Genesis 9:18-29…The sons of Noah who came out of the ship were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. These are the three sons of Noah; from these three the whole Earth was populated. Noah, a farmer, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank from its wine, got drunk and passed out, naked in his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked and told his two brothers who were outside the tent. Shem and Japheth took a cloak, held it between them from their shoulders, walked backwards and covered their father’s nakedness, keeping their faces turned away so they did not see their father’s exposed body. When Noah woke up with his hangover, he learned what his youngest son had done. He said,
Cursed be Canaan! A slave of slaves,
a slave to his brothers! Blessed be God, the God of Shem,
but Canaan shall be his slave. God prosper Japheth,
living spaciously in the tents of Shem.
But Canaan shall be his slave. Noah lived another 350 years following the flood. He lived a total of 950 years. And he died.
Noah is known most as the man who saved the world from the flood. But what happens next is kind of an odd way for the author to conclude the story of Noah.
The writer of Genesis, Moses, some hundreds of years later, retells this story to the Jewish people to a group of wandering slaves in the middle of a desert.
Why this story?
Why speak of a drunken Noah and naked Noah, if they were to be like Noah?
This story really isn’t even about Noah if you look a little deeper than the surface. This story is really about Ham and his two brothers.
It’s a story about the way God intends people to treat those around us and the result of the way we treat the people around us.
The Jewish people believe that modesty is the foundation of Jewish values and is one of the fundamental underpinnings of the Jewish family. Tz’ni’ut is the Hebrew word for modesty (meaning simplicity, a touch of bashfulness, and reserve). But perhaps above these, it signifies privacy. It is the hallmark of Jewish marriage, and the rabbis refer to it as the specific quality to look for in the ideal mate.
Tz’ni’ut also means discreet habits, quiet speech, and infers the avoidance of grossness, raucous behavior, and even “loud” ornaments. This is not merely a series of behavioral niceties, a sort of Bible’s guide to etiquette, but a philosophy of life.
The idea of Tz’ni’ut was intended to preserve the sanctity of the human being from assault by the coarseness of daily life.
The problem comes when Ham does nothing about his Father lack of Tz’ni’ut. Instead, he just goes and tells his brothers.
Shem and Japheth take action. They grab a sheet, walk backwards, and cover their father. The Israelites are descendants of Shem.
There is more going on here than drinking and nudity. More than too much wine.
The New Humanity
Remember Moses, the author.
He was writing to the Jewish people, who had no identity. They had been slaves so long they didn’t know how to live life God’s way.
What’s he trying to tell the Jewish people in this story?
Don’t be like Ham.
Deuteronomy 10:12-19…Israel, what does the LORD your God want you to do? He wants you to fear him, follow all his directions, love him, and worship him with all your heart and with all your soul. 13 The LORD wants you to obey his commands and laws that I’m giving you today for your own good. 14 Remember that the sky, the highest heaven, the earth and everything it contains belong to the LORD your God. 15 The LORD set his heart on your ancestors and loved them. Because of this, today he chooses you, their descendants, out of all the people of the world. 16 So circumcise your uncircumcised hearts, and don’t be impossible to deal with any longer. 17 The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, powerful, and awe-inspiring God. He never plays favorites and never takes a bribe. 18 He makes sure orphans and widows receive justice. He loves foreigners and gives them food and clothes. 19 So you should love foreigners, because you were foreigners living in Egypt.
Don’t be like Ham. Don’t be like Egypt.
Don’t walk away from those in need.
Dare to preserve human dignity at all costs.
Care of orphans and widows. Make justice happen. Give to foreigners.