“When he [Noah] drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him,“Cursed be Canaan! He also said,may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth. (Gen. 9:22-27)”
A friend asked last week why Noah would curse Canaan and not Ham. As I read through the passage with him, I couldn’t tell. But, on a second reading in a quieter time, a couple of things became apparent to me, so I wrote down my observations and did some research. While some of my conclusions were confirmed, I stumbled on a few additional points for your reading pleasure.
Noah’s blackout is the first mention of drunkenness of a Holy man in scripture. Moses doesn’t record it as sin in his account. So, why was Ham in trouble?
Noah wasn’t just an important person. He was the only man chosen by God to have his family saved from the flood and by extension, the only man chosen before Abraham from whom the Messiah would come. He is a patriarch. While his sons could not have known God’s plan through their father, they did know that their father’s family was the only one who would repopulate the devastated planet. Noah was God’s man, their father, and to be respected and revered as such.
Ephesians 5:12 warns us against tabloid journalism, slander, gossip: “don’t even mention this stuff…” So, we find Noah in an undignified state and Ham given an opportunity to honor or dishonor his father, the Patriarch. Rather than keep it quiet, he tweets it to the only other two men on the planet. This is not the “exposure” Paul talked about in Eph 5:11-13. This is the first case of tabloid journalism. “GUYS – DAD WAS PASSED OUT, NAKED!!!”
Observe: Shem and Japheth took such care in restoring their father’ dignity that they didn’t even want to accidentally see their father naked. Thus, they approached him walking backward, treating their father and his privacy with great care.
Curse or Prophecy?
Following this episode, Noah blurts out a curse than many might presume to be residual alcohol, but it is not. Noah appears to bless two of his sons and curse one of his grandsons. It appears that he punishes the guilty son by cursing his youngest son. But, that is actually not the case.
As we read further in the genealogy, we note that from Shem comes Jacob’s line – the Shemites (Semites) and from Japheth come the gentiles. That the gentiles would one day live in the tents of Shem is a picture of what is also reported in Ephesians 2:14-16 that through the cross, both Jews and gentiles would have access to God through the cross. This is a prophetic utterance. The curse on Canaan was not placed on him by Noah, but by God. Noah was merely prophesying what we now know about the Canaanites – that they would become a wicked, God-hating, idolatrous people.
The Punishment Fit the Crime…
So, is Ham off the hook? No. Though Noah did not actually curse Canaan, Ham was still punished by his words. History would prove that Ham would have been long dead before the wickedness of his progeny would come to fruition. Therefore, Ham’s punishment was much like his crime: he would now know what he did not want to know and would otherwise never have known.
For Ham to die before seeing the wickedness of his offspring would have been God’s hand of mercy. But, because of his rebellion against God vis-a-vis his slander against Noah, He was made to know what the tabloids would only hundreds of years later report.
Honor your father and mother… that it may… go well with you…