to save the children of Israel.

88. What has been here expressed, finds application to the subject of temptation in general, so that we learn to despise dangers and be hopeful even where no hope seems to remain. When death or any other danger is imminent, we should rise to meet it, saying: Behold, here is my Red Sea; here is my flood, my baptism and my death. Here my life—as the philosopher said of the sea-farers—is removed from death barely by a hand's breadth. But fear not; this danger is as a handful of water opposed to the flood of grace which is mine through the Word. Therefore death will not destroy me, but will lift me and bear me to life. Death is so utterly incapable of destroying the Christian, that it constitutes the very escape from death. For bodily death ushers in the emancipation of the spirit and the resurrection of the flesh. Thus, Noah in the flood was not borne by the earth, nor by trees, nor by mountains, but by the very flood which destroyed the total remainder of the human race.

89. Well may the prophets often extol those wonderful works of God—the passage through the Red Sea, the exodus from Egypt, and the like. For the sea, which by its nature can only devour and destroy, is forced to part and rise and protect the Israelites, lest they be overwhelmed by its tides. That which in its very nature is wrath, becomes grace to the believer; that which in reality is death, becomes life. Therefore, whatever calamity comes—and this life has it in infinite measure—to threaten our property and our lives, it will all become salvation and joy if we only are in the ark; that is, if by faith we lay hold of the promise made in Christ. Then even death, by which we are removed, must be turned into life, and the hell, which swallows us, into a way to heaven.

90. Therefore Peter says (1 Pet 3, 21) that we are saved by the water in baptism, which was prefigured by the flood. The water which streams about us, or the plunge into it, is death, and yet from this death or plunge, life results by virtue of the ark of safety—the Word of promise to which we cling. The inspired Scriptures set forth this allegory, which is not only free from weaknesses but of service in every way, and worthy of our careful attention, since it offers wonderful consolation even in the utmost perils.

91. The fathers have added another allegory taken from the form and dimensions of the ark. The human body, measured from the top of the head to the sole of the foot, is six times as long as it is wide. Now, the ark, which was fifty cubits wide, measured six times as much in length, namely 300 cubits. Hence, they say, the ark typifies Christ the man, in whom all promises center. Therefore, those who believe in him are saved even in the midst of the flood, that is, in death itself.

92. This conception is both appropriate and beautiful; above all, it agrees with faith. Though there may be a mistake in the application, the groundwork is strong and secure. There is no doubt that the Holy Spirit found various ways to illustrate the promises to be fulfilled in Christ, and the wonderful counsel of salvation for mankind through faith in Christ. Hence, allegories of this nature, though lacking in aptness, are not necessarily wicked and a source of offense.

93. If one were to say the sun represents Christ, while the moon represents the Church, which receives its light by the grace of Christ, he might possibly be mistaken in his choice of illustration, yet his error is based, not upon an erroneous, but upon a sure foundation. But when the pope declares the sun represents the papal authority, while the moon represents the emperor's, then not only the application is inapt and foolish, but the very foundation is evil. Such allegories are not conceived and invented by the Holy Spirit, but by the devil, the spirit of lies.

94. Allegories must have some application to the promises and the doctrine of faith if they are to comfort and strengthen the soul. Peter's allegory teaches us this. Because Peter saw that Noah was set free in the midst of death and that the ark was an instrument of life, the ark was rightly applied to typify Christ. Only divine power can save in the midst of death and lead unto life. The Scriptures declare that to God belong the issues from death, (Ps 68, 21), and he makes death the occasion, yea, even an aid to life.

95. This has given rise to expressions used in Scripture, where afflictions and perils are likened to a cup that intoxicates. This is an apt and vivid figure of speech. So the passion of Christ is called a draught from a brook (Ps 110, 7), meaning that it is a medicinal draught or mixture, which, though bitter, is healing in its bitterness and gives life by causing death. Such soothing words serve to console us that we may learn to despise death and other perils and meet them with greater readiness.

96. Satan, also, has his cup; but it is sweet, and inebriates unto nausea. He who, attracted by its sweetness, drinks it, loses his life and dies the eternal death. Such was the cup the Babylonians drained, as the prophet has it (Jer 25, 15-27). Let us, therefore, accept the cup of salvation with thanksgiving, and, as Paul declares of believers, rejoice in tribulation (Rom 5, 3).

97. Having explained this figure of the ark and the meaning of the flood according to the canonical Scriptures, we will say something also about the other features of this story—about the raven which did not return, and the doves, the first of which returned because she found no resting-place for her foot, while the second brought back with her a twig from an olive tree, and the third did not return because the earth was no more covered by water.

98. In our treatise on the narrative proper, we stated that these things occurred to be a consolation for Noah and his sons; to assure them that God's wrath had passed and that he was now pacified. The dove did not bring the olive branch of her own volition. She miraculously obeyed divine power. So the serpent in paradise spoke, not of its own volition, but through the inspiration of the devil, who had taken possession of it. As, on that occasion, the serpent, by the devil's prompting, spoke, with the result that man was led into sin, so, on this occasion, it was not its own volition or instinct which moved the dove to bring the olive branch, but the prompting of God, in order that Noah might gain comfort from the pleasant sight. For the olive does not supply the dove with food; she prefers the several species of wheat or pease.

99. The incident of the dove, then, is a miraculous occurrence with a definite meaning. The prophets in their messages concerning the kingdom of Christ, frequently make mention of doves (Ps 68, 13) and (Is 60, 8). Solomon also in his Song seems to mention the dove with particular pleasure. Therefore, we should not despise the picture this allegory holds before us, but treat its truth skillfully and aptly.

100. The allegory of the raven, invented by the doctors, is well known. Because ravens delight in eating dead bodies, they have been taken as a likeness of carnal men, who delight in carnal pleasures and indulge in them. The Epicureans were an example. A very fair explanation but inadequate, because it is merely of that moral and philosophical sort which Erasmus was in the habit of giving after the example of Origen.

101. We must look for a theological explanation. In the first place, those moralists fail to observe that Scripture commends the raven for not leaving the ark of his own will. He went out at the bidding of Noah, to ascertain if the waters had ceased and if God's wrath was ended. The raven, however, did not return, neither did he become a messenger of happy omen. He remained without the ark, and, though he came and went, yet he did not suffer himself to be taken by Noah.

102. In all these points the allegory fittingly typifies the ministry of the Law. Black, the color of the bird, is a token of sadness, and the sound of his voice is unpleasant. This is true of the teachers of the Law, who teach justification by works. They are the ministers of death and sin, Paul calling the ministry of the Law a ministry of death, (2 Cor 3, 6). The Law is unto death (Rom 7, 10). The Law worketh wrath. (Rom 4, 15.) The Law entered that trespass might abound. (Rom 5, 20).

103. And yet, Moses was sent forth by God with the Law, just as the raven was sent out by Noah. It is God's will that mankind be taught morality and holiness of life, and that wrath and sure punishments be announced to all who transgress the Law. Nevertheless, such teachers are naught but ravens wandering aimlessly about the ark; nor do they have the certain assurance that God is pacified.

104. For, the Law is a teaching of such character that it cannot assure, strengthen and console an uneasy conscience, but rather terrifies it, since it only teaches what God requires of us, what he wishes to be performed by us. Our consciences bear witness against us that we not only have failed to carry out the will of God as set forth in the Law, but that we have done the very contrary.

105. With all justice, therefore, we may say of the teachers of the Law, in the words of Psalms 5, 9: "There is no certainty in their mouth." Our translation has it "There is no faithfulness in their mouth." Their teaching at its best can only say: If you do this, if you do that, you will be saved. Christ speaks ironically when he answers the scribe who had grandly set forth the doctrine of the Law, by saying, "This do, and thou shalt live" (Lk 10, 28). He shows the scribe that the doctrine is holy and good, but since we are corrupt, it follows that we are guilty, since we do not, and cannot, fulfil the Law.

