The Beginning of a New Decline

Genesis 9:18-29 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. 23 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. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

    “Cursed be Canaan;
        a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
    “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem;
        and let Canaan be his servant.
    27 May God enlarge Japheth,
        and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
        and let Canaan be his servant.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

INTRODUCTION

If you’re just joining us, welcome. For the past while I’ve been preaching through Genesis. It is a book written/compiled by Moses (along with Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) and most likely given to the Israelites as they sat on the edge of the Promised Land waiting to enter it. That means that it was written long after the events described in these opening chapters of Genesis. Understanding that has a lot to do with understanding Genesis as we’re meant to—especially our passage for today.

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Moses delivered this to the Israelites in order to answer a few simple questions for them: 1) Who are we?, 2) Who is our God?, 3) What does God require of us?, and 4) How did we get here? In other words, it’s meant to answer the question, “What is our place in God’s plan?”.

So far we’ve worked through the first eight and a half chapters. Insodoing we’ve seen God’s creation of the universe and all that is in it, God’s commissioning of mankind, the disobedience and Fall of mankind, the unceasing rebellion of mankind, God’s destruction of the world through a Flood as an act of His judgment, and God’s saving of one family (Noah’s) and a boatful of animal pairs in order “recreate” the earth through them in righteousness. How’s that for the first eight chapters of a book?!

All of that brings us up to our passage for this morning, the end of the story of Noah. In 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” But in 6:8-9 we see that in contrast to the wickedness of the earth “Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD” and “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation.” A little later we see that Noah “did all that God commanded him” (6:22). Immediately after exiting the ark of his salvation, Noah worshiped God (8:20).

With all of that as the backdrop, it ought to surprise us as this scene opens up with Noah passed out in a drunken stupor; and then he followed that up, not with repentance, but with a generational curse on one of his grandson. Obviously that leaves us with a few questions. Let’s pray that God would help us truly understand this passage and be duly transformed by it.

NOAH’S DRUNKENNESS (9:18-23)

This first section begins with a quick, simple introduction.

Introduction

The introduction reminds us of who exactly is involved in this story.

18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed.

The same sons who got on the ark with Noah now exited it with Noah. And, as they were the only people on the earth, v.19 would seem to go without saying. Simply enough though, the text tells us that it was from these men (and their wives) that the whole earth was populated. To be clear, you and I, along with everyone who has lived since the Flood, are descendants of these three men. How’s that for a family tree?

With this small family being led by the “righteous” Noah, we’re left wondering how this new earth would fare. Would Noah succeed where Adam failed? Would this new band form a new world as God intended, or would they too go the way of Cain? Once again, humanity rested and in the hands of a single family.

Before we get to the next part of the story to find out, I want to draw your attention to something. Right smack in the middle of this introduction—at the end of v.18—is a curious, parenthetical statement. “Ham was the father of Canaan.” Why would Moses include that when he didn’t include any of Ham’s other children or any of the children of Shem and Japheth? As we’re about to see, Moses was dropping an important breadcrumb here.

The Beginning of Decline

And with that, we find the beginning of a new decline.

20 Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. 21 He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.

This is a strange story for sure. The text leads us to believe that Noah hadn’t been much of a gardener prior to the Flood, picking it up since getting off the boat. It also implies that some time had passed since exiting the ark as Noah, evidently, had time to learn to farm, plant a vineyard, harvest the grapes, and make wine. That’s certainly not a big part of the story, but it’s helpful for us to recognize that this didn’t take place immediately after offering his sacrifices to God.

That said, Noah learned to master the earth; that’s good. He learned to grow grapes; the bible repeatedly acknowledges the goodness of that. He learned to make wine; again, the bible describes that as a good thing as well—ultimately in taking it as the sign of the New Covenant in Jesus (Psalm 104:15; Judges 9:13; Zechariah 8:12; Isaiah 25:6; Luke 22:20). The place that Noah strayed, then, was in his misusing these things to the point of drunkenness; and in his drunkenness, immodest nakedness. Without exception, the bible repudiates both of these (Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:2-4; Proverbs 31:4-5; Habakkuk 2:15; Lamentations 4:21; Ephesians 5:18).

To compound Noah’s sin, his son Ham, rather than cover his father up and keeping the matter to himself, left his father uncovered and went to tell his brothers. In ancient cultures especially this would have been an act of remarkable dishonor and shame. The text says nothing of Ham’s motives, but we can tell by Noah’s reaction (more in a bit) how deeply this cut him. The Israelites who first received Genesis would certainly have been able to understand Noah’s response.

