Genesis 9:18-29 - Shame Uncovered and Covered
[Text: Genesis 9:18-11:9]
God’s covenant with Noah told us that even though man couldn’t go back to the perfection of Eden, God would make it possible to move forward to redemption through His covenant. Here, like in Genesis 3, fresh rebellion breaks out, but God works even in the face of brokenness to begin redeeming His people.
Nothing invites more shame than being exposed. If you ask people what their number one fear would be, I would imagine that public nakedness would rank just behind public speaking (which for some feels like the same thing). In many cultures, public shaming of guilty individuals was common for many centuries. Through the 19th century, Staupenschlag (whipping, generally on the bare bottom) was standard practice in German states. The goal was to combine physical pain with the psychological fear of nakedness in order to shame someone from going after certain behaviors and warn others of the consequences of such behavior. The nakedness intensifies the shame of the person. There is no covering for them, both figuratively and literally, and so they are left feeling vulnerable and helpless.
FCF: We can all identify with that on some level, if it is just through our dreams of showing up to school having forgotten to put on clothes that day. The anxiety we feel just thinking about that teaches us our need for covering. In the same way, my sin leaves me naked and exposed before the perfection of God with no covering for my shame and (apart from grace) I live in fear of punishment. My heart longs to be freed from the curse and shame of my disobedience, but I’m helpless in my nakedness. Like in our dreams, I can’t cover myself. But in God’s covenant of grace there is covering for our shame and blessing for sinners who have embraced the redemption that is in Jesus.
As the flood account comes to a close, Moses tells a story that works in a couple of ways. We’ll talk about the big picture in a little bit, but on one level it tells the story of two sinners, a father and a son, and the different ways God deals with them. For Noah, a covering for his shame is provided through his older sons, two brothers who have embraced the LORD. But for Ham and his family, however, there is no covering because they have rejected the LORD and live outside of His grace.
9:18 simply tells us that Noah’s three sons who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. All three passed through the water of judgment. All three saw the worship of their father and the sacrifice asking for God’s to cover the disobedience of humans with His grace after the flood. All three heard God speak the words of the covenant with all flesh to hold back His wrath. But we’re given one more piece of information here. We’re told about Ham being the father of Canaan. Hang on to that. Moses is preparing us for what is to come.
9:19 tells us that from these three sons of Noah, all the people of the earth were dispersed. Some translations say, “from these the whole earth was populated,” but the original word carries the connotation of “scattering,” so I think the dispersion language fits best, especially considering what comes soon after in chapters 10 and 11. We’ll get there next week.
9:20-23 is the heart of the story. Noah is settling into his new life and plants a vineyard. But he enjoys the fruit of his labor in a foolish way and gets (nearly) black out drunk and lays naked in his tent. The brief straightforwardness of the statement telling us about what he did is meant to cast his actions in a poor light. It was a shameful thing for God’s covenant representative to do and the text is letting us know that neither God nor we should approve of his drunkenness.
- The bible does not present alcohol in and of itself as an evil thing, but it always presents drunkenness as a form of disobedience to God. It overpowers us, leading us away from the worship of God and into self-focused lifestyles of instant gratification – it takes away self-control and opens the door to glorifying food or sex instead of our good Creator. For others it becomes a means of escape. Rather than running toward God for comfort in sorrow and grief, alcohol becomes a way to hide from problems. But the problems don’t go away, they are only pushed down. As soon as the fog of the drink passes, they loom larger than ever with more problems gathering around – broken relationships, poverty, and all the consequences the laws of men can bring to bear.
- Let this be a warning to those for whom alcohol is a potential master (meaning all of us!) Drunkenness does not lead to the worship of God.
- And yet we should never add our own laws to the law of God and forbid those who know self-control from enjoying what God has made with thanksgiving. For some, alcohol can be enjoyed rightly. But take care, you who do partake, that you do not by your freedom lead a weaker brother or sister into sin. The example of Jesus is to give up his rights so that another may be built up and strengthened. Do the same for each other as Jesus has already done for you.
But a warning against the danger of alcohol is not the primary issue here. Noah was righteous enough (by God’s grace) to pass through the judgment. How did he end up here? 2 Peter 2 tells us that he was a herald of righteousness when he was surrounded by evil before the flood, but now he’s drunk. And not only drunk, but drunk and naked!
- Often, when we’re in the thick of things, when God is calling us to walk through dark places, we are quick to run to God for help. The temptation to escape is there, but our dependence upon God is keenly felt! We’re on top of it, so to speak. But most of the time, as soon as I’m on the other side of that trial, I let my guard down. There’s a lesson here: we never get too old or too righteous to be free from the ability to sin. The desire in our hearts to escape responsibility or to reward ourselves with a little disobedience because we’ve been good for “so long” doesn’t get old. So Noah relaxes his diligence and he sins. He gives up self-control and ends up drunk and naked with no covering for his sin.
- Noah’s actions are presented as wrong and offensive to God and yet the judgment of God doesn’t fall on him. There is no clear curse from the LORD like when Adam fell and God does not remove his relationship with him. Why?
