The Unchangeable God Part 3 (Gen. 9:18-29)
The Flood is over. The water has subsided and the ground is dry, and all existing life has come out of the ark. Those who rejected God were dead. And now there is a new beginning; a fresh new day dawning for the eight people who make up the entire human race. We said upon coming out of the Ark, Noah and his family needed some reassurance; some things they needed to know about God for sure. It was then that God comes to the new family and presents Himself as the God of Covenant; as the One who makes promises and keeps them; the Unchangeable God. So we learned a few lessons:
I. God will never be defeated by sin (Gen. 8:20-22)
The first thing we learn about God post-flood is that He is gracious and merciful; that there was more mercy in His heart than sin in man’s. Secondly,
II. God will always value life (Gen. 9:1-7)
So far man has had a bad record of taking care of his own people, so God reestablishes the value system again and commands man again, like He did with Adam, out of His blessing, to spread the world with His glory and value life. Then last time, we saw:
III. God will always keep His promises (Gen. 9:8-17)
God then explains the Covenant He has made with Noah. This covenant was given as God’s promise never to destroy the world with a flood again. Not because man did not deserve it, but because God is gracious and merciful. We saw the Covenant was confirmed with a sign, the rainbow. The word for rainbow was the same Hebrew word for a weapon. In using this word picture God is saying that He has hung up His bow. The symbol of death was now a symbol of peace. The Noahic Covenant was a faint picture of the New Covenant. In the New Covenant, God shot His bow into the heart of His Son, so we can rest in His grace and mercy. Even greater is the fact that in the New Covenant, we not only get God’s promises, we get the Promise-maker Himself in Christ!
At this point, if I were Moses, I would stop writing at the end of mentioning the Covenant. In fact, if I was directing this as a movie, I would have Noah and his family put their arms around each other’s shoulders and stare at the rainbow, while the camera pans out slowly and fades into black. Beautiful rainbow. God keeps His promises. Everyone’s happy. The end. Isn’t that where all the children’s books end? Children color up to this page. But the Bible is real. It does not sugarcoat anything. We have real people, but fallen people. And we read how it really was.
Moses now adds this postscript about what happened between Noah and his sons. Why does Moses include this? As we conclude this story, we see one more unchangeable thing about God. Though God will never be defeated by sin and though He does value life and God does keep His promises, we must not forget that at the same time:
IV. God will always take sin seriously (Gen. 9:18-29)
Notice the mention of Ham being the father of Canaan twice (v.18, 22). Notice also the mention of the person of Canaan repeated three other times (v.25-27). This passage has some direct link to Ham’s son, Canaan. What could it be? Well, remember that the children of Israel are about to enter the Promised Land, which were possessed at the time by…the Canaanites! The Canaanites lived in the land and here Moses is warning the people of the dangers of co-habiting with the Canaanites by showing Israel the origin of their corrupt ways. This is why God wanted Israel to destroy them because of their sin (Deut. 7:1-5).
In fact, the Canaanites were known to be the most sexually perverted, morally depraved, and bloodthirsty peoples of all ancient history. They were known to do things that would make a modern pornographer look like an amateur. Cities in Canaan included Gezer, Megiddo, Jericho, Sodom, Gomorrah, and Jerusalem (any of these sound familiar?). So Moses shows us yet again (remember Adam and Eve, Cain, demonic invasion that came from compromise in Gen. 6?) how the smallest beginnings of sin can have such huge ramifications.
Here we see some lessons about sin:
a) No one is immune to sin (vv.18-21)
From the rainbows, we go to the shadows. Well, it started out encouraging. In Gen. 9:19, Moses hints toward the scattering of people, which sounds like they kept to the mandate to be fruitful and multiply. This is also looking ahead to the Tower of Babel incident coming up in Gen. 11.
