Bible Studies > BibleJourney > Genesis
> Issue 14
Issue 14: Noah Begins Again (Genesis
by Winn Griffin, D.Min.
The Story's Main Point
the children of God are in the Sinai desert where they received the
from God with stipulations of how to live in relationship to God and in
relationship with each other. As will Lord Servant treaties in the ancient
world, keeping stipulations of a covenant brought blessings while breaking
stipulations brought punishment. Moses told this story to demonstrate how the
of the blessings of God would begin again after receiving judgment for breaking
It was a new beginning for
and his family just like Israel was in the first days of her own new beginning
with God. The story is simple: God makes a promise to Noah (and all life on the
earth). He commands Noah and his sons to begin the process of increasing and
filling the earth again. The sacredness of life is affirmed. The
becomes the sign of the covenant. The story could have ended here on a positive
note, but the storyteller continues by telling a story of the weakness of Noah.
He produces wine and then gets drunk. The story forewarns that sin is still
couching at the door (Gen
However, this story is not about drunkenness or the
evils of wine. It is not about the African race being the descendants of
and thus being cursed by which our own forefathers in America defended slavery.
It is about a God who protects his own image. It is about the propensity of
children to be like their parents regardless of race. It is about how God makes
covenant in spite of the sinfulness of humankind. It is about a God who is
faithful to his own word.
The Flood Was Over
being and animal is dead except for Noah, his family, and the animals that were
with him on the ark. Sin had taken its toll on the beauty of God's creation.
Here the wrap-up of the story of the Flood is told. This story can be broken
into two parts.
9.1-7 deals with the renewal of the world and
9.8-17 provide assurance that God will not judge the world in a similar
fashion again. In the first section Noah's sons are told to "be fruitful and
increase in number and fill the earth." This is somewhat reminiscent of Genesis
1. In the second section the important phrase is that God will establish a
However, we must note that the world after the Flood
is not exactly the same as the world as created by God in
1. As an illustration, man is now allowed to kill animals for food and add
meat to his diet (Gen.
9.2-3). It is an interesting thought that even the animals will be held
accountable for crimes (Gen.
Two requirements were expected from the humankind after
the flood. The first was new while the second was reinforcement. First, while
now allowed to eat meat, they must drain the blood from the animal. Second,
they must not take human life.
In some ways the era after the flood was much like it
was in the garden, but there were also differences. Like
Noah was instructed to be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.
But unlike Adam, Noah is now for the first time allowed to eat meat. This new
bounty from God had one stipulation: the blood was to be first drained from the
Around the ancient dinner table, meat was not a common
dish. Animals were kept for hair, wool, and milk, but not for food. In ancient
times blood was considered as the life force. Noah was not told that no blood
from the animal was to be consumed, but that the blood must be drained which
was a symbol of returning the life force of the animal back to God who first
gave it. This symbol offered recognition of the bounty of God's blessing and
recognition that the life had been taken with the permission of God.
The history before the flood was characterized by
violence. God now institutes a strict retribution for such
Whoever sheds the blood of man
By man shall his blood be shed;
For in the image of God
God made man. (Gen.
The reason that man's life is precious: humankind is
created as the image bearer of God.
With the new beginning of humankind with Noah, God
begins the process of making a covenant with him. There are two covenants
mentioned and contracted between God and Noah (Gen.
These covenants are a prelude to other biblical covenants where obligation and
promise play an important role.
A covenant was a solemn agreement or contract between
two parties. The main features of the covenant with Noah were that it was
entirely instituted by God. It was universal. It applied not only to Noah and
his family but to every living creature. It was unconditional. In a typical
covenant there were stipulations that laid down the requirements of the parties
making the agreement. In the covenant with Noah, God makes the stipulations for
himself rather than imposing them on Noah and his family. The covenant was
unilateral. God binds himself to a certain course of action. The covenant was
everlasting. He would never again destroy the earth by a flood.
