Noah’s Sin, Ham’s Sin, And The Curse Of Canaan

here are quite a few things that we can learn from this singular incident recorded about Noah’s life after the Flood. First, it is noteworthy that this incident is the only thing that we read about Noah after he builds his altar to the Lord and makes his sacrifices upon it. Verse 28 tells us that he lived another 350 years after the Flood, yet this is the sole incident that the Word of God records during that entire time.

"Drunken Noah" (Michelangelo - Sistine Chapel)
“Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.” (Genesis 9:20-22 ESV)

There are quite a few things that we can learn from this singular incident recorded about Noah’s life after the Flood. First, it is noteworthy that this incident is the only thing that we read about Noah after he builds his altar to the Lord and makes his sacrifices upon it. Verse 28 tells us that he lived another 350 years after the Flood, yet this is the sole incident that the Word of God records during that entire time. What a powerful reminder of how our sins so often carry a legacy that remains far after we would have ever imagined they would. We should always remember that the indiscretions that we give into during a brief moment of passion can bring lingering and lasting consequences. When we are in Christ, our sins are forgiven and our eternal Salvation is not forfeited, but there are many times that our sinful behaviors carry unintended repercussions that can cause us great sorrow for a long time.

Sin Is Still A Problem

Lest we think that the judgment of the Flood remedied the problem of sin and changed the hearts of men- turning them from their sinful ways- this passage records not one but two offenses. Noah, who had been called “a just man” and “perfect in his generations” (Gen. 6:9), drinks the wine of his vineyard to the point of passing out in a drunken stupor. Regardless of how close God’s people walk with Him, no matter how long they serve Him in this world, until we put off this flesh and dwell forever in His presence in the age to come, we remain susceptible to the temptations of sin. Why? Because sin comes from the heart of man. Sin comes from the desires of the flesh which we are never separated from during this life.

In addition to Noah’s drunkenness, we are also told of his son Ham’s impropriety. Ham saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers (verse 22).

What Exactly Was Ham’s Sin?

There has been much speculation about what it was specifically that Ham did that would be sinful in this matter. All sorts of immoral, lewd, and perverted misdeeds have been suggested in order to explain where Ham went wrong. Personally, I think that it reflects more on the twisted imaginations of the commentators who read such innuendos into the text rather than bringing clarity to the narrative. I see no reason to surmise that anything else happened other than what the Bible says happened: Ham saw his father naked, passed out in drunkenness, and he went and told Shem and Japheth about it. So what was the problem with what he did?

It has always been the practice of the unrepentant to mock and ridicule the people of God when they fall into temptation. They rejoice and revel in the failures of those who seek to live a godly life and obey the Lord. Accusations of “hypocrisy” are hurled, even today, by those of the world whenever a servant of the Lord stumbles in their walk with Christ. Shem and Japheth sought to cover up their father’s shame, they wanted to uphold his integrity even in his moment of weakness. They knew that they were not beyond temptation themselves and, rather than joining in with Ham’s celebration of their godly father’s missteps, they reverently covered Noah’s nakedness and refused to look upon his humiliation. Sadly, just as it was a member of Noah’s own family who was quick to delight in his disobedience, it is so often those in our own “family” of the Body of Christ who are the first to run and tell others of our indiscretions rather than helping us put our garments back on.

Why Was Canaan Cursed?

"Noah Cursing Canaan" (Gustave Doré)
“And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” (Genesis 9:24-25)

It seems a little confusing at first glance that Noah, after he awakens from his sleep and learns what was done to him by Ham, proceeds to pronounce a curse on Canaan, Ham’s son. Why should Canaan be punished for the sins of his father? I think that there are two reasons that the Bible records this the way that it does:

1.) It Was A Prophecy More Than A “Curse”

Noah does not say anything along the lines of, “Because of what was done to me: cursed be Canaan…”

His words are meant to be interpreted as prophetic rather than punitive. Like father, like son – the old saying goes, and that is the point being made here. Canaan and his descendants after him would be guilty of displaying this same attitude toward God’s people and would, therefore, earn the curse of God upon themselves, as well. Rather than humble themselves before the hand of God and turn to Him in repentance, the Canaanites would make it a habit to mock, scorn, and defy the children of Israel as they later would enter into the land of Canaan. In reality, they were guilty of mocking God Himself because it was not the ability of the people of God that was ridiculed, but the ability of God to act on their behalf. It is really the same thing today when the skeptic mocks and ridicules the Christian: he is not attacking the person himself so much as he is disparaging God’s ability to move in that person’s life.

