Bible Stories: Noah and His Sons

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So after the trauma of the flood, there is a weird postscript to Noah’s story. Well, technically there are two. One of them is definitely considered Very Important. It is God making a covenant with Noah.

If you did not grow up in the evangelical church, it is possible that you did not hear the word covenant thrown around constantly. There is a covenant denomination, in fact. I went to it for a long time. For Christians, the idea of God making covenant with us is critical.

The Oxford Dictionary has three different definitions for covenant. Two of them have to do with law, either a contract drawn up by deed or a clause in a contract. And one is about theology. “An agreement that brings about a relationship of commitment between God and his people.” Covenants are central. You see, this is what I was taught my entire life. God, the supreme being, the creator of everything, stepped down from heaven and created a personal covenant with Noah, with Abraham, with  a number of other Old Testament and eventually New Testament figures. We pointed to this as proof that our God was a personal God, that unlike the other pagan gods of the age, our God sought out personal relationship with us, fought to make it happen. So this is God’s first covenant with mankind and it’s supposed to be the beginning of a pattern, a pattern that proves that God wants to have an intimate relationship with mankind.

The second postscript is weird. I have heard occasional sermons on it and, to be honest, no one seemed to be able to make much heads or tails of it. Noah goes off the ark, plants a vineyard, gets drunk off his own wine and ends up embarrassingly naked in his dwelling. One son sees him and tells his brothers of their father’s shame, the other two walk in backwards so as not to witness it, cover him up and wait till he wakes. When he wakes, he curses his son and blesses the other two, presumably because his son mocked him. And then there’s a line of descendants. So. Let’s take a look at all that.

God’s Covenant With Noah

Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth. The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands. Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.

“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.

“Whoever sheds human blood,
    by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
    has God made mankind.

As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.”

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth.11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenantbetween God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

The Sons of Noah

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded[a] to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!
    The lowest of slaves
    will he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!
    May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;
    may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,
    and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.

Response –
Okay, as is my habit, I would like to start out just by taking notice of something I’ve never noticed before. Does it not seem a little irresponsible of God to tell Noah and his family to feel free to eat all the animals just now? Look, I don’t know how long re-population would take; I’m sure it would depend a lot on which species and such. And there’s not a lot of their family, only eight people right now. But you could literally obliterate an entire species if it happened to be your favorite food. Would it not perhaps have made more sense to be like “So, give it a few years and then you can totally eat all of the meat you want but right now you should probably hang back and start working on a garden?” Given his skill with a vineyard, we know Noah knows how to garden. I’m just saying. This never crossed my mind before.

Okay, moving on. Again, I’d like to look at this from the perspective of how human beings might potentially feel if this kind of trauma had just happened to them. I am well aware that I cannot possibly imagine what it would be like to be in this culture in this time (in an imaginary story that definitely did not happen but let’s ignore that part, we’re playing along) so this is pure conjecture and wondering. There was a lot of focus when I was growing up on how they were saved but let’s look at that for a minute. So these eight people were saved. But they must have had family. The wives of their children must have had parents, brothers and sisters, maybe nieces and nephews. Noah and his wife himself probably would have had family, given that they were all apparently living like 1000 years for whatever reason. That’s not even touching on friends or people you just knew in passing. Every single one of those people has died a horrible death. They heard them screaming. Maybe the door was shut on them, we don’t know. However, in imagining a story like this, we can safely imagine it to be very traumatic.

There is a difference for these survivors however. Unlike in most world or even localized catastrophes where the survivors might be left wondering both why such a thing would happen and why they survived when so many people they loved perished, Noah and his family don’t have to wonder. They know. They know that this immense and powerful being decided he was done. That he decided that “every inclination of man’s heart was wicked” and so this creation he had made deserved to be destroyed.And they know that somehow, although we’re not told how so maybe they knew and maybe they didn’t, his family had incurred favor in the eyes of this being. That’s both terrifying and heartbreaking. And, as he perhaps feels that they’ve had enough, something important happens. God has a change of heart. The unchangeable, unmovable, always the same forever before and forever into eternity creator has a change of heart. He changes his mind. Before he wanted to destroy them and now he’s decided he doesn’t.

Well, this is a little confusing. I was sort-of always told that God can’t change his mind. God couldn’t possibly change his mind because God has always been the same and the essence of who God is is perfection and to change would imply that he was less perfect before or was more perfect now. Look, there are a lot of explanations for this. I was certainly not taught that he changed his mind. But if you look at the text, isn’t that what’s there? He felt this way but now, looking at the world all wiped clean of all the people he was so angry at, with nothing but these trembling and terrified eight before him, he feels benevolent. He’s decided maybe it’s worth trying this experiment again. And so he makes his first covenant with Noah, a promise that he will never lose his temper like this again. It’s a new day for God.

Noah, meanwhile, is sad and depressed. Or maybe he’s happy they’ve survived. Or eaten up with survivor’s guilt. Or struggling with his wife. Maybe he is actually an alcoholic. We don’t know anything about Noah so it’s a little hard to say for sure. What we know is that he was very dedicated to getting some wine. And he makes it and gets drunk and… like I said before I was told a lot of reasons why he cursed his son. And it seems like we make them up because nothing is there. It doesn’t say Canaan mocked his father to his brothers. It doesn’t say anything. It just says he told them. Should he have covered him up? Was he upset because he didn’t take care of him? Was he embarrassed that his son saw him that way? Is there a cultural context that is just thousands of years beyond us now? It seems pretty tough to say. It’s a strange story, which is probably why we just skipped it most of the time when I was growing up. After all, it is way more fun to tell your kids about animals going into the ark and people dying en masse than a naked, drunk old man.

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