When God writes the story, He knows everything about everybody and always tells the truth, and He does it for our own good.
The history of Noah and his family now moves from rainbows to shadows, and we behold the shameful sins of a great man of faith.
The Story Of A Family Tragedy
Now Noah’s sons who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham, by the way, was the father of Canaan.) Yes, these three, Noah’s sons, went on to populate the entire earth.
Genesis 9:18-19 (VOICE)
The index for “the rest of the story” is in verses 18-19. The main characters are listed—Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth—and the main theme of this section is announced: how Noah’s family multiplied and scattered over the earth. A contemporary reader of the Bible is tempted to skip these lists of obscure names, but that doesn’t minimize their importance. These “obscure people” founded the nations that throughout Bible history interacted with each other and helped to accomplish God’s purposes on this earth. The descendants of Shem—the people of Israel—have played an especially important part on the stage of history.
Shem, Ham, Japheth
The author of Genesis makes it clear that these three sons of Noah became the fathers of the three great families of mankind.
- Shem is named first as occupying the place of leadership and prominence in God’s plans for the peoples. The Semites (Shemites) were to be the spiritual leaders of men. God’s chosen ones of that line would teach the religion of Jehovah to the world. We know that the Messiah was to come from Shem’s descendants.
- Japheth was to be the father of one large branch of the Gentile world. His descendants would scatter far and wide in their search for material gain and power. They would be prosperous and exceedingly powerful.
- Ham was to be the father of the other branch of Gentiles, including Egyptians, Ethiopians, Abyssinians, and kindred groups. His son, Canaan, became the father of the groups called Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, later dispossessed by the Hebrews. The curse pronounced upon Canaan by Noah was not, in any sense, designed as a proof text in slavery or segregation discussions.
After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent.
Genesis 9:20-21 (NLT)
In becoming a farmer, Noah followed the vocation of his father Lamech (5:28-29). While the Bible condemns drunkenness (Prov. 20:1; 23:19-21, 29-35; Isa. 5:11; Hab. 2:15; Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:10; Eph. 5:18), it doesn’t condemn the growing or eating of grapes or the drinking of wine. Grapes, raisins, and wine were important elements in the diet of Eastern peoples. In fact, in Old Testament society, wine was considered a blessing from God (Ps. 104:14-15; Deut. 14:26) and was even used with the sacrifices (Lev. 23:13; Num. 28:7).
This is the first mention of wine in Scripture. It is very probable that this was the first time the wine was cultivated; and it is as probable that the strength or intoxicating power of the expressed juice was never before known. That would make Noah innocent in this act since he didn’t know the effect it would produce. I don’t know.
Both his drunkenness and his nakedness were disgraceful, and the two often go together (Gen. 19:30-38; Hab. 2:15-16; Lam. 4:21). Alcohol isn’t a stimulant, it’s a narcotic; and when the brain is affected by alcohol, the person loses self-control. At least Noah was in his own tent when this happened and not out in public. But when you consider who he was (a preacher of righteousness) and what he had done (saved his household from death), his sin becomes even more repulsive.
The consequence of Noah’s sin was shame. Observe here the great evil of the sin of drunkenness. It discovers men; what infirmities they have, they betray when they are drunk; and secrets are then easily got out of them. Drunken porters keep open gates. It disgraces men, and exposes them to contempt. As it shows them, so it shames them. Men say and do that when drunken, which, when sober, they would blush to think of.
The Bible doesn’t excuse the sins of the saints but mentions them as warnings to us not to do what they did (1 Cor. 10:6-13). As Spurgeon said, “God never allows His children to sin successfully.” There’s always a price to pay.
Noah didn’t plan to get drunk and shamelessly expose himself, but it happened just the same. The Japanese have an appropriate proverb: “First the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man.”
Ham (the father of Canaan) peeked in and saw his father’s exposed body. After leaving the tent, he told his two brothers what he had seen.
Genesis 9:22 (VOICE)
Ham shouldn’t have entered his father’s tent without an invitation.
Did he call to his father and receive no answer?
Did he wonder if Noah was sick or perhaps even dead?
Did he even know that his father had been drinking wine?
These are questions the text doesn’t answer, so it’s useless for us to speculate. One thing is certain: Ham was disrespectful to his father in what he did.
How people respond to the sin and embarrassment of others is an indication of their character. Ham could have peeked into the tent, quickly sized up the situation, and covered his father’s body, saying nothing about the incident to anyone. Instead, he seems to have enjoyed the sight and then told his two brothers about it in a rather disrespectful manner. He may even have suggested that they go take a look for themselves.
Moses hadn’t yet said, “Honor your father and your mother” (Ex. 20:12), but surely the impulse are natural to children and should have been present in Ham’s heart.
Why would a son show such disrespect for his father?
Though Ham was the youngest of the three sons, perhaps he was an Old Testament “elder brother” who was angry with his father because of something he didn’t receive (Luke 15:25-32). By what he did, Ham revealed a weakness in his character that could show up in his descendants.
So Shem and Japheth took a large cloak and laid it across their shoulders, and they walked backward into the tent. They never looked behind, as they covered their father’s nakedness. Out of respect, they purposely kept their faces turned away, so they wouldn’t see their father lying there naked.
Genesis 9:23 (VOICE)
Instead of laughing with Ham and going to see the humiliating sight, Shem and Japheth showed their love for their father by practicing Proverbs 10:12, “Love covers all sins” (see 1 Peter 4:8). The brothers stood together and held a garment behind them, backed into the tent with their eyes averted, and covered Noah’s naked body. “He who covers a transgression seeks love” (Prov. 17:9), and “a prudent man covers shame” (12:16).
Love doesn’t cleanse sin, for only the blood of Christ can do that (1 John 1:7); nor does love condone sin, for love wants God’s very best for others. But love does cover sin and doesn’t go around exposing sin and encouraging others to spread the bad news. When people sin and we know about it, our task is to help restore them in a spirit of meekness (Gal. 6:1-2). It’s been said that on the battlefield of life, Christians are prone to kick their wounded; and too often this is true. But before we condemn others, we’d better consider ourselves, for all of us are candidates for conduct unbecoming to a Christian.