106. Hence, we declare rightly that we are not justified by the works of the Law. By the works of the Law we mean, not the ceremonial commandments, but those highest commandments of all, to love God and our neighbor. The reason we are not justified is that we cannot keep the commandments. We have reason, however, to challenge the impudence of our opponents who set up the cry that we forbid good works and condemn the Law of God because we deny that justification is by works. This would be true if we did not admit that the raven was sent forth from the ark by Noah. But we do say that the raven was sent out from the ark. And this we deny, that it was not a raven, or that it was a dove. All the clamor, the abuse, the blasphemy of our opponents have no other purpose than to force us to declare that the raven was a dove.

107. But now examine their books and carefully consider their doctrine. Is it anything but a doctrine of works? This is good, this is honorable, they say; this you must do; the other is dishonorable and wicked, hence you must not do it. On the strength of such teaching, they believe themselves to be true theologians and doctors. But let them show us the person who either has done or will do all those things, especially if you present, not only the second table of the Law, as they do, but also the first one.

108. He who takes his stand upon this doctrine of the Law, then, is truly nothing but a hearer. He does not learn anything except its demands. Since such persons have no desire to learn anything further, it should suffice for them if they are given the poem of Cato, or given Esop, whom I consider a better teacher of morals. These two writers are profitable reading for young men. Older persons should study Cicero, who, to my astonishment, is considered by some as inferior to Aristotle in the sphere of ethics. This would be a rational course of study. So far as imparting moral precepts is concerned, the good intentions and the assiduity of the heathen must be commended. Yet they are inferior to Moses. He sets forth not only morality, but also teaches the true worship of God. Nevertheless, he who places his trust solely in Moses has nothing but the raven wandering aimlessly about outside of the ark. Of the dove and the olive branch, he has nothing.

109 The raven, then, represents not only the Law given by God, but all laws and all philosophy which are the product of human reason and wisdom. They tell us no more than what ought to be done and do not provide the strength to do it. The judgment of Christ is true: "When ye shall have done all the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants" (Lk 17, 10).

110. True the raven is sent out. God desires the Law to be taught. He reveals it from heaven; yea, he writes it upon the hearts of all men, as Paul proves (Rom 2, 15). From this inherent knowledge originated all writings of the saner philosophers, of Esop, Aristotle, Plato, Xenophon, Cicero and Cato. And these are not unfit to set before untrained and vicious persons, that their vile tendencies may be curbed to some extent.

111. If, however, you seek for peace of conscience and for certain hope of eternal life, such philosophers are like the raven, which wanders around the ark, finding no peace outside, but not looking for it within. Paul says of the Jews, "Israel, following after a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law" (Rom 9, 31). The reason for this is in the fact that the Law is like the raven; it is either the ministry of death and sin or it produces hypocrites.

112. Now, let those who wish, follow out this allegory by studying the nature of the raven. It is an impure bird, of somber and funereal color, with a strong beak and a harsh, shrill voice. It scents dead bodies from a great distance, and therefore men fear its voice as a certain augury of an impending death. It feeds upon carrion and enjoys localities made foul by public executions.

113. Though I would not apply each and every one of these characteristics to the Law, yet who does not see how well they fit the servants of the Pope, the mass-priests and the monks, who were not only richly fed upon the slaughter of consciences by their false doctrines, but also used the dead bodies to obtain their livelihood, since they made a paying business out of their vigils, their anniversaries, their purifying water used in burials, and even of purgatory itself. And surely, this devotion to the dead was more profitable to them than their care of the living.

Truly, then, they are ravens, feeding on corpses and sitting upon them with wild cries. Not only may the popish priests be fitly likened to the ravens, but indeed the whole ministry of the papacy, where it is at its best, does nothing but to gash and murder consciences. It does not show the way to true righteousness, but merely makes hypocrites, as does the Law.

114. Among other crimes of false prophets, Ezekiel enumerates (ch 13, 19) the fact that, for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, they slay souls that should not die, and save the souls alive that should not live. This is true of these ravens, the teachers of the Law. They call those righteous who live according to the letter of the Law, and yet these are the very souls which do not live. On the other hand, they condemn those who violate their traditions, just as the Pharisees condemned the disciples when they plucked ears of corn, when they did not wash their hands and when they failed to fast. This is an outcry, fierce and dismal, reminding us of ravens which sit upon corpses.

115. When cursing a wicked person, the Greeks said, "To the ravens!" Similarly, the Germans use the expression, "May the ravens devour you." If we make this curse an element of the allegory, its serious character becomes evident. For what is more deplorably disastrous than to have teachers, the outcome of whose best teaching is death, and who ensnare the conscience with difficulties that cannot be disentangled? Though some say this allegory of the raven is inaptly applied to the priesthood, it is true nevertheless and agrees with the fundamental truth, and it is not only most apt, but very profitable for instruction.

116. On the other hand, the incident of the dove is a most delightful picture of the gospel, especially if you carefully consider the characteristics of the dove. Ten of these are usually enumerated: 1. It is without guile. 2. It does not harm with its mouth. 3. It does not harm with its claws. 4. It gathers pure grains. 5. It nourishes the young of others. 6. Its song is a sigh. 7. It abides by the waters. 8. It flies in flocks. 9. It nests in safe places. 10. Its flight is swift. These ten characteristics have been set forth in six verses, as follows:

Free from guile is the dove; the bite of her beak does not injure; Wounds her claws do not strike; pure is the grain that she eats. Frequent and swift is her flight to shining courses of water. List to her voice, and lo! sighs you will hear but no song! Other nestlings she rears; in swarms she flies through the ether. Safe is the place and high where she prepares her abode.

117. The New Testament tells us the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove (Mt 3, 16). Hence, we are justified in using the dove as an allegory of the ministry of grace.

118. Moses implies that the dove did not fly aimlessly about the ark, as did the raven, but having been sent out and finding no place to rest, it returned to the ark and was seized by Noah.

119. This dove is a picture of the holy prophets sent to teach the people; but the flood, that is, the time of the Law, had not yet passed away. Thus David, Elias, Isaiah, though they did not live to see the time of the New Testament, were yet sent as messengers with the tidings that the flood would eventually be brought to an end, though that time was at a distance. Having delivered their message, they returned to the ark; that is, they were justified and saved without the Law, by faith in the blessed seed, in which they believed and for which they longed.

120. After this, another dove was sent forth, which found the earth dried, and not only the mountains, but also the trees, standing free from water. But she alighted upon an olive tree, plucked a branch, and brought it back to Noah.

121. The allegorical meaning of this incident is interpreted by the Scriptures. The olive tree is very often used as a symbol of grace, of mercy or of forgiveness of sins. The dove brings the branch in her beak, thus typifying the outward ministry, or the spoken Word. For the Holy Spirit does not teach by new revelations aside from the ministry of the Word, as the enthusiasts and Anabaptists, those truly fanatical teachers, dream. It was the will of God that a branch from a living olive tree should be carried to Noah in the mouth of the bird, to teach that in the New Testament, the time of the flood or anger being past, God desires to set his mercy before the world by the spoken Word.

122. The messengers of this Word are doves; that is, sincere men, without guile, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Isaiah 60, 8, likens ministers of the Gospel or of grace to doves which fly to their windows. And, though Christ commands them to imitate the harmlessness of doves, Mt 10, 16, meaning that they should be sincere and free from venom, yet, he admonishes them to be wise like serpents; that is, they should be wary of false and cunning people, and cautious like the serpent, which is said to shield its head with special skill in a fight.

