(Here is another episode in my continuing exploration of the Bible. You can read my series introduction here. All scripture quotes are NIV and may not be copied for commercial purposes. Read copyright information here.)
9 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. 2 The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. 3 Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. (NIV)
So far “be fruitful” is the most oft-repeated commandment God gives to humans. Maybe because we are so good at it. I also think it’s the one God doesn’t necessarily have to repeat (though its repeated twice in Genesis 9). We’re pretty good at it. Maybe a little too good. In fact, he built that line of code so well into our central processor, I think we’d figure it out on our own.
Genesis 9:3 is important because it verifies my suspicion that the line of Adam, to this point, were vegetarians. This confirms my thought (see Episode 4) that their flocks were likely kept for only milk, skins, wool and sacrifices. It’s also important to note here that there are no dietary restrictions on what kind of animal meat humans can eat, as God said “I now give you everything”. This, naturally, leads to animals fearing man.
An important lesson comes out of Genesis 9:3 – God can change the rules. I am assuming God made vegetarianism a rule prior to this (though it is never explicitly stated), because he specifically rescinded it. But why? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep this in the back of my mind as I plow forward.
4 “But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. 5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being. (NIV)
Don’t eat blood. Hmm…I am sure there is a reason, other than its gross, but it isn’t spelled out here. I’ll keep that in mind, too. Note to self – steaks well-done from this point forward.
6 “Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind. (NIV)
Remember back in Episode 10 when God specifically singled out violence as one of the primary reasons for the flood? He revisits that theme here in Genesis 9:6.
SPOILER ALERT: This is essentially what the Sixth Commandment in Exodus:20 says. It is also pretty much what Jesus Christ says in Matthew 26:52 as he is being led away for his trial. Each human life is precious, dare I say holy, because we are made in the image of God. God is clear and unwavering on this point – don’t kill your fellow human being.
Hmm, interesting, God seems to repeat two major commands across Genesis – procreate and don’t kill. He is loud and clear on these two points.
To summarize Genesis 9:7-17, God expands on his covenant with Noah. After reminding Noah and his family to procreate (again) he promises never to destroy the world again…by flood (hmm…God kinda leaves the whole destroy-the-world-in-the future-thing wide open. Should we be worried?)
Like many of us learned in church, God says the rainbow is a sign of his covenant with Noah and all the creatures of the earth. I don’t know if rainbows existed before the Flood, but basic physics sort of makes me think they did and God assigned a symbolic meaning to this natural phenomenon. I must admit, this is another of those instances where scripture sounds a little like the “And that’s why…” stories common to other culture’s mythologies.
(A random thought: It seems throughout Genesis God links the fate of Earth and its creatures to his judgements of mankind. Why? Why should the world suffer for the sins of humanity? I have no idea, so I will move on…)
Genesis 9:1-17 makes sense to me. It has a logic and flow and spirit consistent to the scripture I have read up to this point. Genesis 9:18-28 does not. Here, the Bible takes a very weird turn.
18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.
20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.
24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,
“Cursed be Canaan!
The lowest of slaves
will he be to his brothers.”
26 He also said,
“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s territory;
may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”
28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died. (NIV)
Welcome to the first edition of THE OLD TESTAMENT AFTER-HOURS: Noah gets sauced, passes out naked, and his son Ham sees him in the buff.
Ham’s brothers cover their father without looking at him. For the transgression of seeing dad naked, Ham’s descendants must suffer slavery at the hands of his brothers’ offspring forever. Here, scripture strays into Game of Thrones territory, and I’m not sure I’m buying it.
Please, put down the stones and hear me out. This portion of scripture reads and feels different from everything that has come before. It feels tacked on, alien to the spirit of what has come before. Let me explain.
First, if I had just spent half a year pent up with thousands of smelly animals in a storm-battered ocean and survived, I would be drinking heavily for the rest of my life. That part is believable, even for someone as good as Noah.