We’ll see that there are severe ramifications of his sin – a family is severed from God. To be sure, Noah didn’t cause Ham’s sin we’re about to see, but he did provide the occasion for Ham to expose his heart toward God and men and bring judgment upon himself. Noah’s sin had consequences…big ones.The judgment of God doesn’t severe Noah’s relationship with God because he has embraced the covenant from the heart. His heart is turned toward God in faith! But more than that, God had embraced Noah through the covenant! That doesn’t minimize or excuse his foolish sin, but by God’s grace he remains in fellowship with God! Grace working through the Covenant provides a covering for Noah, as we’ll see in a moment.
Let’s consider what happens next in v. 22:
Ham, the father of Canaan (that’s the second time that has been mentioned…I wonder if it is important?), sees his father’s drunken nakedness and told his two brothers outside. We aren’t told why Ham was in his father’s private tent, but we know that the text is presenting Ham’s actions as highly offensive, both by the contrast between his actions and his brothers’ response as well as by Noah’s sober reaction. So what’s going on? Why does the hammer fall on Ham?
- Some commentators understand Ham to have taken advantage of his father in some…very twisted…way.
It’s true that sexual brokenness will be a significant part of the lives of the children of Canaan. Later in the Story we’ll see that God’s anger toward them as a group is because of the various ways they have rejected his design for sexuality.
- But I don’t think the answer lies there in this particular instance. We can see in his actions something more common; something that we can identify with which makes it harder for us to distance ourselves from Ham.
- When he sees the sinful shame of his father, he does nothing to cover that shame. Instead he exposes it as an opportunity to show contempt for his father.
Noah was the one person in the world to whom God chose to focus his grace. Noah walked with God, one of two people to have that distinction in the Scriptures. Noah was the only reason why the brothers had come through the judgment into life. He was their representative before God, an imperfect representative, mind you, but their representative nonetheless. The 5thCommandment would later make explicit to Israel what God was already teaching in this passage: that God’s desire for humanity is that we honor our parents, not because they always deserve it, but because God has given them to express love and tenderness toward us and lead us in following God.Pastoral note: That God-given role to parents and all those in positions of authority makes the abuse of that role even more damnable in God’s sight. If you have suffered under such a person, know that God hates that sin and grieves with you! That kind of brokenness is the very thing for which Jesus came to bring healing.
As Ham dishonors his father, he shows the position of his heart toward God in the process. The same contempt he has for his father is shown toward his father’s God, too.I was talking with another pastor about this and he pointed out that this is “an important truth in an election year… We love to point to our elder’s nakedness when that elder is called President. I can be a Ham when the drunk is someone I despise. My ridicule may be pious, but it is still meant to defame.
- So Ham sees his dad drunk and naked and he tells his brothers who were outside. Their response teaches us what Ham should have done. Verse 23 tells us that Shem and Japheth took “a garment.” Literally, they took “the garment,” implying that Ham had actually taken the clothes of his father and instead of covering him in his tent, paraded the clothes outside as if to celebrate his father’s failure and sin. But instead of being dragged into Ham’s brokenness (like Ham was trying to do), they honor their father and cover over his shame with deep love and respect. It twice mentions that they walked backward, being careful not to look at their father’s shame. They couldn’t excuse his actions, but it seems like this is a picture they don’t want to capture with their eyes, even if their minds would not forget it. Their desire was to honor their father, to cover his shame, and so honor God in the process. Theirs are the actions of those who have embraced the LORD and his covenant from the heart. It’s the kind of love that I need shown toward me.
In vv. 24-27 we see what happened when Noah woke up.
- Remember how it kept being mentioned that Ham was the father of Canaan? Moses has been preparing us for the consequences of sin and the rejection of God. Our rejection of God always has consequences for our families.
Canaan, not Ham directly, is cursed. He will be a servant, living a life outside of the family of faith. To be a servant is to no longer be a son or a brother. His place in the family has been removed and he won’t be restored.On the face of it, this seems unfair of Noah. Why should Canaan suffer for His father’s rejection of God? But Noah understands something about the way families work.
For better or worse, my best friend back home is just like his father. In every word spoken, in every wave of the hand, in his style of clothing, in each gesture and intonation of his voice he is his father’s son, even when he doesn’t want to be. While his anger fuse is a little longer than his dad, still his temper, when roused, looks identical to his father’s. There is no escaping it. We are like our parents whether we like it or not. We’ve seen how abuse runs through generations and we’ve seen how grace and love permeate generations, too. So, as the son of a man who has contempt for God and for his own father, Canaan will be his father’s son. Perhaps Noah has already seen something of that, perhaps not. But Noah knows that’s how families generally work. Ham, who despised his father, who tried to drag his brothers into his brokenness found that in the process he alienated himself (and his children after him) from the goodness and grace of God.In this curse, Moses is also explaining why things are the way they are in Israel’s time. The children of Canaan are the enemies of God and Israel’s worst enemies, too. Their culture was so filled with brokenness and so hostile to God that there had to be a reason for it. Moses gives it here.
- But Noah had a blessing to give and he gives it to…the LORD!
