The Prophecy of Noah's Three Son's; Gen. 9:18-29
We come to one of the most bizarre episodes in the Scriptures and one that raises a lot of questions, some of which we don't know the answer to. The first two verses, 18 & 19, give us an introduction to this conclusion, the epilogue of the fourth toledot in verses 18-29. "And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread." We already know who the sons of Noah are, according to Genesis 5:32; 6:10; 7:13, and they are always listed in this order—Shem, Ham and Japheth. We don't know if that is the birth order or if it is the priority. The suspicion is that it is the priority, not the age. Shem is in priority because he is the one who is blessed by the Lord because of his righteousness and positive volition. Shem is the father of the Semites. Noah just had these three sons and they are all born after he is 500 years of age. These three are believers and it is from these and their wives that the whole earth is populated. There is a shift here now from the focus on Noah and what God is doing in Noah, which has been the focus from 6:9 down through 9:17, to what happens with his three sons. This section functions as a transition from the ark episode to what happens to mankind after the flood. Is mankind going to be any better than he was before the flood? After the destruction of the earth through a world-wide flood you would think they would have a major positive volition towards God. But as we will see there is just as much a problem with sin and corruption after the flood as there was before the flood. So as we look at this we have to ask the question: Why is the author reminding us of who Shem, Ham and Japheth are? And it is because of the last sentence in verse 18, "and Ham was the father of Canaan." This is the shift. Twice we are going to be told in this section that Ham is the father of Canaan. So what is the emphasis? The emphasis is on Canaan, the youngest of Ham's sons. Ham has three sons, according to 10:6, and they are Cush, Mizraim, Phut and Canaan. We will see that these are the ancestors of various nations. Mizraim is Egypt and Canaan, of course, is the Canaanites. These two grandsons of Noah play a vital role in the history of Israel, but the focus isn't on the other sons, it is on Canaan.
As we get into this, this seems like some of those tawdry sexual episodes here. There are hints of sexual misconduct, of moral turpitude, and we need to ask why this is here. Why do we have this odd little story with this cursing and blessing statement given at this particular point in Genesis. It is because there is an emphasis here on Canaan. Twice in this section, in verse 18 and again in verse 22, we are told that Ham is the father of Canaan, and then after the episode where Noah gets drunk and lies naked in his tent—considered disgraceful—and Ham is ridiculing and disrespectful of his father. There are a lot of overtones there that we will look at, but when Noah wakes up and realizes that he has been treated in a shameful manner by Ham it is not Ham who he curses, it is Canaan who he curses. This section is not just some odd little episode put in here, it is setting the stage for what is going to happen in chapters 10 & 11, and ultimately what is going to happen in chapter 12. What the Holy Spirit is showing in the narrative is that things aren't any better after the flood than they were before the flood, despite the fact that there has been this incredible world-wide judgment. There is still the same problem: man's heart is deceitful and wicked above all things, and that it only takes a generation and the human race is as decadent and perverted as it was before the flood. And this plays itself out in the subsequent generations, specifically through the descendants of Ham. It then becomes necessary as we go through Genesis 10 and 11 and get to the episode of the tower of Babel that mankind is not positive, mankind is in rebellion against God, and God must, in order to execute His plan of salvation, focus on one segment of the human race. And all of this from this point through chapter 11 sets the stage for God calling out Abraham and working specifically through Abraham and his descendants in order to bring in the Messiah. So these chapters are a devastating critique of what happens in the human race. And if you are reading this when it was first written, who are you? You are a Jew. Remember, Moses wrote during the time of the wandering in the wilderness and he wrote it to provide a foundation—specifically Genesis, which was written as an introduction to the five books of the Pentateuch. We have to look at the Pentateuch as one literary structure and Genesis is the historical prelude to the Exodus. By the time Moses writes the law—the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament—the Jews are in the plains of Moab and are on the verge of invading Canaan. They are given orders by God to annihilate the entire population, man, woman, and child, including all of their animals. God is going to wipe out the Canaanite civilization, completely remove it from the face of the earth, right down to their livestock. One of the reasons He is doing that is to show the Jews that they don't require anything that is the result of the pagan civilization of the Canaanites. All of this goes back to what happens in Genesis 9:18-29. If you were a Jew sitting outside the land of Canaan reading this episode with Noah you would be seeing the foreshadowing of what was going to happen to the Canaanites in their ancestor Canaan. So this begins to set up the human race and what will take place during the period subsequent to the flood.
So the final episode sets a rather ominous tone for what is going to come up. Here all of a sudden we have Noah who is isolated because of his righteousness. He receives grace from God, he receives grace in the eyes of the Lord back in chapter 6, and all of a sudden in chapter 9 he is pictured as a fall-down drunk and involved in some sort of morally reprehensible episode. All of a sudden we are getting a different picture here of Noah than what we have had up to this point. So we need to ask what is going on here. Verses 18 & 19 introduce us to the shift from Noah to the sons, and this is what this is about—the descendants and how the descendants of Noah are just as corrupt morally due to the indwelling sin nature as the generations preceding the flood.
