First Scandal – Part II

Genesis 9:18-28

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2015

Last week, we began looking at one of the strangest stories in the Bible. The one who walked with God and was perfect in his generation became drunk and naked. The preacher of righteousness passes out. I said last week that this is definitely not a bible story for children. This story of Noah is X-rated. It involves nudity.  We will be talking about some adult topics today.

This week, we want to look at the reaction of Noah’s sons to his son. They had two different reactions. We will start with his son Ham. We will see what he did and what he did not do.

We will then look at the reaction of his other brothers and Noah’s prophecy to both of them. We will look at what the prophecy means and how it has been abused by people. Then, I want to look at some applications. What is the point of this story? What lessons can we learn from it? There are several. Let’s begin with Ham. What was his reaction?

Ham’s Reaction

“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside” (9:22).

Genesis 9:21 gives us Noah’s sin. Genesis 9:22 gives us Ham’s reaction. What was Ham’s reaction? He does four things. He walks in on his dad. He sees him naked. He doesn’t do anything to cover him and then went and told his brothers about it.

He took advantage of his father’s weakness and broadcast it. Instead of covering his father’s nakedness, he exposed it. It is hard for us to understand this today because we have little sense of shame or even of modesty. Nakedness is not a big a deal to us as it was in Noah’s day. We have become immune to it because it is so prevalent in our day. It was much more serious in the Ancient Near East.

The sin of Ham was not what he saw. The sin of Ham was what he SAID after saw his naked father and perhaps HOW he said it. To accidentally see someone naked is not a crime. It cannot be prevented.

The problem is that apparently Ham took pleasure in his father’s nakedness and went and told his brothers with delight. He not only did not cover his dad, he exposed him even further. What was his sin? He broke the Fifth Commandment.

Did Ham Commit Homosexuality?

Are you ready to go a little deeper? Some take this one step further and say that Ham not only looked on the nakedness of his father, he did something much worse. He raped his father and committed a homosexual act.

Some preachers use this passage to preach against homosexuality. They believe that he committed incest. He committed homosexual rape. It is not just a modern interpretation of this passage by some scholars. It goes back to an old Jewish Rabbinic interpretation (Babylonian Talmud).

It is a popular interpretation in some circles. They have some very interesting arguments. We can look at some of them and then decide if they are valid. What are some of the arguments for this view?

In the Bible, the phrase “to uncover someone’s nakedness” is a euphemism for sex (Leviticus 18:6-19). Seventeen times in this chapter, it is an idiom in Hebrew for sex. The chapter even talks about people who uncover the nakedness of their father (18:7).

Genesis 9:24 says, “When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him.” Some argue that the words “done to” suggest something more than merely looking and talking. They must refer to a sexual sin. If he just looked at him when he was asleep, there would be no way Noah would have known this. Did Ham commit homosexuality in Genesis 9?

That all depends on whether you take Genesis 9:22 literally or figuratively. When Genesis says that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father,” does this mean what it says or is this an idiom for some kind of sexual act? Is it literal or is it a euphemism?

It makes perfect sense to take it literally and the verse that comes immediately after it confirms that interpretation. Shem and Japheth did not see his nakedness. Genesis 9:23 is definitely literal and it is the exact opposite of what Ham did. It had to be literal because they walked backwards.

I personally do NOT believe that Ham committed homosexuality in Genesis 9 for several reasons.

1) Ham was a heterosexual, not a homosexual.

All of the evidence that we have is that Ham was a heterosexual. He was married. He had a wife and kids.

2) Ham does not uncover anyone’s nakedness, he merely witnesses it.

It says that he “saw the nakedness of his father.” It does NOT say that “Ham uncovered the nakedness of his father.” In fact, the phrase “to uncover the nakedness” is not found in Genesis 9 at all.

3) If Ham did attack his father, he would not immediately go and announce it to his brothers.

That would make him look bad. Ham does not want to make him look bad. He wants to make his dad look bad by pointing out that he is naked and drunk in his tent. He wants to make him look better than his dad. He is mocking and ridiculing his dad. He may have resented him or thought he was a hypocrite.

Shem and Japheth’s Reaction

Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (9:23)

What did Shem and Japheth do? Let’s take a closer look at their actions? There is one thing they did and one thing they did not do. Not only did they go in and cover their father, but they proceeded in backwards so they would be able to say that they had never seen their father naked.

They showed respect for their father, even when he was intoxicated. They preserved their father’s dignity and honor by covering him but they did not look on him. Can you blame him? Who would want to look on the body of a nine hundred year naked antediluvian?

