A Verse by Verse Study of Genesis 9:18-29
Genesis 9 is a strange passage. Genesis 9:17 ends on a high – when God establishes a covenant with Noah – but immediately seems to plummet in the remainder of the chapter. Noah, who is considered a righteous man – the only man left found to be righteous – and a hero of the Bible, appears to fall.
What Happened After the Flood?
This passage can be confusing, and it is often interpreted in a way that discredits the Bible. People have an expectation that Noah, as a hero of the Bible, must maintain his credibility as a righteous man, and that his drunkenness in Genesis 9 is evidence that he, like other people in the Bible, is a hypocrite.
Why is this account included in the Bible? What purpose does it serve? As the inspired Word of God, everything in the Bible serves a purpose and is included for a reason.
In Genesis 9:18-19, some time has passed since the flood, and the passage reminds us that from Noah’s sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) came all the people who populated the earth. It appears that Noah has no more children of his own to repopulate the earth, but rather it will be through his sons.
Another specific point this part of the passage makes is that Ham is the father of Canaan. It does not point out who Shem and Japheth fathered, and it does this for a special reason which will make more sense as you read the rest of the chapter.
The Drunkenness of Noah
In Genesis 9:20-21,Noah becomes drunk. After the flood Noah begins cultivating the ground and plants a vineyard. The New Living Translation (NLT) assumes that Noah made the wine – or to reword this, intentionally made wine and drank it. Other Bible translations simply say he drank of the wine and became drunk. His drunkenness resulted in him becoming naked while in his tent.
There are several different opinions among Bible commentators as to whether Noah was responsible for his drunkenness – whether this was an intentional sin.
In one camp, it is believed that wine had not yet been discovered and Noah inadvertently drank fermented grape juice. In addition, because of his old age, the effects of the alcohol would have been much more rapid.
In another camp, not only do commentators believe that Noah was responsible for his sin, but there may also have been some sexual behavior that accompanied his intoxication.
What Does the Bible Tell Us?
The Bible often reports the sins of people, and even reveals their motivation behind them. And sometimes men mistakenly do things, and their wrongful actions are also recorded. But when this happens, we are often told by the author that the person was mistaken or made a bad decision.
1 Samuel 19:19-22:23 describes how King Saul was jealous of David and plotted to kill him. The Bible is very clear that King Saul was responsible for this sin. Once a king chosen and anointed by God, is later destroyed by his sinfulness.
2 Chronicles 35:20-27 describes how King Josiah, a good king of Judah who upheld God laws, foolishly fought against the king of Egypt even though he was warned by God not to fight against the Egyptians and died in battle. In this account, however, Josiah was remembered as a good king. He was mourned by all of Judah and Jerusalem and his good deeds were recorded in the Book of Kings.
In the case of Noah, the Bible only describes the episode without any comment. In fact, the text simply tells us that Noah became drunk, but nowhere in the Bible does it mention that he did something wrong.
A Command or a Warning?
Genesis 9 is the first account of drunkenness and its consequences. The next account of drunkenness leading to sinful behavior is recorded in Genesis 19:30-38.
But a direct command not to drink (and this command was given to Levitical priests alone) doesn’t occur until Leviticus 10:9-11. Following this passage, the Old Testament gives warning after warning about the results of alcohol and drunkenness, yet it is not forbidden entirely.
The command not to get drunk does not occur until the New Testament, in Ephesians 5:18.
Canaan is Cursed
In Genesis 9:22, Ham, Canaan’s father, saw that his father Noah was naked and went and told his brothers. But in Genesis 9:23, Shem and Japheth backed into their father’s tent, not wanting to look upon their father’s nakedness, and covered him.
In Genesis 9:24-25,When Noah became sober and realized what Ham had done, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan. But in Genesis 9:26-27 Noah blessed Shem and Japheth.
First Sin After the Flood
There is a lot of speculation about what Ham’s sin was, especially since the punishment was so severe. Some believe that there was some sexual sin involved, while others believe he was only guilty of mocking his father.
