Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from his youth. And never again will I destroy all living creatures as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night shall never cease (Genesis 8:21-22 BSB).
It seemed a fresh start. It appeared as if God had wiped the slate clean and was ready to move on with his plan for the ages. Ever since the days of Adam and Eve, the overall spiritual condition of the world had continually deteriorated leading up to the days of Noah. In fact, the spiritual condition of the world had gotten so bad that God even stated that he “regretted” that he had made man.
By contrast, the man Noah had found favor in the sight of the Lord. Noah had lived his life in a righteous manner, and had conducted himself blamelessly, even in the midst the wicked generation of people in which he lived. Astounding as it may seem, Noah and his family apparently were the only people on earth who had remained faithful to the Lord.
But now, after the great flood, it began to look as if evil had been defeated. All could begin with a fresh start. It may have seemed as if the work that God began in the Garden of Eden could now be completed with a renewed earth. Perhaps Satan’s corruption of creation had been vanquished and good had triumphed.
God blessed Noah and his family and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” These were the same words that God had spoken to Adam and Eve many generations earlier. It was another indication that all had been set right in the world.
An Imperfect Restoration
But all was not exactly the same as it was before. We realize this as we continue to read the words that God spoke to Noah. The Lord was giving Noah an orientation of sorts of what life would be like in this postdiluvian world when he said this:
“The fear and dread of you will fall on every living creature on the earth, every bird of the air, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are delivered into your hand. Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:2-3 BSB).
This was not the environment of the Garden of Eden. There was no fear in the garden. The first animals held no dread of Adam and Eve. The garden was a place of harmony and peace where the animals, led by God himself, presented themselves before Adam to receive the name that he would give to each one.
You may also remember that in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were vegetarians, as were every creature of the forest and field and even the creatures of the waters. God told Adam, “I have given you every seed-bearing plant on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit contains seed. They will be yours for food. And to every beast of the earth, and every bird of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth—everything that has the breath of life in it—I have given every green plant for food” (Genesis 1:29-30)
Even up to the time when the animals were loaded onto the ark just before the flood, there is no mention of coercing—no herding or chasing the animals onto the strange vessel. All of the animals seemed to board of their own volition and without commotion. There is little written about those early years of the earth, but as far as we know, even in the generations between Adam and Noah, at least a portion of the harmony in nature seemed to have been sustained—sort of an afterglow from the original state in creation.
But after the flood, this afterglow had almost completely faded. Now there was fear in nature. Now there was dread. Now there were predators and prey. Now the animals lived in constant fright from one another. They especially feared man.
For the first time, God actually sanctioned the eating of meat. God said to Noah, “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you; just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you all things” (Genesis 9:3 BSB).
I will not go so far as saying that when Noah and his family first ate the flesh of an animal that they had killed, it was the very first time in human history that man became carnivorous. As I said, very little is written about the cultural environment of the generations between Adam and Noah, but we do know that it had eventually turned extremely evil.
Although not stated in the Bible, I think that in all probability among the people who did not follow the Lord, meat consumption was not unknown and was perhaps even a regular part of their diet. These rebellious generations would have had little or no regards for what God had said to them.
Punishment for Violence Codified
There is yet another indication that the atmosphere of peace and harmony that first existed in the Garden of Eden did not exist after the flood. This is found in some other words that God spoke to Noah. What the Lord told Noah was also part of the orientation of what life would be like after the flood:
God said to Noah, “Surely I will require the life of any man or beast by whose hand your lifeblood is shed. I will demand an accounting from anyone who takes the life of his fellow man: Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man his blood will be shed” (Genesis 9:5-6 BSB).
Similarities and Differences
The world emerged from the flood waters with a new beginning. However, as we saw, it was not the perfect beginning as it was immediately after the original creation. Again I would like to summarize the similarities and differences in the two accounts.
In both instances, God told the people to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” To Adam and Eve, he told them to subdue the earth, and to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that crawls upon the earth.” God meant this not in the sense of oppression or subjugation, but that Adam and Eve should be caretakers of the earth. The first humans were vegetarians and the animals felt no fear of them.
To Noah and his sons, there was no mention of subduing the earth. Man’s role as caretaker is now corrupted. After the flood, the animals did not freely come to Noah as they had done before the flood, and as they had done with Adam. Now the creatures of the earth looked at mankind with fear and with dread. Instead of approaching men, they now fled at the sight or smell of them. Men have become carnivorous. Noah had to become a hunter.
After the flood, there is also an assumption that Cain’s sin of murder would continue to exist in the postdiluvian world. For the first time, God stipulates general penalties for murder.
As we can see in these similarities and differences, although Noah and his family were allowed to begin anew, all was not the same as it was in the Garden of Eden. We earlier read that Noah was “righteous” and “blameless,” but the seed of deceit that Satan had planted in mankind had not completely died. God knew that evil would once again manifest itself in man.
Despite that entire evil generation drowning in the flood waters that God had sent upon the earth, he was under no illusion that all evil itself had disappeared from the world. The perfection in living which we all seek will not come about by man’s own efforts. This fact is again made clear by the results after the flood of Noah.