Ham did not honor his father and his mother. He had no respect for his father. He had nothing but contempt for his father. He mocked him. He joked about Noah’s nakedness to his brothers. Disrespect to parents is a serious sin. Disrespect to parents is quite common in our day. They disrespect parents in words, in actions, in gestures. They have mock and ridicule their parents.

This was a big deal to God. In the OT, this was a crime punishable by death (Exodus 21:15; Deuteronomy 21:18-21). The Bible takes this very seriously. Deuteronomy 27:16 says, “‘Cursed be anyone who dishonors his father or his mother.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’”

Noah’s Prophecy

When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers. And he said: ‘Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.’” (9:24-25).

We looked at Noah’s sin. We looked at Ham’s sin and now we see Noah’s prophecy, which happen to be his only recorded words in Scripture. He was drunk with wine and now he is filled with the Holy Spirit and utters a prophecy.

The Curse on Canaan

“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (9:25).

It begins with a curse on Canaan. Who was Canaan? He was one of Ham’s children (9:18). He had four sons (10:6). His fourth son was under a curse. He was his baby. He may have been Ham’s favorite son.

Why was Canaan Cursed? What did Canaan do to be cursed? Why didn’t Noah curse Ham? Instead of cursing his son, he cursed his grandson. The father Ham was the one who sinned but the son was the one who was cursed. That doesn’t seem fair.

It seems like Noah got mad at his son and cursed his innocent grandson instead. This seems hard to understand but it makes perfect sense if you understand several things.

1) This is not really a curse.

It is not really a curse as we think of a curse today (casting a spell on someone). It is more of a prediction, although the word “curse” is used in the text (9:25). It is a prophecy.

2) This not really a curse on Canaan.

This is a prediction of some things that one day will happen to Canaan’s descendants. Canaan was not directly punished. Shem was not directly rewarded for his behavior. The blessing does not go to Shem but to Shem’s God.

It goes to the God of Shem (9:26). All of these promises went to their descendants. It is a prediction of what would happen down through the course of time to their descendants. Neither the blessings, nor the curse in this passage went to the sons or grandson directly.

3) The punishment did NOT take place until it was deserved.

Then the Lord said to him, ‘Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.'” (Genesis 15:13-16 NIV)

God gave Abraham the Promised Land but would not kick the Canaanites out of the Land or make them the slaves of the Jews until “the sin of the Amorites was full”.  The punishment ONLY went to Canaan’s descendants and it ONLY went to them when they were so wicked that God had to punish them.  This was not an arbitrary punishment on a group for what someone else did.

 The Abuse of the Bible

This is one of the most abused passages in the Bible. Many think that this is a racial curse and believe that blacks are doomed to perpetual servitude. In the 18th and 19th century, this verse was used to justify black slavery in America. Africa is called “the land of Ham.”

This passage in Genesis was a favorite text of Southern preachers before the Civil War. They said that it is not wrong to have blacks as slaves, since their ancestor was cursed by God. Genesis justifies them being slaves or does it? What is the problem?

1. The curse had nothing to do with skin color.

How do we know? Ham had four kids (10:6) but only one of them were cursed, Canaan. Presumably, all of Canaan’s three brothers had the same skin color as he had but they were NOT cursed. This curse has to do with sin, not skin color. It has nothing to do with blackness or with dark skin.

2. The Canaanites are no longer exist.

They are extinct, so it would be incorrect to apply this curse to another group of people and try to subjugate them.

3. The curse was not on Ham but on Canaan.

There was no curse on Ham. The curse of Ham is a myth. Why is that significant? Some of Ham’s descendants were black. They were not cursed. This curse is limited to Canaan and his descendants. They were not black. Canaan was the forefather of the Canaanites who lived in the Land of Canaan.

They were white. Any historian will tell you that. This curse has nothing to do with race. If it had to do with race, it would be all of Ham’s descendants. The curse was national, not racial. It had to do with a nation. It had to do with the enemies of Israel who lived in the Promise Land in the days of Joshua. They became their slaves when the Jews conquered the Land of Canaan in 1400 BC.

What lesson do we learn from this? There is a very important lesson here and unfortunately many Christians do not understand this. The Bible is abused by many people. It is used to all kinds of things.

