First Scandal – Part I

Genesis 9:18-28

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2015

Our passage today is short.  It is only ten verses.  When I first read it, I was not sure I had enough material to spend a whole week on it.  The more I studied this passage, the more I discovered that this passage has a lot in it.  It is very relevant to our own day.  This passage is full of practical applications for us today.  There are a lot of things we can learn here and apply to our own lives.

Before we look at our passage, let’s look at the setting of the story.  When did all of this take place?  It took place after the Flood.  It took place after they got off of the ark but it did not happen right away.  Last week, we learned that Genesis 9 covers a 350 year period, because Noah is 600 when he gets off of the ark and 950 when he dies at the end of the chapter.

Several things happen before these verse take place.  Ham had to have a few kids.  Canaan was Ham’s fourth son (10:6) and was probably a young man when this took place.  That all took some time.  There are other things that have to happen.  Noah has to become a farmer.  He has to plant a vineyard.  He had to harvest a crop.  Then, he had to gather it and extract the juice from the grapes.  Time had to elapse in order for it to ferment into wine. The Noah had to drink the wine in excessive amounts and become drunk.

Before we dig into this text, I want to give you a little warning.  This is of the strangest stories in the Bible.  It is a little shocking.  It is even disturbing.  Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in his tent.  This is not a bible story for kids.  There is a reason for that.  This story of Noah is X rated.  It involves nudity.  They were not taught this one in Sunday School.

Why is this even in the Bible?  The Bible doesn’t try to hide the truth.  It tells it like it is.  It doesn’t try to make the saints look better than they are or cover up their mistakes.  It does not hide the faults of even the greatest saints (Moses, David, Peter).

It is also a very difficult passage.  It is controversial.  There are many different interpretations of this passage.  I spent the week reading all sides.  I will tell you what I think is going on in this passage.  We may not all agree.    There are many questions that come right out of the passage.  Some we may be able to answer and some we may not be able to answer because the text does not tell us.  This is also a very misunderstood passage.  Many try to read things in the passage that it does not say.

One thing is clear from this passage.  The Noah that we read about in these verses seems very different from the Noah that we are familiar with from the previous chapters.  The biblical Noah is larger than life.  He builds a boat bigger than a football field and makes it several stories tall and he lived four thousand years ago.

When we think of Noah, we think of a spiritual giant who triumphed over evil before the Flood.  We think of him as a hero of the faith and as a man who walked with God.  In this chapter, we see a very human Noah.  These verses bring Noah down to earth.  We see a Noah with flaws and imperfections.  In this chapter, we see Noah drunk as a skunk.

We put Noah on a pedestal but he was really just like us.  James said the same thing about the prophet Elijah.  He was one of the greatest prophets in the OT.  He performed miracles, raised the dead.  He controlled the weather by his prayers, stopped the rain for three and a half years and yet James says that he was human just like us.  James 5:17-18 says, “Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.”

The Noah is this chapter is a little different from the one we have seen previously.  This Noah does three things he has not done in the earlier chapters of Genesis.

1) Noah plants a vineyard.

He does some farming in this section.  We are used to picturing Noah as a shipbuilder, an architect, an engineer or a carpenter.  Here we see him as a farmer for the first time.  He plants a vineyard (9:20).  That is new for Noah in Genesis.  It was probably his occupation before the Flood.  He just went back to it.  Was he the first one ever to grow wine?  We do not know.  The text does not tell us.

According to the Babylonian Flood story, they took wine with them on the ark.  The Bible doesn’t say if he was the first to make wine. If he was unaware of the intoxicating effects of wine, that may explain why there is not a word of criticism of Noah for being drunk.  Genesis does not say if this was the case.

2) Noah gets drunk.

“Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (9:20-21).  That is new.  That is not like the Noah we saw before.  The last thing that we saw Noah doing in Genesis 8 is to worship God.  He built God an altar and offered Him a sacrifice.  In Genesis 9, we do not seem him worshiping.  We see him completely wasted.  That is a different picture of Noah.

The preacher of righteousness is found drunk and naked. The one who walked with God is found in his birthday suit, drunk and passed out. The one who was called “perfect in his generation” in Genesis 6:9 is far from perfect here.  Noah behaves badly.  Matthew Henry said, “Noah, who had kept sober in drunken company, is now drunk in sober company.”

