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The Cursing of Canaan

The Flood (The Life of Noah)

Part VI

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 22, 1998

Genesis 9:18-29

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Genesis 9:18-29

The Cursing of Canaan

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 9. We’ll begin in verse 18 tonight. As we have studied the book of Genesis together, we've seen the creation account in Genesis, chapter 1. We have seen God's special favor towards man highlighted in Genesis, chapter 2 and Genesis, chapter 3. We have gone through in some detail the account of the fall of man into sin and the consequences of that. In Genesis, chapter 4 we saw an interesting contrast between sin and grace in the human family. The sin of Cain, the righteousness of Abel and the line that descended from them. As we looked at Genesis 5, we saw Moses as he opens the chapter recounting for us creation, and then traces for us the godly line from Seth down to Noah. In Genesis 6 through 9 as we've studied this section, we've been looking at the life of Noah. And tonight, actually, we're coming to the last in our studies of the life of Noah. So let's turn our attention to Genesis 9, verses 18 through 29. Hear God's word:

Genesis 9:18-29

Our Lord, we do ask for Your spiritual enlightenment as we read this word for we know it is meant for our instruction. For these things have happened as an example to us upon whom the end of the ages has come. So by the grace of the Holy Spirit, enable us to see and understand and become doers of the truth of God. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

After the fall, in the first eleven chapters of Genesis, there are two new beginnings. The new beginnings that we see in the life of Adam in Genesis 4, and the new beginning that we see after the flood here in Genesis 9. It is very interesting that in both those two new beginnings, that single incidences in family life are chosen to illustrate the ongoing struggle between sin and grace in the fallen world, between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent in the fallen world. In the line of Adam, in Genesis 4, you will remember it is that sad story of the conflict between two brothers, both sons of Adam and one kills another. And we see immediately in the fallen world, the struggle between sin and grace. The struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.

And here again in Genesis 9, though this is the end of the cycle of the stories about Noah, there is a sense in which we have entered into a new era of human history. Over and over we have said that the world that Moses paints, pre-flood and post-flood, those are different worlds. And for Moses this world that Noah was entering into after the flood was a new world in some ways. In fact, we are going to be looking at this new world over the next few weeks as we lead up to the life of Abraham. And so there's a sense in which Genesis 9, the whole chapter, but especially here in verses 18 and 19, is introducing us to a new world.

But immediately as we step into this new world, what do we see? In the incident of Ham and Noah. And then of course in the cursing of Canaan, we see once again a family event which in some way summarizes or encapsulates the struggle between sin and grace in the fallen world. And here tonight in the post-flood world, we will concentrate on the story of Noah and his sons. This passage contains fresh truths for us as Christians, and I'd like to draw your attention to four or five things tonight as we study.

I. God keeps His word, cares for the nations, establishes creation ordinances.

First of all if you would look at verses 18 and 19. God's faithfulness is reiterated in these verses. God had promised Noah that though He was going to bring judgment on the whole world, yet He was going to spare him and spare his family, He would bring them through that flood and bring them out of the ark. And even in the words we read in verses 18 and 19 that faithfulness is reiterated, isn't it. These are the sons of Noah who came out of the ark, and they are the same ones who went in. God was faithful to His covenant promises. And in this passage you are going to see, even in these two little verses, you’re going to see, first of all that God keeps His word; second of all, that God cares for all the nations; and third, that God continues to see that his creation ordinances are in effect.

Look at verse 18. The statement reminds us that God has been faithful in His covenant to Noah. In His covenant with Noah He had promised to preserve him in the midst of the judgment, and here we see God's faithfulness displayed as Shem, Ham and Japheth come out of the ark. God had preserved Noah and his family through the flood. But we also see God's concern for all the nations in these two short verses. If you look at verse 19, there is a sense in which that short verse is a preparation for everything that is written in Genesis, chapter 10. Genesis, chapter 10, contains the table of the nations. But in this short verse we are told that from these sons of Noah the whole population of the earth descended, and so immediately your mind is stretched out upon all the peoples of the earth. This is a missionary passage. God shows concern for all the families of the earth descended from Shem and Ham and Japheth. These few words, these three were the sons of Noah and from these the whole earth was populated, these few words emphasize at least two things. First of all, they emphasize the unity of mankind. All mankind, according to Moses, all mankind is descended from Adam and from Noah. All mankind - the human race is a unity. We did not spring from multiple evolutionary origins according to the Bible. We are all descended from Adam and from Noah. And this reminds us of the unity of mankind. And again, the Bible speaks directly against those ideologies that pop up from time to time which attempt to suggest that there is a fundamental division in mankind, and that we should have no association with one particular type or genus of mankind. All of mankind is descended from Adam and from Noah.