123. The green freshness of the olive branch, also, is a type of the Word of the Gospel, which endureth forever and is never without fruit. Psalms 1, 3 likens those who study the Word to a tree, the leaves of which do not wither. We heard nothing like this above concerning the raven, which flew to and fro near the ark. This second dove which was sent forth is a type of the New Testament, where grace and the forgiveness of sins are promised openly through the sacrifice of Christ. This is why the Holy Spirit chose to appear in the form of a dove in the New Testament.

124. The third dove did not return. After the fulfilment of the promise given the whole world through the mouth of the dove, no new teaching is to be looked for, but we simply await the revelation of those things which we believe. Herein is certain testimony for us that the Gospel will endure unto the end of the world.

125. The text, furthermore, specifies the time Noah waited after he had first sent forth a dove, namely, seven days. These seven days typify the time of the Law which, of necessity, preceded the period of the New Testament.

126. We read, likewise, that the second dove returned at dusk, carrying the olive branch. To the Gospel the last age of the world has been assigned. Nor should we look for another kind of doctrine, for it is to an evening meal that Christ compared the Gospel (Mt 22, 2; Lk 14, 16).

127. True, the doctrine of the Gospel has been in the world since the fall of our first parents, and the Lord confirmed this promise to the patriarchs by various signs. The first ages knew nothing of the rainbow, nor of circumcision, nor of other signs afterward ordained by God. But all ages have known of the blessed seed. Since it has been revealed, there remains nothing else than the revelation of that which we believe. With the third dove, we shall fly away to that other life, never to return to the life here, so wretched and so full of grief.

128. These are my thoughts concerning this allegory. I have set them forth briefly, for we must not tarry with them as we do with historical narratives and articles of faith.

129. Origen, Jerome, Augustine, and Bernard seek diligently for allegories. But this practice has one drawback. The more attention they direct to allegories, the more do they draw it away from the facts of sacred history and from faith, to the exclusion of these more important things. Allegories should be employed for the purpose of inducing and increasing, of explaining and strengthening, that faith of which all the stories treat. It is not to be wondered at, that persons who do not seek faith in the stories of the Bible, look for the region of allegorical shades as a pleasant playground in which to stroll about.

130. Just as in the popish Church false and unscriptural words are rendered in sweet music, so learned men have too often spoiled the good meaning of a Bible story, which contains a useful lesson of faith, by their childish allegories.

131. I have often spoken of the kind of theology that prevailed when I began to study. Its advocates said that the letter killeth (2 Cor 3, 6). Therefore I disliked Lyra most of all interpreters, because he followed the literal meaning so carefully. But now I prefer him, for this very reason, to all interpreters of Scripture.

132. I advise you as strongly as I can to fully appreciate the great value of the Bible history. But whenever you wish to employ allegory, take pains to follow the analogy of faith; that is, make the allegory agree with Christ, with the Church, with faith, with the ministry of the Gospel. If constructed in this manner, allegories will not go astray from faith, even though they may not be genuine in every point. This foundation shall remain firm, while the stubble perishes. But let us return to our story.



1. Noah's character before the flood 133.

2. Noah's character after the flood 134.

3. Way Noah executed his office as bishop 135.

4. Way he executed his office as a civil ruler 136.


A. Noah.

Vs. 20-22. And Noah began to be a husbandman, and planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.

133. What manner of man Noah was during the flood, is shown sufficiently by the story of the flood itself. What manner of man he had been before the flood, is shown by Moses' declaration that he was righteous and perfect. Great as this man was, we hear nothing else about him, except that his wonderful and almost incredible continence is faintly suggested and commended by the statement that he begat his first born when five hundred years of age. This very fact shows that human nature was by far stronger in its integrity at that time, and that the Holy Spirit held more perfect sway in the holy men of the early world than He does in us who are, as it were, the dregs and the remnants of the world's production.

It surely was a commendatory record for Noah to be accorded righteous and perfect before God; that is, full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, adorned with chastity and all good works, pure in worship and religion, suffering many temptations from the devil, the world, and himself, all which he overcame triumphantly. Such was Noah before the flood.

134. Of his life after the flood, Moses tells us very little. But is it not apparent that so noble a man, living for about 350 years after the flood, could not be idle, but must have been busy with the government of the Church, which he alone established and ruled?

135. First of all, then, he performed the duties of a bishop. Beset with various temptations, his foremost endeavor was to resist the devil, to console the troubled ones, to bring back the erring to the true way, to strengthen the doubting, to cheer souls in despair, to exclude from his Church the impenitent, and to receive back with fatherly gladness the repentant. For, these are the duties a bishop must perform through the ministry of the Word.

136. Moreover, he had civil duties in establishing forms of government and in making laws, without which human passions cannot be held in check. To this was added the rule of his own household, or the care of his home.


1. Why Moses omitted many important things about Noah and related his fall 137-138.

2. Lyra tries to excuse Noah's fall 139.

3. Noah's fall cannot be excused 140-141.

4. His fall caused a great scandal 142.

5. Ham scandalized himself through it 142-143.

a. Real root of this scandal 144.

b. Thereby Noah greatly sinned 145ff.

* Original sin develops presumptuous people 146-148.

c. This scandal reveals Satan's bitterest enmity against God's Church 149.

* Papists are Ham's disciples 150.

* David's enemies rejoiced over his fall 151.

6. To what end should Noah's fall serve us 152-154.

* The godless are not worthy to see God's glory in believers 155.

* Why we should not be vexed at the infirmities of believers 156-157.

7. The conduct of Shem and Japheth in this connection 158-173.

a. They still honored their father, though they approved not his deed 158.

* Origin of outward sin 159.

* How to avoid offense 160-162.

* Luther aware of his own infirmities 163.

* Attitude of the opponents of the Word to true preachers 164.

* Why Moses never mentioned many great events in Noah's life, and thought of his fall 165-166.

b. How the sons covered their father's shame 167.

c. Herein they had regard for God's will and were therefore pleasing to God 168.

* Ham's scandal.

(1) It was a wilful and grievous sin 168-169.

(2) The lesson we may learn from it 170.

(3) Reward of this scandalous deed, and why Canaan is here mentioned 172-173.

B. Noah's Fall.

137. Though reason tells us that Noah was burdened with these manifold duties after the flood, yet Moses does not mention them. It appears to him sufficient to confine his remarks to the statement that Noah began to plant a vineyard, and that he lay in his tent drunken and naked.

This, surely, is a foolish and very useless tale in comparison with the many praiseworthy acts he must have performed in the course of so many years. Other things might have been recorded for edification and for teaching righteousness of life. But this story even seems to endorse an offense, by abetting drunkards and those who sin in drunkenness.

138. The purpose of the Holy Spirit, however, is apparent from what we have said. It is to console by this record of the great sins committed by the holiest and most perfect patriarchs those righteous persons who are discouraged by the knowledge of their own weakness and are, therefore, cast down. In them we are to find proofs of our own shortcomings, that we may come to humble confession and, at the same time, seek and hope for forgiveness. This is the real and theologically true reason why the Holy Spirit records, rather than seemingly more important matters, the great fall of this grand man.

139. Lyra states as excuse for Noah that he knew not the power of wine and was deceived into drinking a little too freely. Whether wine had been known before or whether Noah began to cultivate it by his own skill and by divine suggestion, I know not, but I believe that Noah knew the nature of this produce quite well, and that he had often made use of wine in company with his family, partly for his own person and partly also in his offerings or libations. I think that in making use of wine for his own refreshment, he partook of it too freely.

140. His action I excuse in no way. Should anyone want to do so, there would be weightier arguments than those Lyra uses. According to him this aged man, tired out by the great number of his daily duties and cares, had been overpowered by the wine although he was already used to it. For wine overcomes more easily those who are either exhausted by much work or burdened with age. Persons of mature age, on the other hand, and such of care-free mind, can drink considerable quantities of wine without greatly impairing their reason.