Remember, Noah was spared because he was found “righteous in the eyes of God.” That is about a good a character reference as one can get. I can logically deduce he wasn’t a violent, wicked man and had been repelled by the terrible evil of his era. Answer me this - why would someone this good be the first to introduce the concept of slavery into the Bible’s narrative? Yes, this is the first time that cursed institution is mentioned, by no less than Noah himself. Is Noah the father of slavery? I don’t think so. It makes no sense based on all that has come before.
Even more, why would he curse his own blood to suffer under the yoke of their own family. Think about it for a moment, God himself didn’t even curse Cain to such a fate for murder. Is seeing one’s father naked is worthy of a multi-generational curse? I try to put myself in Noah’s place, with his Bronze-age tribal patriarchal mores and values. I also try to imagine what kind of jerk (or degenerate) Ham might have been, but I can’t make the punishment fit the crime. SPOILER ALERT: This action flies in the face of mercy, forgiveness and grace – all of which are key concepts to follow in the Old and New Testament. Other parts of the tale make me scratch my head, too.
The Ark came to rest in the mountains of Ararat (eastern Turkey near the Armenian border), which is about 700 miles from Canaan (modern day Israel). That’s a long way to walk and horses were in REAL short supply at that particular moment in history. All three brothers were together, which makes me think the immediate family hadn’t dispersed yet. Either they all stayed in the vicinity of Ararat, which means either Ham hadn’t gone to Canaan yet, or his kids (SPOILER ALERT: Canaan was Ham's son and I assume the land was named for him) have already departed to Canaan but he stayed (or maybe returned). My point is why the particular emphasis on Ham's descendants in the line of Canaan? Before the advent of steam power in the US, most American’s didn’t stray from their county, but in the Bronze age Noah’s kids are globe-trotting around the muddy Middle-East immediately after the Great Flood? I don’t think so.
SPOILER ALERT: I know who was knocking on Canaan’s front door around 1446 B.C., readying his people for a coming holy war of conquest - Moses, that’s who. (Ham's descendants are also the Egyptians, go figure). Moses is widely-accepted as the penman of both Genesis and Exodus. This passage seems to infer the Israelites have a historical claim to take the peoples of Canaan as slaves. I am probably SO wrong, and I find this possibility really unsettling, but Genesis 9:18-26 feels like a bit of propaganda tacked on to the tale of Noah to help justify a coming conflict with the native peoples of Canaan.
Here’s a good point to bring up now - where in Genesis 9:18-28 is God’s voice, or will, mentioned? It isn’t. I only hear Noah’s rage.
Rage? A righteous man, a man of God, who had witnessed the ultimate evil of mankind and the divine wrath (and mercy) of God, would understand the frailty of life and the power of forgiveness. If Noah had this kind of rage buried deep in is heart, are you telling me a simple hangover and a bit of embarrassment would be all it took to unleash it? If Noah had this kind of rage buried deep in is heart, why would God spare him in the first place?
I am left with one of two conclusions about Genesis 9:18-26:
1) Moses hijacked the story of Noah and added a strange addendum to help justify what he knew was the coming war to reclaim the Promised Land. I don’t want to believe this, because, if true, that means Moses hijacked the scriptures for political/military gain. Or…
2) Noah proved God’s observation on human wickedness to be true before the ground was even dry after the Flood. He becomes, in a way, the Cain of the post-Flood age. In an alcohol-induced fit of anger Noah succumbs to wrath and forgoes mercy and forgiveness. In cursing Ham, Noah condemns a significant portion of his progeny, and humanity, to bondage and unspeakable suffering. In a weird way, he is the Father of Slavery and even validates Egypt’s brutal subjugation of God’s chosen people centuries later. I don’t want to believe this, either.
In the shadow of the rainbow I stumbled on Moses’s ambition or Noah’s rage. My gut tells me Genesis 9:18-28 has no business being part of this story. If either conclusion is true, I find this stretch of my Journey about as disheartening as it gets.
If you are an expert on the Bible, I’m listening. Tell me I’m wrong, show me why. My heart, mind and comments section are open.
Great blog, huh? Brian Braden is the author of THE ILLUSION EXOTIC, the historical fantasy novel BLACK SEA GODS and several other exciting books. Please support this blog with your patronage.