Moses goes out of his way to show parallels between the Flood and Creation, but also of Adam, Cain and Noah, who seems to be the new Adam. Notice the similarities between the earlier chapters of Genesis and this story:
|Earlier in Genesis||Gen. 9:20-29|
|Adam, a gardener (2:15), Cain, “a worker of the ground” (4:2)||Noah, planter of vineyard (9:20)|
|Eve “saw” (3:6), sons of God “saw” (6:2)||Ham “saw” (9:22), the brothers “did not see” (9:23)|
|Fruit (3:6; 4:3)||Noah used grapes to make wine (9:20-21)|
|Adam and Eve “knew” (3:7), Cain did not “know” (4:9)||Noah “knew” (9:24)|
|God asked who “told” (3:11)||Ham “told” (9:23)|
|Nakedness (3:7, 10-11)||Nakedness (9:22-23)|
|Clothed nakedness (3:21)||Covered nakedness (9:23)|
|Curse (3:14,17,4:11; 5:29)||Curse (9:25)|
|Blessing (1:8, 5:2)||Blessing (9:26)|
|Adam=Three main sons||Noah=Three sons|
|Adam’s sin=> family conflict/murder (4:8)||Noah’s sin=>family conflict/slavery (9:25-26)|
What is Moses saying here? One commentator explains this as telling us that “Noah is the second Adam both as recipient of divine blessing and as father of a corrupt seed.” The seed of the woman is alive, but now through these choices, we will see how the seed of the serpent also lives on. Noah will fail. He will not be the one who will crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). Notice how his story ends in Gen. 9. He dies like everyone else. Lamech, his dad, had hope as well (Gen. 5:29). As amazing a man of God as Noah was, he is not qualified to be the Redeemer. As a result, we see now that though “there were new relationships, new assurances, and a new order to things in the world; but there remained the same old human heart.” And who will save us from this same old human heart?
Some translations seem to imply in Gen. 9:20 that Noah was the first person to invent viticulture (study of grapes) and viniculture (study of making wine from grapes). However, it is not clear this was the intended meaning. More likely, Moses is just telling us the first things that happened right after the Flood. Noah began working the ground and it took time to plant it. After planting his vineyard, Noah had to wait until the grapes were ready for fruit bearing, which usually takes three to five years. He then had to harvest a crop, gather it, and extract the juice from the grapes. Finally, he had to allow the grape juice time to ferment into wine. There was probably rain as well he had to depend on and I’m sure initially they must have been frightened when it did rain again (because of what happened last time), but then they may have seen the rainbow and remembered how faithful God was to them.
This is great. We have a vineyard that resembles paradise, the Garden. The ground is fruitful again. We have a new Adam in Noah, doing what Adam used to do. Noah is one who walks with God, perhaps all 600 years of his life. Noah had worked for God in the midst of a godless world. He was an image-bearer of God. Noah was someone who waited for God. Noah worshipped God. Noah got a covenant from God. Noah got a sign of the covenant from God. Grace filled his life. Nice story!
But look at Gen. 9:21: “He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.” Wait, what? How did this happen? Some scholars cannot believe this happened, so they argue someone added this later. I don’t think so. Take note: the best of men are men at best. Past godliness does not guarantee future godliness. No one is immune to sin, even if you walked with God over 600 years. Our past walk with God does not provide power for future victory if we neglect our relationship with God. Noah is the new Adam, but has the same heart as Adam. Talk about having an embarrassing moment!
We may have thought that as we get older, we should have learned how to avoid sin. You may have thought perhaps for Noah, around age 200 or so, he should have developed an intolerance or immunity toward sin. Not true. Neither age nor maturity provides protection from sin. Noah needed grace at age 601 (or whatever age he is here) as he did at any other moment, even every moment to build the ark. He needed grace for all moments of his life like the old hymn, “I need thee every hour.”
When do you need to guard our walk with God the most? I would say one would be when the pressure’s off. Pastor Stephen Cole notes, “When he was surrounded by wicked- ness, Noah lived righteously. But when the storm was over and he and his family were the only ones on earth, Noah fell into sin. When the pressure is off, our guard comes down. Constant vigilance is the price of victory over sin. Those who live righteously before God know their own propensity toward sin and live in constant dependence upon the Lord.”
Wait a minute, aren’t we supposed to become more like Jesus as we get older and mature in the faith? Absolutely. But what does it mean to be more like Jesus? Listen to John 5:19 (NLT): “19So Jesus explained, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing. Whatever the Father does, the Son also does.” And in He also says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3).
What is He saying? He is saying becoming more like Jesus is becoming child-like (not childish). This goes counter to our thinking. Everything in us says we can rely on ourselves for everything. Everything in us says not to depend on anyone. But that is counter to the gospel. One author adds, “One reason why we struggle so much with the Christian life as Christians is that we think that growing up in the faith involves becoming less dependent on God, that if I were really mature, I wouldn't be such a mess and so needy for Jesus. But in reality precisely the opposite is true. In God’s economy, we age backward. As you mature as a Christian, you become more like a child, not less. You’re born an ‘adult,’ so to speak – relying on your own goodness and power and wisdom and strength to gain acceptance with God; it’s your natural inclination. But when you’re born again, you start aging backwards. As you mature, you become more like a child.”