2.) Relevance

The second reason that the passage records the curse upon Canaan is for the very simple fact that the Book of Genesis was originally written by Moses to the children of Israel, as they were preparing to move into the land that God had promised them – namely, Canaan. We are not told how the Lord dealt with Ham for what he had done because, frankly, it was not relevant for the Israelites to know, nor is it really any of our concern. Ham’s name is not mentioned in chapter 9 apart from the statement that he was the father of Canaan. Ham was of no relevance to the children of Israel, but Canaan sure was! It was crucial for them to know that they were dealing with an enemy that bore the curse and judgment of God upon them.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 8, 2009]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) Bible

**English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

God Permits The Eating Of Meat

Apparently, before the Flood, God had not sanctioned the eating of meat. Whether or not this rule was followed, we do not really know. It is unlikely that – given the grave depravity that mankind had fallen into prior to the Flood – people had much respect for this prohibition of God since they had showed no deference to the Lord in anything else.

Cow on the Täschalpe, Wallis, Switzerland. (photo by Michael Schmid)
“Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant. Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” (Genesis 9:3-4)

After Noah and his family depart from the Ark and set out to replenish the population of the Earth, God sets down a few key changes in the covenant He makes with them. The first of these is that man is now permitted to eat meat in addition to plants and vegetables.

Apparently, before the Flood, God had not sanctioned the eating of meat. Whether or not this rule was followed, we do not really know. It is unlikely that – given the grave depravity that mankind had fallen into prior to the Flood – people had much respect for this prohibition of God since they had showed no deference to the Lord in anything else. The Lord mentions in verse 5 the sanctity of the lifeblood of the animals which would seem to suggest the flagrant disregard for it that had likely been shown toward all life (animal and human) in the past.

The respect for and value of life, in fact, is the commonality between the two major changes that are laid down here in the “Noahic Covenant” (the other concerns “capital punishment” which, Lord willing, I plan to talk about next time). At first glance, it might seem a little ironic that the Lord, Who has just annihilated every living thing on the planet apart from those in the Ark of Noah, would now be talking about the great value of life. But that is precisely what He is doing. Why? Because in all truthfulness, God alone retains the right and discretion to choose when life, any life, should be terminated. Although Cain, Lamech, and countless unnamed others had failed to understand that God alone holds the prerogative to decide when a life can be ended, Noah did. This is why God explains to him now under what circumstances man is delegated this authority.

“For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.’” (Leviticus 17:11)

Blood, representing the life of the animal, is what is required for atonement under the Law of Moses. Ultimately, it points toward the Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ which was spilled for the covering of the sins of the world. But not only is prohibition made here against the eating of an animal’s blood, it is also an inference made toward the humane slaughter of livestock in preparation for consumption. Man is not given carte blanche to barbarously devour any game or livestock in any manner he sees fit. No, care is to be taken to humanely slaughter the animal and then prepare the meat to be eaten in a wholesome, sanitary way.

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. (Romans 14:2-3)

Some have made the abstinence from eating meat a spiritual or religious issue. Even certain denominations that name the name of Christ preach that the Bible endorses a strictly vegetarian diet. For many non-Christians, this practice (sometimes referred to as “vegan”: which carries vegetarianism to a moral or religious level rather than strictly a dietary preference or physical health issue) is really nothing more than a neo-paganism that exalts animals to an equal, or even superior, level with mankind. For Christians, it is strictly a personal matter between each of us and the Lord. There is no Biblical basis for preaching that other Christians should refrain from eating meat for spiritual reasons. Foregoing the eating of meat for health reasons, or reasons of conscience (such as the justified objection toward the inhumane practices of many in the agricultural industry, which clearly violate God’s instructions for proper animal husbandry) is perfectly acceptable, but we are in no way at liberty to be dogmatic to other believers about their own dietary habits.

