Bible Topics In The Christian Library
by Grady Scott

Genesis 9:20- "And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. 21- Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. 22- And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23- "But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness. 24- So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. 25- Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brethren.' 26- And he said: Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem, And may Canaan be his servant. 27- May God enlarge Japheth, And may he dwell in the tents of Shem; And may Canaan be his servant.'" 

This passage has caused some question and some false concepts. The false concepts linger on with us to this day, even though they are not as widely held as in past years. Among the false concepts are: 

1. That a curse was place on the descendants of Ham that God had marked them with black skin and black people should be enslaved throughout history. This has been used by white supremacists to justify slavery or racial prejudice. 

    a. This cannot be true to even the most casual reader. First, the curse was not on Ham, but on Canaan. Secondly, the assertion that the word Ham literally means "burnt black" has no foundation. Actually the word means "warm", perhaps describing where they would live. 

    b. The curse of slavery was upon Canaan and his descendants. Canaan was only one of Ham's sons. The curse would rest upon the Canaanites, which would include the dweller of ancient Palestine, Phoenicia, and Carthage These people have been subjugated throughout ancient history by the Jews, Greeks, and finally the Romans.

2. That the descendants of Ham had no choice but to be wicked and slaves and thus lost all free will. 
    a. A curse upon a race reflects the general disposition of that people and does not condemn all in that race. 

    b. Among the Canaanites we find Rahab, who believed God and turned to Him. There was certainly other individuals who made a choice to serve God. Those who chose wickedness did so of their own volition.

We are still left with the question, "Why did God curse Canaan?" To this question several thoughts come to mind. 

1. It is very possible that Canaan was involved in some way. In verse 22 the text specifically states that Ham was the father of Canaan. It seems to be of some significance that Moses does not specify any of the other sons. It is quite possible that Canaan had the same base disposition as his father. It is even possible that Canaan participate in some way in this shameful episode. Noah also speaks in a loving, kind toward Shem and Japheth for their faithfulness toward him. 

2. It is also certain that Noah was speaking prophetically here. God would use this occasion to show the natural consequences of Canaan's sinful disposition. This statement should be seen as a prophetic utterance rather than a pronouncement of a curse upon Canaan's descendants. It's interesting to note that at least one commentator states that the original Hebrew is better translated "cursed is Canaan" instead of "cursed be Canaan." This would suggest a statement of current fact, rather than a future wish. The future wickedness of the Canaanites would tell us that Noah was right about Canaan's wickedness. 

3. It should be added that the prophecy was fulfilled. The Canaanites were enslaved because of their wickedness by first Joshua (Joshua 9:23) and later by Solomon (1 Kings 9:20-21). Later the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Egyptians were enslaved by the Persians, Macedonians and Romans. 

This episode shows that there are great consequence to sin and a sinful attitude. We need to 
remember that we are dealing with the beginnings of the repopulating of the globe. These sons and grandsons of Noah would shape future generations by their attitudes toward sin and righteousness. We need to learn that our actions and attitudes, while not perhaps as far reaching as the sons and grandsons of Noah, will surely have far reaching consequences upon our families and those around us. 

Endnote: For those of you who want to study a little farther I will mention several works that are good on this question. 

    a. Exposition of Genesis by H. C. Leupold (still one of the best commentaries on Genesis). 
    b. The Book of Genesis, 1985 Spiritual Sword Lectureship. 
    c. The Pulpit Commentary, volume 1. 
    d. Difficult Texts of the Old Testament Explained, Fifth Annual Ft. Worth Lectures (a very good book to have). 
    e. There probably are others, I am sure. These have been very helpful to me.


Copyright 1999 by Grady Scott may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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