How are you aging? As you are getting older, are you becoming more child-like or more like an adult? Paul Miller, in his book A Praying Life says, “When Jesus tells us to become like little children, he isn’t telling us to do anything he isn’t already doing. Jesus is, without question, the most dependent human being who ever lived…[And] he is inviting us into his life of living dependence on his heavenly Father. When Jesus tells us to believe, he isn’t asking us to work up some spiritual energy. He’s telling us to realize that, like him, we don’t have the resources to do life...To become more like Jesus is to feel increasingly unable to do life, increasingly wary of your heart. Paradoxically, you get holier while you are feeling less holy. The very thing you were trying to escape – your inability – opens the door to…grace.” So, do not be embarrassed, Miller would say, of how needy your heart is. The criteria for coming to Jesus in the first place is weariness and neediness (Matt. 11:28).
This is why on the cross, the biggest agony Jesus felt was being separated from His Father, losing that ongoing child-like communion, which He lost, so that we can enjoy it today. Jesus became an orphan, so we can be adopted. I am naturally allergic to helplessness, so I need to come to the cross. There I see my great need. There I am cut down to size. There I see I am a helpless child, even unable to walk toward Him. It is there I start and there I must stay, as I get older. No one is immune to sin. The question is are we growing in helplessness? In neediness? Are we growing into a child, aging backward, helpless and dependent on the Father?
Let’s look at what happens here. Noah has a bad day. Noah gets drunk, strips himself naked and passes out in his tent. Now, it is not a sin to drink wine or alcohol. It is not a sin to sleep naked (and that’s all I’m going to say about that). But it is a sin to get drunk (Eph. 5:18) and getting drunk leads to you into other sin. The Bible is clear about that. The Hebrew indicates Noah “exposed himself.” This was all on Noah, not something that accidentally happened to him. Perhaps “the biblical writer is simply saying that too much wine reduces a normally rational being to a buffoon.”
Nevertheless, the author does not spend too much time on Noah’s sin of drunkenness, which led to his immodesty, which led others into sin. Let’s take note:
b) We never sin alone (v.22)
As Keith Krell says, “When we fall, we usually take someone else with us. Remember those three-legged races at picnics? When you fall down, your partner does too—there’s no such thing as sinning alone.” And sadly it is the people closest to us that get hurt. And along those lines, be aware not to let other’s sin trigger sin in us. Someone treats me with a self-centered attitude and what do I do? I treat them the same way. Sin can cause a chain reaction, so in Christ, we can surrender at any moment in the chain to the Chain Breaker!
Notice that Noah’s sin is private, but Ham’s sin is a public ridicule of Noah’s private sin. This makes his sin more disgraceful and his guilt more culpable. The focus here is on Ham and his son. Ham was at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the text says Ham “saw,” It was not an accidental shock (how one immediately covers eyes to nudity, especially if it was your parents). It was not a glance. It was a gaze. Krell adds, “The verb “saw” has such force that some say it means ‘he gazed with satisfaction.’”
Now some people have said that Ham had some kind of homosexual encounter here, but there is nothing in the text that suggests that here. Besides, the “text would have said that Ham uncovered his father’s nakedness (that is the idiom used in Lev 18). But the text says that Noah “uncovered himself” (a reflexive form of the verb, 9:21) and Ham saw him that way.” I am thankful Moses does not give us the details here because to do so would be to perpetuate the sin of Ham all over again. Unfortunately, Hollywood would probably love to show us the details in 3D and HD.
Ham is not a child here. He is a full-grown man, probably at least 100 years old. So he disrespectfully looks at his father without any desire to help him and to make matters worse, he told his brothers, perhaps amusingly. The word “told,” means “to boldly announce with delight.” Ham gloated over his father’s shame. His heart was intent on mocking his father and undermining his authority as a man of God. You can almost picture him flippantly going to his brothers with something like, “Hey guys, you wanna see something hilarious?” This begs the question: How do we react when we others give in to sin? Take note here also:
c) How we respond to sin in others reveals how we see sin (vv.22-23)
We can tell a lot about our character by how we respond to the sins of others. How do we respond to the failings of others? Is it with delight? Is it with a sense of superiority? Are we ready to spread it to others? Do we gloat over their fall or grieve? Do we realize how easily we can fall? (1 Cor. 10:12). Do we realize that we are simply, apart from the grace of God, one decision away from destroying all that the Lord has built up in our lives?