What the deluge had accomplished was not necessarily an entirely new beginning, but rather a turning of the page of the plan of God—a new phase in his teachings and bringing to pass the perfection of his design for the ages.
It is a plan, as the Apostle Paul says, that is “the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth” (Ephesians 1:10 NAS).
The Blood Gives Life
Part of the teaching of that plan can be found in a single phrase inserted in the midst of the instructions that God gave to Noah concerning the eating of meat. In this statement we see the one constant that appears at all times.
God said, “You must not eat meat with its lifeblood still in it.”
The blood was sanctified. It was hallowed. It was life. As we have seen before, we again see the close connection between the blood of the innocent and the renewal of all things. This factor alone was the one thing that did not change in the world that emerged after the flood.
There is yet one more theme that the two accounts have in common. I speak of the account of the original creation in the first two chapters of Genesis, and that which we might call the “new creation” which existed after the flood. The additional commonality in these two accounts is the delicate matter in which nakedness appears.
You will remember that when Adam and Eve were first created and before they were deceived by Satan to rebel against the authority of God, they were naked and without shame. Not only were they innocent, but as we earlier looked at this also in the allegorical sense, their nakedness demonstrated that their lives were pure and open. They hid nothing from each other or from God.
It was only after initial sin that they felt the need to hide themselves. They immediately sensed the need for covering—for hiding. When they heard God walking in the garden, instead of coming out to meet him as they had done previously, they now hid themselves.
God actually agreed with them that they needed a covering because of the sin that they had allowed into their lives. He made for them garments out of the skin of an animal. The clothing made from and animal hide was emblematic of the need for a temporary covering of their now sinful nature—temporary until God would eventually bring about the perfect solution.
Keeping the experience of Adam and Eve in mind, we come now to the nakedness of Noah. This is a rather strange account, and again I find myself wishing that we had more detail given to us in the Bible. Nevertheless, what we have is what God determined that we needed to know and all that is required in order to learn what he intends to teach us.
But the teachings of God do not come to those who do a light reading of his word. There are many stories in the Bible, but it is more than simply a story book. There are depths of meanings to each story, but they are meanings that take contemplation and meditation. They also often require much time to understand. Most importantly of all, these teachings take the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We cannot expect to use our own power of thought exclusively to understand.
The strange account of Noah’s nakedness and the reaction of his sons is one of those stories. I am going to comment on this, but I feel there is much about it that I have yet to learn.
Nevertheless, and as I said when I spoke of Adam and Eve’s nakedness, we are to understand this in a literal and not figurative sense. That is, Adam and Eve and also Noah actually literally were without clothing. But there is also an allegorical meaning to all of it. Their nakedness was also symbolic of a deeper truth.
First of all, here is the story:
Now Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. But when he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and uncovered himself inside his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside.
Then Shem and Japheth took a garment and placed it across their shoulders, and walking backward, they covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned away so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.
When Noah awoke from his drunkenness and learned what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! A servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
He also declared: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the servant of Shem.
May God expand the territory of Japheth; may he dwell in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:20-27 BSB)
In reading this passage, we can see that there are many directions that we could take our study, beginning with the question of whether or not this was the first time that fermentation was even possible on earth, and if Noah was even unaware of the stupefying effects of the wine that he was drinking. Some think that this is true because of what they see as the great changes in the stratosphere that took place during the flood, affecting both the lower atmosphere and the environment of the earth on the surface.
Also, if you read various commentaries on this passage concerning the actions of Noah’s son Ham inside the tent, and why it caused Noah to bring a curse upon Ham’s own son Canaan, you will also find a great variety of accounts of what actually did happen.
It is undoubtedly true that not every detail about this incident has been given to us. However, rather than entering into excessive speculation about the unknown events, I instead intend to limit my thoughts to the connection between the spiritual conditions that initially existed in the Garden of Eden, comparing and contrasting those with the spiritual conditions after the flood. As we saw in the various comparisons that we already noted, the situation after the flood was a renewal of the earth, but it was not a perfect renewal.
Back to the Garden
I take you back once more to the second and third chapters of Genesis. Remember at that time Adam and Eve were first naked, but feeling no shame. That is because, as I noted at the time when we studied that passage, Satan had not yet introduced them to thoughts and ideas outside of the will of God. Living as they were, completely as God intended, they did not feel the need to hide any aspect of their lives.
The nakedness of Adam and Eve was merely the physical manifestation of this openness, but of course their honesty involved much more. Their very spirits were also open to God, meaning also every one of their thoughts and every one of the emotions of their souls. Hence, when thinking about their nakedness, rather than focusing merely on the physical, we should think of this especially in terms of the whole man and the whole woman—the entire and complete person.
It was only with the first act of rebellion against God that Adam and Eve first felt shame and the need to hide. The covering of their bodies was more than merely a physical act. This has also the symbolic meaning of the covering of their entire beings. They had disobeyed and had given way to the rebellious thought planted in them by Satan.