Notice also that this little phrase reminds us of God's comprehensive concerns for all of humanity. Though the focus of this story for the next couple of chapters is going to be on the line of Shem, and though the focus for the rest of the book of Genesis is going to be on the line of one family, the family of Abraham. And in fact it will concentrate primarily on four men for the rest of the book. Four heads of households will be concentrated on for the bulk of the book of Genesis. Nevertheless, this little verse reminds us that God is mindful and concerned for all the nations. We see His universalistic concerns for the nations. They all belong to Him. They all descended from Noah.

But, even in this passage if you look at verses 20 through 27 you see the particularity of God's concerns emphasized in contrast to those universal concerns. In other words, God's blessing is going to rest directly on Shem, indirectly on Japheth, and His cursing is going to rest upon Ham's son Canaan. And so there's going to be exclusion, there's going to be selection. God's favor is going to be poured out on one segment and His cursing is going to be poured out on another.

Now by the way, let me mention in passing, three times in this passage an emphasis is put on the parentage of Canaan. When you’re reading this passage, perhaps you don't expect the Bible to speak in the kind of language that you speak in daily, and you miss the irony of this phrase. But look again at verse 18. The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Ham was the father of Canaan. Now you immediately know from that verse that the author is setting you up to tell you something about Canaan. Because why no other sons mentioned there? No sons of Shem are mentioned there. No sons of Japheth are mentioned there. The author clearly wants to bring to your mind the connection between Ham and Canaan. But he does it again in verse 22. Look there. Once again, Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father. That would be like you describing the criminal act of someone and saying, "Chuck stole the flashlight, and "Remember Bob's dad?" Why would you mention that unless there was some connection that you were then going to carry out in the life of Bob. Well that is precisely what Moses is doing here. He is preparing us to learn something about Canaan by saying Ham remember was the father of Canaan. And it will actually happen again in verse 25 when the curse falls upon Canaan, perhaps surprisingly in our minds, and not upon Ham.

At any rate, we see here in verses 18 and 19, that God has been faithful to see Noah through the flood. He's seen him through the trial that He told him that He would bring him through.

And God will see you through as well. Perhaps you have been facing your own kind of flood recently. If you’re the child of God and the covenant of grace, you may rely upon the Lord to be just as faithful to His promises as He was to Noah. And Noah learned that, and we are being reminded of it here in these verses. We’re reminded here that God cares about the whole world and so must we. When we look at the tribes and the tongues of the peoples of this world, we must reminder that those are the descendants of the sons of Noah. And we must have the same kind of care to see them worshiping the God of Noah that God does. And that means that this passage gives us a missionary impetus to see the nations brought to Christ. And again, we see in this passage that God's creation ordinances are still in effect even in this fallen world. Notice again from these the whole earth was populated. What was one of the creation ordinances that we studied in Genesis 1? It was God's command to Adam and to Eve to be fruitful and to multiply and to fill the earth. And we see here that those ordinances are in effect and are acted out by the sons of Noah. From them the whole earth was populated. And again, the fact that those ordinances are in place is a sign of God's common grace to all the nations. God is good in ways that He doesn't have to be towards those who are in a rebellion against Him. So we see in verses 18 and 19 God's faithfulness reiterated.

II. Sin exposes us to disgrace and becomes the occasion of other sin.

And then if you’ll look at verses 20 and 22, we will see the beginning of this sad incident in the life of Noah's family. Noah here is dishonored. He dishonors himself, and then he is dishonored by his son. And we learn in these short verses that sin exposes us to disgrace, and it becomes the occasion of other and more heinous sins. Noah, we are told here, began farming and planted a vineyard, and the construction of the passage could even be translated that he was the first one to plant a vineyard, which may well explain his inexperience with the fruits of that vineyard. At any rate, Noah becomes drunk with the wine that he has made from his vineyard. Nothing in the passage directly comments about the morality of that activity. But it is clear in the passage that there is a loss of decency and honor on Noah's part. That is explicit in the passage. This is also true, by the way, of the second story in the Bible which speaks about the abuse of strong drink. Do you remember what that story is? It comes in Genesis 19, verses 30 through 38. It is the story of Lot's daughters getting him drunk in order that they might carry on their family line. So the first two occurrences of the abuse of strong drink give you a strong hint as to Moses’ concerns about the abuse of that particular substance.

But the main point of this story is not what Noah did, but what Ham did to Noah. The main point of the story is about Ham's flagrant sin, and the resulting curse of Ham's son, Canaan.

