The Cursing of Canaan (Gen. 9.18-10.32)

➡ Average Reading Time: 15 minutes

 


Click and READ ME for explanation of Bible text format.

The following reading of Genesis 1.1-2.3 is formatted ala The Books of the Bible: Covenant History without any chapter or verse marketings. The description below is taken from Preface. It explains the use of line space and format instead of chapters and verses.

Because the biblical books were handwritten, read aloud, and then hand-copied long before standardized printing, their authors and compilers needed a way to indicate divisions within the text itself. They often did this by repeating a phrase or expression each time they made a transition from one section to another. We can confirm that particular phrases are significant in this way by observing how their placement reinforces a structure that can already be recognized implicitly from other characteristics of a book, such as changes in topic, movement in place or time, or shifts from one kind of writing to another. Through line spacing, we’ve marked off sections of varying sizes. The smallest are indicated by one blank line, the next largest by two lines, and so on, up to four-line breaks in the largest books. We’ve also indicated key divisions with a large initial capital letter of new sections. Our goal is to encourage meaningful units to be read in their entirety and so with greater appreciation and understanding.

Zondervan. NIV, The Books of the Bible: Covenant History: Discover the Origins of God’s People (Kindle Locations 265-272). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
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Read Gen. 9.18-10.32


But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORDsmelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.

“As long as the earth endures,
seedtime and harvest,
cold and heat,
summer and winter,
day and night
will never cease.”

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”


 

Observing

 The Cursing of Canaan This story is clearly independent of the Flood narrative. It takes years for a newly planted vine to give a grape harvest. In addition to the three sons’ names, we are informed that Noah now has a grandson who is named Canaan (Genesis 9.18). In the first section (Genesis 9.20-28), the storyteller narrates a tale about Noah and his nakedness. In chapter 10, we have a table of nations (Genesis 10.1-32).

Genesis 9.18-19

In Genesis 10.6, we are told that Ham had four sons: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan, the latter was the youngest. While no specific reference is made to it, it appears that the command of God at Genesis 9.1, “be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth,” was already at work in the sons of Noah. The storyteller relates that the three sons of Noah—Shem, Ham, and Japheth—were the forefathers of the human race. The storyteller takes a break before he tells his hearers about the growth of the families of Noah’s sons to tell us the story of Noah’s nakedness and its resulting curse of Canaan.

Interpreting

Genesis 9.20-28

After harvesting the grapes and making wine, Noah falls prey to wine’s intoxicating power. However, Scripture does not pause to moralize on Noah’s behavior, which is neither approved of nor condemned. Wine was not a forbidden drink in later Israel. A vow to abstain by the Nazirites would be useless if Israel was a nation of abstinence. However, God did not tolerate the overuse of wine, which led to drunkenness (Prov. 29.35).

In the ancient world, drinking wine was generally accepted and was not ever regarded as being reprehensible in antiquity. As an example, if at a celebration a person became drunk, stories were told about the incident, but no judgment was passed on the individual. The earliest evidence of winemaking comes from the Neolithic (the cultural period beginning around 10,000 B.C. in the Middle East and later elsewhere, characterized by the development of agriculture and the making of polished stone implements) like in Iran where archaeologists discovered a jar dated to the second half of the sixth millennium with a residue of wine in the bottom of the jar.[ref]John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. interVarsity Press. 2012. 39.[/ref]

The storyteller does not tell us why Noah was nude. It is his nakedness and not his drunkenness that produces the focus of this story. We are not told why Noah was uncovered. Wine was believed to be able to stimulate sexual desire and increase one’s power to produce children. Was Noah preparing to have intercourse with his wife when Ham saw his father’s nakedness? One thing is for sure: Ham was in the wrong place at the wrong time. To note that Noah was a wine-maker was to take on the polytheistic worldview again. Wine-maker was a purely human achievement, not the achievement of a god or demigod as was usually believed in the ancient world.

The ancients were well aware of the effects of intoxication. They understood the consequences that resulted as wine dulled the senses that could have left one uncovered without knowing it. Nakedness as the result of the drunkenness was believed to be disgraceful. In “The Tale of Aqht,” a Ugaritic myth, a son is described as helping his father by taking him by the hand when he was gorged with wine. This was to keep the parent from bringing disgrace on the family by becoming naked in public. The Hebrews had been warned about this at Sinai in the story of building the altar (Exodus 20.26). Public nakedness in the First Testament was believed to be the loss of human and social dignity.

Ham’s sin was that he “saw the nakedness of his father.” Several explanations have been forwarded to explain this phrase.

