Now that all nine Vignettes, or mini-stories, in Act 1, Scene 1 of God’s One Big Story have been presented, you might be thinking that the time has come for us to leave Stage #1 and press on to Stage #2, where the second scene in our production is waiting to get underway. However, before we can move on from here, there is still the matter of our critical analysis of Vignette #9, which has yet to be completed. Given that this particular Vignette was packed with a lot more action than most of the previous ones, there will be a considerable amount of material for us to discuss; so let’s not waste any time changing into our Critic’s Hat and getting this challenging critique underway. The episodes from this Vignette that we will be focusing on are…
His Blessing and Cursing;
The New Characters Introduced into the Story; and,
The Rebellion Taking Place at Babel.
I don’t know about you but if I had been unfamiliar with this particular episode in Noah’s life, I would have been surprised by behavior so seemingly out of character for such a perennially pious hero as he. After all, up until this point in our story, Noah has lived for well over six hundred years without a blemish on his scriptural record. He has maintained his integrity while living in a thoroughly corrupt society, even in the face of ridicule, persecution, and personal loss; and, he has remained obedient to God before, during, and for some time after the Deluge which had completely destroyed the world he had known before. So, what could possibly have driven him to drink at this point in his life; and, why is this lapse in his behavior significant enough to be recorded for us here?
Some have speculated that due to the vastly different environmental or atmospheric conditions existing before the Flood, grape fermentation would not have been possible; implying that, without any previous experience with the process, Noah would have been ignorant of the intoxicating properties of the wine that it produced. But this may not have been the case at all; for, even if winemaking had been a possibility before the flood, as a man on a mission for God, Noah may have been so focused on the completion of his task that drinking wouldn’t even have been a consideration. At this stage in his life, however—as a man without the sense of purpose he once had and with so much time on his hands—he may have resorted to drinking in order to fill this newly created void in his life.
Of course, there could have been a number of other reasons to account for his lapse at this juncture. Since no mention has been made of Mrs. Noah since her departure from the Ark, it is altogether possible that she has already passed away; a circumstance which would certainly have left Noah feeling sad and alone, and in a state of grief over her death. Or, it could have been that he was just feeling old, tired, and discouraged, or maybe even a bit disappointed in the way some of his children or grandchildren were turning out. Since no one really knows for sure and since the scriptural record neither condemns nor tries to justify Noah’s behavior—it must have been recorded for some other reason.
Perhaps, it was included as a warning to us that even the righteous “Noahs” in this world are still sinners and capable of falling victim to temptation at any time; or, maybe it was merely to serve as the catalyst for, or as an explanation of, the curious events which were to follow. I say “curious” because, just as we could not have predicted that Noah would end up in a drunken stupor, there was no way that we could have imagined that the godly man who had gone to such great lengths to secure the deliverance and safety of his family during and after the Flood would so soon afterward be cursing one line of the descendants within that family. So, let’s dig a little deeper to see if we can get a better idea of what this blessing and cursing was really all about.
Noah’s Blessing and Cursing
According to Dictionary.com, to bless means to consecrate or sanctify by a religious rite; to make or pronounce holy; or, to request the bestowal of divine favor on something or someone—while to curse is to express a wish that misfortune, evil, doom, etc., befall a particular person or group. And, in our travels through the Word thus far, we have witnessed several occasions when God carried out these very actions in regard to His creation. For…
- In Genesis 1:22 and 1:28, He blessed both the living creatures and the man and woman with fruitfulness;
- In Genesis 2:3, He blessed and consecrated the seventh day and set it apart as holy;
- In Genesis 3:14, He cursed the serpent because of his involvement in the fall of man;
- In Genesis 3:17, He cursed the ground because Adam listened to the voice of his wife and ate from the forbidden tree, instead of obeying God;
- In Genesis 4:11-12, following Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, God cursed Cain’s ability to derive a living from the land; and,
- In Genesis 9:1, after their departure from the Ark, God blessed Noah and his sons with the same blessing of fruitfulness that He had bestowed upon Adam and Eve.
In other words, in each of these circumstances, God decreed—or, issued “…a formal and authoritative order, especially one having the force of law”—either a benediction or bestowal of good things, or a malediction of evil in response to someone’s offense or sin. When we come to the pronouncements of Noah, though, we find that his blessing and cursing, unlike those righteous decrees of a holy God, take on the form of prophetic utterances—that is, they become the divinely inspired foretelling or predictions of things that are to come. We find these prophecies or predictions in Genesis 9:24-27, where we read…
When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son [Ham] had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan [the youngest son of Ham]; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘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.’
As an aside here, when we compare the circumstances surrounding Noah’s “Fall” with those of Adam and Eve’s “Fall”, we find the following interesting parallels…
I tend to think that when Noah awoke and learned what had happened earlier, he was not at all surprised to find out who had done what. Having lived with his sons through thick and thin for over a hundred years, he surely had to have developed a keen insight into the nature of their individual personalities. In fact, it was his discernment of these natures which lead him to “curse” and “bless” them in the way that he did. And, while it might seem to us that he was making a mountain out of a molehill, if we are going to understand the significance of his blessing and cursing to our story, we will need to make an effort to view this situation from his perspective. Probably the best way to do that is by answering the following questions:
- What did Ham do that was so bad that it provoked a curse from his father?
