Today’s reading includes Genesis 11:1-13:4, Matthew 5: 1-26, Psalm 5:1-12, Proverbs 1:24-28. Yesterday we compared the similarities between Adam and Noah. Adam had three sons and so did Noah. The sin of Adam’s son, Cain was punished for generations. The redemption came through Adam’s son, Seth who brought about a righteous lineage and resulted in Noah, the only righteous man left on the earth. We find that Noah, too, had a son whose sin affected the generations to come; and Noah, too, had a righteous son whose righteous lineage changed the world forever. His son, Shem, brought about a righteous lineage and resulted in the birth of Abraham, whose lineage brought about David, and ultimately Jesus, the Savior of the world.
Noah’s three sons were Ham, Shem, and Japheth. In Genesis 9, we see a brief but important story concerning Noah and these three sons.
The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth.
Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness.Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness.
It is unclear here whether Noah purposely became intoxicated; however, he was very drunk and in this state lay unconscious and naked inside his tent. Ham, the youngest, was the first to discover Noah in this awkward position. When Ham saw his father, he did not cover his shame, but instead broadcast it to the others. Shem and Japheth, on the other hand, took a garment and laid it across their shoulders and walked in backwards. Not only did they refuse to broadcast their father’s sin and shame, but they also had compassion and covered it.
There are important lessons for us in this brief account. First of all, how do we respond to the sin and shame of those around us? Do we look on the shame and sin of others and broadcast it to the world through gossip and judgment? Or do we handle the mistakes of others with privacy and covering? I am not talking about keeping secrets—secrets can be dangerous things. And I am not talking about ignoring sin or having a “free to be you and me” attitude concerning sin. We are called to speak truth, but Ephesians 4:15 says to speak truth in love. Look at what else God’s Word has to say.
Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12)
He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
We also find in Matthew 18:15 an outline for a biblical approach to confronting others in their mistakes and in misunderstandings, and it doesn’t involve an announcement to everyone we meet, even in the form of a “prayer request.” That approach is called gossip, and it too is a sin. We all, including me, need to evaluate our first response to the sin and shame of others: Do we go to the phone or do we go to the Throne?
The second lesson that we can learn from this account concerns the action of honoring others. Honoring our father and mother, even when we are grown, is vital—so vital that it is included in the Ten Commandments and is the only commandment with a promise attached to it.
Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 5:16)
In Deuteronomy 5:16, Moses summoned all of Israel for these commandments. We tend to use this one to teach children to obey, but we must not forget that honoring our parents is a lifelong commandment. Ham did not honor his father, and the results were painful consequences for generations after. When Noah awoke and found out what Ham had done, he had this to say:
When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.”
He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”
Canaan was one of Ham’s sons. So Noah was saying that not only will Ham be cursed, but all the generations to come will be too.
Noah also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!” The glory in Shem’s blessing was aimed at God, not Shem, because his reaction to sin and shame came from his understanding and respect for God. God got the glory for his righteous action. Shem was blessed because he represented God well by honoring his father and by covering his shame.
For reasons unclear, Shem was the one most regarded for this event, perhaps because it was his idea to cover his father and not look upon his shame. Perhaps Japheth, when faced with the opposite opinions and actions of his two brothers, chose to stand with the righteous one, the brother who exhibited integrity. He too was blessed for it. The blessing was as follows:
May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave. Genesis 9:26-27
Let’s stop for just a moment and address the elephant in the room. Many of you may be thinking, God honored a curse that a father placed on his own son? That doesn’t sound loving or fair or kind or just, does it? I confess that I struggled with that thought, too. But as I thought and prayed it through, I came to the following conclusions.
First of all, we have to remember the culture of those days. Blessings and curses were a part of life. For reasons hard for us to understand now, the blessing (or curse) of the father was vital and powerful, both in the physical realm and in the spiritual realm.
Second, we again have to remember the culture of those days. Honoring parents was a big deal back then. Don’t you wish it was the same now? What Ham did was a big deal, because he dishonored his father. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to us, but in those times and in that culture, it was a major offense.
Third, we have to remember the culture of the heavenly realm, which involves holiness. God is altogether holy. This big deal sin of Ham was not only an offense to Noah; it was also an offense to God. God cannot look upon sin. Sin is the huge chasm that separates us from God. And guess what? That has not changed. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. His holiness has not changed. He still cannot look upon sin. The curse stood because the sin remained, and it remained for the generations that came through Ham, the Canaanites.
If God has not changed, what has changed? Why don’t we live in fear of the curse of sin and death? The answer lies in two verses I want us to look at.
If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us–for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”
Jesus hung on the tree to take the curse for us. The holiness of God demanded that the curse be fulfilled. It is only through Jesus that the curse of sin and death is taken away from us because He fulfilled the curse on our behalf. Praise Him for this great news!