  • The rabbis believed that Ham castrated his father, which explains why Noah did not have any more children after the flood.[ref]David M. Goldenberg. “What Did Ham Do to Noah?” [/ref]
  • F.W. Basset believes that Ham slept with his mother, thus uncovering his father’s nakedness and that Canaan was the offspring of that union.[ref]F.W. Basset suggests that this is incest (Lev. 18.6-19). F.W. Basset, “Noah’s Nakedness and the Curse of Canaan. A Case of Incest?” VT 21 (1971) 232-237. This citation is from Victor P. Hamilton. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17. Eerdmans; 3rd Printing edition (October 31, 1990)322. Hamilton believes that readers are on much safer ground in limiting Ham’s transgression simply to the exposure of the genitalia and failing to cover his naked father. Otherwise, the other two brothers’ act of covering their father’s nakedness becomes incomprehensible.[/ref]
  • Still, others believe that Ham was the first homosexual and he was involved in a homosexual act with his father. It could be that the phrase “saw the nakedness of his father” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse as in this Leviticus 18.6 passage where NIV translates the phrase “to uncover nakedness” with the words “have sexual relationship”). This seems to be the view of O. Palmer Robertson who taught at the African Bible Colleges: “The phrase ‘looking on a person’s nakedness’ could refer by way of circumlocution to a sexual sin of a graver nature. Other passages in the Pentateuch use virtually identical language as a way of referring modestly to a sexual sin… in these verses from Leviticus, ‘to uncover the nakedness’ of someone apparently serves as a circumlocution for having sexual relations with that person… the phraseology of these prohibitions in Leviticus concerning sexual relations approximates very closely the language used to describe the sin of Ham. ‘Looked on the nakedness of his father’ parallels ‘look on (a woman’s) nakedness’ or ‘uncover (a woman’s) nakedness.’ By that action, Ham committed a most grievous sin. He discovered his father in a state of drunkenness and apparently initiated a homosexual relationship with him.” [ref] Toler.Emily (2008) “A Recuperative Theology of the Body: Nakedness in Genesis 3 and 9.20-27,” Denison Journal of Religion: Vol. 8, Article 6. 57.)[/ref]

Why this story and what is its purpose of the accompanying reaction of Noah? In the ancient world, to be nude without knowing it was disgraceful. It was the duty of the children to take care of the parents when they were overcome with wine. In this case, to cover the parent was a sign of respect. Instead of respect, Ham did not cover Noah’s nudity, but rather openly talked about it to his brothers. They, on the other hand, took great care to cover Noah. The storyteller goes to great, intricate detail compared to the rest of the narrative to describe the behavior of the two other brothers. The intention is obviously to draw attention to their pious conduct. The story is unfolded in a series of verbs: they took, put, walked backward, covered, turned away, and did not see. We are often held captive to our Western mindset in these eastern stories and often make some moral judgment that is reading a Second Testament morality back into the text.

The traditional interpretation suggests that when Noah woke up he realized what had happened, he placed a curse on Ham’s youngest son Canaan. Why he cursed Canaan instead of Ham is not clear and has led to may conjectures. To the ancients seeing one’s father naked would be a breach of family ethics. The sanctity of the family was destroyed and the strength of the father was made a mockery by Ham when he told his two brothers. For the ancient, this indicated that Ham in some way had triumphed over his father. What seems to be a somewhat trivial incident turned into a major incident. The Oracle of Noah in Genesis 9.25-27 demonstrates that the nature of his three sons would be perpetuated in their descendants. This is not a father-son issue. It is a family/community issue. Respect for family elders must be maintained from one generation to another. The continuity of the life of a group of people in the ancient world was passed on by their respect for their family elders.

This story has led some commentators to suggest that Ham may have had a tendency to be a voyeur which led him to experience delight in seeing his father nude and then sharing it with his brothers. This was a tendency, which Noah had observed in Canaan in whose descendants the tendency led to extreme depravity and enslavement to immorality, which eventually leads to their destruction (Genesis 18.20-21). If this be the case, and it is as good of a possibility as any other, Noah’s outburst was not resentment but a prophetic pronouncement concerning the future of his descendants. We should remember that one can not be dogmatic about the actual essence of this story.

It seems odd that Canaan was cursed for the sin of his father Ham. Why is this? While there is no clear answer, there are some possibilities. It might have been a mirroring punishment, i.e., Ham was Noah’s youngest son and Canaan was Ham’s youngest son. It might have been because Ham’s sin was a foretaste of the notorious immorality of the Canaanites (Lev. 18.3). This story has a direct reference to the nature and destiny of the Canaanites whose land Israel was going to conquer and who would become Israel’s greatest antagonists.

Ham’s disposition toward moral abandon bore fruit in the immoral acts of his descendants, the Canaanites. The Canaanites were to be judged by God through the coming Conquest because their activities were in the same pattern and mold as their ancestor Ham. One point may be that drunkenness leads to debauchery and that enslaves people and nations.

