The Curse on Canaan and the Gospel

God has now made two promises, one to Himself and one to creation. He promised Himself that He would never again destroy the earth or every living thing by any means and never again curse the ground (8:21-22). He promised creation that He would never again flood the earth (9:11). Prior to the great flood, the Holy Spirit was no striving with people. All people were being handed over to their own unrighteous desires. Now, the earth has been baptized and the Holy Spirit strives with people. We immediately see the evidence that God is making all things new following the baptism of the earth.

Genesis 9:18-29

וַיִּֽהְי֣וּ בְנֵי־נֹ֗חַ הַיֹּֽצְאִים֙ מִן־הַתֵּבָ֔ה שֵׁ֖ם וְחָ֣ם וָיָ֑פֶת וְחָ֕ם ה֖וּא אֲבִ֥י כְנָֽעַן׃

19 שְׁלֹשָׁ֥ה אֵ֖לֶּה בְּנֵי־נֹ֑חַ וּמֵאֵ֖לֶּה נָֽפְצָ֥ה כָל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

20 וַיָּ֥חֶל נֹ֖חַ אִ֣ישׁ הָֽאֲדָמָ֑ה וַיִּטַּ֖ע כָּֽרֶם׃

21 וַיֵּ֥שְׁתְּ מִן־הַיַּ֖יִן וַיִּשְׁכָּ֑ר וַיִּתְגַּ֖ל בְּת֥וֹךְ אָהֳלֹֽה׃

22 וַיַּ֗רְא חָ֚ם אֲבִ֣י כְנַ֔עַן אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אָבִ֑יו וַיַּגֵּ֥ד לִשְׁנֵֽי־אֶחָ֖יו בַּחֽוּץ׃

23 וַיִּקַּח֩ שֵׁ֨ם וָיֶ֜פֶת אֶת־הַשִּׂמְלָ֗ה וַיָּשִׂ֙ימוּ֙ עַל־שְׁכֶ֣ם שְׁנֵיהֶ֔ם וַיֵּֽלְכוּ֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וַיְכַסּ֕וּ אֵ֖ת עֶרְוַ֣ת אֲבִיהֶ֑ם וּפְנֵיהֶם֙ אֲחֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית וְעֶרְוַ֥ת אֲבִיהֶ֖ם לֹ֥א רָאֽוּ׃

24 וַיִּ֥יקֶץ נֹ֖חַ מִיֵּינ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֕דַע אֵ֛ת אֲשֶׁר־עָ֥שָׂה־ל֖וֹ בְּנ֥וֹ הַקָּטָֽן׃

25 וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אָר֣וּר כְּנָ֑עַן עֶ֥בֶד עֲבָדִ֖ים יִֽהְיֶ֥ה לְאֶחָֽיו׃

26 וַיֹּ֕אמֶר בָּר֥וּךְ יְהֹוָ֖ה אֱלֹ֣הֵי שֵׁ֑ם וִיהִ֥י כְנַ֖עַן עֶ֥בֶד לָֽמוֹ׃

27 יַ֤פְתְּ אֱלֹהִים֙ לְיֶ֔פֶת וְיִשְׁכֹּ֖ן בְּאָֽהֳלֵי־שֵׁ֑ם וִיהִ֥י כְנַ֖עַן עֶ֥בֶד לָֽמוֹ׃

28 וַֽיְחִי־נֹ֖חַ אַחַ֣ר הַמַּבּ֑וּל שְׁלֹ֤שׁ מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַֽחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָֽה׃

29 וַיִּֽהְיוּ֙ כָּל־יְמֵי־נֹ֔חַ תְּשַׁ֤ע מֵאוֹת֙ שָׁנָ֔ה וַחֲמִשִּׁ֖ים שָׁנָ֑ה וַיָּמֹֽת׃ פ

Single origin (v. 18-19)

Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

Scripture explicitly claims that the whole earth is populated through Noah’s sons. Humanity is single-origin and, to date, there has been no lasting speciation (or racialization) and the most isolated people groups are of the same species (or race)—which affirms the biblical proposition. There is no room in religion or science or society for racism, no one is more evolved than another. We are the single-origin human race.