In contrast to both their father and younger brother, Shem and Japheth acted honorably here.

23 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.

But how would Noah respond to all of this? Would Noah ever know? Was his drunkenness so complete that the events of the previous night would be erased from his memory? Would he wake up, recognize his sin, and repent? Would one of his sons tell him? Something else?

Before we get to that I want to point something out for the second time. In these verses there’s another curious mention of Canaan (22). At this point in the story he isn’t even born yet, and yet keeps getting brought up. In fact, it’s about to get worse for him, and we’re still left wondering why.

NOAH’S CURSE (9:24-29)

So what would happen next? How would Noah respond?

Noah Cursed the Generations of Ham

Again, we don’t have to wait long to find out.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

    “Cursed be Canaan;
        a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
    “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem;
        and let Canaan be his servant.
    27 May God enlarge Japheth,
        and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
        and let Canaan be his servant.”

Though details are still very limited, the text again makes clear that it was Noah’s drunkenness that caused his sleep (“awoke from his wine”). At some point Noah woke up, and in some way (that the text doesn’t tell us) Noah found out what happened. Upon waking, Noah, surely humiliated, immediately began cursing and blessing. He cursed his son, Ham, by cursing Ham’s son, Canaan. He did so by calling for Canaan to become his brothers’ servants’ servant. That would mean that his brothers would be remarkably wealthy (if even their servants had servants) and that Canaan would be remarkably lowly. Indeed, you’ll notice in a minute that even his uncles’ blessings would be at Canaan’s expense.

Noah Blessed the Generations of Shem and Japheth

For his other sons Noah called down blessings. Noah blessed the LORD and he blessed Shem, calling on Canaan to be among his uncle’s servants. Noah blessed Japeth by calling for the growth of his family and property, and for him to be protected by Shem and served as well by Canaan.

It’s important for us to note that Shem being blessed to the point that he would be a blessing to his brother Japeth (Japeth would dwell in Shem’s tents) is significant. It is a foreshadowing to us as we work forward in Genesis and it was a clear explanation for the Israelites looking back; and both of the fact that Abraham, a direct descendent of Shem, was the beginning of the true fulfillment of this blessing. God’s ways are marvelous indeed.

Noah’s Conclusion

It is here that we find the end of the story of Noah.

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.

With all of that, what are we to make of all of this?

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

I want to close by answering four questions: 1) What’s the deal with Noah? 2) What’s the deal with Canaan? 3) What’s the deal with the curses and blessings? and 4) What are the takeaways for us in all of this?

What’s the Deal with Noah?

I have a batch of questions that I’d like to know about this story. Chief among them is, “What happened to Noah!?” The one man on earth called righteous; the one man on earth that God decided to rescue from His judgment (his family only on his behalf); the one man who determined to build an altar and offer sacrifices of worship immediately after getting off of the ark; that one man…made wine, got drunk, passed out naked, and then went to town cursing his grandson for telling on him. What’s up with that? What happened to Noah?

The immediate context doesn’t help us at all. It simply states that it happened. In the larger picture, however, we know that while through Noah mankind got a second chance, through Noah mankind didn’t get a second nature. God did not start over with sinless people. He chose to repopulate the earth with a child of Adam and, therefore, one still stained by Adam’s sin (1 Corinthians 15:22). Consequently, with a corrupted nature, Noah would eventually succumb to the desires of his flesh; and so he did. The surprise, then, isn’t that he sinned like this, but that God’s grace was upon him such that he didn’t do so earlier.

What’s the Deal with Canaan?

So what’s the deal with Canaan? Canaan was the youngest son of Ham, who was the youngest son of Noah. What a bad situation for him. He wasn’t even alive yet but he was beaten up pretty badly on account of his father’s sin. Why was that the case?

There are two main things to keep in mind here. First, as I mentioned at the beginning, remembering the context in which Genesis was originally written/compiled and delivered is critical. Genesis was not written in real-time. It was put together long after these events took place. Genesis (along with the rest of first five books of the bible) was meant to help the Israelites (who haven’t even shown up in Genesis yet) understand how they had come to be a people and why they’d experienced the things they’d experienced over the centuries as a people. In other words, by the time Genesis was given to its first readers, its first readers had a whole lot more history behind them than we’ve yet covered. Genesis, then, wasn’t written just to tell the story of what happened. It was written to look back with the aim of explaining the present for the Israelites.