Noah blessed God and made Canaan the slave of both Shem (Genesis 9.26) and Japheth (Genesis 9.27). We may take note that his curse of Canaan was used in the nineteenth century as a Scriptural justification for enslaving the Africans. However, not by the wildest of interpretations could the Africans be said to be the descendants of Canaan. The prophetic element in this oracle is often overlooked. Shem’s glory was in his spiritual tendency. Japheth’s descendants established the world’s most enlarged empires through Europe while Canaan was enslaved by sin and destroyed.

What we see in these verses are not prophetic words originating with God through Noah. They are patriarchal pronouncements. Though not prophetic, they were taken very seriously by the ancients and were considered to have influence in the unfolding of history and personal destiny.

The blessing of Noah is rather unusual in that it blesses the God of Shem instead of Shem himself. Of course, if the God of Shem prospered, then Shem would prosper as well.

The blessing of Noah made Canaan the slave of Shem and Japheth (Gen. 9.26-27). We note again that the curse of Canaan was used in the nineteenth century as a Scriptural justification for enslaving the Africans. There is no way possible that this interpretation of Africans being the descendants of Canaan could be true.

The descendants of Shem came to be Israel. The descendants of Japheth established the world’s largest empires throughout Europe. Ham’s descendants through Canaan were enslaved by sin and destroyed.

Blacks in the South

My mom took this passage to mean that “blacks in the South” were the descendants of Ham and were cursed, which she was taught by her pastors about this passage in Scofield Reference Bible Notes (1917 Edition) where Scofield’s notes on Genesis 9:24-25 says: “A prophetic declaration is made that from Ham will descend an inferior and servile posterity.” Click to see an article: “Being Saved, My Mom, Lillie Mae, and Me” that I wrote about my mom and her prejudice in this area.

Metaphors of God in Genesis 9.1-29

What does this story teach about God?

  • God the covenant maker. This is the first covenant we discover in Scripture. It demonstrates that God was willing to enter into alliances with his creation. The main feature of the covenant with Noah was that is was entirely instituted by God. Noah had nothing to do with it. The covenant was universal in its scope. This would surely dispel the notion of local gods who warred against each other for local territory. The whole known world, every living creature, was covered by this covenant and still is. This was an act of God’s own loving kindness. It would surely speak to the ancient Hebrew in the desert of a God who would keep his word in the covenants that he made.
  • God’s compassion (rainbow) (anthropopathism). The sign of the rainbow was an act of God’s compassion. Scripture presents God with human feelings so that humans can have a possibility of comprehending God. It is noteworthy that Israel would see God as being compassionate.
  • God’s generosity (everything to eat). After the flood, meat was added to the diet of humankind. This act of God shows his generosity. It was important for Israel to understand that the God they had made a covenant with was a generous God. He would bless them richly by bringing them to the land that he had promised their forefather Abraham. His bounty would be beyond their ability to embrace.
  • God as a protector (cannot murder others). Humankind was created in God’s image and this story demonstrates how God protects his own image. We are the image bearers of the God of the universe. It is important that we reflect that issue in our life. One of the chief ways of doing so is to protect human life and not destroy it. This was important for Israel to know, in light of the stipulation that they had received, which forbid, the murder of others.

Genesis 10.1-32

After the Flood, the whole world began to branch out from the three sons of Noah. This chapter elaborates in detail this event through an intricate series of genealogies. The past genealogies in Genesis were concerned with individuals. This genealogy is concerned with nations. It is often called the “Table of Nations.”

The Table of Nations is a horizontal genealogy rather than a vertical one as those in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 are. The purpose of the table is not to trace ancestry; rather its purpose is to show political, geographical, and ethnic growth. The table shows which peoples in the ancient world shared in the blessing and cursing category. It stresses how these peoples spread out and populated the earth.

The table begins with a list of Noah’s sons as Shem, Ham, and Japheth. However, in the sections that follow the order is reversed to Japheth, Ham, and Shem. The Japhehites (Genesis 10.1-5) are peoples who were most remote from Palestine. Most of the nations and places mentioned in the seven identified are in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor. Names like Magog and Meshech are recognizable from the Book of Ezekiel. Javan is a representation of the early Greek. Madai represents The Medes. Kittim is associated with Cyprus, while Rodanim is the island of Rhodes, which was on the southwest coast of Turkey.

The peoples in the next section (Genesis 10.6-20) are from Ham and most are Gentiles with whom Israel always had unpleasant relationships. Cush represents Ethiopia and Put is modern Somaliland. The most insight given about any of the individuals in this section is Nimrod. He was so well-known that he had established a reputation as a mighty hunter, which most likely referred to his superior martial ability. He founded four cities: Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh, which all lay to the east of Canaan.

