York Rite Education - Biblical Characters in Masonry: Japheth

Biblical Characters in Masonry: Japheth

Graig Huber

The following is an excerpt from “Biblical Characters in Masonry” by John H. Van Gorden. In the Royal Arch degree, Japheth is referenced along with his two brothers. Mr. Van Gordon says of Japheth:

"Tact is the art of behaving properly in a delicate situation, or of behaving in a manner that avoids giving offense. The importance of tact in human relationships is obvious. The absence of tact creates unnecessary antagonism and friction. Tact, therefore, can be considered as a lubricant to diminish the effect of friction on human relationships and efforts. It cannot eliminate friction completely, but it can avoid needless friction.

Tact can, of course, degenerate into hypocrisy, providing an excuse for avoiding unpleasant realities and for rationalizing a failure to deal with those realities. This merely postpones necessary action and adds to future difficulties. Thus, it becomes necessary to differentiate between a situation that calls for tact and one where tact becomes a euphemism for hypocrisy or self-delusion. A middle area may also exist, — one wherein a situation requires tact and something more. Tact is essential, but tact alone is inadequate. It satisfies only the minimum requirement. In such situations, tact alone fails to adequately substitute for genuine compassion and concern.

Japheth’s experience in the Old Testament may illustrate this latter point, although the Biblical account only hints at this. Japheth, who name means “enlargement”, was either the second or youngest of Noah’s three sons, — younger than Shem, but possibly older than Ham. Japheth, like his two brothers, almost certainly contributed to the construction of the Ark. Like them also, he had married before the flood and he and his wife survived the flood in the Ark, along with Noah and the rest of Noah’s immediate family. Noah’s righteousness presumably saved them, but God may have considered Noah’s sons as more righteous than other men, as a result of Noah’s influence and training. Whatever the reasons, God selected Noah’s sons to be the progenitors of the races of mankind that evolved after the flood.

Shem and Japheth received Noah’s blessing for themselves and their descendants, while Ham and his descendants received his father’s curse. Shem, however, received the greater blessing. The Bible gives no clear indication of the reason for the difference between the blessing bestowed on Shem and on Japheth. Perhaps Shem’s position as the elder was the reason. But possibly it resulted from a difference in their attitudes, when Ham found their father drunk and naked in his tent. Ham’s disrespectful, probably scornful attitude, brought Noah’s curse upon him. Shem and Japheth covered Noah with a garment, but did so respectfully, taking care not to look upon his nakedness and drunken condition. It seems possible that, while Japheth treated the situation with tact and in a correct manner, Shem displayed genuine concern and deference.

Noah apparently linked his curse upon Ham with his blessing upon Shem and Japheth, — at least, the Biblical account links the two. After cursing Canaan (Ham) to be “…a servant of servants…” to his bothers, Noah blessed the other two sons, saying, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” Subsequent events appear to have fulfilled much of the prophetic blessing.

In the Masonic degrees, Japheth is treated with honor as a builder, along with Noah, Shem and Ham, of the Ark of Safety and as the one, in Masonic tradition, who went to Lebanon and supervised the cutting of cedar timbers for the Ark. This began that close relationship with Phoenicia that culminated in the friendship and cooperation between King Hiram of Tyre and King Solomon, and that carried forward to the work of building the Temple. Japheth, like his father and brothers, epitomizes the lesson that labor is honorable, and that, in the eyes of God, the honest laborer in the equal of a king.”


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