141. But he who makes this excuse for the patriarch, wilfully casts aside that consolation which the Holy Spirit considered needful for the Church, that even the greatest saints sometimes fall into sin.

142. Transgression like this may seem to be slight, yet it causes great offense. Not only is Ham offended, but also the other brother, possibly also their wives. And we must not imagine that Ham was a boy of seven years. Having been born when Noah was five hundred years old, he had reached an age of at least one hundred years and had one or two children of his own.

143. Hence, it was not boyish thoughtlessness which caused Ham to laugh at his father, as boys will do when surrounding a drunken rustic in the street and making sport of him. He was truly offended by his father's sin and thought himself to be more righteous, holy and religious than his father. Noah's deed was an offense not only in appearance, but in very truth, since Ham was so far tempted by the knowledge of it that he passed judgment upon Noah, and found in such sin an occasion for mirth.

144. If we wish to judge Ham's sin aright, we must take into account original sin, that is, the wickedness of the heart. This son would never have derided his father for being overcome by wine had he not first dismissed from his soul that reverence and esteem which God's commandment requires children to cherish toward their parents.

145. Noah had been considered a fool before the flood, by the majority of mankind, and had been condemned as a false teacher and despised as a man of wild ideas. Now he is laughed at by his son as a fool, and condemned as a sinner. Noah was sole governor of the Church and State, and ruled his own household with tireless care and labor. He had doubtless therein offended the proud and haughty spirit of his son in many ways. But the depravity of his heart which now, that the father's sin had become manifest, leaped to the surface, had so far been successfully concealed.

146. When we consider the source of Ham's sin, its hideousness first appears in its true light. One never becomes an adulterer or commits murder until he has first cast out of his heart the fear of God. A pupil does not rebel against his teacher unless he has first lost due reverence for that teacher. The fourteenth Psalm, verse 2, says that Jehovah looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and that did seek after God. When he saw there was none he adds there was none who did good; that they had all become worthless, sinning tongues, sinning with their hands, fearing where there was no need of fear, and the like.

147. So Ham, in his own estimation, was wise and holy. In his judgment his father had often acted unrighteously or foolishly. His attitude discloses a heart that despised, not only the parent, but also the divine commandment. Hence, nothing remains for the evil-minded son but to grasp an opportunity for obtaining evidence to betray his father's foolishness. He does not laugh at his drunken father as a boy would, nor does he call his brethren merely that they may look upon a laughable spectacle. He means that this shall be open proof that God has withdrawn from his father and has accepted himself. Therefore, he takes delight in disclosing his father's sin to others. As I said before, Ham was not a boy of seven years, but had reached the age of at least one hundred.

148. Original sin shows its depraving tendency in that it makes men arrogant, haughty and conceited. Paul admonishes in Romans 12, 3, to think of one's self soberly, "according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith." But, original sin does not permit Ham to occupy this lowly level; hence, he presumes to go beyond his station in passing judgment upon his father.

149. We observe the same attitude in Absalom. Before he stirs up a rebellion against David, his father, he passes unrighteous judgment upon David's government. This dissatisfaction with his father's rule was afterward followed by unconcealed contempt and open violence, with David's destruction as the object. Ham's heart being full of poison which he had gathered from his father as a spider gathers poison from the fairest rose, precisely such a result had to follow.

150. These examples serve to call our attention to the battle waged from the beginning of the world between the Church and Satan with his followers, the hypocrites, or false brethren. This deed of Ham must not be looked upon as a result of boyish love of pranks, but of Satan's most bitter enmity, wherewith he inflames his followers against the Church. Particularly does he incite them against those in the ministry, leading them to close watch at all times for material available for purposes of slander.

The Papists at present have no other business than to watch our conversation for the purpose of slander. Whenever we fall into human error (for we are truly weak and are beset by our failings), they seize upon our moral uncleanness, like famished swine, and find great delight in publishing and betraying our weaknesses, like Ham the accursed. They truly hunger and thirst after our offenses. Although by God's grace they cannot fasten adultery, murder or like errors upon us, unless by their own fabrication (this shameless class of people abhor no kind of lie), yet they gather up smaller matters, which they afterward exaggerate to the public.

151. David's experience is well known. He was surrounded on all sides by enemies who eagerly sought out every opportunity for persecution. They were envious because he had been called to the throne by God; hence, they triumphed over his horrible fall.

152. His case, however, serves for our instruction. God sometimes permits even righteous and holy men to stumble and fall into offenses, either really or apparently, and we must take heed lest we pass judgment at once, after the example of Ham, who, having secretly despised his father long before, now does so openly. He declared that his parent, being imbecile by age, had clearly been deserted by the Holy Spirit, since he was unable to guard against drunkenness, though the government of the Church, State, and household lay upon his shoulders. O wretched Ham, how happy art thou, having found at last what thou soughtest—poison in a most delightful rose!

153. Everlasting praises and blessings be given to God, whose dealings with his saints are wonderful indeed. While he permits them to be weak and to fall, to be overwhelmed with disgrace and offenses, and while the world judges and condemns them, he forgives them their weaknesses and has compassion upon them; whereas he delivers into Satan's hands those who regard themselves angels, and utterly rejects them.

The first lesson of this story is that godly persons have the needed consolation against their infirmities when they see that even the holiest men sometimes fell most disgracefully by reason of similar infirmities.

154. In the second place, the case of Ham is a fearful example of divine judgment, to teach us by Ham's experience not to condemn at once, even when we see rulers of State, Church, or household—such as our parents—fall into error and sin. Who can tell why God so permits? Such sins must not be excused, yet we see that they are of value for the consolation of the pious. They teach us that God can bear with the errors and sins of his people and that even we, when beset with sins, may trust in the mercy of God and need not lose heart.

155. But what is medicine for the righteous, is poison for the wicked. The latter do not seek to be taught and comforted by God. Their unworthiness prevents them from recognizing his glory in the saints. They see nothing but the stumbling block and the snare, with the result that they fall and are left to perish alone.

156. Let us, therefore, truly respect those in authority over us. If they fall, we must not be offended. We must remember that they are human, and that God's ways are wonderful in his saints, because it is his will that the wicked shall be offended and provoked. Thus Moses threatens the Jews: "I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation" (Deut 32, 21). Because, during the whole period of the kingdom, they refused to hear the prophets, God gave the offense of casting away a wise and religious people, which had the promises and was descended from the patriarchs. In its place, he chose the filth and dregs of the world, a foolish people; that is, it was without piety, without religion, without worship, without that divine wisdom which is his Word. This offense roused the Jews to insane anger.

157. This will be the lot of the papists. Some great offense shall be given them by God against which they shall find themselves helpless, and thus they shall come to grief like Ham. Renouncing the reverence due both to God and his father, in deeming himself more capable of ruling the Church than Noah, in secretly deriding or censuring his parent, he finally presents the spectacle of disclosing his wicked and irreverent attitude before others.

158. The two other brothers, Shem and Japheth, did not follow Ham's wicked example. While conscious of the scandalous fact that their father was drunk and lay in shameless nakedness like a little boy,—while recognizing that this ill became the ruler of Church and State, they remained mindful of the reverence due a parent. They gulped down the offense given; they hid the offense and gave it a worthier aspect, so to speak, by covering their father with a garment, approaching him with eyes averted. They would have been incapable of this fine outward expression of reverence for their father, had they not occupied a correct attitude toward God in their hearts and believed their father to be both priest and ruler by right divine.

