The events recorded in this passage of Scripture are some of the most perplexing in the entire Bible. For three and a half chapters, Noah has been the primary character, and through his narrative, we received the first lengthy account of a follower of God. Noah was a righteous man by the grace of God and received the mercy of God by building the ark. Noah is in many ways a second Adam, a second chance for humanity. God even delivered a new covenant to Noah, giving him the commission to fill the earth. However, none of these things prevented Noah from falling into sin. For all of his accomplishments, the final words concerning Noah are about his foolishness. Nevertheless, God still uses Noah, and chapter ten will display all the nations of the earth came from him.
THE SONS OF NOAH // VERSES 18-19
These verses set up the next arch in Noah’s narrative. The focus upon Noah’s three sons reveals that the story is readying to move forward in history. The final clause, I believe, is the thesis for this entire section of the narrative. All people disperse from Noah’s sons. Even into the Babel story, the emphasis is upon humanity’s common lineage. Regardless of how different we might feel from one another, every single human comes from one of three men, who all come from Noah. Thus, at the end of the day, we are all related. We are all family. Of course, the dispersion at Babel will explain why we cannot seem to remember this familial fact.
THE SIN OF NOAH // VERSES 20-21
Similar to Cain, the description of Noah as becoming a “man of the soil” contains a certain degree of foreshadowing. As said with Cain, there is nothing sinful about being a farmer or a vinedresser; however, within the context of Genesis, references to soil remind the reader of God’s judgment upon Adam. Certainly, the foreshadowing is valid, for we are next told that Noah became drunk on wine and lay naked in his tent.
It is important here to establish precisely what Noah’s sin was. The sin was not that Noah drank wine. The Bible speaks commonly about wine and the effects of alcohol, and it never once declares the alcohol to be innately sinful. Instead, wine is used for imagery of Biblical principles.Positive descriptions are given for moderate consumption. “Drink your wine with a merry heart.”God gives wine “to gladden the heart of man.”Nevertheless, the Bible is also very vocal about the harmful effects of alcohol.Explicitly saying, “do not get drunk with wine.”Therefore, we must conclude that while drinking alcohol is not sin, becoming drunk certainly is sinful. Purely for wisdom’s sake, total abstinence from alcohol is justifiable.
Thus, Noah’s sin was doing just what the Bible prohibits concerning wine: drinking to excess. The fact that Noah found himself naked on the ground is a testament to the foolish behavior that can result from alcohol consumption. Past the mentioning of the nakedness of Adam and Eve in the garden, nakedness is always viewed as a shame toward the individual.
Noah’s fall into sin also serves as a warning to us. Noah was more than six hundred years old at this point. There is no indication of the time that he walked with the LORD; however, from what we have seen of Noah, we would expect him to be some sort of hero of the faith. Surely, Noah was one of the most righteous men to ever live; after all, God spared him from the flood. Regardless of Noah’s righteousness, wisdom, or age, sin still found him.
For the follower of Christ, there is never a time in which we do not struggle with sin. We must always be on guard. We must always be alert. That Noah’s fall came after his greatest victory speaks of the human condition. It is often following our triumphs that we are most vulnerable to sin. Ron Pearce said in a sermon, “Past successes do not provide the power for future victory.” If we do not kill sin every day of our lives, sin will kill us.
THE SIN OF HAM // VERSES 22-23
The emphasis of this story, however, is not upon the sin of Noah. Rather, it is upon the reactions of his sons toward his sin. The account of Ham is incredibly perplexing. If Noah was laying in his tent, how did Ham just happen to see his father’s nakedness? Is there something more nefarious happening than what the text expounds? Because of these types of questions, many scholars throughout history have speculated about Ham’s “actual” sin. Some suggest that Ham had an incestuous/homosexual perversity for his father. Others say that he committed a physical offense on his father, such as castration. My fault with these thoughts is simply that they dive too far into speculation on the matter. It does not seem to be necessary for Ham to commit a heinous crime by our definition. For an Eastern culture, the shame inflicted on Noah by Ham was sufficient to warrant severe punishment.
It is difficult for someone living in the modern world to understand the modesty and discretion of privacy called for in ancient morality. Nakedness in the OT was from the beginning a thing of shame for fallen man [3:7] . . . the state of nakedness was both undignified and vulnerable. . . . To see someone uncovered was to bring dishonor and to gain advantage for potential exploitation.
That being said, it is important for us to think of dishonoring parents in the same way that the Bible does. The fifth of the Ten Commandments given to Moses concerns the honoring of our father and mother.In the law given through Moses, disobedient and rebellious children were to be put to death.In the New Testament, Paul lists disobedience toward parents in the same verse as haters of God and inventors of evil.Therefore, make no mistake, the Bible takes the subject of honoring and dishonoring parents very seriously. So for Ham to mock his father, even when Noah was being foolish, was a grievous sin.
Ham went to his brothers, presumably to share the mockery with them; however, notice their response. Shem and Japheth do not join in the reviling of their father; they honor their dishonorable dad. The text takes great care to tell us that Shem and Japheth did not look upon their father’s nakedness. In this one simple act of covering their father in his sin, the two men greatly display godliness. Recall the sin of Adam. Following the eating of the fruit, Adam became ashamed and aware of his nakedness and tried to cover himself and his wife. In an act of grace upon two rebels, God covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve. Thus, when Noah was not being honorable, Shem and Japheth showed grace to him by treating him with honor.