The LORD, who has shown grace to Noah in the past, shows grace to him again through his sons who cover his shame with their love. In v. 26 we understand that Shem acted the way he did because YHWH is Shem’s God. Shem’s relationship with God led him into loving action toward his father’s sin.And Noah blesses Japheth with a request of God: may God enlarge Japheth (to fill the earth with children like him) and let him be united to Shem, living under the same tent. We’ll see in Ch. 10 that we Gentiles descend from Japheth and the people of Israel come from Shem’s family. Japheth’s family falls out of the Story for a long time, but in this promise is the seed of hope that although our fathers wandered far from God, God would not forget the nations, but would one day return them to the tent of faithful Shem.
Through this pronouncement, we see how this story serves the big picture. God is speaking through Noah, His covenant representative, telling us how the Story is going to move forward through three families – Canaan’s bearing the curse of God (to one day be the servants of his brothers), Shem’s becoming the means of rescuing the world and Japheth’s, whose hope is tied to the descendent of Shem.
As we read this story, it should fill us, like Israel long ago, with a longing. It makes us newly aware of our need for someone to cover over our nakedness and sin because our shame runs so deep. And our shame leads us to hide from God, just like Adam in the Garden. I need someone who can take it away so that I don’t want to hide anymore. I want an older brother who would cover me so that I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.
- What part of your brokenness does Satan hold up like Noah’s garment to expose you to ridicule and shame. It may be a past act, a thought life, something that even a parent or a spouse is unaware of…but you know and you may live in fear of others knowing too. Is there a covering for our shame?
- In John’s gospel, after Jesus is raised from the dead he speaks to Mary. He says, “…go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
- In Jesus we have an older brother who honored the LORD when all we did was despise Him and try to run from Him. Rather than let us be cursed forever as servants of sin, Jesus took the curse upon himself, becoming a servant (Phil. 2) and submitting himself as a servant even to the point of death on a cross! He was stripped naked and beaten, suffering the public humiliation that should have been ours so that Jesus, this faithful child of Shem, could take us wandering sons of Japheth into his tent, into the covenant and into the family of God. He took our shame and our dishonor and covered it with his blood, becoming our very sin so that we could become the righteousness of God. All of this comes to us by the grace of God through resting and receiving Jesus as our Savior and our King.
- When we know that our shame is covered in Jesus, it frees us to extend that grace toward others. Ham exposed and increased the shame of his father’s sin, but Shem and Japheth decreased their father’s shame – we have the opportunity to do that for others, too. We don’t negate their sin, but we help them understand that Jesus covers their shame just like he covers ours. The Gospel frees us from becoming judgmental, proud people who delight in exposing the sin and brokenness of others to make ourselves seem better by comparison. Instead we are freed and safe to follow the example of Jesus (and Shem and Japheth) and grieve over sin while still showing grace to fellow sinners! We welcome sinners, eating with them and proclaiming the Gospel; that Jesus came to save sinners like us and covers our shame with his blood.
What does that look like? I think it starts with taking off the masks we often wear that project an image of “having it together” and be honest with each other about our ongoing, continual need for Jesus. That’s something that people outside the church need to see! If you ask non-Christians about people who go to church, you’ll often hear stories about hypocrisy. Some of that is misperception, but some of that is an indictment on how the Church acts like it doesn’t really need a Savior because we really aren’t that bad. I’m not advocating the airing of all your dirty laundry. I’m just saying that being honest about our own brokenness can break down walls between people and Jesus.
- But like Canaan, apart from grace in Christ, the curse and consequences of sin remains on sinners who reject God in their hearts and have contempt for others, too.
- This reminds me to take care how I walk with God in front of my family. My actions do not only affect me and my own relationship with God. I must be quick to repent and set my hope in Jesus and do that very visibly in front of my wife and children. Remember that you don’t know how God will use your trust in Jesus in the generations to follow you. The Lord may visit the sins of the father on the third and fourth generation, but he keeps his steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who embrace Him in Jesus.
Closing illustration: In Zechariah 3, the prophet sees a vision of Joshua, the high priest, standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. Satan had reason to accuse Joshua. To Joshua’s deep and silent shame he stood before the LORD, not naked, but clothed in filthy garments. Joshua speaks not a word, so deep is his shame to be in the presence of the Holy God with such ugliness clinging to him. Satan isn’t making anything up about Joshua, he truly is unclean. But the LORD speaks and says to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a burning stick plucked from the fire?” And the angel of the LORD said to some others standing by, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Joshua stood naked before the LORD. Imagine the anxiety, the shame, the fear of being exposed for what he really was. Satan accused him and he had no defense for himself. But the LORD has one more thing to say. To Joshua he says, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure garments.”
Jesus did that for you. Believe it, set all your hope in him. In Jesus your shame is covered, your guilt and sin are gone. So run to your Father in worship and be gracious in your welcome of fellow sinners. We don’t excuse sin, but we tell them that there is a covering from Jesus and that it is big enough for both of us.
And that is what this meal is all about… (transition to Lord’s Supper)