Bible Questions and Answers

 
     
 

Bible Question: Can you please explain Genesis 9:22-29?

Bible Answer: The passage, Genesis 9:22-29, is as follows:

Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father's nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said, "Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants He shall 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." Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood. So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died. (NASB) Genesis 9:22-29

This passage tells us that Noah had been drinking wine and went to sleep because he was drunk. This is the first time in the Bible of an example of drunkenness. It occurred after the worldwide flood. When Noah went to sleep, he was naked. When his son, Ham, entered the room, he saw his father. There are at least four views about what happened.
Homosexual Act. Some Jewish rabbis taught that due to the severity of Noah's response the Bible did not include the more sordid details of some awful act. Rabbinic sources believe that Ham may have committed a homosexual act.[1] This would explain Noah's strong reaction and the curse that he pronounced on Ham's son, Canaan. But this explanation is not supported by the Bible. That is, the Bible never mentions it, and the reaction of Noah's two other sons does not support this conclusion either. For example, we are told that Ham saw Noah's "nakedness." But Shem and Japheth refused to see Noah's nakedness by walking backwards and covering him. If "nakedness" is a homosexual act, why cover Noah with a blanket? It seems more reasonable to conclude that Shem and Japheth did not want to see their father naked. Otherwise, they could have remained outside.
Castration. The rabbis also taught that Ham might have castrated his father[2]. Once again, this seems unreasonable since the Bible does not mention it. When the Bible does not refer to something or does not explicitly state that something occurred, then we are merely guessing in saying it occurred. The Bible does not say that Noah was castrated, nor does it say that Ham committed a homosexual act with his father. If Ham had castrated his father, Noah would have awakened most likely. If he had castrated his father, why would Shem and Japheth cover him? These possibilities are highly unlikely.
Violation of Noah's Wife. The ancient rabbis also conjectured that the word "nakedness" implied that Ham had sexual relations with his mother and saw his fathers' nakedness. But this is highly unlikely since we are told that Shem and Japheth did not see his "nakedness," since they covered their father. If "seeing Noah naked" implies sexual relations with their mother, how does covering their father's nakedness prevent that act? How does walking backwards into their father's room undo, preclude, eliminate, or prevent a repeat of that act?

Conclusion:The most reasonable explanation for this passage is to understand the words plainly. Ham saw his father naked. Possibly, he gazed at his father before leaving, but we do not know that for sure. What is clear is that Ham reported his discovery to his brothers. In the ancient culture, seeing the nakedness of one's parent was a breach of one's honor. Just imagine the dishonor of telling one's brothers or sisters that you were looking at your naked parent. Unfortunately, we have become desensitized in our sexually obsessed society and it does not seem to be a significant issue to some. So Shem and Japheth walked in backwards and covered Noah. When he awoke, he would have known that something unusual had occurred since he was now covered with a blanket. He would have soon discovered what had occurred. Consequently, the "curse" was announced on Ham's son.

 

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References:

1. Nahum M. Sarna. The JPS Torah Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society. Philadelphia. 1989, p. 66.

2. Nahum M. Sarna. The JPS Torah Commentary. The Jewish Publication Society. Philadelphia. 1989, p. 66.

 

 

 
     
 
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