noah & ham.

Ok, be honest. There are some strange stories in the Bible. This one definitely fits into that category. Here's the cliff notes version: Noah passes out drunk; His son, Ham, sees him naked, does something that's not clearly explained but gets a rebuke from his brothers, who then cover their father - taking care not to look at him. Then, in a strange turn of events, Noah wakes up from his drunken stupor, and curses his grandson, Canaan, for what his father, Ham, did.

 

WHAT???  If that's not a head scratcher, I don't know what is!  Every teaching I've heard about this involves accusations of incest and far-reaching explanations that must be read into the text in an effort to make sense of it.   

Well, this story USED TO BE a head scratcher... The Truth Quest Rules cleared this one up for me! Especially Rules 2 & 3: "Let the Bible Interpret Itself" and "Historical Context." 

This passage is best explained in laps. Yes, laps. Like you run around a track and pass the start line again, and again... The start line is Genesis 9:18-28. We're going to take several passes by it, highlighting different parts every time we pass by. Let's get running!

Genesis 9:18-28 (NASB)

18 Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth;

and Ham was the father of Canaan.

19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

20Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 

21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.

​22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the NAKEDNESS OF HIS FATHER, and told his two brothers outside.

23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the NAKEDNESS OF THEIR FATHER; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see THEIR FATHER'S NAKEDNESS.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.

25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.”

​26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.

27 “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”

28 Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died.

 

Lap #1:

Realize that this is an end of story summary. This is common as you read through the books in the OT, you see each person's story end with a summary to close it out, and usually a genealogy. (Which happens in the next chapter in this case. This is also a marker of a end and beginning of a covenant story, but you can read more about that in the Covenants TQ pages...) These verses are wrapping up Noah's story.  As summaries go, it squeezes a large chunk of time in an itty bitty living space. Just look at the highlighted verses (20 & 21). In 16 words, Noah went from planting a vineyard, to getting drunk from the wine he made from the grapes in his vineyard! Do you know how long it would take to get from planting to drinking?? Summary, people.  This is a birds-eye view of past tense events, in a past tense time. This is going to be important in a few laps... we'll circle back...

Lap #2:

This is the clearest example I have found of the effectiveness of letting the Bible interpret itself. Here's the key to unlocking this passage. The phrase: "THE NAKEDNESS OF THEIR FATHER"  At first glance it looks like his son saw him naked and went and told his brothers... and this angered Noah so much that he cursed his grandchild for it... now, really, does that make any sense at all??? NO. I mean men circumcised one another, and showed their circumcised selves to each other to prove they were in covenant  - so the act of seeing his father naked would not warrant this reaction.  

Moses is credited for writing this passage. Moses also wrote Leviticus... where we read:

Leviticus 18:7-8 (KJV)

7 The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness.

8 The nakedness of thy father's wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father's nakedness.

 

Leviticus 20:11 (KJV)

11 And the man that lieth with his father's wife hath uncovered his father's nakedness: both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

 

We see that Ezekiel repeats the phrase, and it's connotation:

Ezekiel 22:10-11

10 In thee have they discovered their fathers' nakedness: in thee have they humbled her that was set apart for pollution.

11 And one hath committed abomination with his neighbor's wife; and another hath lewdly defiled his daughter in law; and another in thee hath humbled his sister, his father's daughter.

 

This phrase is worded slightly differently, but I think we can make the connection in Deuteronomy as well:

 

Deuteronomy 22:30

30 A man shall not take his father's wife, nor discover his father's skirt.

Deuteronomy 27:20

20 Cursed be he that lieth with his father's wife; because he uncovereth his father's skirt. And all the people shall say, Amen

 

OK, letting the Bible interpret itself, we see that the phrase

"the nakedness of the father"

refers to having intercourse with your father's wife.

 

Let that sink in a minute...

 

So, this would mean that what Ham did when he entered the tent of his passed out drunk father, was have sex with his mother (his father's wife).

 

Wait for it though, we're not done... a couple more laps to really bring this home! Let's read it again paying attention to the highlighted parts:

Genesis 9:18-28 (NASB)

18 Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth;

and Ham was the father of Canaan.

19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.

20Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. 

21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.

22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.

23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of the father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.

25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants he shall be to his brothers.”

​26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.

27 “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”

28 Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died.