There was a visible sign, the rainbow. God would put
his rainbow in the clouds. The assignment of a rainbow as a sign of the
covenant does not suggest that this was the first rainbow that had ever been
seen. But rather the rainbow was now to function as a sign with a special
significance attached to it. In Hebrew, there is no way to distinguish between
"rainbow" and "bow" which is a weapon. One word covers both. God's power is
seen as a function of his grace, not a function of some military might. The
rainbow would arc like a battle bow hung against the clouds and then disappear
which indicated that peace was at hand.
Covenants were made in the ancient east as a step
toward peace. After God made war on sin he now makes a covenant of peace with
Noah and the world. We must remember that the bow is in the sky for God's
benefit, not for ours. While it may be pleasing to the eye of all those who
have seen one, it is a visible reminder for God to remember his covenant with
Noah. The Westerner is usually surprised that the rainbow is in the sky for the
benefit of God. We usually look at it in an individual context. But the text
says, "Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember
the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on
the earth." Whenever it appears God will remember (an anthropomorphism) his
covenant not with just humankind but with his whole creation.
Signs often remind a participant in a covenant to keep
the stipulations of the covenant. The Hebrews in the desert and soon to be in
Canaan would be reminded again and again as they saw the rainbow that God keeps
his promises made in covenant.
Remember, we must allow the storyteller to use
literary figures of speech to tell his story. God does not really need a sign
to remember. After all, who would want to serve a forgetful God?
The next story found in
9.18-29 is clearly independent from the Flood narrative. As an example: it
takes years for a newly planted vine to give a grape harvest indicating a
different time period that occurring recently after the flood. In addition to
the previous clue the three sons' are named and the reader is informed that
Noah now has a grandson who is named Canaan (Gen.
9.18). In the last section of this story (Gen.
9.20-28) the storyteller narrates a tale about Noah and his nakedness.
10, we have the table of nations (Gen.
10.6, we are told that Ham had four sons: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan, the
latter was the youngest. While no specific reference is made to it, it appears
that the command of God at
9.1, "be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth," was already
at work in the sons of Noah. The storyteller relates that the three sons of
the forefathers of the human race. The storyteller takes a break before he
tells his hearers about the growth of the families of Noah's sons to tell us
the story of Noah's nakedness and its resulting curse of Canaan.
After harvesting the grapes and making wine, Noah
falls prey to the wine's intoxicating power. However, Scripture does not pause
to moralize on Noah's behavior, which is neither approved of nor condemned in
this story. Wine was not a forbidden drink in later Israel. A vow to abstain by
the Nazirites would be useless if Israel was a nation of abstinence. However,
God did not tolerate the overuse of wine, which led to drunkenness. In the
ancient world drinking wine was generally accepted and was not ever regarded as
being reprehensible in antiquity. As an example, if at a celebration a person
became drunk, stories were told about the incident, but no judgment was passed
on the individual. The earliest evidence of winemaking comes from the Neolithic
(the cultural period beginning around 10,000 B.C. in the Middle East and later
elsewhere, characterized by the development of agriculture and the making of
polished stone implements) like in Iran where archaeologists discovered a jar
dated to the second half of the sixth millennium with a residue of wine in the
bottom of the jar.
The storyteller does not tell us why Noah was nude. It
is his nakedness and not his drunkenness that produces the focus of this story.
Wine was believed to be able to stimulate sexual desire and increase one's
power to produce children. Was Noah preparing to have intercourse with his wife
when Ham saw his father's nakedness? One thing is for sure: Ham was in the
wrong place at the wrong time.
The ancients were well aware of the effects of
intoxication. They understood the consequences that resulted as wine dulled the
senses that could have left one uncovered without knowing it. Nakedness as the
result of the drunkenness was believed to be disgraceful. In "The Tale of
Aqht," an Ugaritic myth, a son is described as helping his father by taking him
by the hand when he was gorged with wine. This was to keep the parent from
bringing disgrace on the family by becoming naked in public. The Hebrews had
been warned about this at Sinai in the story of building the altar (Exodus
20.26). Public nakedness in the Old Testament was believed to be the loss
of human and social dignity.