159. It is a fearful example, this one of Ham. Though one of the few saved during the flood, he forgets all piety. It is profitable to carefully consider how he came to fall. Outward sins must first be committed in our minds; that is, before sins are visibly committed, the heart first departs from the Word and from the fear of God. It neither knows God nor seeks after him, as we read in Psalms 14, 2. As soon as the heart begins to set aside the Word, and to despise the ministers and prophets of God, ambition and pride follow. Those who stand in the way of our desires are overborne by hatred and slander, until finally insolent speech ends in murder.

160. Those who are to become rulers of Church or State, should daily pray earnestly to God that they may remain humble. It is the object of stories of this character to set this duty before us, for it is evident what occasioned Ham's frightful fall.

161. If, then, the saints fall into sin, let us not be offended. Much less should we rejoice over the weakness of others, haughtily esteeming ourselves braver, wiser, or holier than they. Let us rather endure and cover up, and even put a good construction upon and excuse such errors in so far as we can, remembering that perhaps tomorrow we may suffer what happened to them today. For we all constitute a unit, being born of the same flesh. Let us then heed the advice of Paul, "Let him that thinketh he standeth, take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10, 12). In this way the other two brothers looked upon their drunken father. Their thoughts were these: Behold, our father has fallen. But God is wonderful in his dealing with saints, whom he sometimes permits to fall for our instruction, that we may not despair when afflicted by kindred infirmity.

162. Let us imitate their wisdom! The sins of others give us no right to judge them. Before their own master they stand or fall (Rom 14, 4). Furthermore, if the downfall of others displease us (since, in truth, many acts neither can nor ought to be excused), let us be so much the more careful lest something like it overtake ourselves. Let us not sit in proud and haughty judgment, for this is original sin in all its corruption: To lay claim to exceptional wisdom and to hunt for the moral lapses of others in order to gain the reputation of righteousness for ourselves.

163. We truly are weak sinners and must freely confess, being human, that our conversation is not always free from offense. But while we share this weakness with our enemies, we nevertheless do our duty diligently, by spreading God's Word, by teaching the churches, by bettering the evil, by urging the right, by consoling the weak, by chiding the stubborn, and, in brief, by doing whatever duty God lays upon us.

164. On the other hand since our adversaries strive after nothing but hypocrisy and an outward show of holiness, so they add to the frailty which they have in common with us, the most grievous sins, because they do not follow their calling, but concern themselves with their honors and emoluments. They neglect the churches and suffer them to miserably decay. They condemn the true doctrine and teach idolatry. In short, in public life they are wise, but in their own sphere they are utterly foolish. This is the most destructive evil in the Church.

165. This is the first part of the story, and, in the preparation of his record, Moses has confined himself to the same. It is certain that Noah was a righteous man, gifted with many heroic virtues, and that he accomplished most important things both for the Church and for the State. It is not possible either to establish political communities or to found churches except by diligent effort. Life, in both these manifestations (I will say nothing of the management of the home) is beset with many dangers; for Satan, a liar and murderer, is the most relentless enemy of Church and State.

166. But Moses passes by all these achievements, not so much as alluding to them. He records but this one circumstance—that Noah became drunk and was scoffed at by his youngest son. He intended it as a valuable example, teaching pious souls to trust in God's mercy. On the other hand, the proud, the lovers of cant, the sanctimonious, the wise-acres,—let them learn to fear God and beware of passing a reckless judgment upon others! As Manasseh the king declares, God displays in his saints both his wonders and his terrors "against wicked and sinful men." This is illustrated in the case of Ham, who did not now first come to his downfall but had cherished this hate against his father for a long time, afterward to fill the world with idolatry.

Vs. 23-27. And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness. And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his youngest son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.

167. It is truly a beautiful and memorable example of respect to a father which Moses records in this passage. The sons might without sin have approached their father and covered him, while turning their faces toward him. What sin should it be if one, happening upon a nude person, should see what is before him without his will? Still the two sons do not do this. When they heard from their haughty and mocking brother what had happened to their father, they laid a garment upon both their shoulders, entered the tent with faces turned away (how admirable!), and lowering the garment backward, covered their father.

168. Who can fail to observe here the thoughtfulness of the will and Word of God, and reverence before the majesty of fatherhood, which God requires to be honored, not despised or mocked by children? God seems to approve this reverence and accept it as a most pleasing offering and the very noblest worship and obedience. But his utmost hatred rests upon Ham, who might have seen without sin what he saw, since it came to his view by chance, if only he had covered it up, if only he had remained silent about it, if only he had not shown himself to be pleased by the sin of his father. But he who despised God, the Word, and the order established by God, not only failed to cover his father with a garment, but even derided him and left him naked.

169. In describing the act of the two brothers Moses emphasizes the malice of Ham, who was filled with violent and satanic hatred against his father. Who of us, on finding a stranger lying by the wayside drunk and nude, would not at least cover him with his own coat to forestall disgrace? How much greater the demand in this case of a father! Ham, however, fails to do for his father, the highest ruler of the world, what common humanity teaches us to do for strangers. Moreover he publishes the circumstance joyfully, insulting his drunken father and making the sin of his father known to his brothers as if he had a piece of good news.

170. Moses, therefore, sets Ham before us as a fearful example, to be carefully taught in the churches, in order that young people may learn to respect their elders, rulers, and parents. Not on account of Noah, not on account of Ham, but on account of those to come—on our account—is this story written, and Ham, with his contempt for God and father, pictured in most repulsive colors.

171. Also the punishment of this wickedness is carefully set before us. Noah, looked upon by his son as a foolish, insane, and ridiculous old man, now steps forth in the majesty of a prophet, to announce to his son a divine revelation of future events. Truly does Paul declare that "power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12, 9); for the certainty characterizing Noah's utterance is proof that he was filled with the Holy Spirit, notwithstanding that his son had mocked and despised him as one utterly deserted by the Holy Spirit.

172. I will not attempt here to settle the question above referred to (ch 5, para 95) concerning the order of the sons of Noah, as to which of them was the first-born and which the youngest. A point more worthy of our attention is the fact that the Holy Spirit is so filled with strong wrath against that disobedient and scornful son that he does not even choose to call him by his own name, but calls him Canaan after the name of his son. Some say that, because God had desired to save Ham in the ark as one under his blessing the same as the others, he had no wish to curse him, but cursed Canaan instead, a curse which, nevertheless, could not but recoil upon Ham who had provoked it. Thus Ham's name perishes here, since the Holy Spirit hates it, whose hatred is, indeed, a serious hatred. We read in the psalm, "I hate them with perfect hatred" (Ps 139, 22). When the Holy Spirit exercises his wrath, eternal death must follow.

173. Although Ham had sinned against his father in many ways, it is remarkable that the fruit of the first sin and the devil's malice did not become manifest until the father lay drunk and bare. When, with this sin, the previous ones had attained to fullness of power and growth, the Holy Spirit condemned him, and, as a warning to others, also announced the infliction of impending, endless servitude.

V. 26. And he said, Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.

These are two sublime prophecies, worthy of close attention. They have significance in our time, though they were grossly garbled by the Jews. The Jews observe that Ham is cursed thrice; this fact they wrest to the glory of their own nation, promising themselves worldly dominion.



1. Why Ham was thrice cursed 174.

* Disrespect of parents, pastors and authority signs of approaching misfortune 175.

2. Way Ham disregarded the curse 176.

3. Why Ham disregarded the curse 177-178.

4. Ham's temporal prosperity continued with his curse 179-181.

* Faith alone grasps God's threatenings and promises 180-181.

* Reason God postpones punishment and reward 181-182.

* The Papal Church is not the true Church 183.

* Believers have comfort in their tribulations 184-185.

* The pious have their kingdom here in faith 186.

