The other day, a fellow messianic believer who I met on Facebook shared some very interesting information that I think goes a long way towards explaining why it was Ham’s son Canaan and not Ham himself who was cursed. And since she also provided solid references, I decided this couldn’t be ignored and so chose to do a post on it.
Let’s take a look at Genesis 9:20-25.
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”
Now many commentaries assume that the “youngest son” is referring to “Noah’s son Ham“
However, there are other scholars who assert that the language in Genesis 9:24 points to Canaan being the one who had committed some “wicked act” against Noah and NOT Ham.
In other words, “youngest son” refers to “Ham’s youngest son” and NOT “Noah’s youngest son“.
So the difficulty we face is one of grammar.
From this perspective, Genesis 9:21-25 should read as follows:
Then he [Noah] drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his [Ham’s] younger son [or, more properly, youngest son] had done to him. Then he said: “Cursed be Canaan . . .”
Before we do a situational breakdown of what actually transpired, we need to take a closer look at the phrase “became uncovered“. Let’s let Scripture define Scripture by having a look at Leviticus 18:6-7.
‘None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness; I am the Lord. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to uncover her nakedness.–Leviticus 18:6-7
There is no doubt that in this context, the phrase “uncover nakedness” refers to a sexual violation. So if we take this as the meaning of “became uncovered“, this would mean that after Noah got drunk, it wasn’t just a matter of his blanket falling off of him leaving him lying there naked. He was actually sexually violated!!!
So the following is a step-by-step analysis of what may have occurred. (I’m not going to be dogmatic about this.)
(1) Noah gets drunk and is sexually violated by Ham’s youngest son Canaan.
(2) Ham is first on the scene after his son’s perverse act.
(3) Ham is in shock (and maybe somehow knowing that it was his son Canaan who had just perpetrated this vile deed), reports what he witnessed to his brothers.
(4) Ham’s two brothers with their backs turned respectfully cover Noah up.
(5) Noah awakens and is aware that Canaan had defiled him, and thus curses him for it.
One question that arises is, was Canaan really the youngest son of Ham?
For the answer to that, take a look at Genesis 10:6.
“The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.“
In the birth order, Canaan is listed last. So Canaan was the youngest son of Ham.
In conclusion, if this interpretation is true, this means that Canaan was NOT punished for something Ham did (which come to think of it doesn’t make any sense), but was punished for his own sin.
This explanation would also explain why the fact that Ham is Canaan’s father is emphasized twice in this account (verses 22 and 24).
Of course, there are many unanswered questions.
What in the world possessed Canaan to engage in a sexually deviant act with his grandfather Noah?
How did Ham know for sure that Canaan had engaged in a sexually repulsive act with Noah? Did he actually witness Canaan in the act?
I’m not going to be dogmatic and say this is the only way to interpret these passages, but it makes pretty good sense to me and if true, it also I feel would explain why God would eventually want to have the Canaanites wiped out.
For those interested, the references asserting that “youngest son” in Genesis 9:24 refers to Canaan are as follows.
The Soncino Chumash,” edited by A. Cohen, London, 1956, p. 47.
The Pentateuch & Haftorahs, by JH Hertz, London, 1972, p. 34
Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible Translation by Joseph Rotherham
P.S. Thanks Mei Ling for sharing this information!