And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30)
Genesis 9 does not tell us what Ham’s intention was when he “saw the nakedness” of his father, Noah. Did he steal Noah’s robe of authority? Did he sleep with his own mother? Perhaps there is a third solution, based upon clues found elsewhere in Genesis, which combines both these possibilities but offers something new.
As always, it is wise to identify the Covenant-literary structure of the passage, whose architecture often reveals the Author’s intent, since it can be aligned and compared with all others biblical texts. The passage has been split into its five legal “Covenant” headings, and each of its smaller sections I have labelled with what I call the Bible Matrix, which corresponds the process of the Creation Week with its expression in the Tabernacle architecture and in Israel’s annual festal calendar (from Leviticus 23).
Creation: (Sabbath – Genesis – Ark of the Testimony)
Noah began to be a master of the soil, and he planted a vineyard and he drank of the wine and became drunk, and he was uncovered within his tent.
Firstly, we should notice the allusions to Eden in Noah’s planting of a garden and his subsequent nakedness. Many assume that this text indicates righteous Noah sinned, but there is plenty to suggest otherwise. James Jordan writes:
…Noah, having come to a time of sabbath rest, “drank of the wine [of his New-Garden vineyard] and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Gen. 9:21). Noah’s robe was a sign of his office and authority. In the privacy of his tent, he laid it aside. There was no sin in this; after all, he was still covered by the “garment” of the tent itself.1James B. Jordan, Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis, 51-52.
Jordan also highlights the significance of the wine, which is important here. Priesthood and Kingdom were signified in the Garden by Eden’s two trees, in the Land by grain and fruit, and in the World by bread and wine. The Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge (or kingly, judicial wisdom) were prototypical “bread and wine.” Wine is a symbol of kingdom and Noah’s name means “Bringer of Rest.”
He got “drunk,” but all this means is that he became relaxed and went to sleep… In the Lord’s Supper, God wants Christians to relax and drink wine in His presence. Such rest comes at the end of our duties, not during them of course, but it is the promise of rest for every Christian toiler.2Jordan, Primeval Saints, 49.
Unlike Adam, Noah was faithful and entered into God’s rest — on a worldwide scale. After the demise of Eden, God established in Noah a new altar (Court), a new ministry (Holy Place) and a new Sanctuary (Most Holy Place).
Division: (Passover – Exodus – Veil)
And saw Ham, the father of Canaan, the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.
Identification of the literary structure reveals the purpose of many words and phrases which might be considered redundant. The purpose of the mention of Canaan is not only to foreshadow what is to come (here he sits at the “Exodus” step within the “Exodus” stanza, and later he is cursed to become a servant), but also a prefiguring of the physical sign upon all Israelite males (as Isaacs from a barren womb made fruitful) which tied them to the promise of Canaan, (a barren land made fruitful).
Noah’s nakedness is the unrighteous removal of a veil, and the two brothers here are “legal witnesses,” for blessing and cursing, which again hints at the purpose of the passage. The overall theme, however, is the untimely removal of a Veil that the Father has put in place.
ETHICS (Priesthood, Kingdom, Prophecy)
Ascension: (Firstfruits – Leviticus – Altar/Land)
And took Shem and Japheth a garment, and laid on their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father.
The structure here gives the stanza a sacrificial motif. Another Ascension passage, famous for its strangeness, comes to mind, which may illuminate what is going on in God’s mind here. It comes right after the Ten Words:
“And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.” (Exodus 20:26)
What is going on here? How is Noah’s nakedness linked to the Altar/Land?
Ascension: (Firstfruits – Leviticus – Table/Womb)
And their faces were backward, and the nakedness of their father they saw not.
The word “face” is most often a dead giveaway for a reference to the Golden Table of “Facebread,” going right back to Genesis 1, and it includes the veiling of Moses’ face after his ascension of Sinai. Here, Noah is the source of blessing and cursing (Sanctions) and it is hinted in the last line that these brothers will be blessed. Unlike Adam and Eve, their eyes were not opened “in judgment” before time.
Testing: (Pentecost – Numbers – Lampstand)
And awoke Noah from his wine and knew what had been done to him by his younger son.
Noah was made a judge by God, with the authority to execute murderers. This is because he was not a man like Lamech, but understood both justice and mercy. Noah the prophet not only knew something had occurred (since he was now covered in the garment), and that Ham was the culprit, but also understood Ham’s intentions. Either they had previously argued over the blessing, or it was revealed to him.
Maturity: (Trumpets – Deuteronomy – Incense)
And he said, “Cursed be Canaan. A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
Again, the structure is helpful. Trumpets is the “summoning of the troops,” prefigured negatively in the union of Joseph’s band of brothers against him. What is interesting is that it is Canaan who is cursed, not Ham. Some have taken this to mean that Ham slept with Noah’s wife, and Canaan was thus cursed because he was the result of incest (like Ammon and Moab). It is unlikely that this is the case, since Noah only just woke up. There is no indication of a gap of nine months, or that Noah is naming a yet unborn Canaan here in his curse. “A servant of servants” at the center of the sentence is an ironic take on “king of kings.” It is the same as the curse on the serpent in Eden, which gives us another clue as to what is going on here.