It appears Ham may have innocently come upon his father in a drunken stupor and so his sin appears to be what he did afterwards, what his brothers did not do: look upon his father’s nakedness.
In the ancient world merely seeing one’s father nakedness was an offensive act. The father’s position in the family was both a moral and spiritual head, and having his nakedness exposed would be a disgrace. The family unit would suffer because of this. A punishment of this severity can be better understood knowing that, in that culture, it is even considered a capital crime for a child to strike their father.
Deuteronomy 27:16 gives us some insight on the seriousness of dishonoring a father or mother in this ancient culture.
Why Was Canaan Cursed Instead of Ham?
Some people have a problem with the apparent curse on Canaan because of his father’s sin, but there is nothing in Scripture that indicates that this judgment on Canaan and the Canaanites was a mistake or wrong. In Ezekiel 18:4, God declared that the person who sins is the one who will be judged. Meaning that a child will not pay for the sins of a parent.
Though we are not told exactly what Ham did wrong, we do know that it was enough for God to curse the line of his son, Canaan. But the judgment was not directed to Canaan personally, rather, it was a curse on his descendants.
As much as it seems like a knee-jerk reaction or vengeance, scholars believe this curse was one of prophetic foresight – that this was part of God’s plan all along.
In this context, how is this passage be explained? Through Noah’s prophecy, God was telling Ham what would happen to his son’s line, the Canaanites.
How Was Noah Remembered?
Nowhere in the Bible is it mentioned that Noah sinned, or even made a mistake by getting drunk or cursing Canaan. That is not to say that Noah was perfect and sinless, but this account was not held against him. Instead, Noah was a man remembered as a hero of the Old Testament. He was remembered in the New Testament as a godly man and a man of great faith.
Hebrew 11:7 says, “It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.” (NLT)
2 Peter 2:5 says, “And God did not spare the ancient world – except for Noah and the seven others in his family. Noah warned the world of God’s righteous judgment. So God protected Noah when he destroyed the world of ungodly people with a vast flood.” (NLT)
Lessons from Noah
Why is this account included in the Bible? I believe that this part of the passage served as prophetic warning to the people of Canaan, and in the long-term, this prophecy points to God and verifies that his Word is true and authoritative. The Bible is full of prophecy for this very purpose.
The Bible is also a record of real people; real life happening in history. It’s not a fairytale. It includes the good and the bad, without glossing anything over or exaggerating details. We can trust in the integrity of God’s Word.
But there are also some important lessons that we can take away from this passage.
Lesson 1: Always Be on Guard Against Satan’s Snares.
Though drinking wine appears to not have been explicitly wrong at the time of Noah, its effects still led to potential sin and harmful consequences. There are many grey areas which the Bible does not speak clearly on, but we should always be on guard against Satan and the temptation to sin. We should stay away from those situations and actions that lead to compromising situations. In the least, Noah was foolish to get to the state of drunkenness that he did.
Lesson 2: When Faced with the Choice to Sin, Do the Right Thing.
Ham should probably not have entered his father’s private tent. But finding his father in this comprising situation, he should have chosen to do the right thing, as his brothers did. We all have the choice to sin, even when faced with the greatest temptation. We can’t blame circumstances or others around us. We are responsible for making our own choices.
Lesson 3: God’s Grace is Enough.
Though Noah made a mistake in getting drunk – whether intentional or by accident – his actions were not held against him. God counted him as perfectly righteous because of his faith, not because he was perfectly righteous. There is never a point of no return. No matter what state we find ourselves in today, God’s grace is enough to count us as perfectly righteous when we choose to have faith in Jesus.
Genesis 9:28-29 tells is that Noah lived another 350 years after the flood, a total of 950 years. Noah lived for nearly a millennium, and though not much of that time was recorded in Scripture, we can be certain he did not live that life perfectly. Yet God counted every single moment of Noah’s life as righteous and blameless because Noah trusted in God.
So too, we can be counted as holy and blameless before God if we put our trust in his Son, Jesus Christ.
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