Starting from Genesis 9:18, Noah and his three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth emerge from the ark marking the beginning of a new era in human history.
Nevertheless, in short order we will soon see that man remains just as susceptible to falling into trouble and committing evil as he was before the flood.
We are told that Noah planted a vineyard, made some wine and then drunk himself into a serious stupor. He then made his way back to his tent where he fell asleep sprawled out completely naked.
Next, the Scriptures tell us that “Ham the father of Canaan saw Noah’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside“.
In response, the two brothers took a cloak, walked backwards into the tent so that they wouldn’t see their father’s nakedness and then covered him up. When Noah awoke, he realized what Ham had done to him and pronounced the following curse:
“Cursed be Canaan, the lowliest slave shall he be to his brothers!”
The first question that arises is what in the world did Ham do to his father Noah?
Well, I can do know better than to quote that great Jewish Bible scholar Robert Alter.
Here is his take on the matter:
“No one has ever figured out what exactly what it is that Ham does to Noah.”
There you go. Nobody knows.
Nevertheless, theories abound.
Some suggest that Ham possibly castrated Noah.
Others suggest that he “penetrated” him sexually and so on.
I think it is important to remind ourselves that the Bible is a record of God’s interactions with a certain portion and culture of the human race at a particular point of time in history.
When we superimpose our modern day thoughts onto the Scriptures which took place in a culture completely foreign to our own, it is inevitable that misinterpretations are going to arise.
In this case, we are dealing with an ancient middle eastern culture.
In such a culture, it is entirely possible that the mere viewing of a father’s nakedness was a horrific taboo.
Ham’s failure to turn his eyes away from his father’s nakedness in and of itself could have earned him the curse that was pronounced upon him.
First, why didn’t Ham cover up his father’s nakedness himself?
Why did he go “tattle on him”?
I wonder what exactly he said to his brothers?
Maybe something like this: “Hey guys! You won’t believe what I saw! Pop is drunk out of his mind, sprawled out butt naked in his tent.”
Talking about your father’s nakedness to others is just downright disrespectful.
Ham seems to be guilty of two sins.
One, he did not honor his father.
Two, he committed what in Hebrew is know as LASHON HARA which means to speak evil or gossip about someone.
The second question that confronts us is why was Ham’s son Canaan cursed and not Ham himself?
Again, I think we are dealing with an ancient middle eastern mindset whereby not just that person but also his ancestors are viewed as a collective whole.
Biblically speaking, having a curse placed on just one individual would not be particularly efficacious as it would end at the death of that person.
The Bible says that a curse was placed on all of Ham’s descendants.
However, the reason that Canaan was targeted is because more than any other descendant of Ham, it will be Canaan who will be most directly involved with Israel.
So Noah’s two other sons did the right and proper thing in averting their eyes from their father’s nakedness.
They treated Noah with the proper respect and as a result earned his blessings, the contents of which we will examine carefully in a future post.