So…you’re telling me that because Ham walked in on his naked, and drunk, father that he is shunned and cursed? WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON? Well, let’s begin by reading Genesis 9:18-29 and break this text down!
So all is NOW going well. Noah and his sons and their families are off the ark and “life” is now resuming on dry land as God made a covenant with them (Noahic Covenant) where he proclaimed that never again would he flood the whole earth. It was an “unconditional” Covenant that didn’t require God’s people to do anything. It simply was. It was/is a promise by God against himself and his word and nature to never flood the world again. And after this text (10:1-32) is the genealogy of the sons of Noah – and yet smooshed between the landing and the genealogy is this really odd encounter where Noah enjoys a too much wine and las down, uncovered, in all his “glory” and his son walks in and sees all his Dad’s bits and pieces and HE gets cursed because of it? So what are we supposed to do with this confusing text?
Well, first, if you are confused then welcome to the club! Not only is this a club with you and me but with BIBLE SCHOLARS AROUND THE WORLD. This is just one of those texts where EVERYONE scratches their head in wonder. So there’s a few things that we can do to help us get SOMEWHERE here.
First, and from a 10,000 foot view, let’s ask ourselves this question: What is the book of Genesis about? Well, the book of Genesis is about creation, separation, and blessings. It’s about sin and destruction and the work of God in the midst of it as he continues to take a broken people (who are amongst other broken people) and separates them into HIS people. And so while the beginning of the book is about creation and God’s work, what we quickly see is sin, destruction, and then God separating people. And that’s what we see in these verses. That is, we see God’s people beginning to be separated into their “groups.” Groups that, when we follow along in scripture, become “good” people and “bad” people. So that 10,000 foot-view helps – but does it clear up the text or not?
Well, in one way it helps us understand that this book is about divisions and yet these verses still don’t help us understand WHY they’re here in scripture. Because couldn’t the author just skip these verses and go on to say what we read in chapter 10, that “the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, had sons and these are their offspring…” thus skipping over this very random incident? Maybe – but then we’re left to wonder why Noah’s grandsons and beyond were so divided. Because when we read chapter 10 we begin to see that Ham’s lineage is REALLY broken. I mean they’re ALL broken (thanks a lot sin!) but Ham’s sons are REALLY bad. And so in one way the incident helps us understand just how divided the Canaanite clan becomes. So this incident, and curse, becomes the reference point to “where it all began.” But there is something else going on here. Something else that speaks to you and I, culture/society, and the brokenness we fall into.
First off we need to understand that what Noah does here is not good either. Not only does he drink in excess but he does so to the point where he embarrasses himself. We read in a few places that wine is “good for the heart” (Judges 9:13; Psalm 104:15) but done in the amounts where you lose control of yourself is NOT good. So in this sense Noah falls into sin (ironic in that God had “cleansed” the earth of sin and yet the very man whom he asked to survive cannot change from the brokenness that ran deep). But, as I scour over commentaries and what really smart people have said about this text, REALLY this text is about Ham’s attitude AFTER this incident. He’s not cursed for his accidental viewing of Pop’s nether region – he’s cursed for telling his brothers and the attitude of his own heart.
He COULD have walked out and never spoken of it. He could have seen his dad and covered him up like his brothers do. He could have “helped” his dad and yet what does he decide to do? He decides to come out and tell his brothers. Now we don’t know what words he said but the text is inferring that his heart wasn’t in the right place. He didn’t need to tell them – and yet he did. And so no matter how he said it, or what words he used – it was a mockery, a slap in his Dad’s face, immature, and wrong. Ham didn’t do anything that showed any care or concern for his father and his well-being as his actions showed more of rejoicing than anything else. There was no need to say anything and yet he chose to. The embarrassment could have been kept to a minimum with nobody EVER knowing (not even his own dad) but he chose NOT to go down that path.
(A little side-bar here as this may ALSO shed some light for us: To the ancients, however, even seeing one’s father naked was a breach of family ethic. The sanctity of the family was destroyed and the strength of the father was made a mockery. Ham apparently stumbled on this accidentally, but went out and exultingly told his two brothers, as if he had triumphed over his father.)
That’s why Ham is cursed.
So once more we see that sin is destructive in its division of not only family but GOD’S family.
This text, this incident, reminds us that sin runs deep – so deep that it not only affects me but it affects my family, my relationships, my future generations of people, and my relationship with God. The choices we make, the responses we have to “life,” means something as a drop of a stone upon a glass lake sends ripples to all the edges. And how often have you, and I, bragged about someone else, or did something to embarrass someone else when the OTHER option was to keep quiet and not say anything – because faced with a decision I, more often than not, will choose me over you. And yet just as our sin sends ripples in all directions so too does the the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Or maybe it does the opposite? That it doesn’t send ripples, or waves, it actually calms and stops? I’m not sure what analogy fits – but what I do know is that the sin we have, the sin and division that we commit, the words and actions we take that bring harm upon us and others – well, Jesus takes it all away. Where Ham completely was enthralled with himself Jesus does the opposite. That while completely thinking of you and me he went to the cross, gave up his life, and in return gave US life over sin, destruction, and division.
So THAT’s what this text is about. And as a Christian who declares that all of the Bible point to Christ – you also get my2cents on how we get from that to Jesus.