"These are the three sons of Noah: and from these three the whole earth was populated." The Hebrew verb here is naphatz and it means to scatter or to disperse, and it is not a niphal which is a passive form, it is a qal, which means it is supposed to be understood as an active voice. So what we have here is "the whole earth is dispersed." The author is using that terminology to take us back to Genesis 1, this is what is happening to the heavens and the earth. So the whole earth becomes dispersed from these three. This is the emphasis, that it is only these three who come off the ark, and their wives, that are then the progenitors of all of these people that are described in Genesis 10 and 11. They will be the ones to populate the entire earth, and what we see in this episode is that the virtues and vices of Noah's sons are going to be played out across the centuries in their descendants.
This really plays into a very contemporary argument that we have today. When we talk to people dealing with any kind of a problem from homosexuality to alcoholism and we get this nature versus nurture argument: nature being, well they are just born that way, it is their genetic predisposition, there's a homosexual gene or there is an alcohol gene, etc., so how can you hold them accountable for something that is their nature, it is just the way they are born; the nurture argument being, well this is the product of their environment. The Bible comes down on both sides. There is a nature aspect, there is a genetic predisposition. Canaan and his inclinations toward sexual perversion and deviancy is the ancestor to the Canaanites, and they display his genetic predisposition. But even though there are genetic predispositions that we all have to certain sins we are still responsible. We can still say no. We don't have to yield to those predispositions. The emphasis is still on volitional responsibility.
The event that causes all of this is then described in vv. 20-23, and it is described in somewhat abbreviated terms. It raises more questions than it answers actually. Verse 20, "And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard." The first word that appears in the Hebrew text is the word that is translated "began," the Hebrew verb chalal. This indicates the first time ever something is done. It also indicates the first time in a series—it may have been done before but now the series is starting over again. The reason for pointing that out is because as we get into this episode where Noah plants a vineyard and he obviously harvests the grape which is then made in to wine, a lot of time goes by. A lot of things aren't said here. All it says is that he plants a vineyard and then he drinks the wine. It skips over a lot of details. Furthermore, we are not told when this happened. Obviously it didn't happen right after he came off the ark; it took a while. Noah lived another 350 years after the flood.
Noah understands what is going on here. He just drinks too much wine and gets drunk. He goes into his tent and becomes uncovered in his tent. There is an important thing to notice before we go any further. What the author is showing us is the continued corruption of the human heart through indwelling sin. There is a parallel between what is said and the vocabulary that is used in this episode and that concerning the fall of Adam. First of all, there is a parallel between Adam and Noah in that they shared the same profession: they are workers of the soil. Adam was told that after fall the soil is going to bring forth thorns and thistles, and so there would be antagonism from the soil. And Noah is a worker of the soil, v. 20. Second, both episodes use the language of cursing and blessing. There is cursing and blessing here in vv. 24-28 and there is cursing and blessing in 3:14-17. Third, both episodes talk about the shame of nakedness. Prior to the fall the man and the woman are naked and are not ashamed, but as soon as the fall occurs they are ashamed and they run and hide and try to cover up their nakedness. Here there is the shame of Noah when he is drunk and he is lying naked in his tent. Fourth, Adam's sin causes strife in the family: Cain murders Abel. In this situation, Noah's transgression results in strife between the members of the family and there is conflict and family division. Furthermore, there are a number of Hebrew words that are used in both episodes. The tree of knowledge in the garden is said to be in the midst of the garden. Then we read that Noah, v. 21, is in the middle of his tent. The woman in Genesis chapter 3 saw the fruit, that it was good; Ham comes in and sees the nakedness of his father. The brothers don't see the nakedness of their father; they look the other way. Adam and Eve knew they were naked, Genesis 3:7; Noah awakens after his drunken stupor and he knows what his son, Ham, had done to him. God asks Adam and Eve who told them they were naked; Ham comes out after seeing his father and told his brothers about his father's nakedness. It can be seen that there is an intentional parallelism because of vocabulary and instances between both the Noah episode and the fall of Adam. The point is to show that the corruption that Adam created continues despite the judgment of the flood.
Verse 22, "And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without." That seems to be the thrust of what the text says is the problem. There is a certain amount of innuendo here when it says, v. 21, he became uncovered in his tent. In Leviticus chapters 18-20 the terminology "becoming uncovered" is often used as a euphemism for sexual perversion. This was a problem with the Canaanites. It is also used a couple of times in Genesis in a non-pejorative or non-critical manner. It appears that all Noah is guilty of here is getting drunk, stripping his clothes off, and lying there naked. In the ancient world nakedness was still clearly associated with the shame of sin, and that continues through many of the near eastern cultures, so it was considered immodest and immoral to show much flesh. Ham is emphasized as the father of Canaan. Ham is the one who is guilty of the act but it is his descendants through Canaan that is the issue. Ham sees the nakedness of his father and goes outside and tells his two brothers. There is a lot of guesswork as to what exactly Ham is guilty of. One view is that Ham wasn't guilty of anything and that is was actually Canaan who went in and committed the infraction; but that is not what the text says. Secondly, the phrase "saw the nakedness of his father" is taken by some to be a euphemism for some sort of sexual sin. There is certainly a negative sexual innuendo there. The Talmud took the view that Ham castrated Noah in an attempt to destroy his power. Others think that there was a sexual sin with Noah's wife, that Ham went in and committed incest. Others think there was some sort of homosexual act involves, that this is really a euphemism for sexual deviancy as it is used in Leviticus 18-20. Another reason some come to that conclusion is because of the wording in v. 24, that "Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him." But the verbiage "had done to him" doesn't mean that he had performed some sort of physical act, it can simply be that he had treated him with disrespect; and this is what is actually said in the text. The behavior that is contrasted in the passage itself is that Ham goes in and sees his father's nakedness and come out and ridicules him to his brothers, but his brothers take a garment, go into the room backward so they don't look upon their father's nakedness, and they cover their father. What is contrasted here is the attitude of respect, the attitude of the two brothers who are honoring their father and who have a sense of propriety, versus the other son who treats his father in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner.
