Noah, his sons, and shame. Studying Genesis 9:18-29

After the covenant which the Lord makes with Noah, we see a scandal involving Noah and his three sons at the end of Genesis 9. 

The story is introduced by reminding the reader of the Sons of Noah. They will come up again in the genealogies of Genesis 10.

Genesis 9:18: 

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 

The verse mentions the Canaanites, the tribe who will be an adversary of the Israelites for many generations. They’re introduced here but will be talked about at the end of this section and into chapter 10. This is also the first mention of the Caanaites in the Bible. 

Genesis 9:19: 

 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. 

As Adam was the progenitor of the human race, from Noah and his sons, we will see a newly constituted humanity after the flood. This is continuing with the themes of creation and new creation in Noah’s story 

Genesis 9:20-21: 

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.

Noah is the only person in the Bible referred to as “a man of the soil.” 

As Adam was given charge to work and keep the garden in creation, we see Noah keeping with the family business of working the vineyard. As an interesting side note, there are ancient mythologies which attribute the creation of wine to the gods, such as the Egyptian myth of Osiris or the Greek myth of Dionysus. The Bible points to wine as being cultivated by humanity. 

The text says that Noah became drunk. It’s interesting to wonder if he knew the effects of the wine since cultivation of grapes was new. Noah might have survived being in the ark through the great flood, but a little bit the wine is too much for him. 

The text mentions that he lay uncovered in his tent. 

Genesis 9:22: 

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

For the second time in the passage, Canaan is referred to. 

Verses 22 and 23 are a bit cryptic as to what exactly is happening. Throughout the generations, there have been various interpretations as to the extent of Ham’s sin against Noah. Some have thought that there was some sort of sexual sin involved agaisnt Noah or his wife. The text does talk about how Ham “saw” Noah and this language is sometimes referred to in the Bible as referring to sexual activity but it also just as likely refers to simply seeing something and that word alone cannot lead to the conclusion that Ham physically did something against Noah. 

Another theory is that Ham castrated Noah. That may seem like a big leap in interpretations, and it is not the view that I hold. Part of the reasoning for this interpretation is that Noah has only three sons but cursed Ham’s fourth son (Canaan) and that Noah curses Ham’s fourth son because he was prevented from having a fourth son. 

It’s impossible to know exactly the sin issue from what’s provided in the text, but I hold to the view that Ham dishonored Noah in a vulnerable time and then told his brothers about this and the heart behind that is why his actions were so grievous. 

Genesis 9:23: 

23 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.

As Ham dishonored Noah, we see the other two sons covering up his nakedness. They walk in backwards to prevent seeing the nakedness of their father and bringing further shame. 

In the following verses, Noah awakens and realizes what has happened. 

Genesis 9:24-25: 

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, 

“Cursed be Canaan; 

a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” 

Canaan is mentioned for the third time in the passage. Noah does not bring a curse upon Ham but upon his son. It is unclear as to why this happened. Canaan does in fact become a major rival of Israel in the Old Testament so the curse does prove to be true. 

Is Canaan being unfairly punished? It’s another complication textual matter. The point of the curse is that it’s pointing to the offspring of Ham which is why it’s a curse given to Canaan. 

There’s blessing and also curses as Noah calls for blessings on his other two sons. 

Genesis 9:26-27: 

26 He also said, 

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; 

and let Canaan be his servant. 

27 May God enlarge Japheth, 

and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, 

and let Canaan be his servant.” 

The chapter ends, and the life of Noah ends in verses 28-29: 28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died. 

Parallels to Adam

As has already been mentioned, Adam planted a garden and Noah planted a vineyard. 

As there is a curse on humanity after the fall into sin, there is a curse (Gen. 9:25) as a result of dishonoring Noah. Both stories involve the shame of nakedness. Both stories lead to familial strife. 

With the first sin, they eat the fruit of the tree in the midst of the garden. With the sin against Noah, Noah is witnessed within his tent. Eve sees the fruit looks good for food. Ham sees the nakedness of his father (Shem and Japheth do not). 

In this story, we see the continuation of human sin after the flood. 

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