c) Gen 9:22–23: Concerning the incident with Noah’s vineyard (Gen 9:20–21), Moses focused upon how Noah’s son sinned him, rather than upon what Noah did.[1]

This account illustrates the moral depravity of the descendants of Ham—Canaanites, Egyptians, and Babylonians—in contrast to the upright conduct of Shem and Japheth’s progeny (Gen 10:6–32).[2]

Moses wrote, “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw (raah) the nakedness of his father, and he told his two brothers outside.”

This consisted of attentive observation,[3] to the point of voyeurism (Song 1:6; Song 6:11).[4]

Throughout the Old Testament, God commanded children to render honor to their parents (Exod 21:15, 17; Deut 27:16; Prov 30:17; Mal 1:6).[5]

This includes the first of the Ten Commandments which apply to relationships between people (Exod 20:12).[6]

Ham compounded his error by telling his brothers about his father’s disgraceful state (Prov 17:9).[7]

According to one Ugaritic tale, the god Baal viewed sons as a blessing who would protect their fathers.[8]

Baal said, “So shall there be a son in his house…Who smothers the life-force of his detractor…Who takes him by the hand when he’s drunk, carries him when he’s sated with wine.”[9]

A Mesopotamian man’s last will and testament illustrates the severity of the penalty for dishonor.

He wrote, “And now therefore, my two sons…whichever of them shall bring a lawsuit against…or shall abuse…their mother, shall pay 500 shekels of silver to the king; he shall set his cloak upon the door bolt, and shall depart into the street.”[10]

In the Ancient Near East, a parent removing clothing from someone symbolized disinheritance.[11]

This interpretation of Ham’s sins makes sense in its cultural context (Isa 51:17–18).

Yet, some scholars who don’t recognize loyalty to one’s parents as a cardinal virtue seek deeper meaning in the text.[12] They allege unwarranted charges of incest with Noah or his wife,[13] or even Noah’s castration.[14]

Such topics receive explicit attention elsewhere in the Pentateuch, making it unlikely that Moses avoided lurid details (Cf. Gen 19:4–5; Gen 35:22; Gen 49:1–4).

Furthermore, Shem and Japheth’s actions refute such allegations.[15]

Moses reported, “Shem and Japheth took the outer garment and they put it on two shoulders. And they walked backwards, and they covered [the] nakedness of their father. And their faces [were] backwards, and the nakedness of their father they did not see (raah).”

The repetition and detail in this account evoke the great effort expended by Shem and Japheth to avoid seeing their father’s nudity.[16]

One can imagine them plotting how to manage to clothe Noah without catching a glimpse of him. Perhaps they walked backwards until Noah’s toes came into view and then dropped the cloak over him.[17]

Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

Read Gen 9:22–23. How does this passage reveal the attitudes of Noah’s sons? Why do you think Moses included it?

 

 

 

 

Go to Obedience in the Lord

[Related posts include The Sons of Noah (Gen 9:18–19); Noah Planted a Vineyard (Gen 9:20–21); A Slave of Slaves (Gen 9:24–25); Blessed Be the God of Shem (Gen 9:26–27); The Descendants of Ham (Gen 10:6–14); The Descendants of Canaan (Gen 10:15–20); The Descendants of Shem (Gen 10:21–31); Obedience in the Lord (Eph 6:1); Life-Long Honor (Eph 6:2–3); Nurturing and Training (Eph 6:4); Ancient Literature; and Author and Date of Genesis]

[Click here to go to Chapter 10: Noah Curses Canaan (Gen 9:18–27)]

 

[1]Walton, Genesis, 346.

[2]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 147. The Hebrew word for “Egypt” is “Mizraim.”

[3]H. F. Fuhs, “רָאָה” (raah), TDOT 13:210–42, 223–4.

[4]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 149.

[5]C. J. H. Wright, “Family,” ABD 2:761–9, 766.

[6]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 199.

[7]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 149.

[8]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 199–200.

[9]H. L. Ginsberg, trans., “The Tale of Aqhat,” in ANET, 1:24–33, 150, https://archive.org/stream/in.gov.ignca.16119/16119#page/n139/mode/2up.

[10]J. J. Finkelstein, trans., “Additional Mesopotamian Legal Documents: (17) Will and Testament,” in ANET, 546.

[11] Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, 30.

[12]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 200. Wenham is not among them.

[13]Walton, Genesis, 346.

[14]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 322.

[15]Walton, Genesis, 346.

[16]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 200.

[17]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 200.