“Blessed” is a term that we hear a lot in our culture. But it’s kind of like the word “love” in that it doesn’t really have its original, biblical meaning when people use it. We’re going to reclaim the word “blessing” today along with its opposite – “curse.” Understanding these terms and seeing how they work themselves out in Scripture will help us understand God’s Word, reality and our lives.
It’s helpful to remember that the original audience for Genesis 9:18-29 was God’s ancient people Israel. They were about to conquer the Promised Land, and had the same questions we have in facing something that’s daunting: “Is God for me? What guarantee do I have that He won’t let something horrible happen to me?”
Noah Gets Drunk
Our passage today takes place just after the Flood and God’s promise to never flood the world again.
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.
– vv. 18-21
This is the first mention of wine in Scripture. Throughout the Bible, wine is not referred to as an evil in itself, but right from the start we see how dangerous it is. A little side lesson here: we need to beware of alcohol – it’s dangerous. If even righteous Noah fell into drunkenness, we can too, and we need to be careful.
Nakedness Is Not to Be Taken Lightly
The passage goes on in verse 22:
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.
It wasn’t like Ham happened to glimpse his father’s nakedness and looked away. The language here indicates a searching, voyeuristic type of looking. And he wasn’t looking at his father, he was looking at “the nakedness of his father.”
Looking at someone’s nakedness is a serious thing. It is not okay to purposely violate someone’s privacy and dignity by looking at their nakedness. As Christians in a culture that openly embraces pornography, we cannot take this lightly.
If you are in the grip of pornography, know that in Jesus Christ are the resources of grace, mercy and spiritual strength to overcome it. (And to help you, we have a really practical blog series on “How to Fight Pornography.”)
We Should Preserve the Dignity of Others
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.
– v. 23
Here’s a lesson on how to honor and preserve the dignity of our parents when they are in sin. Ham’s brothers bent over backwards to cover up their father’s nakedness.
As Christians, we need to do whatever we can to preserve the dignity of others when they are exposed. That’s one reason why we look away from immodestly dressed people. This is why we make policies to ensure that kids at our church are protected from being violated. It’s also why we’re careful about what we view. We don’t want to be just like the world and casually view nakedness in our entertainment, supporting the degradation of so many people.
This isn’t the main point of our passage, but it’s important for us to know that we can and should talk about these things.
Noah’s Curse & Blessing
The real climax of the passage comes next:
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.”
– v. 24
Noah pronounced a curse on Canaan, the son of Ham. To curse someone is to state, predict, hope and even affect bad upon someone biblically. This is what Noah did to his grandson, and he also went on to bless Shem and Japheth.
“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.”
– vv. 26-27
Just as Noah cursed Ham’s lineage, he also stated, predicted, hoped and affected good upon Shem and Japheth. And the chapter ends by saying that Noah lived 350 more years and died at 950 (vv. 28-29).
How did these curses and blessings work out in history?
Japheth’s descendants were people who settled in places like Greece and Rome, whom the New Testament calls “Gentiles.” From Ham came all the nations that were problematic to the Israelites: the Egyptians, Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. And finally from Shem’s lineage came Abraham, the Israelites and eventually Jesus.
What These Curses & Blessings Mean for Us
So, put yourself back into Israel’s shoes. You’re about to fight against the Canaanites and you’re wondering, “Is God going to come through?” But here in Genesis you get one more reason to believe: God has set the Israelites apart for His blessing and the Canaanites apart for cursing.
However, we’re not about to conquer the Promised Land, though – so how does this apply to us? Mainly what this passage gives to us is a biblical way of looking at reality through the lens of curses and blessings.
The New Testament teaches that everyone who tries to be righteous on their own is under a curse. However, the good news of Christianity is that Jesus (that long-awaited descendant of Shem) redeems cursed people. Galatians 3:13-14 says that everyone who trusts in God is removed from the curse and set apart for blessings. If you think that you can be made right with God through religious activity, you’re wrong.
As people who trust in Jesus, we can have courage that we are set apart for God’s blessings. So when we have to face that brain surgery or deal with difficult issues with our kids or whatever the daunting situation is, we can look back to Scripture and remember and trust in what’s true.
What can we learn about drunkenness from this passage?
How does the Bible view nakedness?
What are specific steps we can take to avoid pornographic material?
How did the curse of Canaan and the blessings of Shem and Japheth play out in history?
What do these curses and blessing mean for us according to Galatians 3:13-14?