5. From this curse it is clear Noah was enlightened by the Holy Spirit 187.

* Were all Ham's descendents cursed? 188.


1. This is an exceedingly great blessing 189.

2. Why is it clothed in praise to God 190.

3. This blessing proves that Noah possessed a precious light 191.


1. Why the form of Japheth's blessing differed from that of Shem's 192.

2. Herein lies a special secret 193.

3. The Jews' false interpretation of this blessing 194.

4. Relation of these two blessings to each other 195.

* The Jews' false notion about Shem's blessing 196.

5. The order in which these blessings are enjoyed 197-198.

* The form God's Church takes in this world 199.

* Divine promises and threatenings to be understood in a spiritual sense 199-200.

* Ham and Cain resemble one another in their positions and works 201.

* The Turk and the Pope.

a. What strengthens them in their opposition to the true Church 202.

* How a Christian should conduct himself in times of misfortunes 203.

b. The power and advantages of the Turk and Pope of no avail 204.

c. Attitude of Church members to their pride 205-206.

* Why Ham's name was not mentioned when he was cursed 207-208.

6. The word dilatet the Latins use in explaining Japheth's blessing 209-210.

a. It is not in harmony with the Hebrew 209-210.

b. Why all Latin interpreters use it 211.

c. It does not fully express the sense of the Holy Spirit 212.

d. What explanation should be given here 213-215.

7. All descendents of Japheth partake of this blessing through the Gospel 216-217.

8. Translations of Latin interpreters of this blessing are to be harmonized with the original text 218-219.

* Ham's name 220-221.

a. Its meaning and reason his parents gave it to him 220.

b. The hope of his parents in this name disappointed 221.

9. It is ascribed to this promise that Germany in these last days received the light of the Gospel 222.

* Abraham had Noah as his teacher 223.

* The temporal prosperity of Ham's family, and their wickedness 224.


A. The Curse Pronounced Upon Ham.

174. But there is another reason for this repeatedly uttered curse. God cannot forget such great irreverence toward parents, nor does he suffer it to go unpunished. He requires that parents and rulers be regarded with reverence. He requires that elders be honored, commanding that one shall rise up before a hoary head (Lev 19, 32). And, speaking of ministers of the Word, he says, "He that despiseth you, despiseth me" (Mt 10, 40; Lk 10, 16).

175. Hence disobedience of parents is a sure indication that curse and disaster are close at hand. Likewise is contempt of ministers and of rulers punished. When the people of the primitive world began to deride the patriarchs and to hold their authority in contempt, the flood followed. When, among the people of Judah, the child began to behave himself proudly against the old man, as Isaiah has it (ch 3, 5), Jerusalem was laid waste and Judah went down. Such corruption of morals is a certain sign of impending evil. We justly fear for Germany a like fate when we look upon the prevailing disrespect for authority.

176. Let us, however, bear witness of a practice to which both Holy Writ and our experience testify. Because God delays the threatened punishment he is mocked and considered a liar. In this practice we should see the seal, as it were, to every prophecy. Ham hears that he is accursed; but inasmuch as the curse does not go into immediate effect, he securely despises and derides the same.

177. Thus did the first world hold Noah's prophecy in ridicule when he spoke of the flood. Had they believed that such a punishment was close at hand, would they have gone on in a feeling of security? Would they not rather have repented and begun a better life? If Ham had believed that to be true which he heard from his father, he would have sought refuge in mercy and, confessing his crime, craved forgiveness. But he did neither; rather did he haughtily leave his father, to go to Babylon. There, with his posterity, he gave himself up to the building of a city and of a tower, and made himself lord of all Greater Asia.

178. What is the reason for this feeling of security? It lies in the fact that divine prophecies must be believed; they cannot be perceived by our senses, or by experience. This is true both of divine promises and of divine threats. Therefore the opposite always seems to the flesh to be true.

179. Ham is cursed by his father; but he lays hold upon the greater portion of the earth and establishes vast kingdoms. On the other hand, Shem and Japheth are blessed, but in comparison with Ham, they and their posterity are beggarly.

Where then are we to seek the truth of this prophecy? I answer: This prophecy and all others, whether they be promises or threats, cannot be understood by reason, but by faith alone. God delays both punishments and rewards; hence there is need of endurance. For "He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved," as Christ says (Mt 24, 13).

180. The life of all pious people is wholly of faith and hope. The evidence of our senses, history, and the way of the world, would teach us the opposite. Ham is cursed, yet he alone obtains dominion. Shem and Japheth are blessed, yet they alone bear reproach and affliction. Since both the promises and the threats of God reach out into the future, the issue must be awaited in faith. Habakkuk says (ch 2, 3), "It will surely come, it will not delay."

181. Great is the wrath of the Holy Spirit which here prompts him to say of Ham, "A servant of servants shall he be;" that is, the lowest and vilest of slaves. But if you let history speak, you will see Ham rule in Canaan, whereas Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and others who followed, and had the blessing, lived like servants among the Canaanites. The Egyptians are Ham's offspring, and how cruel was the servitude Israel suffered there!

182. How, then, was it true that Ham was cursed and Shem was blessed? In this way: The fulfillment of the promise and of the threat was in the future. This delay is ordained in order that the wicked may fill their measure of sin and may not be able to accuse God of having given them no room for repentance. On the other hand, when the righteous suffer at the hands of the unrighteous and become the servants of servants, they undergo such trial and discipline for the purpose of increasing in faith and in love toward God; so that, trained in manifold vexations and tribulations, they may attain the promise.

When the time was fulfilled, the might of Ham's posterity was not great enough to withstand the posterity of Shem. Then, indeed, was fulfilled that curse which Ham and his posterity had so long despised and disbelieved.

183. It is much the same with us today. We have the true doctrine and the true worship. Hence we can boast that we are the true Church, having the promise of spiritual blessings in Christ. As the pope's church condemns our doctrine, we know her to be not the Church of Christ but of Satan, and truly, like Ham, a "servant of servants." And yet anyone may see that the pope rules, while we are servants and the off-scouring, as Paul says (1 Cor 4, 12).

184. What, then, shall we poor, oppressed people do? We are to comfort our souls meanwhile with our spiritual dominion. We know we have forgiveness of sins and a gracious God, through Christ, until also temporal freedom shall be vouchsafed on the last day. And we are not without traces of temporal freedom even in this life; for while tyrants stubbornly oppose the Gospel, they are cut off from the earth, root and branch.

185. So was the Roman empire destroyed after all the other world-powers perished; but God's Word and Church remain forever. Likewise, Christ weakens the Pope's power, little by little; but that he may be utterly removed and become a servant of servants with wicked Ham is a matter for faith to await. Ham is shut out from the kingdom of God and possesses the kingdoms of the world for a time, just as the pope is shut out from the Church of God and holds temporal dominion for a time. But his dominion shall vanish.

186. The divine law and order is that the righteous have dominion, but by faith, being satisfied with such spiritual blessing as a gracious God and the certain hope of the heavenly kingdom. Meanwhile, we leave possession of the kingdoms of the world to the wicked until God shall scatter also their worldly power, and, through Christ, make us heirs of all things.

187. Furthermore, we learn from this prophecy that Noah, by a special illumination of the Holy Spirit, was enabled to see, in the first place, that his posterity would remain forever, and in the second place, that the family of Ham, though they were to be rulers for a time, would perish at last and above all would lose the spiritual blessing.

188. However, the explanation given above (ch 4, para 182) with reference to the descendants of Cain, applies also here. I do not entertain the opinion that the offspring of Ham were doomed, without exception. Some found salvation by being converted to faith, but such salvation was not due to a definite promise but to uncovenanted grace, so to speak. Likewise the Gibeonites and others were saved when the children of Israel occupied the land of Canaan. Job, Naaman the Syrian, the people of Nineveh, the widow of Zarephath, and others from the heathen were saved, not by virtue of a promise, but by uncovenanted grace.