Life Lessons from Noah’s Fall

1. Believers are not immune to sin.

Believers are not immune to sin, even the grossest of sins.  This includes everyone.  It includes apostles.  It even includes preachers.  Noah was called in the NT a preacher of righteousness.  Righteous Noah was not immune from sin.  Noah was a believer.  He was not immune to drunkenness.  David was a believer and he was not immune to adultery and murder.  Peter was a believer and he was not immune to lying about his Christian Faith.  We can’t criticize Noah for what he did.  We have a sin nature like he did and are capable of the same thing.

2) Mature believers are not immune to sin.

It includes godly saints like Noah who walked with God for years.  He lived righteously for over 600 years but had a moral lapse when he was older. Just because you served God when you were younger is not guarantee that you will not act like a fool when you are older and, as they they say, “there’s no fool like an old fool.”

Many mature believers have fallen into deep sin when they were older.  James Montgomery Boice writes, “Moses sinned late in life by striking the rock and taking some of God’s glory to himself, as a result of which he was not permitted to enter into the Promised Land.  David sinned with Bathsheba when he was in his 50s.  Solomon departed from the will of God when he was old”[1] and started worshiping idols and building temples to them to satisfy all of his pagan wives.

 Lessons on Wine

This is the first time the word “wine” (yayin) is used in the Bible.  What do we learn about wine from this passage?  One, we learn that it is intoxicating.  Many people say that the wine in the Bible was different from the wine today.  They say that the word “wine” in the Bible simply means grape juice.  The very first time in the Bible the word is used we clearly see that wine is not grape juice.  Noah got drunk off of it.  He passed out.  We see that in Genesis 9:24.  He woke from his wine, not from his sleep.

Second, we learn that it is dangerous when abused.  When people drink excessive amounts of alcohol, they do things that they would not normally do when they are sober.  It can lead to shame.  It can ruin your testimony.  It can affect your relationship with your kids.  It can cause family problems.  It can affect our judgment and even our health.

Does this mean that we should never drink?  Is it a sin to drink alcohol? Baptists love this passage.  They get to talk about Noah and the bottle and preach all their anti-liquor sermons on the evils of booze.  The first time the word “wine” is used in the Bible is in a negative context.  It is not associated with joy or blessing but with something sinful and shameful.

If that was the only verse in the Bible on wine, we might conclude it is sinful but there are many other verses in the Bible on the subject.  Jesus drank wine.  It is part of Passover.  He turned water into wine.  He did not turn it into some cheap wine but the best wine (John 2:10) and Jesus did not just turn one glass of water into this really good wine.

He made an enormous quantity of wine. He turned six huge stone water pots of water into wine.  These six water pots contained one hundred and fifty gallons of water.  One hundred and fifty gallons would be five bath tubs full of water (since an average bath tub will hold approximately thirty gallons of water) or about seven hundred and thirty bottles of wine.  It is true that there are some passages in which wine is viewed in a negative context.  Genesis 9 is one passage.  Proverbs 23:29-35 is another passage in which wine is spoken of in a negative context.

In other passages, wine has a positive connotation.  It is a sign of joy in the Bible.  Psalm 104:14-15 says, “He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts” (NIV).  Ecclesiastes 9:7 says, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do” (NIV).

It is also a sign of God’s blessing.  Proverbs 3:7-10 says, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (NIV).

The Bible does not condemn drinking.  It condemns drunkenness.  Ephesians 5 says “Do not be drunk with wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  It does NOT say “do not drink wine but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

3) Noah speaks.

He says something.  Up to this point, Noah has not spoken at all.  Noah makes some predictions.  Noah gives a prophecy in these verses.  Noah is not only a preacher, he is a prophet.  This is the only time Noah speaks in the Bible.  These are his only recorded words.  In the NT, Noah is called “a preacher of righteousness” but we do not have any of his sermons.  This is the only time he speaks.  He blesses two of his sons (Shem and Japheth).  He also curses one of his grandsons (Canaan).

That seems a little strange.  We will see why he did this later.  If we didn’t have this chapter, we would not even know that Noah had the gift of prophecy.  What is even stranger is when he uttered this prophecy.  He did it as soon as he was sober.  Noah was passed out.  He woke from his wine, not his sleep and uttered a prophecy.  That is usually not the time when most prophecies are given.   Next week, we will look at two different reactions to Noah’s sin on the part of his sons.


[1] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, 319.

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