How did the other two brothers respond? By the way, I think Ham is a believer here, just like Noah, and like Noah, we do reap what we sow (Gal. 6:7). And we always reap more than how much we sow. However, notice what Shem and Japheth here. Moses goes out of his way to let us know that they were radical in avoiding sin. They are shocked and ashamed this has happened and they are doing their best to help cover their father. Love covers a multitude of sins right? (1 Pet. 4:8). In covering the father’s nakedness, Shem and Japheth act like God who covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:21). In delighting and exulting in nakedness, Ham acts more like Satan, who rejoices in our falleness.
We might think, what is the big deal? So a son saw his dad naked. True, that can be traumatizing for anyone, but why have a big hoopla over this? I think that thinking itself indicts us. Why aren’t we more like Shem and Japheth? And the reason is as one author noted, “We are a part of a society that senses no shame and no shock at moral and sexual indecency. Virtually every kind of sexual intimacy is portrayed upon the movie and television screen. Even abnormal and perverted conduct has become routine to us. Without any sense of indecency the most intimate and private items are advertised before us and our children.” And we, like Ham, find humor and amusement in sin, instead of being appalled by it. Look at all the stuff we allow into our homes through a sewer line called the television. We become callous to sin because we get used to it. If you hang out in the sewer long enough, you forget you smell like sewage because you get used to it. We are living among the Canaanites and becoming more like them when we are more callous toward sin. Lord, give us such a tender and sensitive heart toward sin! Lastly:
d) God Himself promises to take care of our sin (vv.24-29)
Now Noah wakes up in Gen. 9:24. We don’t really know if he felt remorse or repentance or if he remembered the Covenant, but the text fast forwards to a prophecy that he makes in Gen. 9:25-27. His two other sons may have sadly told him what happened. On the surface this may sound unfair. Why does Canaan, the son of Ham, get cursed and not Ham? First of all, God cannot curse Ham because Ham is a believer (he escaped the flood) and God’s blessing was on him (Gen. 9:1). Who does God curse? Only those who reject Him. I think what we have here is the first unbeliever in the family since the Flood. By the way, Ham had three other sons as well (Cush, Egypt and Put; Gen. 10:6), but nothing is said of them. Canaan in rejecting God has chosen the side of the seed of the serpent and has thus become cursed.
Secondly, Noah is not placing some magic or voodoo on Canaan here, but he receives a prophecy from God that this group, called the Canaanites, will have God’s curse on them because they have rejected God, just like their ancestor Canaan. God forgave Noah (and Ham), but Noah and his son would have to live the rest of his life knowing that their choices did have consequences, as it will affect the coming generations. Remember again that Moses’ audience is the people of Israel, who are about to go into the land of Canaan. Moses is alerting them not to intermarry and give their hearts over to them because that is joining in to be part of the seed of the serpent and bringing a curse on themselves.
This brings us to the question of generational sin. Are there sins that are passed on through our parents and ancestors blood? There are a couple of verses that seem to indicate that there is sin passed on from generation to generation (Ex. 20:5 for example). Now I think it depends on what you mean. If you mean that there are sins that you possibly cannot avoid because it is in your blood to do it (since your grandfather and father did it) and now this “curse” is on you, I am not sure if that is the case. If you are using it to justify sinful behavior, I don’t God allows for that. There are far more verses that call for personal accountability (Deut. 24:16, Eze. 18:20) and repentance. So I like the term generational consequences. There can be strongholds in people’s lives that come as a result of our exposure to our parents letting things into their lives. However, as believers we cannot be cursed. Jesus was cursed for us (Gal. 3:13), so all curses are broken in Him and we can receive all blessings in Christ (Eph. 1:3).
So what you have here after the Flood are two groups: the seed of the serpent, represented now by Canaan and Shem and Japheth, who represent the seed of the woman. The battle continues! This does not mean Canaanites can never become saved. In fact, Rahab is a Canaanite, who joins the people of God later (Josh. 2). Amazingly, Christ comes from the line of Rahab (Matt. 1:5). Christ has Canaanite blood in Him! However, the Canaanites will become the enemies of God’s people and end up in slavery. In addition, Ham’s descendants include some of Israel’s most bitter enemies? Like Egypt, Philistia, Assyria and Babylon? (Gen. 10:6-14).
