Genesis 9:18-29

Genesis 9:18-19 Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

This passage clearly informs us where all of humanity after the Flood came from: six people (Shem, Ham, and Japheth and their wives).  Noah and his wife did not have any more children (we will see that reiterated in the next chapter).  Some skeptics have argued that it would be impossible for three couples living 4,400 years ago to be the source of today’s world population (over 7 billion).  But a very conservative use of standard population growth models shows that it is easily possible for a population of six individuals to increase in size to today’s number in far fewer generations than have occurred in the 4,400 years since the Flood.

Skeptics also argue against the possibility that all racial diversity we see today could have come from Noah’s three sons.  One particular argument starts from the assumption that Noah and his sons were of a particular race (such as Caucasian) that we would recognize today and so it would be impossible for all the other skin colors to arise from Noah’s lineage.  However, this argument is flawed in at least two ways.  First it assumes that Noah was a particular known “race,” such as white.  We can’t possibly know what his skin color was, so any assumptions are practically worthless.  Second, the argument assumes that racial diversity requires a lot of differences in DNA.  This is untrue.  The DNA of any two people in the world today would differ by just 0.2% and of this, only 6% of this difference can be associated with “racial characteristics.”  The majority of the genetic differences between people are just variations that can occur for anyone, regardless of racial background.  In other words, human DNA is only partly (and a small part, at that) responsible for racial diversity.  The majority of racial diversity is caused by social phenomena rather than genetics.  It is easily possible that Ham, Shem, Japheth, and their wives held within their genes all of the diversity in skin colors, eye colors, hair colors, etc. that we see in the human race today.

So where did racial diversity come from?  According to Scripture, people were dispersed into different environments and possibly separated by large distances.  Populations would have married within their own social groups and produced children that reflected the characteristics of the parents.  Over time this results in certain traits which were present in the genes all along becoming dominant in a region.  It is not a stretch to believe the Scriptural account Genesis 9:19.

Genesis 9:20 And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard.

We are not sure what Noah’s occupation was before the Flood, although for the 120 years preceding the Flood he was a shipbuilder.  Prior to that, he probably farmed and grew food for his family.  Jewish tradition holds that after the Flood, Noah upped his game in the areas of farming technology, possibly improving or inventing farming tools in such a way that crop yields were greatly increased.  We do know that in the previous chapter God announced that there would be planting, growing, and harvest seasons (Genesis 8:22) and so Noah’s farming techniques would be designed to take advantage of these conditions.  We also see here the first vineyard in the Bible.  People before the Flood had very likely planted vines and harvested grapes, but planting a vineyard implies a large step up in farming technology.  Winemaking must have occurred prior to the Flood, but with the “invention” of the vineyard, Noah must have suddenly found himself with the ability to create wine in varieties and amounts that was not possible before.  This is perhaps why the next verse should not be surprising.

Genesis 9:21 Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent.

Drinking alcoholic beverages, especially wine, has been around for all of human history.  Before water treatment plants and purification systems, obtaining safe drinking water was a huge challenge.  Water borne illnesses and parasites must have arisen soon after Adam and Eve’s fall, and in order to avoid disease people learned to mix wine with water in order to kill the bugs.  My belief is that Noah’s winemaking started off as a way to produce drinkable wine as a commodity, not as a social lubricant.  It is possible, then, that his improvements in the quality of his grapes resulted in a more alcoholic beverage than he had intended.  Like any good vintner, he spent a lot of time sampling his creations.  Perhaps one time he drank a bit more than he could handle, and before he knew it, he was carrying on in his tent in his birthday suit.  This passage of Scripture does not tell us anything concerning Noah’s heart in this.  Maybe he was caught completely off guard, or maybe he actually purposed to drink himself into intoxication.  Either way the result turned out to be unfortunate, which is often the case when alcohol is misused.  Scripture has a lot to say about alcohol abuse.  When it comes to the misuse of alcohol, we have:

  • Proverbs 20:1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
  • Ephesians 5:18 (NLT) Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit
  • Isaiah 5:22 Woe to men mighty at drinking wine, woe to men valiant for mixing intoxicating drink

Can we, as Christians, drink responsibly (to borrow a term used in beer commercials)?

  • Ecclesiastes 9:7 Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has already accepted your works.
  • Psalm 104:14-15 He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, 15 And wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread which strengthens man’s heart.
  • Alcohol in small quantities is not harmful or addictive.  Red wine is even noted for its health benefits (1 Timothy 5:23).  Beer historically was often known as “liquid bread” and considered a food staple.
  • As Christians, we should be mindful that drunkenness is sin, and also to consider Paul’s words in Romans 14:21: It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak.  It night be OK for me, but if it is not OK for my brother or sister then the responsible thing for me to do is to honor and respect that, and ask for a Pepsi.

Genesis 9:22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.

The language that is used here implies that this was not some accidental glance.  The Hebrew word ra’ah can mean to inspect, to regard, to gaze at, and similar meanings.  In any household, accidents can happen, and it is in our response to these situations that we show what is in our heart.  Ham’s response seems to be that he took a long and very disrespectful look at his father who was in an extremely vulnerable and compromising situation.  If there was any chance for him to behave respectfully and responsibly, he didn’t take it.  The word for “told” was nagad which means to make known conspicuously.  In other words, there was nothing subtle about Ham’s report to his brothers.  It was a very public and loud proclamation that the so-called patriarch was carousing around in a very undignified manner.  Ham probably made a very graphic and humiliating announcement, rather than a quiet plea for help to get the ‘Old Man’ back into his dignity before anyone else found out.  It was meant to be ugly.

