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Archive for June, 2014

The Bible doesn’t tell us why Noah got drunk (Genesis 9:20-29). Neither do we know how many years after the flood that this event took place, but it must have been several. Noah’s wife isn’t mentioned, and it’s possible that she might have died. The flood that destroyed the old world was an indescribably traumatic event, and perhaps Noah had been weakened by time and depression. Perhaps the first drink or two wrecked his judgement.

When the Bible doesn’t go into detail concerning an event, we should be careful of writing our own speculations in stone. Sometimes the original languages of the Bible offer clues concerning the rest of the story, but meanings of words can also change over time, so there are always places where we can become confused.

Anyway, inside his tent, Noah undressed for bed but passed out before he covered up. His son Cham (Ham), saw him naked in the tent, and told his brothers, Shem, and Japheth, who took a blanket, and covered their father. According to the Bible they walked backward until, I suppose, they found his feet. Ham should have covered his father when he first found him, instead of telling the whole world about it.

I’ve heard all kinds of speculative preaching about this Bible passage, accusing Ham of many things beyond what the Bible tells us. Ham, at the least, was disrespectful to his father. When Noah awakened, and understood what had happened, he was angry with Ham, but it sounds as if his anger was directed more against Ham’s son Canaan. I think that’s a misinterpretation however. I think it’s also a clue to the real story, and that behind the scenes, Noah was already having difficulties with Ham.

It would understandably be embarrassing for Ham to find Noah in that condition, but he may have taken advantage of the situation to humiliate his father. Ham’s wrong may not have been so much in telling his brothers, as in the way that he told them. He could have ranted about what a curse it was to have descended from such a father. Noah might then have retaliated in anger that Canaan was cursed to have a father such as Ham, who would leave a poor heritage to his descendants.

It makes sense to me that what actually happened was something of this sort. According to the Strong’s Concordance, the name Canaan means “humiliated,” which is likely another clue to the meaning of the story. That would not likely have been the original name of this son of Ham. The spelling of his name is different from that of a grandson of Shem (ref. Luke 3:36, and “Cainan,” in my archives of June, 2012), and also from that of the son of Enos in Genesis 5:9-14.

I don’t think that Noah would really have wanted to see all of Ham’s descendants become servants or slaves. At any rate, history has not specifically worked out that way, and tribes and nations which descended from Ham have subjugated other nations as often as not. For example, Egypt, a nation descended from Ham, enslaved the Israelites who were descendants of Shem. Canaanites (the Phoenicians), who lived in the area invaded by Israel after their deliverance from Egypt, also subjugated the Israelites for many of the decades of their existence together.

Over the course of history, leaders and prominent citizens have often sought to make slaves of their own people as well. These things are examples of the sin and greed preached against throughout the Bible. Some have tried to use this passage to justify the taking of human beings as slaves, just as people have always sought justification for their actions, and atheists are right to condemn those who have done so. Many atheists however, deliberately make use of such things to distort the interpretation of the Bible.

The Bible warns us against this also. Events are often reported in the Bible much as they would be in the news, and the reader is expected to exercise good judgement. The Bible doesn’t promote slavery, but it does predict its continuing existence until the time of the end (Revelation 6:15).

The words of Noah seem to me to be more generally true of the spiritual heritage of his descendants than of physical slavery. In Genesis 9:26, Noah mentions “the Lord God of Shem.” Shem, believing in one God, impressed monotheistic beliefs upon many of his descendants, while many nations descending from Ham have served a pantheon of “gods”. Jesus, the Messiah, entering this world through the virgin birth, was a descendent of Shem.

The serving of false gods often leads to a loss of freedoms. A heritage of rebellion against God, at least in the short-term, seems also to have run in Ham’s family. Nimrod, who established the city of Babylon, where God interrupted the building of the tower, was a descendent of Ham. Much of the labor on the tower would no doubt have been forced, as it has been in the building of many of the great monuments of man.

There are things that happen in families that affect later generations. A heritage of poverty affects many families, and poverty leads to borrowing. Borrowing has now become the American way of life, but Proverbs 22:7 says that the borrower is a servant to the lender. I understand the truth of that saying far too well.

Our heritage can bind us every bit as much as the chains of slavery. Note here that I recognize that much of monotheism is also based more upon spiritual imagination than upon reality. The Islamic terrorists who recently kidnapped 300 Nigerian schoolgirls (reports vary on the number) are either totally deceived by their heritage, or they are making use of that heritage to further their own personal agenda. According to the news, they have threatened to sell the girls as slaves if their demands aren’t met. The slave industry is very much alive in our day, and God only knows how many young girls around the world are kept as sex slaves. The term “wife,” often has little real meaning beyond being a convenient title.

The heritage of sin survived the flood. Ham must have rejoiced inwardly to see his father stumble, and that made a sad situation worse. There are usually many outside factors that contribute to the inconsistent behavior of humans, and though he didn’t look the part, this was the same Noah who had “found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” He built the ark that carried his family to safety, while all others perished.

Though he was at least somewhat inconsistent, it is imperfect people who need grace and hope; not perfect people. When people who realize their imperfections see the imperfections of the “heroes” of the Bible; it gives us hope. The Bible has been the source of hope to billions of people over the centuries, many of them slaves, for it has convinced them of deliverance to come (Luke 4:14-21).

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