Thus, second, the curse on Canaan was really an explanation of how the Canaanites had become such a stench to the Israelites. And for the Israelites who had been in conflict with the Canaanites for many years by the time they received Genesis, this would explain a lot. This will become clear as we move through Genesis (13:13, 15:16, 18:20-21, 19, 38; Leviticus 18:2-6, 7-23 [notice the repeated use of “nakedness” to describe their evil deeds], etc.), but for our purposes we need only to recognize that Moses was describing the origin of this wicked people’s wickedness—they followed in the footsteps of their father, Ham. In other words, Ham’s descendents weren’t cursed merely because they were his descendents, but because they continued on in his line of treachery.

What’s the Deal with Blessings and Curses?

What’s the deal with the curses and blessings? Did Noah have some kind of magical power? Was he able to tap into some kind of sorcery? Was God somehow bound to do Noah’s bidding? None of those things were true. The language of blessing and curse was common among the Israelites, but every curse and blessing called for by man was entirely dependent on God for its fulfillment (Deuteronomy 28; Joshua 6:26; 1 Samuel 26:19). Man had no power whatsoever to affect either blessing or curse. His hope in delivering them was that God agreed with his sense of justice. Again, to be clear, the fulfillment of every curse and blessing belongs to the LORD. In this case, then, Noah’s curses and blessings became true because they were a part of God’s great plan to rescue His people.

What are the Takeaways for Us?

So what does all of this mean for us? What are we to take away from it? I don’t want to overly moralize this passage. The main point of the passage is not necessarily to teach moral lessons, but to explain to the Israelites sitting on the edge of the Promised Land how they’d gotten there and what was underneath some of their experiences along the way. And yet to a group of people who had already been given the Law, the morality/immorality of all of this would have been absolutely clear. In other words, the point of this passage wasn’t primarily to teach them the morality of the events of the passage—they already had that—but to show them what was at stake in it. It’s important for us to be able to identify those lessons in order that we might live in them as well, even as we see here what can happen when we don’t.

Very quickly, then, what moral lessons does this passage have for us?

  1. Other cultures don’t determine the morality of God’s people. By the time Genesis was presented to the Israelites they had already experienced many different cultures and their competing moral claims. Many of the laws God gave to Israel were prohibiting pagan beliefs and practices (“never boil a baby goat in its mother’s milk”—a pagan fertility ritual). In many, for instance, drunkenness and nakedness were considered pleasing to the gods. Among other things, this passage does not allow for that kind of thinking.

    And so it is for us, Grace. Like the Israelites, more than any of us realize we take our cues from the world around us when we’re not really careful. It’s almost impossible not to as it provides a constant stream of well-made propaganda. Again, this passage helps us to see that we cannot look “out there” for our understanding of right or wrong. We cannot allow other cultures (non-Christian cultures) to determine our view on alcohol, nakedness, or honor or sexuality, race/racism, life, worship, or anything else.

  2. God’s nature as revealed in His Word alone determines the morality of God’s people. I’ll never forget the time that I was asked, “Why is murder wrong?”. The question was actually asked to the entire audience at a Christian conference I was attending. My instinctive answer was that it is wrong because the bible says it is. The speaker, as if reading my mind, emphatically corrected that line of thinking. He said that while we know murder is wrong because the bible tells us so, that’s not why it’s wrong. It’s wrong, he said, because God is life. In other words, all genuine morality is rooted in the nature of God. The bible is where God reveals His nature and its moral implications. That, in part, is why Moses gave Genesis to the Israelites—to help them know for certain the nature of their God and its implications for their lives.

    And so it is for us, Grace. We are not simply to read the bible for its rules and regulations. We are to read it in order to understand the very nature of God, and from that find our morality. This helps us to see that.

