“Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent. 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'” (Gen 9:20-26).

If Ham was the one who did something wrong, why does Noah curse Canaan? The larger context may provide the answer. Bible scholars have noticed several parallels between the Flood Narrative and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. In both cases, God’s judgment leads large-scale destruction (Gen 6:11-13, 17; 9:11, 15; 19:13-14, 29). In both stories, a single family is saved because God remembers (Gen 8:1; 19:29). Both stories end with a narrative about a father who is too drunk to know about his children’s sexually inappropriate exploits towards him (Gen 9:21, 24; 19:32–35). In the case of Lot, the daughters’ night with their father results in two offspring, Moab and Ben-ammi, whose descendants become the enemies of the people of Israel. Given the fact that “discovering the nakedness of one’s father” in Leviticus 20:11 means to sleep with one’s mother (see Gen 9:22), Genesis 9:20-26 tells us in a round-about way that Ham slept with Noah’s wife. Canaan is not only the cursed offspring of this illicit union, his descendants become one of Israel’s greatest enemies (the Canaanites). So is there any light at all in these horrific stories? Yes. In the midst of the terrible darkness, both stories refer to key people in the Messiah’s genealogy: Shem, from whom comes Abraham (Gen 9:26; 11:10-26); and Moab from whom comes Ruth (Gen 19:37; Ruth 4:18-22). The darkness of human sin can never extinguish the bright light of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

“The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it…. There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:5, 9).

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