Conquest: (Atonement – Joshua – Mediators: Laver, sacrifices and High Priest)
And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem. Canaan shall be the servant to him.
The Oath/Sanctions section contains two blessings, which correspond to the two approaches of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, first for the priesthood (the God of Shem) and then the people (the ministry of Shem). Shem is the priestly head (the Semites) and Japheth is the nations which would be gathered into Shem’s tabernacle. In his three sons, the three level ministry of Noah became a three level social world. The curse upon Canaan is repeated in each of the blessings.
God shall make wide for Japheth and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem. Canaan shall be the servant to him.”
The phrase “shall make wide” has a connotation of inheritance. Shem would become the Abrahamic “Garden-Sanctuary,” while Canaanites would continue Cain’s claim to a city before God’s time in the Land. Japhethites would populate the rest of the World, and they would eventually be blessed in Abraham, a descendant of Shem.
Glorification: (Booths – Rest and Rule)
And Noah lived (Light – Day 1)
after the flood (Waters – Day 2)
three hundred years and fifty years. (Land & Firstfruits – Day 3)
And all the days of Noah (Ruling Lights – Day 4)
nine hundred years and fifty years. (Swarms/Hosts – Day 5)
And he died. (Mediators – Day 6)
The passage ends with a stanza for the “Succession” of Noah, and the Hebrew recapitulates Genesis 1, which makes Noah’s life the source of a new Creation. Noah’s years after the flood are a “three” and a “half,” and his entire span is a nine and a half. Although Noah is a better Adam, he is not the Christ. Even Noah the Priest-King is denied true rest, since the final line of the stanza is missing.
The Sin of Ham
James Jordan says Ham’s sin was not sexual, but consisted of mocking his father and inviting his brothers to seize the robe of authority, which they rejected by upholding the robe and re-covering their father.
The subsequent verses give us all we need to reconstruct what Ham said: He advocated taking over rule and authority from Noah. The symbol of such authority was the robe, and by re-robing their father, Shem and Japheth rejected Ham’s suggestion. The curse on Canaan to be a slave and a servant fittingly matches the sin of Ham: Canaan will have his rule and authority stripped from him.3James B. Jordan, The Sin of Ham and the Curse of Canaan, Biblical Horizons Nºs 96-98.
Peter Leithart discusses the possibility of maternal incest, due to the prohibitions against “uncoverings” in Leviticus 20. Ham’s motivation would then be similar to that of Absalom in his seizure of David’s concubines, perhaps incorporating the theft of the robe as proof of Ham’s claim.4See Peter J. Leithart, Noah’s Nakedness, www.leithart.com, May 27, 2005.
However, the text remains as opaque as ever, and there is no statement that Ham’s wife was barren. Despite the prohibition in Leviticus 20:11 (“If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”), there is no mention of Noah’s wife. Certainly, this event is long before the Law of Moses, but there is a definite link. There is just not enough to indicate that it was maternal incest that occurred. I believe that both the literary structure of the passage, the sacred architectures of the book of Genesis, and some later verses in Genesis might provide another answer, one that incorporates both the concept of the robe (Oath) and the womb (Sanctions).
Firstly, a little bit of architecture. James Jordan has some fascinating comments on Ham’s sin:
The situation is just like that in the Tabernacle. God is enthroned naked in the Holy of Holies, but the priests are never to see Him. When they move the Tabernacle, they unhook the Veil and carry it backwards to cover the Throne. When they set up the Tabernacle, they pull off the Veil carefully and walk forward and hook it up without looking. On the Day of Coverings (Lev. 16), when Aaron does go into the Holy of Holies, God wraps Himself in His cloud. God is not to be seen in His tent, but God does speak from His throne. The same is true of Noah: when he awakes, he speaks.5James B. Jordan, The Sin of Ham Revisited, Biblical Horizons blog, May 15, 2010.
So, righteous Noah is the judge of all the earth, the Master resting behind the Veil. Ham is the serpent in the Garden, a false witness. Noah’s faithful sons enter the tent with eyes averted to become the “cherubim” witnesses.
The subsequent Noahic narrative follows the same pattern as that of Adam. There is a “kingdom” sin in the Garden and a “city” sin in the Land, but this time God cut into Adamic flesh through circumcision to prevent another flood. Jordan shows us that Ham’s sin had to do with investiture, as did Adam’s (Oath). The material Leithart shares shows us that the sin had to do with fruitfulness, namely, Canaan (Sanctions). Jordan shows us that the architecture is later replicated in the Tabernacle. So, what was it that Ham sought? What is something that ties the Sanctuary to the Land (Canaan) and offspring?
A Deathbed Will
The end of the passage concerns generational Covenant blessings, so it would seem obvious that this is what Ham was seeking. Ham was the youngest son (Genesis 9:24) and Japheth the oldest (Genesis 10:21). It would also explain why Ham told his brothers when he left the tent. If he had committed maternal incest, there would be no way to know if his mother had conceived, and thus not much to boast about. And, as mentioned above, there is no mention of her presence, unlike the clarity of the account of Lot and his daughters.
