Shame and curse

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Has The Flood dealt with the problem of sin and evil? Lest we are tempted to think that righteous Noah has brought an end to sin, guilt, shame and curse, there is a follow up to the Flood narrative.

Read Genesis 9:18-29

We are reminded again of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth,  all humanity will be descended from them, so their character, decisions and actions will have far reaching consequences.  Notice that we are also specifically reminded that Canaan is Ham’s son (v18-19). This introduces us to a little postscript on the life of Noah which will have a crucial part in explaining the subsequent storyline through the Old Testament.

Noah takes on the work of farming, the description of him as a “man of soil” is a good thing.  Noah, follows Adam in tending and guarding the earth.  He plants a vineyard providing another echo of Eden (v20). However, trouble follows from his work.  From the produce of the vineyard, he makes wine.  He is so intoxicated that he ends up collapsing into a drunken stupor, naked (v21).  There are echoes here of Eden, Noah’s drunkenness crosses a boundary of excess beyond God’s abundant provision.  He is found, naked, like Adam and Eve, an indicator of shame. 

This time, it is not God, walking in the evening that finds the naked , shamed man but his son, Ham.  Ham goes and tells his brothers.  Notice again the reminder that Canaan is Ham’s son (v22). Instead of covering his father’s shame, he further exposes him.  Shem and Japheth in contrast are careful not to look on their dad’s shame but instead seeks to cover his nakedness.  This reminds us of both Adam and Eve’s failed attempts to hide their shame and God covering over their nakedness with animal skins (v23).

Noah rebukes Ham.  He declares a curse and a blessing.  The curse is on Ham’s son, Canaan indicating that this is not so much a personal penalty but one with generational implications.  It is possible too that Canaan had shared in his father’s shaming of his granddad.  Canaan is cursed to servitude (v24-25). In contrast, Shem is blessed and Canaan will serve him (v26).  Japheth having assisted Shem will benefit from the blessing to Shem, living under his protection and enjoying his provision. He will be “enlarged” meaning that he will be blessed with many descendants.  Japheth will fulfil the creation mandate to fill the earth (v27).[1] Noah lives a further 350 years (v28-29).

The curse of Ham and racism

Some people have suggested that Ham was marked out physically by the curse and that, due to the fact that some of his descendants settled in Africa, the mark of his curse was his skin pigmentation. Further, these verses were then used to justify the African slave trade.  However, there is nothing Biblically to justify such racist nonsense. 

The curse focuses specifically on Canaan and his descendants not the descendants of Ham in general and is fulfilled not in the slave trade, Apartheid or American segregation but in the history of Israel in the promised land.

Dwelling under his care and protection

The promise to Japheth is fulfilled in Christ.  We Gentiles are brought into the house of Shem’s descendant where we are provided for and protected.  Now, we fulfil that Great Commission to see many disciples made.

[1] Though perhaps we might  suggest that Shem’s line will rule and so subduing the earth will be dependent upon them.

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