A few years ago, a friend of mine planted a vineyard in the Negev desert. After the Flood, Noah planted a vineyard (Genesis 9:21). It is interesting that they did so because the vineyard features in various parts of Scripture. In Deuteronomy 20:6, planting a vineyard was parallel to building a house or marrying one’s betrothed. Then there is the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts in Isaiah 5:7. The vineyard is mentioned in The Song of Songs 1:6, 8:12; and again, where the vineyard is a place of hope, growth and beauty (7:12). In the New Testament, Jesus is the true vine (John 15:1); we eat and drink of Him (John 6:53). Wine also has its own special place in religious celebrations. After Noah sampled the produce of his labours, he became drunk and fell asleep. Ham did something to him that caused Noah to curse his son, and shape the future of that particular family line. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil (עֵץ הַדַּעַת טוֹב וָרָע) and the Tree of Life, are two specific trees in the story of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2–3). In Jewish teaching the Tree of Knowledge is considered by some to be a grapevine, suggesting we have echoes of Eden in the story of Noah. According to this interpretation, Adam ate from the grapevine, showing that nothing but trouble comes upon a person taking wine. Whether or not it was a grapevine, Adam, and perhaps Noah, slipped into error by the fruit of a tree. There are other similarities to Eden. Noah’s humiliation is described gradually, as he first drank from the wine, then he became drunk, and finally he lay uncovered in his tent. Perhaps astonishingly to us, there are positive aspects such as that found in Judges 9:13, or Psalm 104:15. With drunkenness itself there are surprising positives found in Scripture – Proverbs 31:6-7 for instance. On the other hand, the prophet Habakkuk speaks strongly against drunkenness that leads to nakedness (Habakkuk 2:15), though the “woe” there is to the one who gives the drink, and the reason for giving – “Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbours, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze upon their naked bodies!” This was speaking about the Babylonian’s inhumanity to their neighbouring nations; and how Babylon deceived its neighbours with alcohol. It is described as venom in some versions speaking of anger and rage. Babylon was motivated by anger, and their intention was to deceive and control the surrounding nations. Scripture describes Babylon in terms of a wicked person that gets a woman drunk in order to take sexual advantage of her. Babylon took immoral advantage of its neighbours to look on their nakedness (“naked sexual parts” – Genesis 9:20-22. See Revelation 14:8; 18:3; also Revelation 14:18-20). We will understand the significance of this as we continue through our study.
Noah became the victim of an act of violation at the hands of his son, Ham (Genesis 9:22). When Noah woke up (Genesis 9:23) “he knew what his younger son had done to him.” The implication is that something had been done to Noah. The verb “saw” can be read in a literal sense and perhaps should be, but there is the possibility that it might rather hint at some kind of action. There is the example of seeing in Leviticus 20:17: “If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and he sees her nakedness, and she his nakedness, it is a shameful thing…” It is looking with unclean intent. Two of Judaism’s commentators, Rav and Shmuel, both suggest that “he saw” is just a euphemism for some kind of sexual corruption. Did Ham have a hand in encouraging his father’s drunkenness, with the intention of assaulting him? Was this part of Ham’s inhumanity to Noah? A view was put forward that the Bible narrative itself included what actually was done to Noah, but that subsequently the account was abridged. It may be that the original tradition from which the narrative emanated described a much more sordid act than that described. The primary sin of Ham was his transgression against sexual morality. The disrespect shown to his father was an aggravation of the wrong.
Biblical focus moves from Noah, to his sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. As Noah’s sons are being fruitful and spreading throughout the earth (Genesis 9:18-19), the recording of Canaan’s name is a pre-warning and foreshadowing for the Israelites, and for us, of the calamity to come. Noah’s activity in the narrative is there to show us which of his sons are blessed, and which is cursed, why this came about, and the sons’ reactions to their father’s naked condition.
