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Meaning and etymology of the name Shem

Shem Shem

Shem is the first born son of Noah , and brother of Japheth and Ham (Genesis 10:21 & 9:24).

The name Shem is equal to the word Shem (shem), which itself means "name," whether it is meant as a regular name or as fame (to make a 'name' for oneself). Where the word comes from no one knows but many eagerly play the guessing game. Most of the going theories land in cognate languages and conclude a fundamental meaning of to be high/ monument or mark/ brand.

This is all very interesting for linguists but in Hebrew the word Shem looks a lot like the adverb Shem (sham), which basically means there or then. More attractive even is the word shamayim (shamayim), heaven/ heavens, from the assumed root shmh (shmh), which is identical to the word shmh (shamma), waste, horror, from root shamem (shamem), be desolate, appalled. Intuition may place these words miles apart and opposite each other, but similar paradoxes are presented in the names Horeb, Shaddai and even YHWH.

The conceptual ideas of heaven and a name are also not that far apart. The word 'name' is often used to indicate a person's full essence: When God says to Moses, "I have known you by name" (Exodus 33:17) He states far more than simply an acknowledgment of a nomenclature. And in Isaiah 43:1 God says, "Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine."
In Isaiah 56:5 and Revelation 2:17 we are promised a new and eternal name. Faith in the name of Jesus is faith in the essence of Jesus (Acts 3:16). In Luke 10:17 the seventy return and report that even demons subject to them in Jesus' name. Jesus responds by saying that if they have a mind to rejoicing, they should rejoice over their names being recorded in heaven (10:20).
Apart from being the home of God, shamayim (shamayim; heaven) is also a hold for shemot (shemot; plural of shem)

The name Shem means Name, Fame or Reputation. It even means Identity or Personality.

An additional note on Shem:

According to Genesis 11:10 Shem was 100 years old when he begat Arpachshad, two years after the flood, and he was to live another 500 years.

When Arpachshad had lived 35 years he begat Shelah, and Shem still had 465 years ahead. When Shelah was 30 years old he begat Eber, and Shem had 435 years remaining. Eber was 44 years old when he begat Peleg and Shem had 391 more to go.

Peleg was 30 when he begat Reu and Shem had 361 more years. Reu was 32 when he begat Serug and Shem still had 329 years to go. When Serug was 30 he begat Nahor and Shem had 299 years to go. When Nahor was 29 he begat Terah and Shem had 270 years left.

When Terah was 70 years old he begat Abraham, Nahor and Haran (either a triplet or simultaneously from different mothers) and Shem still had 200 years to go.

That means that when Abraham died at the ripe old age of 175 (Genesis 25:7), old man Shem was still going strong with a cool 25 more years ahead. And that means that the flood generation did not only see the Noahic flood, it also saw Abraham's sons Ishmael and Isaac.

Isaac was the son of the Great Promise and he was born to Abraham when he was 100 (Genesis 21:5) and when Shem still had 100 years ahead. And when Jacob and Esau were born to 60 year old Isaac (Genesis 25:21&26) Shem entered his last 40 years. And that means that according to Moses, Shem died exactly when Esau started taking Hittite women for wives at the age of 40, hence grieving his parents who consequently sent Jacob to the House of Nahor for a wife (Genesis 27:46 & 28:1 &29:5).

These genealogies are as functional as any other part of the Bible, but they are not journalism. One of their functions is to make the point that the era between the flood and Abraham is one big bulge of parallel and interrelated activity, not an elongated sequence of generation upon generation.



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