Now, we have to stop when we look at this passage because Moses has given it to us in such terse form. And we have to ask ourselves what exactly was Ham's sin? Moses uses an economy of words which leaves us asking some questions and wanting to fill in the blanks. Let me say that there have been many answers to that question. But it seems to me that the two most significant given by evangelical commentators is this. First of all, Ham's sin, it is argued, was disrespect for his father. When his father was in a compromised position, he was in a mocking and a jesting posture towards his dad. He went back to tell his brothers, "Hey, look what happened to dad." There was some sort of a disrespect for parental authority which would have been directly against the whole thrust of the Fifth Commandment to honor your father and your mother. Now, I’ll give you some examples later on as to why that is a very strong idea in the whole passage. But just bear in mind for a moment that that's one interpretation of what Ham did. Others, however, have suggested that Moses is using this phrase that he saw his father's nakedness as a circumlocution or a euphemism for some kind of a sexual sin. Whether it simply be the sexual sin of the eyes and mind or whether there be some actual grave sexual deed’ let me just remind you of the way this language of seeing nakedness is used in Moses’ own writings. If you turn to Leviticus, chapter 20, for a moment. In the midst of a long passage dealing with sexual sins, for instance, just pick out verse 17. Leviticus, chapter 20, verse 17. "If there is a man who takes his sister, his father's daughter, or his mother's daughter so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness. He bears this guilt." Now, if you look at the whole passage you clearly see that it's not just looking that's involved. This is Moses being discreet. He is going to have this read out to all the people of God, women, children, boys and girls in the assembly of the Lord. And he is being discreet in the way he speaks about this particular sexual sin. But it is clear that he is talking about actual sexual sin in this passage. Not merely a seeing and a lusting, but he is using the phrase "uncovering the nakedness of" to speak about actual sexual sin. And some have suggested that that is what we are talking about here with regard to the sin of Ham.

But it is clear for two reasons in the context of our passage in Genesis 9, that at the very heart of Ham's sin was a flagrantly, unfilial action toward his father. A flagrant disregard for his father's parental authority and the appropriate honor that should have been shown to him. This is shown in two ways in our passage. First of all, by the actions of Ham's brothers. Moses definitely contrasts their respect towards their father in contrast to Ham's disrespect. And so you get the hint that Moses is very concerned about the disrespect that Ham has shown. And secondly, the very curse of Canaan gives you a tip that Moses is recounting a prophetic curse from the lips of Noah which was particularly appropriate for a son who had shown disrespect to his father. Isn't it interesting, the position. A son shows disrespect to his father, what's the result? A son is cursed. So there are reasons for believing at the very heart of this sin is a disrespect for parental authority.

Now we have so many lessons just in those little verses that we can spend the whole evening just applying these things. Clearly, we have here a warning against the abuse of alcohol, my friends. And there's not a one of us in here that doesn't not need to take warning from this which is given in God's word. But we also see here an emphasis on the respect and the reverence for parental authority that we ought to have. Every student, every young person in here, all of us who have parents, need to bear in mind this particular lesson. Parents’ authority does not come from their experience. It does not come from the fact that they provide for you. It comes from God almighty. And when we cross that authority, and we disrespect, it is displeasing to God, and it will always bring back upon us consequences and sometimes curses. And for every young person, for every student, for every child, son or daughter, we must remember that the converse of the Fifth Commandment is a consequence that we do not want to face. If we are blessed in the land by honoring father and mother, we must remember that the curse for dishonoring father and mother is to be cut off from God's people. And that is exactly what happens to Canaan. What a warning we have here. And again, we see here the consequences of sin in family life. And we’ll look at that more closely in just a few moments.

III. In respect, we ought to turn away from the sins of our fathers.

Look then at verse 23. Noah's other sons, Shem and Japheth, act absolutely differently from Ham. Noah was respected by these sons. And they give us an example of how we ought to treat those in authority who have fallen. Verse 22 tells us that Ham went and told his brothers about his father, and he clearly expected them to join him in his mocking of his father. But they didn't. To the contrary in utter contrast to his response they displayed the utmost consideration and regard for their father. And we see here again that mocking and even jesting about the sins of those in authority drags us all down, and so Shem and Japheth refused to do that in the midst of this crisis in America. One of the sad things that is resulted from it is that respect for authority and the highest office in our land has been reduced to something that we snicker about. There is nothing that can give that back to us, my friends. That has been wrested from our hands, and it is sad. And we see here, even in our own day and age, how mocking at the sins of those in authority impacts us all, and how the discounting of that sin impacts us all. And so we see it in the life of Noah as well.

IV. God's justice has two sides: retributive and remunerative.
In verses 24 through 27 we find the first prophecy in the Bible. Now, you immediately perk up your ears from that. Well, what about Genesis 3:15. Wait a second. This is the first prophecy in the Bible given from the lips of man. God Himself had foretold His plan. By His words, even in the words of cursing in Genesis, chapter 3. But here Noah is called by God as a prophet to speak the first prophetic words in the whole of the Scriptures. And this prophecy begins with a curse, but it contains blessing as well. Look at it with me briefly in verses 24 and 25.