For the story to note that Noah was a wine-maker was
to take on the polytheistic worldview again. Wine-maker was a purely human
achievement, not the achievement of a god or demigod as was usually believed in
the ancient world.
Ham's sin was that he "saw the nakedness of his
father." To the ancient seeing one's father naked was a breach of family ethic,
so it was with Ham. The sanctity of the family could be destroyed and the
strength of the father becomes mockery. While Ham may have accidentally
stumbled into his father's presence, his action, i.e., telling his two brothers
instead of covering his father, was not acceptable in that culture.
Several explanations have been forwarded to explain
- The rabbis believed that Ham castrated his father,
which explains why Noah did not have any more children after the flood.
- Some believe that the act of Cain was
- Others believe that Ham slept with his mother,
thus uncovering his father's nakedness, and that Canaan was the offspring of
- Still others believe that Ham was the first
homosexual and he was involved in a homosexual act with his father.
However, it is most likely that the phrase "saw the
nakedness of his father" is not a euphemism for sexual intercourse in this
passage as it is in
(18.6 where NIV translates the phrase "to uncover nakedness" with the words
"have sexual relationship") and simply means than Ham saw his father lying nude
in his tent.
So what's the problem? In the ancient world the
continuity of life for a group of people was respect for the elders of a group.
To respect the elders (older ones) in the group was necessary. This is a
difficult concept for the Western individual where individualism is the
ultimate goal of life and community is not. While in the ancient world,
community was everything and an individual was only important within the
community for what he or she brought to the community.
Why this story and the accompanying reaction of Noah?
In the ancient world to be nude without knowing it was disgraceful. It was the
duty of the children to take care of the parents when they were overcome with
wine. In this case, to cover the parent was a sign of respect. Instead of
respect, Ham did not cover Noah's nudity, but rather openly talked about it to
his brothers. They, on the other hand, took great care to cover Noah. The
storyteller goes to great, intricate detail compared to the rest of the
narrative to describe the behavior of the two other brothers. The intention is
obviously to draw attention to their pious conduct. The story is unfolded in a
series of verbs: they took, put, walked backwards, covered, turned away, and
did not see. They showed respect. We are often held captive to our Western
mindset with these eastern stories and often make some moral judgment that is
reading a New Testament morality back into the text. We need to learn to let
the Old Testament storyteller have his own word without any interference from
the New Testament.
When Noah woke up he realized what had happened, and
he placed a curse on Ham's youngest son Canaan. Why he cursed Canaan instead of
Ham is not clear and has led to may conjectures. For the ancient the behavior
of Ham indicated that he in some way had triumphed over his father. What seems
to be a somewhat trivial incident turned into a major incident. The oracle of
9.25-27 demonstrates that the nature of his three sons would be perpetuated
in their descendants. This is not a father-son issue. It is a family/community
issue. Remember, respect for family elders must be maintained from one
generation to another. The continuity of the life of a group of people in the
ancient world was passed on by their respect for their family elders.
The act of Noah against Ham is not the act of a
father-son relationship, but was a reaction against not being respected as the
elder of the family who must preserve the continuity of the family. This would
serve as an illustration of the stipulation from the Mosaic Covenant that told
the Hebrews to honor their parents (Exodus
This story is a trailer for the stories (about
Abraham) to come. The descendants of Shem were the Shemites from whom Abraham
This story has led some commentators to suggest that
Ham may have had a tendency to be a voyeur which led him to experience delight
in seeing his father nude and then sharing it with his brothers. This was a
tendency, which Noah had observed in Canaan in whose descendants the tendency
led to extreme depravity and enslavement to immorality, which eventually lead
to their destruction (Gen.