  • The Bible has been used to justify sin.
  • The Bible has been used to justify racism.
  • The Bible has been used to justify murder. The Bible has been used to justify some of the worst atrocities.
  • The Bible has been used to justify anti-semitism. Some used it to persecute Jews because they were “Christ killers.”
  • The Bible has been used to justify hate.
  • The Bible was used to justify the Inquisition. It was used it to justify burning people at the stake who have a different interpretation of Scripture.
  • The Bible has been used to justify sexual immorality. Some have used it to justify living together before getting married. “We are married in the eyes of God, so why do we need a piece of paper that says we are married?”
  • The Bible has been used to justify homosexuality (as verses are taken out of context).
  • The Bible has been used to justify polygamy (because many people in the Bible had multiple wives).
  • The Bible has been used to justify an unbiblical tolerance. Jesus said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Since Jesus said “Don’t Judge,” it must be wrong to take a moral stand on anything, because that would be judging people.
  • The Bible has been used to justify bigotry and prejudice. Some have used it to say that you cannot marry someone from another race. Many churches in the past used to support slavery and segregation. It is pretty bad when you use the Bible to justify oppression and injustice. It is pretty bad when you use the Bible to mistreat people.

Many say that the problem is with the Bible. That is wrong. The problem is NOT with the Bible. David said, “The Law of the Lord is PERFECT” (Psalm 19:7). Paul said that the Law is “HOLY, JUST and GOOD” (Romans 7:12).

David said, “The words of the Lord are PURE, like silver refined in a furnace and purified seven times” (Psalm 12:7). Psalm 119:140 says, “Your Word is VERY PURE, therefore your servant loves it.” The problem is not with the Bible.

The problem is with people who abuse the Bible. They use it to justify sin and wickedness. That is why it is very important that we know what the Bible really teaches and what it does not teach. We need to be able to rightly handle God’s Word so we are not deceived by false teachers who quote passages, rip them out of their context, and use them to teach unbiblical doctrines or even to justify sin.

The Blessing of Shem and Japheth

Shem means name in Hebrew. Shem is given precedence over his brothers. The Messiah came through the line of Shem, not through Ham or through Japheth. This blessing was primarily spiritual. Salvation was brought to the earth through Shem, although there were some territorial blessing as well. God granted Shem’s descendants the land of Canaan.

Japheth was also blessed. The name Japheth means “enlargement.” His blessing was primarily territorial. His descendants occupied most of the earth’s surface (Europe and Asia). The western world (Greeks, Romans, Europe and America) came from Japheth.

 Seven Lessons from Noah’s Fall

1) Do not drink too much.

The Bible says that drinking is not a sin. It gives us permission to drink, as long as we do not cause someone to stumble but excessive drinking can lead to a whole host of problems (health problems, financial problems, family problems, spiritual problems).

2) Don’t rely on past service to God.

Noah walked with God for hundreds of years. He was a godly man. He stood against the wickedness of the world before the Flood by himself but Noah wasn’t perfect. Just because he walked with God in the past did not prevent him from sinning in the future.

I Corinthians 10:12 says, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Beware of spiritual pride.  If Noah could fall, so could we.  Peter was an example of this. Jesus said that he was going to deny him three times. Peter claimed to know more than Jesus. He said, “Jesus, you are wrong. Even if all fall, because of you, I will never fall” (Matthew 26:33).

3) Honor your parents.

Keep the Fifth Commandment.  We should honor our parents, even when they are dishonorable even when they may disappoint us.

4) Don’t celebrate when someone falls into sin.

When we see someone sin, we secretly gloat over it because it makes us feel better and then we and broadcast it to everyone else and we feel even better.

Obadiah 1:12 says, “You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.” I Corinthians 13:6 says, “Love does not rejoice in evil but rejoices in the truth.”

5) There are no perfect parents.

Noah was a righteous man. He was a good parent but he was not a perfect parent. In this chapter, he was a disgrace to his kids. He was not a perfect father.

6) There are no perfect families.

Noah’s family was not perfect. It had the godly Shem and Japheth. It also had the wicked Ham in it. Adam’s family was not perfect either. His family was dysfunctional.  Their first two sons were Cain and Abel. One was righteous and one was wicked. One was a murderer and one was a martyr.  If your family is a little screwed up, you are in good company.

7) Parents can pass behavior traits down to their kids.

The depraved bent of the parents can be passed down to their children, if it is not curbed or checked. We could call is spiritual DNA. A violent parent can produce a violent child. A parent who swears all of the time will produce kids who swear all of the time. Ham had a son who was just like him, not just physically but morally.  Kids often walk in the sins of the parents (cf. I Kings 15:3; 17:22).

Canaan was the one of his kids who was most like him in this area. He followed in the sin of his parents. Some of Ham’s descendants would be just like him. In fact, they would be even worse. The Canaanites were known for incredible depravity and sexual perversion (child sacrifice, gang rape, temple prostitution, homosexuality, incest).


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