Cursing and Blessings | Genesis 9.24-29
When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said,
“Cursed be Canaan;
a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also said,
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem;
and let Canaan be his servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
and let him dwell in the tents of Shem,
and let Canaan be his servant.”
After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.
Genesis 9:24-29 | ESV
It had to happen. Noah sobered up. And he knew what Ham had done – did Ham’s brothers tell him? While covering their father’s shame did they fully expose their brother’s? Regardless, dad is not pleased. And he utters what essentially functions as his last will and testament – in poetic verse. It’s a song of cursing and blessing on his three sons – a song which probably shouldn’t be taken so much as causative but rather as prophetic and predictive. Ham saw his father’s nakedness, and Noah now sees far and wide just where and how the lines of his three sons and their families will move forward, separate, and ultimately intersect. The three stanzas of his last will and testament succinctly lay out the flow of redemptive history through the entire sweep of the biblical narrative. Curiously, Noah doesn’t even mention Ham’s name Was he too angry? or does he not curse Ham because Ham had been included in the divine blessing when they left the ark? or is there something else at work here? Regardless, this would be highly significant to the Hebrew slaves telling and hearing this story, for their primary adversaries were the Canaanites. It would also speak volumes to them that their political oppressors throughout their history were primarily descendants of Ham: Egyptians, Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians. Clearly, if Ham is cursed through his son Canaan as the “lowest of slaves” to his brothers, it was a bitter irony that the Shemite Hebrews were political vassals to dominating Hamite powers through most of their history. Seen from the higher vantage point of Christ in the Gospels, we realize that Noah’s words didn’t ultimately have anything to do with race, ethnicity or politics. As well summarized by Bruce Waltke,
The biblical Shemites politically never subjugate Egypt and Babylon. God’s victory through Shem over degraded moral practices is ultimately spiritual and fulfilled in the messianic age, which is inaugurated by the greatest of the Shemites, Jesus Christ. In that age, both Egypt and Babylon find new birth in Jerusalem and are numbered with the people of God. Moreover, in the messianic kingdom, the Japhethites are enlarged and displace the Shemites as the victors over evil…Today the seed of the woman and the heirs of Abraham’s covenants are mostly Gentiles, who originally inhabited Anatolia, Greece, and Rome…We are all Japhethites dwelling in the tents of Shem. Today his church includes the Ethiopian eunuch (Ham), Peter and Paul (Shem), and Cornelius (Japheth).”
While some zero in on Noah’s curse and use it to justify ongoing racial prejudices and religious, social and cultural hostilities, God brings a much better result through Christ: all of us are included. The family is reunited. We all come home.
Whom are you strongly inclined (and rightfully so!) to curse? How can this be turned into an occasion for blessing instead?
Lord, enlarge your grace in me and let me dwell in your tents, O God. Bring us all home. Through Christ.
For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.