18.20-21). If this be the case, and it is as good of a possibility as any
other, Noah's outburst was not resentment but a prophetic pronouncement
concerning the future of his descendants. We should remember that one can not
be dogmatic about the actual essence of this story.
It seems odd that Canaan was cursed for the sin of his
father Ham. Why is this? While there is no clear answer, there are some
possibilities. It might have been a mirroring punishment, i.e., Ham was Noah's
youngest son and Canaan was Ham's youngest son. It might have been because
Ham's sin was a foretaste of the notorious immorality of the Canaanites (Lev.
18.3). This story has direct reference to the nature and destiny of the
Canaanites whose land Israel was going to conquer and who would become Israel's
Ham's disposition toward moral abandon bore fruit in
the immoral acts of his descendants, the Canaanites. The Canaanites were to be
judged by God through the coming Conquest because their activities were in the
same pattern and mold as their ancestor Ham. One point may be that drunkenness
leads to debauchery and that enslaves people and nations.
Noah blessed God and made Canaan the slave of both
9.26) and Japheth (Gen.
9.27). We may take note that his curse of Canaan was used in the nineteenth
century as a Scriptural justification for enslaving the Africans. However, not
by the wildest of interpretations could the Africans be said to be the
descendants of Canaan.
What we see in these verses are not prophetic words
originating with God through Noah. They are patriarchal pronouncements. Though
not prophetic, they were taken very seriously by the ancients and were
considered to have influence in the unfolding of history and personal destiny.
The blessing of Noah is rather unusual in that it
blesses the God of Shem instead of Shem himself. Of course, if the God of Shem
prospered, then Shem would prosper as well.
The blessing of Noah made Canaan the slave of Shem and
9.26-27). We note again that the curse of Canaan was used in the nineteenth
century as a Scriptural justification for enslaving the Africans. There is no
way possible that this interpretation of Africans being the descendants of
Canaan could be true.
The descendants of Shem came to be Israel. The
descendants of Japheth established the world's largest empires throughout
Europe. Ham's descendants through Canaan were enslaved by sin and destroyed.
Metaphors of God in
What does this story teach about God?
- God the covenant maker. This is the first
covenant we discover in Scripture. It demonstrates that God was willing to
enter into alliances with his creation. The main feature of the covenant with
Noah was that is was entirely instituted by God. Noah had nothing to do with
it. The covenant was universal in its scope. This would surely dispel the
notion of local gods who warred against each other for local territory. The
whole known world, every living creature, was covered by this covenant and
still is. This was an act of God's own loving kindness. It would surely speak
to the ancient Hebrew in the desert of a God who would keep his word in the
covenants that he made.
- God's compassion (rainbow)
(anthropopathism). The sign of the rainbow was an act of God's compassion.
Scripture presents God with human feelings so that humans can have a
possibility of comprehending God. It is noteworthy that Israel would see God as
- God's generosity (everything to eat). After
the flood, meat was added to the diet of humankind. This act of God shows his
generosity. It was important for Israel to understand that the God they had
made covenant with was a generous God. He would bless them richly by bringing
them to the land that he had promised their forefather Abraham. His bounty
would be beyond their ability to embrace.
- God as protector (cannot murder others).
Humankind was created in God's image and this story demonstrates how God
protects his own image. We are the image bearers of the God of the universe. It
is important that we reflect that issue in our life. One of the chief ways of
doing so is to protect human life and not destroy it. This was important for
Israel to know, in light of the stipulation that they had received which forbid
the murder of others.
The Descendants of Noah:
After the Flood the whole world began to branch out
from the three sons of Noah. This chapter elaborates in detail this event
through an intricate series of genealogies. The past genealogies in Genesis
were concerned with individuals. This genealogy is concerned with nations. It
is often called the
The Table of Nations is a horizontal genealogy rather
than a vertical one as those in chapters
11 are. The purpose of the table is not to trace ancestry, rather its
purpose is to show political, geographical, and ethnic growth. The table shows
which peoples in the ancient world shared in the blessing and cursing category.