Lap #3:

If Ham slept with his mother - and his son, CANAAN, was born as the result, then Canaan would have been raised by his mother (Noah's wife) as a step brother to Shem and Japeth, which would make sense as to why Moses clarified twice that Ham was the father of Canaan. If you lived in this time period and you knew Noah, you would see Noah, his wife, and their 4 children: Shem, Ham, Japheth AND CANAAN. But Canaan's father was Ham... not Noah. This explains why it was an important thing to clarify to keep the genealogy straight when summarizing Noah's life story.

 

Lap #4:

 

The deathbed blessing. A common occurrence in the OT. When the patriarch is passing, he issues his blessing to his heirs. This was no small thing. Look at how seriously Jacob and Esau took their father's deathbed blessing. Notice that in Noah's blessing (vs 25 - 27), Ham is not even mentioned. We're going to circle back to that... But he does mention Canaan...

Cursed be to Canaan, a servant of servants he shall be TO HIS BROTHERS.   

Blessed is Shem... let Canaan be his servant...

May God enlarge Japheth... let Canaan be his servant.

Ham had 3 other children. But did you see that Noah identifies Canaan as BROTHER to his other son's, Shem and Japeth. This would only make sense if he was raised by his mother (Noah's wife), and was step brother to Shem & Japeth. Why else would Moses keep having to clarify who Canaan's father was? He wasn't raised as one of Ham's children, because his MOTHER was Noah's wife... See how it all makes sense with this understanding? 

Now let's explore why Ham isn't even mentioned in his father's deathbed blessing...

In this time period, we learn from within the Bible and from extra-biblical sources that when a son "takes" his father's wife, this was an open and direct attempt to usurp his patriarchal authority. Which would be why he bragged about it to his brothers. Moses identifies Ham’s act as a violation against his father, Noah. (When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.) As far as I can tell, there are no known historical documents that support the idea that paternal rape was ever used as a means to usurping a father’s position (I did search!). So the idea that Ham accosted his father directly in some sexual way has no merit or support in the entirety of the text or situation historically. But there are plenty of examples showing us that taking the patriarch or the king's wife is establishing yourself as the new big man on the block. Let's look at a few:

  • Absalom’s public intercourse with his father’s concubines (2 Sam 16:21–22),

  • Reuben’s relations with Bilhah, Jacob's concubine (Gen 35:22; 49:3–4),

  • David’s acquisition of Saul’s wives when he took the throne (2 Sam 12:8),

  • David's son, Adonijah’s, attempt to acquire his female servant, Abishag, to establish himself (2 Kgs 2:13–25)

Let's take a closer look at the Reuben/Jacob situation. In Genesis 35:22 we are told (in summary style, similar to Noah's), that "Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father's concubine, and Israel heard of it." Now, knowing what you now know, you can see that the comment "Israel heard of it" is significant because it shows that there was intention behind this action. Intention to step in and take over while his father, Jacob, was away. Now, flip over to Gen. 49:3-4, Jacob's deathbed blessing. He said "you shall not have preeminence because you went up to your father's bed, then you defiled it..." He lost his firstborn birthright as a result of his actions. Now flip over to 1 Chron. 5:1. 

"...Reuben, the firstborn of Israel... but because he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to his birthright."

Isn't that interesting? So Reuben defiled his father's bed (or uncovered his father's nakedness) and he was removed from the genealogy and denied his birthright. Isn't that exactly what we see happening to Ham? He wasn't even mentioned in his father's deathbed blessing - he lost his place in the family and received no birthright blessing. 

 

Ok, one more lap...

Lap 5:

21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.

See where that says "uncovered himself inside his tent"? Well, first we understand from the other passages that this is referring to having intercourse... BUT here's the most interesting part. HIS TENT should actually be "HER TENT." The word for tent is used in several places in the OT, but the FEMININE form of the Hebrew word (הלהא) is only used twice. Here and in Gen 24:67, where Isaac brings Rebekah into the tent of his mother to consummate their marriage. Yup. Selah.

And there you have it.

THAT is the proper explanation of the seemingly strange story of Noah, Ham and his son, Canaan. Not that strange at all, now is it? 

See you on the next Quest!

~Tracy

 

 

© 2017 by Truth Quest with Tracy Krebs. Proudly created with Wix.com

  • b-facebook
  • Twitter Round
  • Instagram Black Round
  • Pinterest - Black Circle