A New Start, Same Old Sin

Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

Genesis 9:18–29 | December 6 - Sunday Morning,

Sunday Morning,
December 6
A New Start, Same Old Sin | Genesis 9:18–29
Dr. Kevin DeYoung, Senior Pastor

O Lord, whom have we in heaven but You and there is nothing and no one on earth we desire besides You. Our flesh and our hearts may fail, but God, You are our strength and our portion forever, and so we pray, O Lord, that You would convict, correct, comfort, forgive, speak, teach, draw near to us now as we draw near to You. In the strong name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

We come this morning in our study of Genesis, the first book in the Bible, to Genesis chapter 9, verses 18 through 29. Genesis chapter 9, the end of the story of Noah and the flood and the end of this particular toledoth, this generation section, which began in chapter 6, the generations of Noah. We come to chapter 9, verse 18.

“The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. 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. 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.”

“When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he 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.'”

“After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.”

So what are we to do with this strange, somewhat disturbing, PG-13 story right here in the Bible?

It seems as if we could without this story, and if you look at verses 18 and 19, we’re talking about Noah’s sons, and why couldn’t we just skip to chapter 10 and these are the generations of the sons of Noah? And go right to their genealogy? Why do we need verses 20 through 27? What is this story doing here?

Well, for starters, we should remember that the story is here for a reason. We must not think that Moses is just haphazardly passing along whatever weird stories he’s heard at some point in his life, as if the biblical authors were just sitting there thinking, “Oh, this is a crazy story I heard this one one time. This is really bizarre. I gotta write this down.”

No, there is a purpose to it. Every section we encounter serves some purpose in the toledoth, the generational section, those 10 toledoths which form the spine of the book. It also serves a purpose in Genesis and remember, this is book one of a five-part series called the Pentateuch, so it serves a purpose in the larger Pentateuch that Moses is writing.

When we come to a passage like this, I always find it helpful to step back and think what here is emphasized? Or in particular, what is emphasized that we might not think would be emphasized?

Where do you read, and you scratch your head and say, “Now why did they mention that? What does that have to do with anything? Why is that piece of information being singled out?”

As I read through the Bible, that often helps me to sort of step back and think, “Okay, there’s a reason here, and what is the reason?”

And what we see in this passage, there are two places in particular where there are sort of curious aside, but these asides tell us something. In fact, they underscore what the purpose of the passage is about. This story is here, number one, to tell us something about Israel’s history. And number two, it is here to tell us something about humanity’s sin. Those are our two points and we’re going to spend more time on the first than on the second, even though the second is in some ways, as you’ll see, even more important.

So first, the story is here to tell something about Israel’s history and this corresponds with the first curiosity. Look at verse 18: “The sons of Noah who went from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth.” Now we have seen this lineup of three sons a number of times, nothing unusual, but then we have this parenthetical statement, “Ham was the father of Canaan.” Why? Why is this mentioned?

Each of the sons have other sons. Canaan isn’t even the firstborn son of Ham. Look at chapter 10, verse 6, presuming that’s the order of his children, the sons of Ham, Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. This is the fourth-born. Why say something about Canaan?

Well, again, we come to verse 22, “And Ham, the father of Canaan.” So clearly there is something in this narrative that means to tell us something important about Canaan. He is the one being singled out. And remember, this is not just a part of Genesis, but a part of the Pentateuch, and Moses would have written it when these events had long ago taken place, and maybe there were oral traditions, maybe some written traditions he drew from, but he’s writing this and the people would have first encountered this sometime near the very end of Moses’ life, which means the people who are first encountering Genesis as written history already had a history with the Canaanite people.

They had already been surrounded by these people, they already knew them to be a pagan, war-faring people in many scraps and skirmishes with them, and most importantly, as they are there toward the end of Moses’ life, they are looking forward after the years of wandering to return to the land of Canaan, where they might inherit the land and drive out the Canaanites once, as we’ll see later in Genesis, the sins of the Amorites, that’s a Canaanite people, once the sins of these people had so accumulated before the Lord that He could in justice drive them out from the land.

Which means when God’s people were first encountering Genesis, they were thinking, “Aha, yes, we know all about the Canaanites, and this helps to explain why there is this centuries’ long hostility between Israel and between Canaan.”

Some 35 times in Genesis we are going to have the phrase “the land of Canaan.” And they would see that the Canaanites were a corrupt people.