Having said this, however, there is another extreme that many people, even some believers, go to and that is to totally disregard the sanctity of animal life. Animals are not created in the image of God as man is, but they are still creatures of God. The Lord has delivered them into our hand for food, but that in no way gives us the right to mistreat or abuse them. Mankind is to exercise a dominion over them that precludes the wholesale extermination of entire species to the point of extinction and the indiscriminate encroachment into and destruction of their habitats. We are to be good stewards of the resources that God has provided, and that includes livestock and wildlife.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published November 1, 2009]

**Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible (NASB) © The Lockman Foundation and are used by permission.

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]

From Ark Builder To Altar Builder

As we see in Hebrews 11:7, Noah was a man of faith. He carefully obeyed all of the instructions that God gave him and he built the Ark to the exact specifications that the Lord told him. But we see in the first two actions that Noah performed after disembarking from the Ark a subtle difference. These two actions were voluntary, God had not given him instructions to do them.

"Leaving The Ark On Mount Ararat" (Raffaello Sanzio - Palazzi Pontifici, Vatican)
“And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:20-21)

Noah did two very interesting things when he came out of the Ark:

  1. He built an altar
  2. He made offerings to the Lord

“Thus did Noah; according to all that God commanded him, so did he.” (Genesis 6:22)

As we see in Hebrews 11:7, Noah was a man of faith. He carefully obeyed all of the instructions that God gave him and he built the Ark to the exact specifications that the Lord told him. But we see in the first two actions that Noah performed after disembarking from the Ark a subtle difference. These two actions were voluntary, God had not given him instructions to do them.

It is very telling about what kind of a person Noah was that his first priority was to tend to the things of God. After spending  a year aboard the Ark, it would seem that the first  step would be to set about building shelters to live in and providing for all of the necessities of survival in a new, desolate world. But Noah would not build a place to live in before he built a place to worship God. This time, God gives no blueprint of what His altar should look like, nor does He even encourage Noah to build an altar at all. It is the heart filled with gratitude toward God’s saving grace that is compelled out of pure thanksgiving to honor the Lord of Heaven in such a way. What a contrast between Noah and the world that he had been born into: those who perished in the Flood had failed to acknowledge God at any time or in any way and here we see that Noah put God above all else!

Secondly, Noah made burnt-offerings unto the Lord of one each of the clean animals from the Ark. As one in seven days were a Sabbath dedicated to the Lord, one in seven of these clean animals would be given to the Lord, as well. We are told in verse 21 that Noah’s offerings were a “sweet savour” to the Lord, that is, God accepted his offerings. Like the altar that Noah built, we learn in the Book of Leviticus that a “burnt-offering” is characterized as a voluntary offering, not a required offering (Leviticus 1:3). Although the burnt-offering is voluntary, it speaks of atonement for the one making the offering. In Noah’s actions we see his voluntary recognition of his own sin and his need for atoning sacrifice.

Then we read something rather peculiar in verse 21: “…The Lord said in His heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake; for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.” It seems that God’s diagnosis of the heart of man did not change after the Flood from what it had been before the Flood (Genesis 6:5). So what had changed? The difference was a recognition of sin on the part of man. We can only speculate, but Noah had likely made offerings unto God even before the Flood. But now, after God has judged the entire world, Noah’s offerings to God take on a whole new meaning.

Noah’s burnt-offerings to God represent how man will ultimately be reconciled to God. These “sweet savour” offerings point to the “Sweet Savour” offering that alone can make full remission of the sins of man possible (Ephesians 5:2). Man is still sinful with a heart filled with evil imaginations, but if we will voluntarily acknowledge our sins to Him and accept the substitutionary sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ as payment for those sins, we can receive God’s mercy and grace rather than His judgment.

To Jesus Christ goes all glory. In service to Him,

Loren

loren@answersfromthebook.org

[This post was originally published October 30, 2009]

**All Scripture quotations in this post are taken from the King James Version (KJV) Bible

[If you do not know the Lord Jesus Christ or you are not certain where you are headed when this life ends, I invite you to read the article “Am I Going To Heaven?“]