One of the distinct features of the Bible is that it goes out of the way to tarnish the reputation of its hero’s. Some say that this is a mark of Scripture’s inspiration.
You know how stories usually end. The hero is supposed to be depicted as a legend who rides off into the sunset and everyone is supposed to live “happily ever after.”
The reason it does that is because the Bible seeks to highlight the fact that there is only one hero in Scripture. All the characters in the Bible are failures except one, God himself.
And that is certainly the case in our passage today. This section of Scripture most likely would not appear if it had not been written by the finger of God.
My wife asked me what passage I was going to be preaching on this week and I said, “It’s the passage where Noah gets wasted.” She said, “Oh, I hate that passage!” Such a response perked my curiosity, and so I asked her, “Why do you say that?” She said, “It’s just so sad. Noah had been such a great guy up to that point. He’d been the hero and a righteous man, and to see that happen to him is just so sad.”
I think she summed it up perfectly. This passage is here for one purpose. It is here to remind us of God’s story, and not Noah’s. It serves to remind us of the Lord’s redemption and what he does to bring salvation to his people.
The passage starts out by reminding us of man’s inherent depravity.
I. The depravity of man [18-20]
When we come to this passage we find Noah completely blitzed. After planting a vineyard he takes some of the fruits of his labors and goes on a drinking spree such to the point that he’s found laying naked and passed out.
There are some who want to pretty up the scene here and say that it was an accident. Some even supposed that Noah was so pure that he didn’t understand the intoxicating effects of wine. That’s a bit of a stretch though. I think it is safe to say that Noah was intentional about his drinking. He made a god out of his wine. The moment he felt a little woozy he could have stopped. But he didn’t. He drank and he drank and he drank until he lost all power of reason.
The point of this passage is, as I said earlier, to highlight the fact that Noah botched it.
A few weeks ago we talked about the receding of the flood waters. And as we studied that I suggested to you that what was being depicted was a new creation. There was a parallel to the opening chapter of Genesis one and the creation story. Then two weeks ago we talked about how God reiterated some of the words from Genesis 1 regarding the sanctity of human life. All along we have seen how the Noah narrative recapitulates a lot of the opening scenes of Genesis.
Well, here in our passage today, we have a reprise of Genesis 3 and the fall. Noah had been a man who “found favor in the eyes of God.” He, you might say, was the New Adam. All this time he has been one who was righteous in his conduct. But here we see a different side of Noah. Noah didn’t remain upright before the Lord. Just like Adam, he sinned against God. And so the cycle repeats itself.
It is even interesting how many parallels there are to the story of Adam and his fall. Both of them are found in gardens. And both of them involve the partaking of fruit. Both involve the idea of nakedness and its corresponding shame.
So again, I think that it is evident that the writer of Genesis is trying to tell sin is still a scarlet red reality. The flood changed a lot of things, but it didn’t change the heart.
I want this to be noted because there are many today who think that our problem is mainly attributed to our environment. People want to tell us that if we just remove the bad influences around us and if you put people in a better context, then man will turn out a lot better than he would had he been in those inferior conditions.
That’s why you used to have all the to-do about integration at schools. They said, if we just get the kids out of the projects and into better neighborhoods and better schools, then we’ll see change for the better.
You will hear from time to time how we are nothing other than “victims of our environment.” Some sociologist might say, “He became a thug and a gang banger because he grew up in the projects.” Or, “I never had a dad in the home, that’s why I turned out the way I did.” Now, do I believe that it is important to have a loving and caring dad? Of course, I do. Is it possible that such things can make you more susceptible to making bad decisions? Yes, I do. But you can never say that you are merely product of your environment.
If there is one thing that Noah teaches us here, it is that evil actions don’t spring primarily from your environment. Noah had the best of situations. All the evil influences of sin had been erased in the flood. He had a nice garden, and, for the most part, he had a good family. His context was certainly a lot better than it was prior to the flood! But no matter how pristine his context was, he chose to cut loose.
It all serves to show us that there is something genuinely wrong with the human condition, and that salvation does not come simply by a change of scenery. Salvation can only come through a radical change in the heart of man.
And that is why Noah cannot be the end of the story. All of this points us forward. All of this just reminds us that we are still waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises. And that won’t come until that time when, in the twinkling of an eye, we are changed.
But as we look at this passage, we not only see how the man’s depravity continues, we also see how man’s division continues.
II. The division of man
Again, back in the early chapters of Genesis we saw how there was going to be a division of peoples. There is going to be a distinction between the seed of the woman and the seed of Satan. There would be an ungodly line, and there would be a godly line. And we saw that Cain was the line of the apostates who refused to fear God. And from Seth came this long line of God fearing men, from whom Noah eventually came.