While it may not seem like a very big deal to us, especially in our nudity-saturated and authority-rejecting society, Ham’s reaction to his father’s embarrassing display would have been a major faux-pas during his time. That’s because, instead of showing respect for his father by compassionately and discreetly covering his nakedness—as his brothers later did—he apparently reveled in the fact that this man of God had “finally” fallen.
This reaction is very telling; for although Ham had been “saved” from the Flood, just like the others in his family, his response to his father’s drunkenness exposed a decidedly carnal nature in him—one in which…
- He showed no respect for his father as the spiritual head and high priest of his family, and as the one who was chiefly responsible for his own salvation;
- He extended no grace to his father, but seemed to take delight in his failure; and,
- He demeaned and ridiculed his father to his brothers, and possibly to other members of the family or camp.
In short, he failed to respond to the situation in a way that honored both his father and God—which was, in the way that Shem and Japheth did.
2. Why was Canaan cursed instead of Ham?
Although this question has long been a puzzling one, of the several explanations which have been put forth, the two most frequently offered appear to be these…
- That in recognition of an already obvious proclivity to sin in his grandson, Noah’s curse was actually the prediction of (and therefore the justification for) the eventual judgment and destruction of the Canaanites at the hands of the Israelites, as ordered later by Moses in Deuteronomy 7:1-3; and,
- Noah cursed his youngest son’s youngest son because Ham, in Genesis 9:1, had already been blessed by God. From an incident recorded later in Numbers 22-24, we learn that when a prophet-for-hire named Balaam, was paid by the King of Moab to curse the Israelites, he was compelled by God to bless them instead. His explanation for this bizarre behavior is found in Numbers 23:8, where he tells the King of Moab…
How can I curse whom God has not cursed? How can I denounce whom the Lord has not denounced?
Based upon this, then, it would seem that once anyone or anything has been blessed by God, he, she, or it cannot afterward be cursed by man.
Undoubtedly, a lesser known but much more reasonable explanation has been posited by Arthur Custance in his book, Noah’s Three Sons, where he explains that…
“It is a common social custom among many primitive people to attribute the greatness of a son to the father, who then receives the honor for having raised such a worthy child. This is clearly reflected in Scripture where Saul seeks to honor David after the slaying of Goliath. He asks his general whose son the lad is (1 Sam. 17:55)… Undoubtedly Saul knew David well enough, but evidently he did not know who his father was. It was his father he was seeking to honor according to social custom…A man in blessing his own son was in fact blessing himself. This was true when Noah blessed Shem and Japheth. By the same token, however, if he had cursed Ham, the real offender, he would at the same time have been cursing himself. Quite logically, he could only pass judgment upon Ham by cursing Ham’s own son, which is what he therefore did.”
3. Does this mean that when Noah was cursing Canaan, he was in reality cursing Ham, and sentencing both him and his descendants to lives lived in perpetual states of servant-hood or slavery?
While many have interpreted this passage to mean that very thing—especially those who have sought to justify their involvement in the buying, selling, or owning of slaves—it is really a far cry from the true prophetic meaning of Noah’s pronouncement. For, in designating Ham as “… a servant of servants…to his brothers,” rather than sentencing him to the lowest form of human service, Noah was actually calling on him to carry out the highest form of service to his brothers. That is, because Ham and his offspring’s interests were focused on the natural, more fleshly concerns in life, they were being given the task of providing for the physical or material needs of Seth, Japheth, and their descendants. In order to understand what I mean by this, we will have to expand our view of the role that Noah’s sons were to play in the new civilization that about to be generated through them and their children.
You see, in much the same way that an individual person is made up of a body, soul, and spirit, here at the head of this new era in human history, the three sons of Noah were being singled out as the representatives of the collective body, soul, and spirit of mankind, just as it was being launched out into the world—with Ham representing the corporate body of mankind, Japheth representing its corporate soul, and Shem acting as its corporate spirit. And, as you may recall, back in Another Learning Interlude, in our discussion of the way in which each of these three aspects of man’s nature was to function, we learned that…
- The Spirit was the means by which God’s Spirit would communicate with man;
- The Soul, consisting of the mind, will, and emotions, was to act as the means of communication between man’s spirit and body; and, once it made known the will of God to the body…
- The Body was then to carry out God’s will on the earth while, at the same time, providing for the physical needs of the person.
As this graphic helps to illustrate, in his blessing of Shem, Noah was designating him and those who came from him to be the spiritual stewards of God and His revelation to the rest of mankind. In blessing Japheth with enlargement, Noah was calling upon God to not only extend this son’s territory but, more importantly, to expand the collective mind and thinking of mankind which Japheth and his progeny were meant to represent. And, in making Ham a servant to each of them, Noah was assigning him and his children the task of guaranteeing mankind’s physical survival, which would eventually make it possible for the revelation of God to be carried to the ends of the earth.
As you can see, at this point, we have only covered about half of the material in this Vignette, meaning that we will need to take a break and continue at a later time with our analysis. We will, at that time, learn more of how these prophetic utterances of Noah have been fulfilled, and about the parts they have played in the on-going action of our story–so don’t take your Critic’s Hat off quite yet! Until then, though, here is…
Tracey Campbell, singing a song by Secret Garden, reminding us that in the middle of a difficult situation, “Sometimes a Prayer Will Do”…
 Arthur C. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons: Human History in Three Dimensions (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975), 26.
The image of “Noah Damning Ham” courtesy of Wikimedia.com.