Shem fathered four sons and the last section (Genesis 10.21-32) may be the most critical for the continuing story of the Hebrews. Here we discover the name Eber, which is an obvious connection with “Hebrew.” The Semitic groups were divided into two branches.

Theologically, this table affirms God’s blessing on Noah’s family. While special to the story of Scripture, this table demonstrates that Israel had no monopoly on attributing only their existence to God. We are reminded in the last verse (Genesis 10.32) that all families came from Noah.

Looking Toward the New Testament (Some Beginning Thoughts)

  • Matthew 24.37. For just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the Son of Man comes. This passage is often used to discuss a one-to-one belief that we are now in the days of Noah because of the condition of the present world. This passage in Matthew rather suggests that people were enjoying their normal life pursuits without any awareness of imminent judgment. People were eating, drinking, and marrying. The passage’s point is that because the time is unknown, people will be caught unprepared, just like they were in the days of Noah. There will only be two groups of people at the end of time: those who are prepared and those who are unprepared. The way to be ready is not by calculating the date of the return of Jesus but by being watchful, i.e., being prepared.
  • Hebrews 11.7. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark. Noah is used as an illustration of one who inherited a new world after the flood because of his confidence in the promise of God for him. Noah reacted to God’s word in holy fear or reverent submission. The corresponding noun is used of Jesus in Hebrews 5.8. Noah’s faith produced his righteous behavior that was a clear demonstration that the behavior was an outworking of his faith.

Community Discussion Questions

➡ |CDQ Info|

  • How have you discovered that in the midst of your unfaithfulness to God that he still fulfills his promises to you?
  • What is your stance on drinking wine? How biblical do you think it is?
  • How do you show respect to your parents if they are still alive (regardless of your age)?
  • How do you expect your children to show you respect (provided you have children)?
  • How do you think that Christians today think they have a monopoly on believing that God only cares about their existence and not the existence of other religious groups?

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Read Me First

 

Throughout these sessions, I have used the word ecclesia (singular) for the usual word church and ecclesiae (plural) to indicate a church in a particular geographic place, i.e., the ecclesiae at Corinth, meaning the whole of the many smaller ecclesia that met in homes in Corinth. This is to distinguish between the Institutional Church model (IC) and ecclesia that meet in cities and towns around the world. The ecclesiae written about by the authors of the Second Testament were not the same as what the “church” has become over the years of its existence. Usually, but not always, folks think of a church as a place where they go to a building and set in rows of pews and listen to music and sometimes sing and listen to sermons by a pastor or senior pastor. The ecclesiae of the Second Testament time did not invoke this model.

 

I have discovered over the years that if you want to try and change minds about something special, you have to venture out and reword it in order to grasp a foothold for a new refreshed understanding of the idea presented by the word. Such is the case between "church" and "ecclesia."

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Second

 

Referenced verses in the text of this study are not used to prove some point of view. They are merely markers where the subject matter is referenced by other books and authors. To gain a larger view of each quote, a serious student of the Holy Writ would take the time to view the reference and see what the background is. The background provides tracks on which the meaning of a text rides. So knowing the context of a referenced passage would help the reader to gain a more thorough understanding of an author than just the words quoted and marked by a verse number that was not a part of the original author's text, which as you might remember was performed on the text in a random fashion many years later.

 

Happy Reading!

Read Me Third

 

The verses that are referenced in these sessions are not meant to prove a point. They are simply pointers to where the idea being written about may have a correlation. In order to see if they accomplish the thesis presented by the original author, a student should read, at a minimum, the chapter in which the verse is found as well as trying to ascertain what the original author may have meant to say to the original audience.

 

Of course, this is a lot of work but it is beneficial work. If one does not understand what the author meant when it was written and the audience could not have understood by what was written, then the words on the page can mean anything that a present reader may assign as a meaning, thus distorting what God was inspiring for the original writer to write to the original audience to hear.

A great and recent book by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird entitled The New Testament in Its World would be a wonderful addition to your reading helps.

 

Happy Reading!

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)

Jesus Followers

 

There are many synonyms to use for the word believer, which is the most common word for a person who has "converted" to follow Jesus. I have chosen "Jesus follower(s) or follower(s) of Jesus instead of the word believer in these presentations to allow the reader an opportunity to move away from the idea of believer which conjures up the possible thought of "ascent" to a set of doctrines that have been assembled by different groups over the centuries and show up in this day and age as a set of statements posted on web sites and other written material. These sets of beliefs are suggested by many as the ones that one should ascent to so that upon death the one who assents can go to heaven, i.e., just believe and you are good to go. Jesus followers/followers of Jesus suggest an action that one should take. Remember, Jesus told his disciples to follow him. Yes, belief is important, but one must move beyond belief to action.

 

(See "Discipleship" Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. 182-188.)