But let’s back up and try to understand what happened in this bizarre story. So Noah plants a vineyard, Noah makes wine from his vineyard. No problem there. Wine is often in Scripture seen as a great gift. We know that Jesus turned water into wine. But then Noah gets drunk, and not just drunk, but there’s no real nice way to put this, he is inebriated to the point where he has lost all sense of propriety and his own faculties. Noah, the great hero of the human race, is sprawled out, stone-cold drunk, stark naked in his tent. It’s not a pretty picture.

And enter into the tent Ham. Ham did something very wrong. Verse 24: Noah awoke, he knew, we don’t know how he knew, presumably maybe Shem and Japheth told him, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.

What exactly had Ham done that made Noah so angry? Jewish and Christian interpreters have for centuries wondered exactly what this was. Some Jewish rabbis said what Ham did was castrate his father. Others have speculated that it was some act of sodomy. Or others have said, well, later in Leviticus, the language is used of “uncovering one’s nakedness” is a euphemism for sleeping with that person’s close relative, and so maybe uncovering the nakedness of Noah means that Ham slept with Noah’s wife, namely with his own mother.

Well, all three of those things would be very bad.

There is a simpler explanation, which is also reflects poorly on Ham, but the simpler explanation, I think, is the better one.

What Ham did, whatever it was, must be seen as the opposite of what Shem and Jephthah do, because what Shem and Japheth do is seen as the remedy for what Ham didn’t do. That’s why I’m not inclined to think that it was castration or sodomy or sleeping with his mother, because the covering up with a garment of Noah would not have been a remedy for any of those sins.

Look how detailed verse 23 is. What we’re meant to see absolutely clearly is that Shem and Japheth meticulously avoided seeing their naked father. They took a garment, they laid it on their shoulders, they walked backwards, they covered their father’s, again a second time, they turned their faces backward, they did not see their father’s nakedness.

Putting two and two together, it seems that Ham didn’t just catch his father’s nakedness out of the corner of his eye and then go ask his brother for help. It’s not a sort of, “Oops, I’m in the wrong moment at the wrong time, didn’t mean to see that, hey, guys, we got a problem here.”

Rather, it seems as if Ham’s sin is twofold. One, it’s the sin of voyeurism. When David saw Bathsheba bathing, it wasn’t just a, “Whoa, didn’t know that was going to happen,” but a lingering gaze that then led King David to go search after this woman and have an affair with her.

So this is more than an accidental glance. There’s something of a lingering gaze. Now we don’t have to read into that homosexual overtones. I think what it means rather is that Ham was amused to see his father in such an embarrassing predicament.

Maybe some of you can think back to experiences in your own life where there were people who were passed out drunk and maybe people gathered around to see what sort of awkward position they were in or what sort of humorous thing that they had done, or to put it now quite so seedy, have you ever seen those videos online of people after they’ve had their wisdom teeth pulled and they still have some of the gas and they don’t really make any sense?

I had one wisdom tooth pulled two weeks ago. Can you believe I had all four wisdom teeth? I tell people that’s why I’m so smart. Now I’m only 3/4 as smart. I had one pulled out and I didn’t get the gas, they just numbed it and got the jaws of life and like backed up a truck and [sound effect] and pulled it out. That’s how tough I am. But I told my family if ever I have to get the other three pulled out, and I have to have the gas, no videotaping me to see what sort of nonsensical things, I would not count that as a blessing to put that online and look at all the funny things Dad said.

But apparently when your kids do it, then it is funny.

Maybe if you’ve ever seen a child fall asleep in an awkward position or a baby in the crib with a foot sticking out and a stuffed animal on top, and you say, “Look at this,” more innocently, “isn’t that funny?”

Well, this is the sort of thing but not innocent at all that I think Ham was doing. Not simply a glance, but a voyeuristic look and linger to see and to be amused by the shameful predicament that his father was in.

But there’s more than that. The second aspect of the sin is the parental disrespect. This is not like helping your infirmed parent go to the restroom in his old age. That’s an act of love and sacrifice. This is not a prohibition against ever seeing a parent naked.

No, Noah is not looking for an at-home nurse. He was in a shameful position, drunk, naked, and the right response of his son should have been to help mitigate his father’s embarrassment, to cover, to literally cover up the shame of his father, not to go tell others about it in a spirit of mockery and scorn.