By the time you finish reading this section, you are left with a longing for deliverance from sin. Sin was not drowned in the Flood. Sin is up and walking around, alive and well. Sin came out of the ark with the eight people. And God will always be serious about sin. He takes it very seriously because it destroys God’s desire to bless His people. Sin withholds the good things from God (Jer. 5:25). Sin is suicide. Sin is the abandonment of joy. So as we end this story, we are left longing. We are left longing for God to do something about our hearts. God can create new worlds, but can He create new hearts, redeemed hearts that hate sin and love Him?
There is longing, but God also promises hope. Notice in Gen. 9:26-27 the blessing given to Shem and Japheth. God is saying here that in the course of history, the Jews will come from the line of Shem. And from the Semitic line, Jesus will come, through whom the entire human race can be blessed. Noah did not know this, but God Himself will take care of sin by becoming a Semite. Notice Japheth, who is promised, extended territory, to find blessing in “the tents of Shem.” This is the idea of close fellowship. The people of Japheth in history are the Gentiles of the world. God is saying as early as Gen. 9, that “in the course of history, salvation would come through a Semite—Jesus. Then an abundance of Gentiles would come to salvation through a Jewish Savior…The Gospel would come through a Semitic Savior, and when He came salvation would be for all people everywhere.” As Francis Schaeffer adds, “…the Semitic people will be the channel — the cradle, as it were — the conduit out of which the whole of mankind will have a blessing.” And the seed of the woman will come through the Semitic people who will one day crush the head of the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15; thus we have the language of servitude and slavery from the line of the Caanan).
As we conclude here, we must end again at the feet of Jesus Christ and the cross. That is where we see how serious God is about our sin. It is interesting that in Scripture, wine is described as both a positive and negative thing. Isaiah says we will drink really good wine in the Kingdom (Is. 25:6) and Jesus Himself turned water into wine as His first miracle, as a foretaste of what’s to come (John 2:1-12). But then in Revelation, we read about the “winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19) to come in the end toward all those who rejected Him. So either people will drink sweet wine in His Kingdom or drink the bitter wine of His judgment.
As I meditated on Noah and his drunkenness and nakedness, it made me think of the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus says, “Remove this cup from me, but nevertheless not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). What was happening there? God started pouring out His wrath for our sins onto Christ. It was as if God was making Him drink all of the wine of His wrath. He had to drink all of it. And then on the cross, do you know that the Romans were all about public humiliation, so they crucified their criminals completely nude? Most pictures/paintings we see of Christ has him wearing a loin cloth, but early records indicate that not to be so.
Jesus drinks all of the wine of God’s wrath to the last drop. Jesus is exposed before the world in complete humiliation. We all have embarrassing moments, but our most embarrassing moment was there. He took our guilt and shame. Christ was exposed for our sin. Noah had somebody to clothe him. Christ was stripped bare. Christ became a curse. Christ became an orphan from His Father. But in being exposed for our sin and stripped bare, today we can be robed in His righteousness. In becoming a curse for us, today we can have all blessing. In becoming an orphan for us, we can be adopted into God’s family. In drinking the horrible wine of God’s wrath for us, we can drink the sweet wine in His Kingdom. Worship this Savior today! Come like a child at His feet in helpless dependence. Believe His love for you is undying. A God who went to this many great lengths for you is surely never going to leave you nor forsake you. God is so serious about sin, that He Himself decided to die for it, so we can live with Him forever!
Willmington, H. L. (1997). Willmington's Bible Handbook (862). Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.
Mathews, K. A. (414-415).
Mathews, K. A. (415).
Krell, Keith. “The Rest of the Story,” http://bible.org/seriespage/rest-story-genesis-918-29#P62_16489 accessed 18 November 2011.
Cole, Stephen. “A Good Man’s Sin,” http://www.fcfonline.org/content/1/sermons/050596M.pdf accessed 18 November 2011.
Glenn, R.W. From the blog Red Meat for the Soul. “Aging Backward,” http://www.solidfoodmedia.com/blog/aging_backward accessed 19 November 2011.
As quoted in Ibid.
Waltke, B. (2001). Genesis: A Commentary (148). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis. Chapters 1-17. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (322). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Krell, Keith. “The Rest of the Story,” http://bible.org/seriespage/rest-story-genesis-918-29#P62_16489 accessed 1 December 2011.
Ross, A., & John Oswalt. (2008). Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol.1: Genesis, Exodus (81). Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
Deffinbaugh, B. “The Nakedness of Noah and the Cursing of Canaan,” http://bible.org/seriespage/nakedness-noah-and-cursing-canaan-genesis-918-1032 accessed 2 December 2011.
Schaeffer, F. A. (1996). The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview. “Genesis in Space and Time,” Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books.