Who Helped Noah Build the Ark? [The Genesis Flood Story]


The book of Genesis devotes more space to the story of the flood, Noah, and the ark, than to the creation account or the story of Adam and Eve. The size of the flood story doesn’t necessarily make it more significant than others in the first section of Genesis, but it does reflect its importance in the Bible. A common question readers have about the story regards who helped Noah build the ark.

Genesis never states if anyone helped Noah build the ark, though some scholars speculate that he had help from his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Many readers infer that Noah’s sons shared his faith in God at the time and averted the world’s corruption, which is why they and their wives were on the ark.

Why do some scholars believe that Noah’s sons may have helped him build the ark? Did Shem, Ham, and Japeth have faith in God like their father? What does the Bible reveal about Shem, Ham, and Japheth as individuals? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Noah's ark
Did Noah’s sons have faith in God? See below

Did Shem, Ham, and Japheth help build the ark?

Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Gen. 6:10). Though the flood story in Genesis makes clear that it was Noah who was righteous, blameless, and walked with God (Gen. 6:9), his sons and their families also survived the flood, suggesting that they had a maturing faith in God (cf. Gen. 9:26).

NameMeaning
Noah“rest”
Shem“name”
Hampossibly “hot”
Japhethpossibly “enlarge”

Genesis commentator Henry Morris believes that Noah’s sons survived the flood because, even though they were sinners (Rom. 3:23), they weren’t altogether wicked like the rest of the world. “Shem, Ham, and Japheth had all been born within the last century before the Flood, and they had lived in the midst of this corrupt society all their lives. The marvel is that they themselves somehow escaped the corruption.” [1]

Genesis doesn’t say how long it took Noah to build the ark, though it mentions that it was 120 years from when God announced the judgment (Gen. 6:3) until the flood occurred. The construction of the ark may have been underway the entire time. Given the size of the ark, with Noah’s limited tools and resources, taking a century or more to construct the vessel is a reasonable timeframe.

Noah’s sons and the construction of the ark

Morris speculates about how Shem, Ham, and Japheth dodged the wickedness that permeated the world. Part of his answer is that their parents positively influenced them. “Had it not been for the example and teachings of their godly parents and grandparents, no doubt they would have been inundated in the antediluvian wickedness.” [2]

Morris also speculates how Noah may have kept his sons from the world’s influence. “One factor which possibly helped was that their father probably kept them busy for many years in building the Ark and making preparations for the Flood.” [3] Considering the size of the ark and the time it would take to build it, it’s reasonable to assume that Noah had help.

Is it possible that working, especially manual labor, kept Shem, Ham, and Japheth from the negative moral influence of their world? To be clear, the flood story in Genesis doesn’t explicitly state that this occurred.

If Shem, Ham, and Japheth followed God and didn’t succumb to the norms of their social environment, it follows that they had the same convictions Noah had to obey God and build the ark because, by faith, they believed a global flood that would destroy the world was imminent.

Was Noah supposed to build the ark on his own?

God tells Noah to build the ark. He says, “Make yourself an ark of gopher wood. Make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch” (Gen. 6:14). However, there is no clear instruction that Noah had to build the ark himself. Similarly, in the book of Exodus, God tells Moses to construct the tabernacle. Yet Moses solicits the help of others, like Oholiab and Bezalel, to assist in the work (Exod. 31:1-11).

ark with animals
What does the Bible say about Shem? See below

What does the Bible say about Shem?

Shem was the second son of Noah. Genesis implies that he was 98 years old when the flood occurred. “These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood” (Gen. 11:10).

After he fathered Arpachshad, Shem lived another 500 years before he died at the age of 600. “And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters” (Gen. 11:11).

In his prophecy regarding future generations, Noah revealed that Japheth’s descendants would live in the tents of Shem, while the Canaanites of Ham’s line wouldn’t.

Genesis 9:25-27 read, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers. He also said, Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”

The Table of Nations also mentions Shem and his sons. “To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram” (Gen. 10:21-22).

Noah
What does the Bible say about Ham and Japheth? See below

What does the Bible say about Ham?

Ham was Noah’s youngest son. He was probably born about 96 years before the flood. [4] Ham was the father of the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans, and Canaanites.

The Canaanites play an important role in the Old Testament because they resided in the land that God promised Abraham’s descendants. The Canaanites rejected the God of the Israelites, which created problems for centuries.

The Old Testament sometimes uses the name “Ham” as a reference to the Egyptians. For example, Psalm 78:51 reads, “He struck down every firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.”

What does the Bible say about Japheth?

Genesis refers to Japeth as older than Shem. “To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born” (Gen. 10:21).

Nevertheless, he appears third in some lists of Noah’s sons, like Genesis 6:10, “And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” and 9:18, “The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan).”

Like his brothers, Japheth survived the flood (Gen. 7:7). He also helped Shem cover up Noah’s nakedness after the flood (Gen. 9:20-27).

His descendants lived in the tents of Shem, unlike Ham’s (v. 27). Scholars believe his descendants occupied the isles of the Gentiles, Hellenes, or Greeks, including Asia Minor and northern Greece (Gen. 10:5). [5]

“By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.” – Hebrews 11:7, ESV

References:
[1] The Genesis Record by Henry Morris. p. 179.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] New International Bible Dictionary. p. 412.
[5]. NIBD. p. 495.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see the About page for details.

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