In this passage too we find this same division. Look at verse 22 It says, “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.” Here we find that the ungodly line was not altogether wiped out when the flood came. There is a new apostasy.
Now we are not told the details of what he said, but we get the gist of it—especially when we see the actions of his two brothers. Verse 23 tells us that Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on their shoulders, and walked in backwards so as to cover up their father and not further his disgrace. These guys took the honor of their father seriously. They couldn’t even lay their eyes on him for fear of furthering his disgrace.
But not so with Ham. Ham sees his father all laid out like this and starts talking about it. You can see him, “Hey Shem! Hey Japheth! Come here. You got to hear this!” No doubt he had a good laugh at the “old man.” It was bad enough that Noah laid uncovered. But Ham goes and uncovers the thing in an even more public manner. He’s broadcasting the sin of his father as if it were a joke!
I like what James Montgomery Boice says at this point. “The only thing worse than committing a sin is the devilish delight of finding and exposing someone else’s sin.” And it is this relishing sin that really shows us where Ham’s heart is. Especially when you consider the fact that Noah has been God’s minister of Salvation!
A real Christian is one who is grieved by sin. He mourns it and is greatly pained by it, especially when it involves the church. And when such a scandal occurs, a real Christian doesn't go out and broadcast it like he’s the anchorman for the six o’clock news. He makes every attempt to see that the name of Christ is not disgraced any further.
But people who are not Christians, they get high off these kinds of things. They take pleasure in it, laugh about it, and replay it over and over. They love to get their kicks at someone else’s expense. And they virtually salivate when they have a chance to disparage the church! That’s almost euphoric for them.
All this is to show though that this devilish cult was not fully exterminated in the flood. It was re-birthed in Ham and the seed of Satan survived because it was harbored in the safe haven of Ham’s heart.
But the passage not only talks about the depravity and division of men. This passage is also prophetic. It also serves to highlight the destiny of men.
III. The destiny of men
You might have noticed that this passage talks a lot about the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth. The first two verses we read said that it was from these three that all the descendants of the earth came.
Then in verses 26-27 you have the pronunciation of the blessings on Shem and Japheth. And really these are not about those two individuals as much as they are about their descendants. What’s more, is that you have mentioned three times in this passage that Ham is the father of Canaan. And, you might have noticed that when Noah rose up out of his hangover, he cursed Ham’s son rather than Ham.
Some people get a little squeamish about that. They say, “What’s the deal with that? Why does his son get cursed and not the actual perpetrator of the crime?” Well, there are a number of explanations. One reason is that Ham is Noah’s son. And since Ham is a scourge to his father, Ham’s son is going to be a scourge to him! There is a sense in which this is just retribution.
It may also be likely that Noah sees how Canaan has his father’s heart. You know, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! So it is likely that Canaan is walking in his father’s footsteps, and Noah is simply pointing out that this is going to be revisited in his own life.
But I think the best explanation for why Canaan is singled out has to do with when this book is being written. You remember that Moses is the author of the Book of Genesis. And this book is being written when the Israelites had come out of Egypt and were about to enter the Promised Land. But who was living in the Promised land? It was the Canaanites! It’s likely that Moses is singling out Canaan because the Israelites need to see that it is their duty to take the Promised Land by force and conquer the Canaanites. So Moses is saying, “You-who! Do you get it? Canaan is supposed to be subjugated by you!”
You might say, “D’em’s fighting words!”
Well, that’s the destiny of Canaan. But the passage also indicates something of the destiny of Shem and Japheth’s lines.
You see that in verses 26-27 Shem and Japheth are blessed for their obedience. And maybe you noticed that Shem’s line is given a place of honor over Japheth’s. Shem is the one who receives the greater blessing. We are told that God would enlarge Japheth, but at the same time he was going to dwell in the tent of Shem.
Well, if you trace things out, you find that Shem is going to be the line from which Abraham comes. You know the Jews are often called “Semitic” people. That’s because they are descendants of Shem. And Abraham is, as you know, the great, great, great grandfather of Jesus. The Lord is singling Shem out as the line from which that promised Savior would come.
But what about Japheth? This is interesting because if you trace it out, Japheth’s descendants travel to the north and make their dwelling in what is now Europe. Shem goes in the opposite direction (to the East). The two never really converge. That is until the New Testament times.
When you read the book of Acts you hear how the gospel moves all through the Western world. During this time you have all these Gentiles coming into the church. These Gentiles are the decedents of Japheth. And Japheth enters the tent of Shem through Jesus Christ. So what we have here is a prophetic utterance of the missionary work of the gospel.
And that is the good news of the text for us. We, through faith in Christ, have opportunity to enter the tents of Shem and experience the joy of our Lord’s salvation.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.