B. Blessing Pronounced Upon Shem.

189. But why does Noah not say, "Blessed be Shem," instead of, "Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem"? I answer that it is because of the magnitude of the blessing. The reference here is not to a temporal blessing, but to the future blessing through the promised seed. He sees this blessing to be so great that he cannot express it; hence, he turns to thanksgiving. It seems that Zacharias was thinking of this very passage when he said, for a similar reason, "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel" (Lk 1, 68).

190. Noah's blessing takes the form of thanksgiving unto God. God, he says, is blessed, who is the God of Shem. In other words: It is needless for me to extend my blessing over Shem, who has been blessed before with spiritual blessing; he already is a child of God, and from him the Church will be continued, as it was continued from Seth before the flood. Full of wonderful meaning is the fact that Noah joins God with Shem, his son, and, as it were, unites them.

191. Noah's heart must have been divinely illumined since he makes such a distinction between his sons, rejecting Ham with his posterity and placing Shem in line with the saints and the Church because the spiritual blessing, given in paradise concerning the seed, would rest upon him. Therefore, this holy man blesses God and gives thanks unto him.

C. Blessing Pronounced Upon Japheth.

V. 27. God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.

192. This prophecy is wonderful for the aptness of each single word. Noah did not bless Shem, but the God of Shem, by way of giving thanks to God for having embraced Shem and having adorned him with a spiritual promise, or the blessing of the woman's seed. But when he mentions Japheth he does not employ the same manner of speaking as in the case of Shem. His words are chosen for the purpose of showing the mystery of which Paul speaks (Rom 11, 11) and Christ (Jn 4, 22), that salvation is from the Jews and yet the gentiles also became partakers of this salvation. Shem alone is the true root and stem, yet the heathen are grafted upon this stem, as a foreign branch, and become partakers of the fatness and the sap which are in the chosen tree.

193. Noah, seeing this through the Holy Spirit, predicts, in dim allusions but correctly, that Christ's kingdom is to spread in the world from the root of Shem, and not from that of Japheth.

194. The Jews prate that Japheth stands for the neighboring nations around Jerusalem which were admitted to the temple and its worship. But Noah makes little ado about the temple of Jerusalem, or the tabernacle of Moses; his words refer to greater matters. He treats of the three patriarchs who are to replenish the earth. While he affirms of Japheth that he does not belong to the root of the people of God which possesses the promise of the Christ, he declares that he shall be incorporated through the call of the Gospel into the fellowship of that people which has God and the promises.

195. Here, then, we have a picture of the Church of the Gentiles and of the Jews. Ham, being wicked, is not admitted to the spiritual blessing of the seed, except as it happens by uncovenanted grace. To Japheth, however, though he has not the promise of the seed, like Shem, the hope is nevertheless given that he will, at some future time, be taken into the fellowship of the Church. Thus we Gentiles, being sons of Japheth, have no direct promise, indeed, and yet we are included in the promise given to the Jews, since we are predestined to the fellowship of the holy people of God. These matters are here recorded, not for Shem and Japheth so much as for their posterity.

196. We learn why the Jews are so haughty and boastful. They see that Shem, their father, alone has the promise of eternal blessing, which is given through Christ. So far, so good. But when they believe that the promise pertains not to faith but rather to the carnal descent, they are in error. This subject has been splendidly treated by Paul (Rom 9, 6). There he establishes the fact that the children of Abraham are not his carnal descendants but those who have his faith (Gal 3, 7).

197. The same thought is suggested here by Moses, who says in so many words, "Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem." This shows that there is no blessing except by the God of Shem. Hence, no Jew will share this blessing unless he have the God of Shem; that is, unless he believes. Nor will Japheth share the blessing unless he dwells in the tents of Shem, that is, unless he associates himself with him in faith.

198. This is a grand promise, valid unto the end of the world. But just as it is limited to those who have the God of Shem, that is, who believe, so the curse also is limited to those who abide in the wickedness of Ham. Noah spoke these words, not on the strength of human authority and feeling, but by the Spirit of God. His words then refer not to a temporal, but to a spiritual and eternal curse. Nor must we understand him to speak of a curse that is a curse only in the sight of the world, but rather of one in the sight of God.

199. The same statement has been made heretofore (ch 4 para 182) regarding the curse of Cain. Judged by outward appearances, Cain obtained a greater earthly blessing than Seth. God desires that his Church in this world shall apparently suffer the curse pronounced upon the wicked and that, on the other hand, the wicked shall seem to be blessed. Cain was the first man to build a city, calling it Enoch; while Seth dwelt in tents.

200. Thus did Ham build the city and tower of Babel and ruled far and wide, while Shem and Japheth were poor, living in lowly tents. The facts of history, then, teach that both the promises and the curses of God are not to be understood carnally, or of the present life, but spiritually. Although oppressed in the world, the righteous are surely heirs and sons of God, while the wicked, though flourishing for a season, shall ultimately be cut down and wither; a warning often uttered in the Psalms.

201. There is a striking similarity in the conduct and the lot of Cain and Ham. Cain killed his brother, which shows plainly enough the lack of reverence for his father in his heart. Having been put in the ban by his father, he leaves the Church of the true God and the true worship, builds the city of Enoch, giving himself up altogether to worldly things. Just so does Ham sin by dishonoring his father. When also he subsequently receives as sentence the curse whereby he is excluded from the promised seed and the Church, he parts with God and the Church without misgivings, since the curse rests not upon his person but upon that of his son, and migrates to Babylon, where he establishes a kingdom.

202. These are very illustrious examples and needed by the Church, Turk and Pope today; allow us to boast of the heavenly and everlasting promise in that we have the Gospel doctrine, and are the Church. They know, however, our judgment of them, that we consider and condemn both Pope and Turk as very Antichrist. How securely they ignore our judgment, confidently because of the wealth and power they possess, and also because of our weakness in character and numbers. The very same spirit we plainly see in Cain and Ham, in the condemned and excommunicated.

203. These truths enforce the lesson that we must not seek an abiding city or country in this bodily existence, but in its varying changes and fortunes look to the hope of eternal life, promised through Christ. This is the final haven; and we must strive for it with sail and oar, as eager and earnest sailors while the tempest rages.

204. What if the Turk should obtain sway over the whole world, which he never will? Michael, as Daniel says, will bring aid to the holy people, the Church (ch 10, 13). What matter if the Pope should gain possession of the wealth of all the world, as he has tried to do for many centuries with all the wealth at his command? Will Turk and Pope thereby escape death, or even secure permanence of temporal power? Why, then, should we be misled by the temporal blessings which they enjoy, or by our misfortunes and dangers, since we know that they are banished from the fellowship of the saints, while we enjoy everlasting blessings through the Son of God?

205. If Cain and Ham, and Pope and Turk, who are as father and son to each other, can afford to despise the judgment of the true Church on the strength of fleeting and meager successes in this life, why can not we afford in turn to despise their power and censure, on the strength of the everlasting blessings which we possess? Ham was not moved by his father's curse. Full of anger against him, and despising him as a crazy old man, he goes away and arms himself with the power of the world, esteeming this more highly than to be blessed with Shem by his father.

206. This story should give us strength for the similar experiences of today. The priests and bishops heap contempt upon us, saying, What can those poverty stricken heretics do? Priest and bishop are puffed up with their wealth and power. But let us bear this insolence of the wicked with undisturbed mind, as Noah bore that of his son. Let us take consolation in the hope and faith of the eternal benediction, of which, we know, they are deprived.