It’s telling, isn’t it? That Ham did not go back in to cover up his father. If Ham was truly just, “Oh, man, this is a bad situation. I need your help with a blanket,” he could have done that. But he went, and yes, we’re speculating a bit, but it seems as if he went and told his brothers because Ham didn’t do anything about it, he told his brothers, “Get a load of Dad. This is ridiculous but it’s hilarious.” And he didn’t go back in and try to cover up his father’s nakedness. That was left to his two older brothers, Shem and Japheth, who did precisely what Ham should have done, but he didn’t do, in this act of parental humiliation.

Well, next comes the curse. The curse comes, strangely enough, not to Ham, but to his son Canaan. Now remember, when God’s people would have been reading this, they would have been thinking not so much of Canaan the individual but as Canaan the family line, and we know from the rest of the Old Testament that it’s not as if every person ever born in the line of Cain was going to be accursed. Think about Rahab there at Jericho. They were among the Canaanites that God had to drive out, and yet she had faith and she hid the spies and so she was saved.

So this isn’t an every single person ever to come from this line is going to be accursed by Me, it’s a statement of fact about the nation that is to come and the peoples that are to come.

Perhaps Canaan even had shown himself to have something of the same character of his father. Certainly the Israelites first reading Genesis would have no trouble thinking Canaan got what he deserved. No one would have encountered this story and thought, “Oh, but the Canaanites are such good people. That’s not fair.” They would have said, “Oh, so that’s how this all started. That’s where it came from. That’s why we have always known the Canaanites to be this pagan, war-faring people.”

Now even with that explanation, let’s be honest. It’s still a difficult passage. It’s difficult to hear Noah, the very first thing we hear Noah say, in fact, this is all we hear Noah say is this poem of blessing and cursing. We didn’t hear a single word from Noah before the flood. We didn’t hear a word from Noah during the flood. When he emerged and offered sacrifice, we didn’t hear anything from Noah then. The first time we hear anything uttered by Noah is when he wakes up from his drunken stupor and he says, “Cursed be my grandson.”

That’s the first time man in Scripture utters a curse. The others were declared by God.

Now keep in mind, this is not a magical incantation. This is not a wizard’s wand and boom, he has some sort of curse about him. It’s more of a prayer, or even a kind of last will and testament. We’ll see this throughout the book of Genesis, it’s common in the ancient world, patriarch gathers the children, especially the sons, and pronounces what’s going to happen with each one.

Perhaps he curses his youngest son of Ham because Ham was his youngest son.

You notice in verse 24, “Noah awoke from his wine. He knew what his youngest son had done.” That’s a bit surprising because the order is always Shem, Ham, and Japheth, for whatever reason that’s the order that it was given. But here it records that Ham was, in fact, the youngest son.

Well, if the order in verse 6 is in order of birth, as normally it is, Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan, then Canaan would be the youngest son. So maybe there’s a reason for “you are my youngest son and I am going to curse your youngest son.”

Even more than that, if you look back at chapter 9, verse 1, notice God blessed Noah and his sons. That, I think, is the main reason why Noah does not turn around and curse Ham, because Noah and his three sons had already been blessed by God. They had already received the Lord’s blessing and Noah was not going to undo what God had done. And so he curses his youngest son, Canaan.

We must be careful not to lose sight of the forest because of the trees. We can’t be positive what happened; it seems that Ham was guilty of voyeurism and he was guilty of dishonoring his father. We can’t be sure of all the reasons why the curse fell on Ham’s son instead of Ham. Maybe Ham was already an older man, maybe Canaan was already known to be a bad dude. We don’t know.

The original audience would not have been hung up on those questions. They would have seen the larger forest. They would have thought, “Oh, I see. This is about who gets the blessing and who gets the curse.”

Remember, that is perhaps the most central theme throughout the book of Genesis and it’s just going to get even more important. We’re tracing the line of blessing, from Adam to Seth through Noah and now to his son Shem. And the line of cursing, from the serpent to Cain and now to Canaan and what we’ll see is that from this line come the Egyptians, the Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, all these people who are going to be the pagan and warring neighbors of Israel for generations to come.

And notice that the blessing does not technically fall on Shem. That’s the implication, but look at verse 26. He says blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem. See, this is not an issue of race or ethnicity. It’s not that Shem, you’re a pure people and Ham, you won’t be. But rather it’s a statement about the Lord of Shem and the One whom Shem has as his Lord and his God.

