A Drunken Sailor | Bible Class on Noah’s Drunkenness (Genesis 9:20-29)
The name “Noah” means “rest” or “comfort.” Lamech “called his name Noah, saying, ‘This one will comfort us concerning our work and the toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord has cursed’” (Gen 5:29).
From Genesis 5:29 came a tradition that Noah invented the plow, thereby making farming easier. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not this is true. When we talked about Noah’s name, we spoke of this text as a prophecy of the renewal brought about through the Flood.
Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard, v 20. The literal Hebrew of this verse would be: “And Noah, a man of the ground, began and planted a vineyard.” The RSV translates this: “Noah was the first tiller of the soil.” That cannot be, for Adam was the first one to till the soil (Gen 2:15; 3:17-19).
However, this could mean that Noah was the first person to plant a vineyard. We do not know that this was the case, but it is a strong possibility of what is intended. It is also possible that this simply means that Noah became a farmer after the Flood. Maybe he had some other occupation before the Flood (carpentry?), and became a farmer afterwards.
Noah drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent, v 21. It is very possible that Noah is the first person to get drunk. Notice that there isn’t a word of condemnation to or about Noah in the text. However, sometimes Scripture simply tells what someone did without commenting on it. God, I believe, expects us to understand from other Scriptures that the person acted wrongly.
If Noah is the first person to get drunk, why didn’t God warn him about the evil effects of alcohol? The Scripture doesn’t say that Noah is either the first person to get drunk or that God did not warn him.
The Scriptures condemn drunkenness over and over. “Wine is a mocker, Strong drink is a brawler, And whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Prov 20:1). Why is the one led astray by wine not wise? Proverbs 23:29-35. Galatians 5:19-21.
Because Noah became drunk, he undresses and lies naked in his tent. Drunkenness often causes people to do things they would not ordinarily do, including undressing (Lam 4:21). What are some things people do when they are drunk?
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside, v 22. It’s interesting that we’re told that Ham was the father of Canaan. Canaan is prophesied to be the servant of Shem. Some of the descendants of Shem (the Israelites) would drive out the Canaanites from the Promised Land.
Ham sees his father’s nakedness. There are some who read a great deal into this episode and make suggestions that Scripture does not say. Ham told his two brothers when he saw his father’s nakedness. Ham seems to want to boast or to make fun of his father. There is absolutely no respect for the father here.
Why is respect for parents so important? Exodus 20:12. Ephesians 6:1-3. Colossians 3:20.
How should adult children honor their parents? Why is it important for adult children to continue respecting their parents after they leave home? Obviously, marriage changes the relationship between parents and adult children big time (Gen 2:23-24; Matt 19:5-6); however, that does not change the need to respect/honor one’s parents.
Shem and Japheth show a great deal of respect and cover walk backward and cover their father’s nakedness, v 23.
Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his younger son had done to him, v 24. Obviously, someone told Noah what Ham had done; we’ve already seen how alcohol clouded Noah’s judgment. How would you have like to have been the one to tell Noah what Ham had done?
Noah cursed Canaan, but blessed Shem and Japheth, vv 25-27. A father’s blessings and curses are a common feature in Genesis. Isaac and Jacob would bless their sons. These blessings and curses appear to be very prophetic. They could also not be revoked (Gen 27:37). Their prophetic nature and the fact that they could not be revoked appears to be why the author mentions them so often.
The question is sometimes asked why Noah cursed Canaan when Ham was the culprit. Some suggest that Canaan was involved in this sin, but the author omitted that fact for some reason. This is certainly possible, but it does not seem all that likely. Although at verses 18 and 22, we’re told that Ham is the father of Canaan, we’re not necessarily told that Canaan has already been born. It could very well be that Moses is looking backward in time. We do the same thing at times.
The most likely reason that Canaan is cursed is that this demonstrates that the sins of the father affect the son. Exodus 34:6-7. Deuteronomy 5:8-9. Lamentations 5:7. However, God teaches that sons shall not bear the guilt of the father (Ex 18:19). How is it that sons shall not bear the guilt of the father, yet children often suffer for their fathers’ sins?
- Sons often repeat the same sins their fathers committed. How many of us have found ourselves acted very similar to ways that our parents acted? How many folks repeat harmful—even dysfunctional—patterns witnessed in their home of origin?
- Sons often bear the consequences of the sins of their fathers. That is really the context of Lamentations 5:7. How many children are suffering greatly because of the sins their parents have committed?
There are several ideas about when Noah’s curse was fulfilled in history. The most likely explanation is that this looks forward to the day when the Israelites (descended from Shem and the Philistines (descended from Japheth) enslaved the Canaanites (Josh 9:23; 1 Ki 9:21).
Another problematic question would be, “Why did Moses find it necessary to include this episode in the first place?” It makes us uncomfortable, and it surely made the people of Moses’ day uncomfortable. Therefore, why include it?
The most likely reason that this text is included in Scripture is that this shows how the Canaanites lost their moral compass. In the Law, God would condemn the sexual promiscuity of Egypt and Canaan, both descended from Ham (10:6). Leviticus 18:3. Immediately after that text, God teaches His people about the sexual sins of Egypt and Canaan. This episode seems to speak about the first sexual sin of Egypt and Canaan. This text would likely have greatly resonated with the first hearers.