Moses distinguishes Shem and Japheth from Ham. Ham is the father of Canaan, the people who occupy the promised land—the land that is being given to Israel as Moses writes this story. Canaan is seen as a deplorable people, the enemies of God. So, we know that the serpent’s seed motif is continuing through Ham and the Canaanites.

The significance of blessing and cursing (v. 20-29)

Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.

The events in this narrative do not transpire in a day or two. Noah isn’t reeling from the flood. There is time enough for him to first plant a vineyard, then wait for the grapes to grow, harvest the grapes, crush the grapes, ferment and age the wine, and finally enjoy the fruits of his labor. The grape growing season passes plus the 20 or so days for the fermentation process if Noah isn’t aging the wine (which takes years, not days). So, I want us to be careful when we read the text. Noah does get drunk and is naked, but we do not know what kind of mood he is in from the text. Some time has elapsed. He hasn’t made a split decision to go to the liquor store after a traumatic event like I have heard the story presented before.

Scripture neither calls Noah’s drunkenness or nakedness a sin. It does imply that there is some shame in Noah’s nakedness—shame connected to the nakedness of Adam and Eve in the garden following their sin. The human body is created by God and beautiful. As long as people are captivated by their sin natures in Adam, nakedness will always be shameful. Whereas we tend to see the world on the basis of innocence and guilt in the western world, the Hebrews at the time of Moses saw the world on the basis of honor and shame. Noah is not presented here as guilty because of some outward action. His nakedness is seen as the shame of his inward sinner. Doubtless overconsumption of wine led to Noah’s shameful exposure, but we should be very careful what we focus on and call sin or not. Check the Scriptures thoroughly. At the least, it is a bad idea to over-consume, not only alcohol but soda, chips, and anything else that affects the body and makes it less presentable or workable.

Ham sees his father drunk and naked. Instead of covering his father’s shame like God covered the shame of Adam and Eve, he gossips to his brothers outside the tent. Unlike their brother, Shem and Japheth hear about their father and take it upon themselves to cover his shame in the most honorable way possible. So, they honor their father, edify him, and carry his shame as their own burden—bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This is a stark contrast to the prediluvian world, when every intention of the human heart was only wicked all the time. Now, one-third of humanity is wicked whilst the other two-thirds are moved by the Spirit to love and treat their neighbors well. God is succeeding. The Holy Spirit is contending on the earth for the Father’s cause and to accomplish the Father’s promise of renewal for the whole of creation.

This story is normally presented as bad news because people focus on the shame of Noah and the wretched estate of Ham. Look at what God is doing. He is fulfilling His promise. Seeing the world optimistically rather than pessimistically is often a matter of perspective—seeing the correct context of the biblical narrative and unfolding history.

When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.” Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died.

Noah awakes from his wine; he sobers up. When he sobers up, he remembers what Ham did to him—gossiping about him rather than covering his shame. So, he curses Ham’s descendants and blesses his other two children for honoring him. The curse upon Ham is juxtaposed with the blessing for the Lord God on Shem and for prosperity from the Lord on Japheth. Canaan now typifies the offspring of the serpent (cf. Genesis 3:14-15) while Shem and Japheth typify the offspring of the woman. God is striving with humanity instead of leaving her to her own devices like He did prior to the deluge. Praise Him for not leaving all people in the lusts of their own hearts. From this point forward in the narrative, we see blessings and curses given from fathers upon their children. Prior to the flood, we did not. These blessings and curses always now depict the serpent’s seed and woman’s seed motifs which are ultimately fulfilled in Christ. 

As a point of import in the narrative as a whole. We have seen the forsaken firstborn motif bear out in every genealogy. Here, Ham is the youngest, not the oldest. In every blessing-curse event after this one, the firstborn is always forsaken. In this event, the youngest is the son being cursed and carrying on the serpent’s seed motif. This is evidence that Moses is not inventing a story, else the motif would be forced. Moses does not force it here. He is recording history, not lying in order to force a motif on every potential occasion. This series of blessing and curse will come to fruition as Israel overtakes the land of Canaan.

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