Just like we saw earlier in chapter 4. Remember the line of Cain and all of his descendants with their civilizational achievements, yet pale in comparison to what we read about the Seth-ites when it says at that time men began to call upon the name of the Lord. In the first corporate official way, God’s people were worshiping Yahweh and that was the achievement of the Seth-ites, even greater than all the cultural achievements of the line of Cain.

So this is about worship, not about race, which wouldn’t even have been a category as we understand it today. Or ethnicity. These three sons come from the same family. They looked alike. They were the same color.

And, we know from Israel’s history, that sometimes these people, like the Gibeonites, could receive favor when they treated fairly or were treated fairly by Israel. And Rahab would be blessed and saved. And Israel would face cursing when they acted like the Canaanites, so it is this blending of both a distinct familial curse and blessing, but even more importantly, it’s envisioning the spiritual realities thereof.

All of this means there is no exegetical or historical grounding for seeing the curse of Ham as any sort of justification for enslaving Africans. Sadly, at different points in the history of the Church, some took this passage and tried to justify African slaves by saying, “Well, these must have been the descendants of Ham, and they were Africans, and it says here that they were destined to be servants and to be slaves, and so that’s the sort of people and the sort of character that they are and we’re right to make them slaves.” That abominable interpretation has no exegetical or historical grounding. That’s not what this passage is about. It’s about the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman in conflict.

You notice there’s no mention of Noah fathering other sons and daughters. Back in chapter 5, when each of those men died, it would say “and they fathered other sons and daughters.” But here there’s no mention of that because God wants us to be absolutely clear, the entire human race came from Noah and these three sons. There is no other unnamed sons or daughters somewhere, but everyone comes from these three lines, and in a spiritual sense, they represent the three families of the earth; those who are in a cursed relationship with God, those who are in a relationship of blessing, that’s Shem, and then this sort of mysterious, yet to be fully realized tribe or people of Japheth who are not with the cursed line of Ham and Canaan, and yet they’re not Shem, but they may enjoy the blessings by virtue of Shem. And we’ll see that at the very end.

So this is a story about Israel’s history, that they would say, “Aha, that’s why the Canaanites are the way they are, that’s why we, as their sins have multiplied over the centuries, must drive them out as we received the land that God has promised to us.”

Second, and more briefly, this is a story to tell us about humanity’s sin. So here’s the second curiosity, or aside, that makes me go, “Hmm, why is this here?”

You see in verse 20: Noah began to be a man of the soil.

Now why do you have to say that? Okay, you want to talk about him being drunk and so you want to back up and talk about wine and you have to say a vineyard; that makes sense. But why this out-of-the-way comment that Noah began to become a man of the soil?

Well, this is one of those instances where knowing the original language does show us something that we might not see just from the English. If you look back at Genesis 2, verse 7, at the creation of man, the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground. The Hebrew word there for ground is “adam, ha-adam,” the ground, because the name “Adam” as a formal name is the same Hebrew word for the ground, ha-adam, Adam from the adam.

Well, here in chapter 9, verse 20, it’s actually the same Hebrew word: Noah began to be a man, ish, ha-adama. He, too, is a man of adam. This out-of-the-way comment is another indication that we are meant to see that this Noah is like another Adam. Just as the first man was created ha-adama, so this Noah has become a keeper, a man, ha-adama. He, too, is a man of the ground, like Adam.

And as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks, there are all sorts of parallels between Adam and Noah. They each have three named sons. And after their father’s sin, conflict ensues among their sons. Adam’s sin was of eating, Noah’s sin was of drinking. Neither of them had learned how to responsibly enjoy God’s good gifts.

And there’s other verbal parallels I think we’re meant to see. Adam’s sin took place, it says, in the middle of the garden. The Hebrew word for “in the middle” there is “betok.” Here it says that Noah’s sin took place inside the tent. It’s the same Hebrew word, betok. In the middle of the garden, Adam ate what he shouldn’t have ate. In the middle of his tent, Noah drank more than he should have drunk.

Eve saw the fruit. Ham saw his father naked. The results of both seeings is a shameful nakedness. But notice a key difference. Adam, when he realized he had sinned and was naked, received mercifully clothing at the hand of God. Ham, when he saw his father in his state of sinful nakedness, did not give a garment to his father. That’s part of underlying, and underlining this sin that Ham has committed. He was supposed to be as God was to Adam. Here’s a man found naked in his sin, here is a covering, but Ham provided no covering. Instead he went and he told his brothers about the predicament his father was in and they had to provide a covering.