Verse 25, "And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren." He uses the word arur here, which is the stronger of two words used in Hebrew for curse. It is only used one time before this, in Genesis 3:15. Canaan's descendants will be the worst of slaves. It is important to notice that he is not cursing Ham. It is Canaan who gets the curse. Ham receives neither blessing nor curse. Shem receives blessing and Japheth receives blessing. All of the other descendants of Ham include all of the Asian people, the African blacks, and most of the Oceanic islanders. Shem produces, most notably the Jews, some other groups, and Japheth produces the Indo-European races. Some people a couple of hundred years ago tried to say that this curse on Canaan was really a curse on black Africans and they used that to try to justify slavery; but they miss the point of the passage. The point of the passage has to do with Canaan and beginning to give justification for why the Jews have a right to go into the land of Canaan, to take it for themselves, and why God is justified in giving orders to destroy all of the Canaanites. So we have to keep our focus on the overall context of this episode in Genesis and in the overall Pentateuch.
Verse 26, "And he said, Blessed be the LORD [Yahweh] God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." Shem is positive to God, he emphasizes his own spiritual life, and he has a life of righteousness. So the blessing goes to Shem, and "Canaan shall be his slave"; and this is what happens in the conquest of Canaan.
Verse 27, "God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant." There is a blessing for Japheth and he is going to dwell in the tents of Shem. This is what happens eventually in history: the spiritual blessing going through the Jews in the Old Testament, and then there is a shift in the Church Age with the emphasis on the Gentiles. That plays itself in that God enlarges Japheth and Japheth is the father of Indo-European countries: Greeks, Romans, etc. The Greeks come to dwell in the tents of Shem in the Church Age when there is a shift from the Jewish emphasis to a Gentile emphasis. Once we get into the book of Acts we notice that all three of these representative groups are evidenced. There is the Ethiopian eunuch, the descendant of Ham, who is saved. There is Cornelius the Roman centurion, the Japhethite who is saved, and then there are the disciples who are all Semites.
This sets the stage for human history and as we get into chapters 10 and 11 and the descendants of these three we will see that this blessing and cursing of the three sons in chapter 9 sets a pattern and a framework for all of human history. There is blessing here for Japheth and there is no blessing at all for the Hamitic races. Historically there have only been a few times when the Hamitic races have ever defeated the Japhethic races, and in the few times they have defeated them militarily it has been for a very short period and then the Japhethic races come out on top. This is the pattern of history. It doesn't mean that there is any Arian superiority or anything of that nature, it is how God has planned to work out history.
Verses 28-29, the conclusion to this toledot section: "And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. And all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years: and he died."
Conclusion: What have we seen in this section?
1) It emphasizes judgment salvation: that there is judgment for sin but God provides deliverance. This is the primary spiritual lesson of the Noahic flood.
2) Grace precedes judgment. God gave grace to Noah and there were 120 years of a proclamation of the gospel before there was a judgment. This principle is true both personally and nationally.
3) The flood judgment foreshadows the future judgment of the earth. The flood is used in the New Testament as a type of the final judgment on the earth, which will be by fire.
4) It is also used to foreshadow the Rapture. Just as God delivered the eight from the tribulation of the flood, so God will deliver the Church from the seven-year Tribulation that is yet future.
5) It is also used in the New Testament as a type or picture of salvation and eternal security. The believer in the ark was saved from the devastation of God's judgment in the same way that believers who are in Christ are secure from eternal condemnation.
6) In 1 Peter 3:17, 18 there is a parallel of baptism with Noah that is drawn: the baptism with the Holy Spirit, indicating that those who were identified with Noah were saved just as those who are identified with Christ in the baptism of the Holy Spirit will also be saved.
7) This foreshadows Israel's history in terms of their righteousness under the law in contrast to the unrighteousness of the pagans and the Canaanites.
8) It further foreshadows history in that Ham's descendants, specifically Egypt and Babylon, will enslave Israel; but ultimately the greatest descendant of Shem, the Lord Jesus Christ, will bring them, as well as all nations, into subjugation during the Millennial kingdom—Psalm 87; Isaiah 19:19-25; 66:19-20.