Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:26–27

Genesis 9:26–27
He also said, “Worthy of praise is the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem!  27 May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!”
(NET Bible)

 Prayer and long-range consequences

Perhaps we are too timid in prayer. So many people express rules for how prayer is to be done that it can become a memory exercise to follow the formula. Is that what God intended?

And, of course, we are told never to pray selfishly. But what if we found a prayer in the Bible that would affect all humanity, and it was affirmed by God? And what if we found that the man who prayed it did so because he was angry about how he had been treated? Do we need to rethink prayer?

Perhaps Noah sees that the Lord stands behind Shem’s worthy behavior in limiting the damage of sin. Noah praises Shem indirectly by praising his God, and then he becomes more direct in asking that Canaan become slave to Shem.

Kenneth Mathews speaks about all the verbs in Genesis 9:25–27 when he says: “Noah’s words held no magical powers that destined the fates of future generations. His appeal was to God, whose will alone counted for what would become of the nations.”[1] When Mathews mentions “nations,” he is looking ahead to the prolific expansion of humanity that will take these individuals and make their many descendants into nations (Genesis 10). Noah was praying for things of momentous significance for the entire human race.

Contemporary people seldom realize that ancient names morphed into things that are more familiar to us today. The name Shem came to refer to Semitic peoples in the Arabian Peninsula and in ancient Mesopotamia, where many descendants of Shem settled. It was from the area that is now Iraq that Abraham migrated, at God’s direction, back to Canaan. In time the concept of Semitism came to mean the culture and ideas originating with the Jews, the descendants of Shem. Anti-Semitism is persecution of or discrimination against Jews, who are Semites. Note that since Abraham descended from Shem, the Jews consider themselves Semites.

In a similar way the word “Hebrew” (Gen. 14:13) is thought to derive from Shem’s great-grandson Eber (Gen. 10:21).[2]

Ham’s children, except for Canaan, settled in the Arabian Peninsula and Africa, notably in what is now Egypt. Canaan, of course, settled in what is now Israel, but it was called “Canaan” for millennia.

Genesis 9:27  May God enlarge Japheth’s territory and numbers! May he live in the tents of Shem and may Canaan be his slave!” (NET Bible)

The descendants of Japheth initially settled what is now Turkey and Europe. In its open way, the NET Bible Notes say concerning Genesis 9:27, “The words ‘territory and numbers’ are supplied in the translation for clarity.”[3]

Apparently, Noah asks for a situation which includes Shem worshipping the Lord in peaceful alliance with Japheth and under terms of oppression for Canaan. In the context of Genesis 10 (the Table of Nations) and especially Genesis 9:19 (“from them the whole earth was populated”), Shem, Japheth and Canaan represent peoples who would descend from them.

After saying that God is under no obligation to comply with Noah’s prayer, John Walton adds:

Nevertheless, such pronouncements were accepted with utmost gravity and confidence by the people of Israel, and there are numerous occasions where the statements do end up being fulfilled as the plan of God unfolds. In such cases their significance has been seen in retrospect.[4]

The exact fulfillment of Noah’s requests is debatable. Gordon Wenham quotes a notable Old Testament scholar with one interpretation: “Gentile Christians are for the most part Japhethites dwelling in the tents of Shem.”[5] In retrospect, it seems clear that Japheth and Shem have prospered considerably in comparison to Canaan. But the Canaanite poison of sexual depravity has penetrated all of humankind to our universal harm.

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



[1] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 422.

[2] ESV Study Bible, notes for Genesis 10:21.

[3] NET Bible Notes for Genesis 9:27.

[4] John H. Walton, The NIV Application Commentary: Genesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 350.

[5] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 203, quoting Delitzsch, 1:298.

Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 9:24–25

Genesis 9:24–25
When Noah awoke from his drunken stupor he learned what his youngest son had done to him. 25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves he will be to his brothers.”
(NET Bible)

Sin brings a curse

All actions have consequences. For that reason, the Bible says: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). But the collateral damage may last for generations and eventually affect a large number of people.

What do we learn from a cautionary tale such as the drunkenness of Noah? Who is affected by the consequences of sin? How long do the consequences last? What can be done to halt the damage done by sin?

Since the Bible does not shrink from telling graphic details when relevant, there is no reason to imagine anything more than an irreverent, dishonoring glance in the words “what his youngest son had done to him” (Gen. 9:24). “However, the phrase ‘his youngest son,’ literally, ‘his little son,’ is a surprising [name] for Ham, since the usual order of names, ‘Shem, Ham, Japheth’ leads to the supposition that Ham was the second in the family.”[1] But we have to believe Noah knows which son is youngest, and there is some evidence that Israelite names were often listed with the shortest first.

Genesis 9:25  So he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves he will be to his brothers.”

Noah’s first recorded words are “Cursed be Canaan!” Compare this to Adam’s first words: “This one at last is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh . . .” (Gen. 2:23). Adam’s delight with Eve contrasts with Noah’s contempt for Ham. This contrast provides an example of a principle: the farther one gets from creation, the lower humankind sinks into the degradation caused by sin. By the time we arrive at the end of Genesis, the story has moved from humankind as rulers of the earth, under God (Genesis 1), to the Israelites on the verge of slavery in Egypt (Genesis 50).

It is puzzling at first to see that Noah curses Canaan, the son of Ham, rather than Ham himself. Gordon Wenham says, “Here Noah’s youngest son, Ham, sinned against him; therefore it was appropriate that Ham’s youngest son, Canaan, should be punished for his father’s wickedness.”[2]

The word curse means: “hem in with obstacles, render powerless to resist.”[3] One way to understand the word is that it is used as the reverse of the verb “to bless.” But Noah does not have the power to carry out this action, so we may understand his words as either a prophecy or a request. In any event, the curse comes to pass during the conquest of Canaan and the Israelite monarchy.

The last sentence of Genesis 9:25 can be challenging. In Mark 10:44–45, Jesus told the disciples: “And whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus clearly envisioned voluntary, sacrificial service based in love. That is not what we see in the phrase “lowest of slaves” (literally “slave of slaves,” a construction like “holy of holies”). Canaan’s slavery is involuntary and comes as a consequence of the degradation caused by sin.

The ESV Study Bible correctly states, “This passage was wrongly appealed to in past centuries to justify the enslavement of African people, resulting in a grievous abuse, injustice, and inhumanity to people created in the image of God.”[4]

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



[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 201.

[2] Wenham, Genesis 1-17, 201.

[3] TWOT, ‘arar, to curse, q.v.

[4] ESV Study Bible, notes for Genesis 9:25.

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.