The woe that’s pronounced in Habakkuk 2:15 may have had Ham in mind: Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink; you pour out your wrath and make them drunk in order to gaze at their nakedness.

Now many commentators are puzzled by the juxtaposition and Noah at the beginning of the story and Noah at the end of the story. They say, wait a minute, this is Noah with great faith, this is Noah who does exactly as the Lord tells him, obedient Noah. Genesis 6:9 says that Noah was a righteous man, he was blameless in his generation, and he walked with God. Now how does that picture of Noah square with this Noah? Drunk, naked Noah, embarrassing himself and his family.

Well, that juxtaposition is very much the point. Because think of Adam. Was not he a righteous man? He had no sin nature to inherit. He was created by the very hand of God. He walked with God and that Adam fell.

And now we have Noah, a righteous man, saved by the hand of God. This Noah who was a beacon of faith among a wicked generation. This Noah, he fell, too. And notice he did not fall during the moment of his great temptation. He fell after the conflict with the world seemed to be over. Surely this is instructive for us.

Noah built an ark by faith, all those years, decades, maybe a hundred years, with the world watching on, mocking, “What are you doing with a boat, Noah? What, are you out of your mind?” And he did just as the Lord had commanded him and he sailed through the storm of God’s wrath and judgment. He proved to be the only man of integrity in all the earth.

But Noah wasn’t safe. He was safe from the flood, but he was not safe from his own sin. God had wiped clean the world, but the world was still in Noah.

Mark it very well: Satan may go hardest after you in the moment of rest, in the time of triumph, in the season after the storm, when you think “we did it, we made it, we arrived, we passed the test,” and then you get drunk and pass out, naked in your tent.

Because the problem is still there in the world. The problem is still there in Noah. The problem is still there in the human heart. That’s the lesson to be learned. Just like Adam sinned, even righteous Noah has another fall from grace for the peoples of the world. The problem is still there.

And yet as we’ve seen at the close of each of these sections, when it all seems to be dark and dismal, there is a glimmer of hope, and it has to do with this strange promise in verse 27: May God enlarge Japheth, you can see there that there’s a play on words, Japheth sounds like the Hebrew word for enlarge.

So good things for Japheth, let him dwell in the tents of Shem.

Well, who are the Japheth-ites? They’re the people who settle to the north and to the west of Israel, not their pagan immediate neighbors. We might think of them, to use the language that was centuries ahead, they’re Gentiles.

And this line of the Shem-ites are, to use the language to come, the Jews.

If you’re anti-Semitic, you’re anti-Jewish, because the Jewish people are Semitic, they are Shem-itic, that’s where you get the language. They’re from the line of Shem.

But the physical fulfillment of verse 27 never happened. There never was when the Japheth-ites physically were living in the tents of Shem. There was no alliance with them. They never dwelled to some kind of vassal state under some vast Jewish empire. It’s a spiritual promise. And most of you in this room are a fulfillment of it. If you are a Gentile, as most of us, and you’re a Christian, you are spiritually a Jephthah-ite dwelling in the tents of Shem, inheriting those blessings.

Now that’s not the only way to look at it. We’re going to see that by faith you can be a child of Abraham and in that sense one of the line of Shem. But here in this promise, what’s underscored, is there is yet hope for even this line of the Japheth-ites, that somehow God’s not done with them yet, either.

And so we see a fall and we see sin. We see darkness and depravity. We see the stink, stank, stunk of the human heart. There’s cursing, but there’s still blessing. And there’s hope, not in man. You can’t hope in Adam, not this Adam. You can’t hope in Noah, even righteous Noah.

But there’s hope in the promise of God that the Lord of Shem has not forsaken the Semites, and He’s not forsaken the Gentiles, either.

Perhaps that puts into a new light some of what we remember and celebrate at Christmas, that in the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, to come as a Jew, a descendent of Shem, but not only for the Shem-ites, but for all who come in faith and repentance that they might be grafted in and they might inherit the blessings that belong to the line of Shem.

Isaiah 9: “But there will be no gloom for her who is anguish. In the former time He brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time He has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

Let’s pray. Our gracious heavenly Father, we are too much like Noah, even after our moments of great spiritual triumph, we have, if not literally than spiritually, found ourselves drunk, naked, ashamed, in need of a covering, in need of a garment of mercy. And we thank You that You have not given us up to our own desires, but You have promised that though there is a line of cursing, there is a line of blessing, and by faith we, too, may enter that line and dwell in those tents and enjoy Your blessing. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.