207. I said above (para 172) that the Holy Spirit was so greatly angered by the sin of Ham that he could not bear even to speak his name in the curse. And it is true, as the punishment shows, that Ham sinned grievously. The other reason mentioned above as not at all unlikely, I will here repeat: Ham had been called and received into the ark by the divine Word, and had been saved with the others, and Noah wanted to spare him whom God had spared in the flood. Therefore, he transferred the curse which Ham merited, to Canaan, his son, whom Ham doubtless desired to keep with him.

208. The Jews offer a different explanation: Canaan, the son, having been the first to see his grandfather Noah lying naked, announced it to his father, who then saw for himself; hence, Canaan gave his father cause to commit the sin. Let the reader judge what value there is in this exposition.

209. But there is also a philological question which must be discussed in connection. Scholars call translators to account for the rendering, "God enlarge Japheth," when the Hebrew words do not permit it, though not only the Hebrews but also the Chaldeans, are mostly agreed that the word jepheth means "to enlarge." Technical discussions of this kind, however, are sometimes very useful to clear up the precise meaning of a passage.

210. Some scholars derive the name Japheth from the verb jephah, which signifies to be beautiful, as in Ps 45, 2: japhjaphita mibene Adam, "Thou art fairer than the children of men." But this may easily be shown to be an error; for the true origin of the word is the verb phatah, which means "to persuade," "to deceive with fair words" as in Ex 22 16: ki jephateh isch betulah, "If a man entice a virgin, he shall surely pay a dowry for her." And in Jer 20, 7: pethithani jehovah va-epath, "O Jehovah, thou hast persuaded me and I was persuaded;" Prov 1, 10: Im-jephatukah, "If sinners entice thee." There is no need of more examples, for the word occurs frequently, and I have no doubt that it is derived from the Greek word peitho, for it has the same meaning.

211. But let us turn to the question: Why have all translators made it read, "God enlarge Japheth," while it is not the word pathach, which means "to enlarge" or "to open", but rather the word pathah? I have no doubt that the translators were influenced by the harsh expression. Since this is a promise, it seemed too harsh to state that Noah had said, "God deceive Japheth." This would appear to be a word of cursing, not of blessing. Hence they chose a milder term, though it violated the rules of language. And since there is but a slight difference between pathach, and pathah, they used one for the other. They meant to preserve the important fact that this is a promise.

212. But there is no need for us to alter the text in this manner, and to violate its grammatical construction, since the word pathah, offers a most suitable meaning. Being a word of double meaning, as the word suadere in Latin, it may be accepted either in a bad or in a good sense. Hence, it is not irreverent to apply this word to God. We find it clearly so used in Hosea 2, 14, where the Lord says: "Therefore, behold, I will (mephateha) allure her (or, entice her by coaxing), and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her." I will suckle her, speak sweetly unto her, and thus will I deceive her, as it were, so that she may agree with me, so that the Church will join herself to me, etc.

In this sense the word may here rightly be taken to mean "allure," "persuade," "coax by means of friendly words and flattery." God suckle, persuade, deceive Japheth by persuasion, so that Japheth himself, being allured, as his name signifies, may be invited in a friendly way and thus be beguiled.

213. But you say, what will be the meaning of this? or why should there be need for Japheth to be beguiled or persuaded, and that by God himself? I answer: Noah makes the names to serve his purpose in this prophecy. He gives thanks to God that he establishes them to stand like a firm root from which Christ was to spring. For the verb sum, signifies "to place," "to put in position," "to establish."

214. For Japheth, however, he prays that he may become a true Japheth. Since he was the oldest son, who ordinarily should have been given the right of the first-born, he prays that God would persuade him in a friendly manner, first, not to envy his brother this honor, nor to be dissatisfied that this privilege was taken from him and given to his brother. Furthermore, because this matter touches the person of Japheth only, God includes his entire offspring in the blessing. Though the promise was given to Shem alone, yet God does not shut out from it the offspring of Japheth, but speaks to them lovingly through the Gospel, that they may also become jepheth, being persuaded by the Word of the Gospel. This is a divine persuasion, coming from the Holy Spirit; not from the flesh, nor from the world, nor from Satan, but holy and quickening. This expression is used by Paul in Gal 1, 10, where he says, "Am I now persuading men or God?" And Gal 3, 1, "Who did bewitch you that ye should not obey the truth?"—that ye do not agree to the truth, that ye do not permit yourselves to be persuaded by that which is true?

215. Viewing the name Japheth in this case, it signifies a person of the kind which we call guileless, who believes readily, permitting himself to be easily persuaded of a matter, who does not dispute or cling to his own ideas but submits his mind to the Lord and rests upon his Word, remaining a learner, not desiring to be master over the words and works of God.

Hence it is a touching prayer which is here recorded, that God might persuade Japheth; that is, that he might speak fondly with him. Noah prays that, though God does not speak to Japheth on the basis of a promise, as he does with Shem, yet he would speak with him on the basis of grace and divine goodness.

216. This prayer of Noah foresees the spread of the Gospel throughout the whole world. Shem is the stem. From his posterity Christ was born. The Church is of the Jews, who had patriarchs, prophets, and kings. And yet God here shows Noah that also the wretched Gentiles were to dwell in the tents of Shem; that is, they were to come into that heritage of the saints which the Son of God brought into this world—forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life. He prophesies clearly that also Japheth will hear the sweet message of the Gospel as his name suggests; so that, though he have not the same title as Shem, who was set to be the stem from which Christ was to spring, yet he should have the persuader, namely the Gospel.

217. It was Paul through whom this prophecy was fulfilled. He almost unaided taught the Gospel doctrine to the posterity of Japheth. He says: "From Jerusalem, and round about even unto Illyricum, I have fully preached the Gospel of Christ" (Rom 15, 19). Almost all of Asia, with the exception of the oriental peoples, together with Europe, belongs to the posterity of Japheth. The Gentiles, therefore, did not, as the Jews did, receive the kingdom and the priesthood from God. They had neither the law nor the promise. Yet by the mercy of God they have heard that sweet voice of the Gospel, the persuader, which is indicated by the very name of Japheth.

218. The interpreters failed to recognize this as the true meaning, and God permitted them to make this mistake. Still they did not miss the true meaning altogether. For the verb hirchib, which means "to enlarge," means also "to give consolation," just as conversely in Latin the word angustiae (narrow place) signifies also "pains," or "perils," or "disaster." Thus we read in Psalms 4, 1: "Thou hast set me at large when I was in distress." The only real enlargement, or consolation, is the Word of the Gospel.

219. Thus the several expositions are harmonized by proper interpretation. But the primary meaning of enlarge, which conveys the idea of persuasion, is the native and proper one. It sheds a bright light upon the fact that we Gentiles, although the promise was not given to us, have nevertheless been called by the providence of God to the Gospel. The promise pertains to Shem alone, but Japheth, as Paul has it in Romans 11, 17, was grafted into the olive tree, like a wild olive, and became a partaker of the original fatness, or the sap, of the olive. The older portions of the Bible agree with the newer, and what God promised in the days of Noah, he now carries out.

220. "Ham" signifies "the hot and burning one." This name was given to him by his father, I believe, because of the great things he hoped for his youngest son. To Noah the other two were cold men in comparison. Eve rejoiced greatly when Cain was born (Gen 4, 1). She believed that he would restore whatever had been wrought amiss. Yet he was the first to harm mankind in a new way, in that he killed his brother.

221. Thus God, according to his unsearchable counsel, changes the expectations even of the saints. Ham, whom his father, at his birth, had expected to be inflamed with greater zeal for the support of the Church than his brothers, was hot and burning, indeed, when he grew older, but in a different sense. He burned against his parent and his God, as his deed shows. Hence, his name was one of evil prophecy, unsuspected of Noah when he gave it.


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