Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:21-23

Genesis 9:21-23
When he drank some of the wine, he got drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his fathers nakedness and told his two brothers who were outside. 23 Shem and Japheth took the garment and placed it on their shoulders. Then they walked in backwards and covered up their fathers nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so they did not see their fathers nakedness.
(NET Bible)

How the Canaanites became sexually depraved

Anyone who reads today’s story must confront the reality of our own tendencies. Events happen, and people make bad choices resulting in sin. The question is: what happens next?

What is God’s reaction to those who spread the damage of sin even further? How does God respond to those who try to limit the damage of sin? What are the long-term implications of the answers to these questions?

While the Bible takes a favorable view toward wine, drunkenness is always shown to be sin. Victor Hamilton notes, “The two incidents in Genesis describing drunkenness ([Gen. 9:21] and 19:31ff) become the occasions for sins of debauchery.”[1]

The author of Genesis reached into his literary bag and pulled out a rare Hebrew form to express the gravity of Noah’s action in uncovering himself inside his tent. Only one Hebrew verb in a hundred takes this form, and such forms occur just 38 times in the fifty chapters of Genesis. Many of these instances are dramatic events: Adam and Eve frantically hide from God amidst the trees of the garden (3:8); the flaming sword whirls about to bar the man from re-entering the garden (3:24); Enoch walks with God (5:22) and is taken away without death; God is highly offended by the violence which prevails in the earth (6:6); Noah walks with God like Enoch (6:9); drunken Noah uncovers himself in his tent (9:21).

The facts presented in the previous paragraph imply that the sin of Noah’s drunken nudity is more important than the simple words of the verse might lead us to think. This event is a big deal! The NET Bible Notes explain: “It is hard for modern people to appreciate why seeing another’s nakedness was such an abomination, because nakedness is so prevalent today. In the ancient world, especially in a patriarchal society, seeing another’s nakedness was a major offense.”[2] Noah’s drunkenness and resulting nakedness present Noah’s sons with an opportunity to show their inner qualities.

Ham sees the nakedness of his father Noah, and, instead of covering Noah, Ham spreads the problem further by telling his two brothers (Gen. 9:22). They did not need to know; that they are told increases their fathers shame and dishonor.

Shem and Japheth become part of the solution by acting to cover their father without further dishonoring him (Gen. 9:23). The fact that they go to great lengths to keep from seeing Noah demonstrates their desire to protect him. It may be this very incident that leads Peter to say, “Above all keep your love for one another fervent, because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).

A second thought about the serious of Noah’s sin and Hams response is the context in which it happens. God has previously destroyed the world for sexual depravity and violence. With unfortunate speed, the world starts down a sinful path again. Will God again destroy what he has made? We tend to be blind to that possibility because we know how the story ends.

Before we leave this section, note that the author of Genesis again asserts that Ham is father to Canaan (Gen. 9:22). The NET Bible Notes explain, “The Canaanites, Hams descendants through his son Canaan, were cursed because they shared the same moral abandonment that their ancestor displayed.”[3] We will get to the curse in due course, but the author of Genesis wants us to see that the deep sexual sin of the numerous Canaanite peoples finds its source in this incident. Noah’s folly of drunkenness led to his nakedness. Encountering his father in this state brought out the moral abandonment in Ham; the father’s choice became the shared conviction of the son.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990) 321.

[2] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:22.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:18.

2 thoughts on “Exposition of Genesis 1-11: Genesis 9:21-23”

  1. Barry,
    …just read your Aug 18 post and once again am refreshed by the Word. Thanks for your continuing to post and publish. May we both hear from our Father, “…in your labors I was displayed.” May we both also hear the words, “Well done Good and Faithful Servant”!


  2. Hi Dave!

    It’s always great to hear from an old friend.

    “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17, ESV)


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