However, there are two other texts in Genesis which might give us a clue as to what Ham actually did, and they are both related to oaths concerning Covenant Succession.
So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:9)
And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed. (Genesis 47:29-31)
Generational Covenant blessings involved the one being blessed putting his hand “under the thigh” of the one doing the blessing. Some believe this involved the younger touching the testicles of the elder. The proven fruitfulness of the father was being transferred to, identified with, the son. The word “thigh” also relates to the fruitfulness of females:
And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. (Numbers 5:27)
The most likely scenario, given what is mentioned in the text, and taking its structure into account, is that Ham mistook Noah’s sleep for near death, but it was a Covenantal “deep sleep” like that of Adam and Abraham, both of which took place that a bridal body might be constructed, Eve in the Garden and Abraham’s proto-Tabernacle in the Land.
Without the blessing of Noah, the curse upon Land and womb still applied, so Ham attempted to steal the verbal blessing (Oath) of Noah’s firstborn for his own firstborn son before Noah expired, perhaps including some form of physical contact (Sanctions).
Just as Adam’s theft of fruit led to a curse upon the fruit of the Land and the womb which had been promised to him, so Ham’s attempted theft of these blessings led to curses concerning the Land and the womb for his offspring.
Although there is no mention of the division of land, that is indeed how it was manifested. Genesis 5 ends a Covenant cycle with a genealogy (Succession) and Genesis 10 ends a greater cycle with a greater genealogy. Just as the Land of Canaan was later divided among the tribes of Israel, so in Genesis 10:25 the land was divided in the days of Peleg, with Japheth getting the lion’s share of this Noahic inheritance as the firstborn.
What about the architectural aspect? Noah was now the representative of God, the man with the robe of office, a human tabernacle. What was in the Most Holy Place? The “stones” of Moses, two witnesses with a prophetic aspect once combined, flanked by two witnesses, just like the two trees in the Garden, and the two pillar “legs” of Solomon’s Temple. We might also see these witnesses in the two stones in the ephod, the liturgical “scrotum” worn by the High Priest, which, as X and Y, revealed God’s will for Israel.
Adam’s father was God, and Adam’s theft, architecturally speaking, was the rebellious son going for the gonads of God, the untouchable fruit. Adam was second-guessing the mind of God, based upon the serpent’s slander. The Ark was the mind of God hidden behind a veil. Noah was God’s first real Man, whose fellowship with God included revelations. Both Adam’s and Ham’s sins were an attempt to hijack “the will of the father” concerning fruitfulness, that is, the fulfillment of Covenant promises. The irony is that the Lord later blesses a holy deception to steal the Abrahamic authority of the faithless firstborn Esau and his Canaanite wives for the sons of faithful Jacob. The difference is that in Genesis 9 it was the firstborn who was faithful.
This theme continues into the New Testament, where the focus shifts more obviously from the sons of men to the Sons of God. Procreation is always “the will of the father.” But re-creation is the will of the heavenly Father, who opened Noah’s and Isaac’s eyes, cursing Canaan but blessing Jacob. Personal faith made birth order irrelevant, as Jacob demonstrated in his investiture of Joseph (Oath: Genesis 37:3) and his “switched” blessing upon Joseph’s sons (Sanctions: Genesis 48:14).
The Gospel of John contrasts the first birth (Sanctions/circumcision) with the second birth (Oath/baptism), that is, nature and supernature, for us:
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13)
The themes of blessing and inheritance are important for understanding the New Testament. Ham’s commandeering of his father’s will on his “deathbed” is very similar to that of the prodigal son in Jesus’ parable, the secondborn who demanded his inheritance, squandered it, and ended up as a slave. However, the son’s eyes were eventually opened, and he realized he had sinned against both of his fathers, the Father in heaven (Oath) and his father on earth (Sanctions):
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18-19)
This son did not know his father’s mind either, but in this case, the father only has blessing for his rebellious, thieving son, not cursing.
In the New Covenant, the will of the Father is revealed in the Son by the Spirit. It is an unexpected and undeserved inheritance for slaves and eunuchs, and an eternal legacy for the dispossessed (Mark 10:28-30).
And it is all sourced in a Canaan transfigured by a son “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Philippians 2:6) becoming instead a servant of servants that He might become the firstborn from the dead, king of all kings and lord of all lords, the judge of all the earth and the heir of all nations.
If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||James B. Jordan, Primeval Saints: Studies in the Patriarchs of Genesis, 51-52.|
|2.||↑||Jordan, Primeval Saints, 49.|
|3.||↑||James B. Jordan, The Sin of Ham and the Curse of Canaan, Biblical Horizons Nºs 96-98.|
|4.||↑||See Peter J. Leithart, Noah’s Nakedness, www.leithart.com, May 27, 2005.|
|5.||↑||James B. Jordan, The Sin of Ham Revisited, Biblical Horizons blog, May 15, 2010.|