Genesis 9 and The Sons of Noah

Growing up I remember my Dad always wearing dark coloured suits until one day in the late eighties when he went to a lighter shade of grey. Responding to comments from people in the church he mentioned that he went with a lighter shade to match his greying hair to which one of the deacons spoke up and said “Pastor, we hope you don’t go bald!”

I was reminded of that story from the passage in Genesis 9 in which the sons of Noah respond to their father’s nakedness in different ways. Noah had become drunk and passed out naked, so much for righteousness. But whereas Ham responds by spreading the news, Shem and Japheth walk into their father’s presence backwards and cover him up. One remembers God’s covering of Adam and Eve’s shame with clothing and we must presume that Shem and Japheth are acting with much greater honour towards their dad than Ham. On waking up Noah had this to say:

“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Praise be to the Lord , the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend Japheth’s territory; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.” (Genesis 9:25-27 NIV)

So what are we to learn from this somewhat strange passage? Righteousness still matters. We have just learned in the first part of the chapter of God’s grace and promise to never destroy the world again with a flood. Grace brings with it a temptation, and the greater the grace the greater the temptation. If we think that our sins will be forgiven we face the temptation to think that they do not matter. But righteousness still matters. Though God has made the gracious promise in the first half of chapter 9 to not treat humanity as it deserves, the second half highlights the difference righteousness makes. The fact that Ham’s curse is laid on his son Canaan would not be lost on the Israelite community as they prepare to enter and posses the land named after him, occupied by a people still persisting in unrighteousness.

The wonderful grace of Jesus brings to the Christian a great temptation; to forget that righteousness matters. Let us aspire to the righteousness of Christ even as we enjoy His grace and favour.

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