Summary: The gospel preached through the curse of Canaan and the blessing of Shem’s God.
Everyone is out of the ark and life has resumed in a somewhat normal way.
18And the sons of Noah, that went forth of the ark, were Shem, and Ham, and Japheth: and Ham is the father of Canaan.
This is important: “Ham is the father of Canaan.” Everything that happens next shows us why he writes this.
19These are the three sons of Noah: and of them was the whole earth overspread.
We’re not going to read it all, but this is fleshed out in chapter 10. I think the general consensus goes something like this:
“The isles of the Gentiles”
Mostly Europe and some of Asia
Babel, Nineveh, Rehoboth, Calah, Resen
Mostly Africa and the Middle East
Jebusite, Amorite, Girgasite, Arkite, Hivite, Sinite, Arvadite, Zemarite, Hamathite
Sidon, Gerar, Gaza, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, Lasha
Israel and the surrounding area
Mesha, as you go unto Sephar a mount of the east
Semitic peoples (mostly east of the Jordan River)
It’s not a clear cut division, and scholars have held different opinions about some of the details over the years, but this is good for a general understanding. It might not seem all that important now, but I think by the time we get to the blessing and the curse at the end, you’ll see that it’s helpful.
20And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: 21And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
It’s sad, but this is reality. This is why the flood couldn’t be a do-over: sin is still something that exists inside a man, and no amount of water can ever take it away.
22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
Some people have interpreted this as a sexual thing, but I personally have a hard time thinking he would go and tell his brothers about something like that. I think a more plausible explanation is that his sin was a failure to honor his father. One of the Ten Commandments was to honor your father and mother. Moses’s Law commanded the youth to rise in the presence of the aged and to show respect (Lev. 19:32). When they honored the elders it wasn’t just civility; it was a legal requirement. Proverbs 30:17 warns that the eye which mocks a father will be plucked out by ravens, and Moses commands that a stubborn and rebellious son was to be stoned to death (Dt. 21:18-21).
Ham’s sin could have been sexual in nature, but we don’t need to magnify it for it to be worthy of a curse. Ham goes into Noah’s tent, sees him in a dishonored state, and rather than covering him he mockingly tells his two brothers. But Shem and Japheth are better than that:
23And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.
They realize the humiliating situation their father is in, and they go to great lengths to help him without adding to it.
24And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
We don’t know how he knew, but somehow it was brought to his attention:
25And he said, Cursed be Canaan;
He doesn’t curse Ham; he curses Ham’s youngest son. Why would he do that? We don’t have a lot of details about where Canaan was while this was going on or of his response to it, but I think we have to read this as a prophecy of sorts. These cursings and blessings are all over the Old Testament: it says in Hebrews that Isaac blessed his two sons by faith and that Jacob blessed Joseph’s two sons by faith (Heb. 11:20-21). It’s not a magical incantation; it’s something from God.
It might help to think of Balaam and Balak (Num. 22-24). Balaam was supposed to curse the Israelites, but every time he tried God stopped him and made him bless instead. In the end they just gave up because there was no cursing the ones God had blessed.
This cursing from Noah is more than just an angry response to wrongdoing—this is a statement that comes by faith. He knows that God will avenge him punish the wicked, and Canaan is one of those wicked. He’s a type as we’ll see played out in the rest of Scripture.
He’s guilty of the sins of his father, and while this might not seem fair, it is at least Biblical. For instance, all men are counted guilty of Adam’s sin even though none of us were there (Rom. 5:12).