  3. Blessing God is the best way to bless a people. This is my favorite of them all. You might have noticed that Noah’s first blessing was upon the LORD (26). Grace, remember this: the greatest blessing we can give anyone else in this world is to bless the LORD in their presence. More than understanding, companionship, food, gifts, healthcare, clean water, or anything else, proclaiming the excellencies of God in Christ is the greatest blessing we can give. To give someone everything except the great news that God is greater than they could possibly imagine is to give them nothing. But to bless God to them is to give them everything. Even now, as we wrestle through the significance of COVID and George Floyd and murder hornets, let us always begin with and remain focused on the greatness of God. Let’s let our blessing of God be the light that shines on everything else we say and think and feel and do. Even in the midst of a bunch of craziness, Noah helps us see this.
  4. Today’s righteousness does not guarantee tomorrow’s. As faithfully as Noah seemed to be walking with God in the beginning of his story, he fell nevertheless. Grace, remember, it is God who calls, God who regenerates, God who justifies, God who sanctifies, and God who preserves His people. God’s grace will sustain us or we will not be sustained. In fact, because we’re born with the same (fallen) nature as Noah, if any of us were put in Noah’s place we’d eventually fall into temptation as well. This is another reminder that our main problem is inside of us while our main hope is outside. Our hope, then, cannot be in our past faithfulness, but in God’s present grace in Christ, the true source of all of God’s grace. Let us hear this, be humbled by it, and then run to God for mercy—He will give it.
  5. Honoring our parents is a big deal. Again, this passage doesn’t teach us this principle, it simply models what’s at stake in it. Just consider for 10 seconds the massive implications of Ham’s dishonoring of his father. Generations were dramatically affected by his failure to act honorably. Kids, it might not seem like a big deal, and you might feel like your parents are in the wrong (and they might be), but that does not change the fact that God calls you to honor your parents as a means of honoring your Father in heaven. Obeying that, this story helps us to see, is much bigger than it seems. Ask God to help you with this.
  6. Being honorable as parents is a big deal. Likewise, parents, it’s impossible to miss the tragic implications of Noah’s dishonorable actions, even on future generations. God calls our kids to honor us regardless of whether or not we’re acting honorably, but that is never an excuse for us to forsake honor. We are to set an example in every way possible as a means of honoring God and making our kids’ charge easy. Be slow, then to anger and quick to apologize. Set an example in speech, feeling, and action. Read your bible in front of your kids and show them how you do it, pray with them, and teach them to worship. Be careful what you watch and listen to—don’t merely look for things that “aren’t bad” but for things that point to the glory of God. It’s hard to miss the huge stakes of this in Noah’s actions here.
  7. God is sovereign and our actions matter a great deal. In many ways this is the point of the passage and the heart of this sermon. It has shown up already in a few ways implicitly. Here I want to state it explicitly. By God’s design, our actions—even seemingly insignificant ones like we see in this passage—shape the course of history. It matters what we do. I’m certain Noah had no idea that his third bottle of wine was going to open a new door of immorality for generations. Our sinful choices—even ones we think we’re committing in the dark—can be truly devastating both now and well into the future. On the other hand, our righteous and faithful choices can last forever. One simple gospel conversation with an unbeliever can lead to generations of gospel faithfulness. One act of kindness or encouraging word or gift of generosity in Christ’s name can change the course of someone’s life forever.

    At the same time, Grace, without an acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty, the weight of this reality might crush us. God has determined to use our choices to shape history, but He does so according to His sovereign plan. Nothing we do can thwart or manipulate or otherwise alter God’s sovereign will. This is a mysterious relationship, but one that this passage helps us to see in practice. Let us, therefore, act as Christ compels us and trust that God will use our simple acts of faithfulness to accomplish His perfect purposes; even while we also recognize that even our ungodly choices are being used by God for the same.

CONCLUSION

Noah acted sinfully. His son, Ham, did too. As a result of both Noah cursed Ham and his descendents while blessing his other sons’ and theirs. In all of this we learn a great deal about how we are to live in God’s world and the consequences both of doing so and not doing so. Above all, though, we learn that God is sovereignly reigning over His world in order to steer it toward the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the first occurrence of wine in the bible. But this same instrument of rebellion would come to symbolize God’s remedy for all rebellion. This same instrument of sin that lead to the unjust spilling of blood would one day become the symbol of a different kind of unjust spilling of blood—the kind that would rescue mankind from his sins. This same source of curse would symbolize the curse Jesus would take upon Himself to reconcile mankind to God. Even in this strange, short story in the OT we see hints of the great glory that is to come.

Would you look to Christ today, then? Would you turn to Him for the first time for the forgiveness of your sins or would you turn to Him in greater obedience because your sins are already forgiven in Him? This passage is a great invitation for both as it moves us closer to the high point of history—the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.