To see or not to see
Noah drinks of the vine and becomes drunk; his eyes are closed and he becomes naked. Adam and Eve were naked, and ate from the Tree. Their eyes were opened and they realised that they were naked (Genesis 3:7). Eve sees that the fruit of the Tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye (Genesis 3:6). It was Ham’s sight, not Noah’s, that led him to sin – “…Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness” (Genesis 9:22). For seeing and behaving as he did, Ham is confronted by Noah, not God, and is fiercely cursed by Noah, “Cursed be Canaan” (Genesis 9:25). In Eden, the ground was cursed by God because of sin. In Eden, God covered Adam and Eve’s nakedness (Genesis 3:21). It was Shem not God that covered Noah’s nakedness. Noah is lying naked and clueless in his tent when, Shem and Japheth enter and cover their father with a garment (Genesis 9:23). Later, when Noah wakes up and discovers what happened, he blessed the Lord God, the God of Shem that God will one day dwell within his tents (Genesis 9:24-27). Some interpret this as Japheth being the subject and that he would dwell in the tents of Shem. The subject in “let him dwell”, uses the verb shakhen, which is usually associated with God, the Shekhina, the Divine Presence. God will expand and bless Japheth, but He will actually dwell, or tabernacle, among the tents of Shem. Not only was the Lord God of Shem singled out, but so was Shem. God would take up His residence and abide/tabernacle with Shem. Delicate wordplay joins Shem’s blessing with Japheth’s blessing: “Blessed is the Lord, God of Shem ((Elohei Shem) …May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem (ahalei Shem), therefore tying the two blessings together so that Shem is blessed yet again in Noah’s blessing to Japheth. In verse 27 the name Elōhīm [God] occurs. In verse 26, it is the personal name of YHWH that is used in connection with Shem.
Shem –Progenitor of the Semitic People
In covering his father, Shem had emulated God covering Adam and Eve’s nakedness. The Jews would come from Shem; Israel would come from Shem; and ultimately the Messiah and Saviour of the world would come from Shem. At the end of the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:36, Jesus is said to be a descendant of Shem. In Genesis 9:26, God is the God of Shem, as well as being later in Scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ham on the other hand shamed his father. The earth had been cleansed by rain and Flood, but as with Judas, sin still reigned in a heart that was not surrendered to God. Ham was described as the father of Canaan (Genesis 9:18), and in verse 22 we have “And Ham, the father of Canaan.” It was Canaan that suffered the force of Noah’s curse in verse 25, “Cursed be Canaan!” Ham is characterized as being sexually perverse, and a figure whose corruption will pollute the culture of his descendants, and Canaan in particular. Canaan is cursed because he follows in the footsteps of his corrupt and perverse father, Ham. What this section does do, is to introduce us to the dispersal of the nations. Canaan is unequalled in importance to Biblical history. Under God’s hand, Shem’s seed, Abraham would inherit the land of Canaan in the future. In the Bible, Canaan epitomizes sexual corruption, particularly incest. Instructing the people of Israel, God says, “You shall not copy the practices of the land of Egypt where you dwelt, or of the land of Canaan to which I am taking you, nor shall you follow their customs” (Leviticus 18:3). Two of the sons of Ham are in fact held up as a warning for Israel – Egypt (Genesis 10:6) and his younger brother Canaan. The Canaanites were expelled from their land because of their sexually perverted culture (Leviticus 18:27-28).
The emphasis on Canaan anticipates the future focus on the land of Canaan. The geographical borders of Canaan’s territory, are described thus: “The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon toward Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha” (Genesis 10:19). The description of where Noah’s other children live is much less detailed. The particular focus is because Canaan is to be Israel’s future land. In the Tower of Babel narrative there is very little clear focus on Canaan, but the names and places mentioned do hint to its connection with the descendants of Ham.
There are ten generations between Adam and Noah, and there are ten generations between Noah and Abraham. In Judaism, a Mishna in Avot 5:2 gives the notion that there are ten generations in each section:
“The generations from Adam to Noah, to let you know how slow God is to anger: throughout the generations they increasingly provoked Him, until He brought the Flood upon them. Ten generations from Noah to Abraham, to let you know how slow God is to anger: throughout the generations they increasingly provoked Him, until Abraham came and received all the reward which could have been theirs.”
Abraham is in fact the tenth generation after Shem, not Noah. Noah reminds me here of John the Baptist in the New Testament, who in a sense connected with the old and the new. Noah marks the end of the first ten generations. His sons begin the second set of ten generations that conclude in the birth of Abraham.
The narrative of nations’ dispersal that we were looking at earlier is revealed in two stages. First of all, Shem is chosen and Ham is rejected. Later on, Abraham is chosen out of Shem’s descendants, and Abraham is chosen to call upon the name of the Lord.
Blessings and Shalom