In verse 24 we are told that Noah knew what had happened to him, and in verse 25 the response is a curse. But I want you to understand that this is not Noah simply responding in a knee-jerk reaction in anger, in a vindictive attitude towards Ham. This is Noah speaking prophetically. And that is seen by the fact that Noah does not lash out at Ham. He speaks a word of prophecy about Canaan. Noah's prophecy issues in both curse and blessing. The curse of Canaan, Noah says, will be that Canaan, the son of Ham, will be the very lowliest of servants to Shem and Japheth. And now we've learned why it was that Moses kept telling us that Canaan was the son of Ham, because Canaan will now be cursed in light of this sin of his father. But again we ask the question, why is Canaan cursed? Ham is the one who sinned. Why would Canaan, the son of Ham, be cursed if Ham was the one who sinned? Three answers to that question.

First, notice that as Ham reproached his father, so Ham's son bears reproach for Ham's sin. There is a certain irony that is appropriate about this particular punishment. Listen to what Derek Kidner says: "For his breach of family, his own family would falter." He's speaking about Ham. "For his breach of family, his own family would falter." There is a certain appropriateness about this punishment. But that's not all we have to say. This curse of Canaan was in anticipation of Canaan's sin. If you have your Bibles you might turn with me to Genesis 15. In Genesis 15 - remember now, Moses is delivering this message to people who know who Canaanites are. Their job is to drive them out. They know that they have been waiting in Egypt for 400 and something years. Because why? The sin of the Amorite is not yet complete. Genesis 15, verse 16, "In the fourth generation they shall return here for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete." God intimates to Abram there that one of the reasons that the children of Israel will be enslaved so long in Egypt is He is allowing the Canaanites an opportunity to repent. They want and so He will bring the children of Israel out of Egypt, and He will judge the Canaanites in part by driving them from their own land. As Moses tells us about the curse of Canaan, this curse is in anticipation of precisely the sin of the descendants of Canaan.

And isn't it interesting that the patterns of Canaan's worship are similar to the sins of the father of Canaan's hands. Canaanite religion included child sacrifice, idolatry, ritual, sexual, prostitution and divination. That was the pattern of life that had been established in Canaan, and we see here how sin affects families. Sin ruins families, and that is revealed in the life of Canaan.

One other thing, let me tell you. God's grace is revealed in this curse. God could have rightly cursed Ham and all his descendants. But He singles out that curse upon Canaan, and in that we see God's grace. God spares some of the descendants of Ham. Only the Canaanites are cursed. Not all the Hamites are cursed. Shem is blessed. He is blessed in the name of the Lord, and this verse, verse 26, suggests that Shem is already himself in covenant with the Lord, and he has found his blessing wholly in the Lord. And Japheth is blessed in Shem.

Let me just say in passing that there is no direct fulfillment of the blessing of Japheth to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. But the New Testament says that the promise of blessing which Noah predicted here in Genesis, chapter 9, was fulfilled. Ephesians 3, verse 6 in the coming of the Gentiles into the people of God. We Japhethites, by Christ are brought into the line of promise.

V. Noah was not the one who would give us the eternal "rest."
One last thing, friends, as we close. In verses 28 and 29 we see Noah's obituary. And isn't it interesting? It's the same obituary that we read over and over in Genesis, chapter 5. You remember Genesis 5 and this passage here in Genesis 9 are separated only by what? The long account of the life of Noah. And so Moses’ obituary for Noah fits beautifully in the same pattern that we found in Genesis 5 over and over. And so-and-so lived for so long. He had so many sons, and he died. And once again we have the same words spoken of Noah in verse 29: "So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died." This obituary, after his whole great story, reads just like the ones in Genesis 5. And the life of Noah, looking back over it reminds us of God's faithfulness and of fallen human weakness before temptation, and of the continuing curse of sin. Noah's father had said, "I will call him Noah for he will give us rest." And there was a sense, of course, in which that was true. He would be the one used of God to spare the world through the deluge. But there was also a sense in which Noah would be unable to give us rest. Noah could only curse Canaan, but he could not change his heart. Only Christ can break that cycle of sin and misery and ruin in the line of family.

And let me remind you of one thing. Our Savior has Canaanite blood flowing in His veins. The reminder that Christ can break the cycle of sin and misery is proved in the fact that He has Canaanite blood flowing in His veins. Rahab, the harlot, the woman of Canaan, was a great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother of the Lord Jesus Christ. And so in Christ even the Canaanites can be redeemed by the blood of the land. May the Lord bless His word. Let's look to Him in prayer.

Our Heavenly Father, we thank You for the richness of Your truth, and we ask that You would help us to embrace the only one who can save us from our sins. Help us to cling to nothing, to no one but Christ. We ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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