THE CURSE OF CANAAN // VERSES 24-25
When Noah returns to himself, he immediately speaks out against the son that wronged him… or not. Noah curses Canaan, Ham’s son, instead of Ham directly. To be fair twice in the previous verses, Ham was called the father of Canaan for seemingly no particular reason, but even so, the recipient of the curse comes as a shock to the reader. Why did God curse Canaan for his father’s sin?
First, this could be more a statement of fact rather than a divine prophecy. Noah could be merely stating the obvious that Canaan is cursed for having such a fool of a father. The punishment for Ham would be watching his offspring follow him.
Second, Canaan is likely being singled out because he will become particularly evil. Upon the Israelites’ entrance into the Promised Land, they battled and killed many of the Canaanite people of that land. Though this may seem excessively harsh, we are also reminded that God used the Israelites as punishment for the wickedness of the Canaanites.
THE BLESSINGS OF SHEM & JAPHETH // VERSES 26-28:
After pronouncing the curse upon Canaan, Noah declares blessing for Shem and Japheth. Shem’s blessing is actually given to God. This is an indication of two things. First, Shem was a follower of the LORD. Noah actually calls the LORD the God of Shem. Second, it is through Shem that the Offspring will come. We already saw in the narrative of Abel, Cain, and Seth that Seth became the lineage of the Redeemer. For several chapters, it seems as though Noah could have been the one that humanity was longing for. Noah might have been the one that God would use to reverse the effects of the Fall. However, his fall into sin reveals that he truly was like the rest of us. Now the narrative moves quickly onto his son, showing that the Savior would come from Shem.
Noah then prays for God to enlarge Japheth and to let him dwell in the tents of Shem. Noah desires for Japheth to become mighty and to share in the blessing of Shem. As we will see in the next chapter, Japheth’s descendants spread into the general area of Europe; therefore, the common term to refer to those who came from Japheth is Indo-European.
These three statements to the children of Noah appear to be strangely prophetic of the entire course of history. The Japhetic people have, since the Greeks and Romans, largely controlled the world. As mentioned, from the Semitic people, God’s revelation to humanity was kept intact. The Hamitic people, being mostly Afro-Asians, have frequently lived in servitude to the other peoples. Especially in regards to the descendants of Ham, many have sought to justify the slavery of Africans throughout the centuries with this text. Doing so is a gross twisting of Scripture. The Bible never condones the practice of slavery or the concept that some people are of less value. Instead, it gives us the following chapter as a reminder that we are all from the same ancestor and, for Christians, that Christ died to save and unite all men.
THE TABLE OF NATIONS // VERSES 1-32
Herein lays another chapter of genealogies. As discussed in chapter five, the same principles of biblical genealogies apply here, so I will proceed to bring out a few key points behind this genealogy in particular.
First, this genealogy is commonly known as the Table of Nations because there are seventy names listed in this chapter, each becoming a nation or people group. This means that, at times, Moses appears to use the tribe or people group in place of the actual man from whom they descended. This should not be distracting for the reader because the purpose behind this genealogy differs from any other in Scripture. While most genealogies are concerned with one person and his descendants, this one reads like a family tree that branches out in all sorts of directions.
Second, this chapter appears to be set largely after the events at Babel. Because of the extended ages, it is likely that all of the men mentioned here were present, or at least alive, at the time of the dispersion. Since these men are all related as fathers, brothers, or cousins, it can be inferred that an event as significant as God’s judgment at Babel was needed to spread them across the planet. Thus, it shows how the earth was filled and in the condition that we see it today.
Third, and most significantly, humanity is both united and divided. We are united in our common ancestry; however, we have been hopelessly divided into different people groups that never seem to be able to live in peace. Let us begin with the positive. This chapter of the Bible negates the entire concept of multiple human races. Because everyone descends from one of Noah’s three sons, all humans are family. Ethnicities have arisen through different languages; however, we are all fundamentally human. We must, therefore, conclude that every argument made to support racism is, by nature, unbiblical. Christ came for all ethnicities, and He has sent us to make disciples of all people groups.
Now for the negative, as we will see in the next chapter, the division of humanity is a judgment of God. The spreading of the people across the earth was not sinful. In fact, that is exactly what God wanted mankind to do. However, instead of filling the earth as God intended, they gathered together in the city of Babel; therefore, God dispersed them across the planet in an act of judgment. Since then the ethnic divisions of humanity are so ingrained that we must conclude that there is no cease-fire, no peace-treaty, no international diplomacy, no United Nations that will ultimately unite the nations. The only one able to bridge the gap of hostility that we have for our own brothers is Jesus Christ. Through His death and resurrection, Christ kills the hostility between different people groups, uniting them into one body of Christ, the Church.Jesus is, therefore, the only means by which we can be in harmony with one another. He is the mediator between God and man but also between man and man. Let us resolve then to look unto Christ for the peace and harmony that we long for.
Allen P. Ross, “The Curse of Canaan,” Bibliotheca Sacra 137:547 (July-September 1980):230
Matthew 28:16-20 What is often translated as “nations” in the Great Commission is actually “ethnicities” in the Greek.
Read Ephesians 2:11-22. Paul’s primary goal of the text is to show how in Christ God bridged the divide between the Jews and the Gentiles. I believe that one practical application of the text is that if God can overcome that divide then He can bridge any human division.