We sometimes come across situations where someone is found to be in a vulnerable and compromising situation, perhaps “naked” and ashamed in circumstances that could be humiliating if they were to be made public.  What is our response?  More often than not it is, “I can’t believe that he did something like that!” or it is to tell someone else “Did you hear what happened to Ralph?  You’re gonna want to be sitting down for this!”  We can even convince ourselves that our feelings towards the person are actually spiritual concern, and that this sort of adversarial approach is the best way to make the situation better.  But what does Scripture tell us?

  • Proverbs 6:16,19 These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.
  • 1 John 5:16 (NLT) If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life.
  • Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Scriptures have some special instructions for when we are dealing with people who are in positions of authority and leadership.  They can fall too!  But what is our response?  It better not be to demean them, undermine their authority or be disrespectful:

  • 1 Timothy 5:1 Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as a father, younger men as brothers
  • 1 Timothy 5:19 Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses. Whoops… Ham messed this one up.

Genesis 9:23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.

The actions of Shem and Japheth show us what it looks like to put the verses we just looked at into practice.  They purposely looked away from their father’s nakedness, while they sought to cover him and restore his dignity.  Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 4:8 that we should above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.” Their whole intent was to restore Noah to his rightful position of father and patriarch.  This was not about covering up and hiding a dirty family secret and upholding honor.  Whatever the circumstances were behind Noah’s drunkenness and irresponsible behavior, their heart reflected God’s heart towards Noah: Noah was the heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (Hebrews 11:7).  Can we also remember that in those times when we have the opportunity to help a fallen brother or sister?

Genesis 9:24-25 So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. 25 Then he said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.”

Noah’s response to his son’s disrespect is interesting, and resulted in what is referred to in teachings as the “Curse of Canaan.”  Looking back through history, we have the perspective to see that Noah’s proclamation was prophetic based on what came to pass for Canaan’s descendents.  But why didn’t Noah curse Ham directly?  One possible reason is that God had already blessed Ham (Genesis 9:1) and Noah chose not to curse someone who had God’s blessing.  Perhaps there is a minor lesson for us in that.  We, even in our anger, do not have the right to curse someone who God has blessed (i.e., one who belongs to God).  It is also possible that Noah saw something in Canaan that was similar to the character he saw in his own son Ham.  As Canaan’s father, Ham had a responsibility to raise his son in a godly manner, but maybe he was delinquent in this responsibility.  In a previous verse, Ham was referred to as “the father of Canaan”, as if Scripture is reinforcing this point.

Canaan’s descendents included the Amorites, Jebusites, Sidonians, and Phoenicians (thought to be the ancestors of the Philistines).  Later in Scripture, these people were identified as idolatrous and enemies of God’s people Israel (descendents of Shem).  God gave the land of Canaan into Israel’s hands and promised that He would deliver the inhabitants (descendents of Ham) into their hand.  Whoever wasn’t wiped out was supposed to be subservient to Israel.  Noah was possibly seeing the seeds of an unrighteous path in Ham and his son Canaan and his prophesy over Canaan ultimately reflected the outcome of their departure from righteous, godly living.

There is the possibility that Noah was reacting and responding in anger towards his son, and spoke words of retaliation.  The Bible does not sugarcoat the behavior of its patriarchs, but instead reveals their failings in unflattering ways (Abraham, Moses, David, among others) when they sinned.  We know that we are not to curse one another, even when mistreated, and if Noah was demonstrating a weakness of the flesh in his reaction, it is not an excuse for us to follow his example.  But no matter what Noah’s motivation was, we can see God’s hand in the story.  God had a message for Ham, and Canaan, and ultimately for us: the consequences of Ham’s actions and choices lead to a curse: Deuteronomy 28:15-68 reminded the people of Israel that if [they did] not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes, that a number of unfortunate consequences would come upon them.

Genesis 9:26-27 And he said: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. 27 May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.”

In future generations, the descendents of Ham, more often than not, found themselves subservient to the descendents of Shem and Japheth.  There is an unfortunate line of teaching that Canaan’s descendents settled in Africa and were the ancestors of African slaves.  There is no evidence for this, and this is likely a teaching that has its roots in identifying Africans as under the “Curse of Canaan” and somehow justifying their enslavement as ordained by God.  There is no Scriptural basis for this, no anthropological basis for it, and no historical basis for it.  The idea should be rejected as a racist and supremacist philosophy that has no business in God’s kingdom.  What we do have is what Scripture has given us here in Genesis 9, which teaches that a family line (Ham’s) made choices that prophetically resulted in curses for future generations, while two other family lines (Shem and Japheth) lived according to God’s principles and received blessings.  There is nothing “racial” about any of that.

Genesis 9:28-29 And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. 29 So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.

Taking the biblical chronologies literally, Noah lived through ten generations of his descendents.  He would have been alive when Abraham was born, and by one reckoning, would have died when Abraham was 58 years old.  It is very possible that Abraham actually could have met with and spoken with Noah.  Noah lived 600 years before the Flood and was a generation removed from Adam, and so Noah had first, second or third-hand accounts of all of history back to Creation week.  This historical revelation, whether spoken, written on stone or papyrus, sung in songs, or however “recorded” by these cultures, could have been directly passed to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  This tangible record of God’s words and deeds could very easily have been handed to Moses, who is credited with writing the Bible’s first five books, which are the foundation of both the Torah and the Bible.  We know that the entire Bible is the inspired word of God, and that the Holy Spirit could have put the historical revelation into the human author’s minds.  But perhaps we don’t give enough thought to how likely it is that the authors actually were given tangible evidence, such as records and eyewitness accounts.  Why is this important?  Peter himself said of the gospel account of Jesus: For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 2 Peter 1:16.  Scripture proves itself not only prophetically, but historically and with evidence that cannot be disputed.

Post Tagged with , , , , , ,