It stresses how these peoples spread out and populated the earth.
The table begins with a list of Noah's sons as Shem,
Ham, and Japheth. However, in the sections that follow the order is reversed to
Japheth, Ham, and Shem. The Japhehites (Gen.
10.1-5) are peoples who were most remote from Palestine. Most of the
nations and places mentioned in the seven identified are in the Mediterranean
and Asia Minor. Names like Magog and Meshech are recognizable from the Book of
Ezekiel. Javan is a representation of the early Greek. Madai represents The
Medes. Kittim is associated with Cyprus, while Rodanim is the island of Rhodes,
which was on the southwest coast of Turkey.
The peoples in the next section (Gen.
10.6-20) are from Ham and most are Gentiles with whom Israel always had
unpleasant relationships. Cush represents Ethiopia and Put is modern
Somaliland. The most insight given about any of the individuals in this section
is Nimrod. He was so well-known that he had established a reputation as a
mighty hunter, which most likely referred to his superior martial ability. He
founded four cities: Babylon, Erech, Akkad, and Calneh which all lay to the
east of Canaan.
Shem fathered four sons and the last section (Gen.
10.21-32) may be the most critical for the continuing story of the Hebrews.
Here we discover the name Eber, which is an obvious connection with "Hebrew."
The Semitic groups were divided into two branches.
Theologically, this table affirms God's blessing on
Noah's family. While special to the story of Scripture, this table demonstrates
that Israel had no monopoly on attributing only their existence to God. We are
reminded in the last verse (Gen.
10.32) that all families came from Noah.
Looking Toward the New Testament (Some
24.37. For just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be when the
Son of Man comes. This passage is often used to discuss a one-to-one belief
that we are now in the days of Noah because of the condition of the present
world. This passage in Matthew rather suggests that people were enjoying their
normal life pursuits without any awareness of imminent judgment. People were
eating, drinking, and marrying. The passage's point is that because the time is
unknown, people will be caught unprepared, just like they were in the days of
Noah. There will only be two groups of people at the end of time: those who are
prepared and those who are unprepared. The way to be ready is not by
calculating the date of the return of Jesus but by being watchful, i.e., being
11.7. By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy
fear built an ark. Noah is used as an illustration of one who inherited a new
world after the flood because of his confidence in the promise of God for him.
Noah reacted to God's word in holy fear or reverent submission. The
corresponding noun is used of Jesus in Hebrews 5.8. Noah's faith produced his
righteous behavior that was a clear demonstration that the behavior was an
outworking of his faith.
- How have you discovered that in the midst of your
unfaithfulness to God that he still fulfills his promises to you?
- What is your stance on drinking wine? How Biblical
do you think it is?
- How do you show respect to your parents if they
are still alive (regardless of your age)?
- How do you expect your children to show you
respect (provided you have children)?
- Why do you think that Christians today think they
have a monopoly on believing that God only cares about their existence and not
the existence of other religious groups?
Read the following Dictionary Articles from
Easton's Bible Dictionary, or the International Standard Bible
Encyclopedia. Easton's is about a century old, therefore, some of
the information is not current with newer Bible Dictionaries. ISBE is
about seventy-five years old. You might read the articles off-line in a number
of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would
New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like
lots of color pictures, try
The Revell Bible Dictionary now out of
print but still can be ordered from amazon.com. One of these should suit your
Copyright © 2004,
Winn Griffin. All rights reserved.
BibleJourney: An Almost Weekly Bible Study is a service of SBL Ministries.
Unless otherwise stated, scripture quotations are from the International
Standard Version (ISV) of the Bible®. Copyright © 2001 by
The ISV Foundation, 2200 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92705-7016. Used by
Press, Inc. All rights reserved internationally.