In the Tent of Noah
With that history in mind, we now turn to Noah’s situation. His uncovering himself within his tent has some profound meanings. When we first look at the account, our initial thoughts probably concern some questions about what perverse things may have occurred within the tent.
Perhaps one’s first tendency in reading this passage is that Noah was some dirty old man who gets himself drunk and then for some unknown but highly speculative reasons gets naked inside of his tent.
But think about it—this is not the character of Noah. Did we not already read in the sixth chapter of Genesis that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation,” and that he “walked with God?” We do Noah an injustice to assume what is not given to us. The truth is, as I said, we have not been told and it is dangerous to over-speculate on this.
This is why I prefer to mostly interpret this passage in the context of the point that the writer is making at the moment. As we have seen, the world after the flood is not a complete restoration of the original creation. As I noted, after the flood God actually sanctioned the eating of meat and made provision even for the fact that man would commit the murder of another human being. It is clear that perfection had not yet returned to the creation.
Without speculating wildly about Noah’s motivation for disrobing inside of his tent, we see in this account yet another comparison with the pre-fallen Garden of Eden. You will recall that once Adam and Eve had sinned, their nakedness became to them shame. Likewise, it was a shameful thing for Noah to become naked. Along with the examples of the sanctioning of the eating of meat and the provisions for punishing murderers, the shame of Noah’s nakedness is yet another indication that complete perfection had not yet come to the earth.
Always before us as we study the workings of God’s plan for the future perfection is what the New Testament writer of the book of Hebrews tells us: “God had planned something better for us, so that together with us they would be made perfect” (Hebrews 11:40 BSB).
The Sin of Ham
As Noah lay uncovered, for some unspecified reason his son Ham entered the tent. Whether it was purposefully or completely by mishap, he saw his father’s shame. The great failure of Ham, according to the reading of the text, was that he did nothing to cover his father’s nakedness. Ham simply allowed his own father to remain in his shame.
When Ham told his two brothers Shem and Japheth about their father’s situation however, the two brothers took a robe and, walking backwards, covered Noah’s nakedness without looking upon it. In essence, they did what was in their power to restore the honor of their father.
When Noah awoke from his stupor and learned what had happened, he became enraged with his son Ham, who had allowed Noah’s shame to remain upon him. The result was a curse that came upon the son of Ham—upon the boy Canaan.
Why allow the curse to come to Ham’s son and not Ham himself? Again, this is another subject that has many various interpretations from many various Bible opinionators, and one which is not the subject of our present study.
I will simply say that in my own opinion and without elaborating, there is a connection between the fact that because Ham was the son of Noah, hence the curse came upon Ham’s own son. There are also prophetic implications to the curse going to the son Canaan.
Also I will add that I personally am the father of four sons. If I were to be cursed for something I had done, I may have difficulty in bearing it. But a far greater difficulty for me would be if the curse that I have brought about should instead fall on one of my sons.
The Blessing for Shem and Japheth
Ham’s son received a curse, thereby causing Ham also to suffer. But to the other two sons, Shem and Japheth, Noah gave his blessing.
Shem and Japheth did not allow their father to remain in his shameful situation, but provided a cover for his shame. Nevertheless, Noah did not congratulate these two sons for alleviating him from an embarrassing situation, but instead gave his glory to God.
Notice Noah’s opening statement to these two sons: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem!”
Why did he specifically say “the LORD, the God of Shem,” and not of Japheth? Did not Japheth take exactly the same actions as Shem in providing a covering for Noah? As far as the account is related to us, Japheth did, and because he did, he also received a great blessing.
But Noah also in some way realized that the line of God’s ultimate plan for perfection would come specifically through Shem. Among the thousands of descendants that would arise from the family of Shem, one of these was to be born in Bethlehem of Judea, as a fulfillment of prophecy (Luke 3:36).
Take This Home With You
Take This Home With You
What is the take-away from this message? It is a teaching of the Bible that is difficult to understand and even more difficult to preach. But it certainly is relevant to the season of the year in which we presently find ourselves.
The direction of all of these teachings of the Bible that I am speaking on in these weeks is that perfection can only come through Jesus Christ, the One whose birth we will be celebrating later this month. As it happens in our Gregorian calendar, Christmas is soon followed by New Year’s celebration. New Years in the time that many people traditionally make resolutions, resolving to clean up their lives and be better persons.
It is not that I think that it is wrong to make resolutions to live better lives, but it is just that we should not allow ourselves to think that by our own efforts we can bring about perfection. Life after the flood of Noah shows us this. The entire earth was given a new beginning, and yet failed from the start.
As we all know, we still struggle with sin, but the total plan of God for the ages does not fail. With the birth of Jesus Christ, God has given all who accept his offer the freedom and the promise to know that when this plan comes to fruition, they also will receive the full blessing of God.
When is that time? When will all come to completion? When will this ages old struggle with sin and failure finally come to an end, when we can live in complete freedom without deceit?
It will come to completion not in the emergence of an old earth out of the flood waters, but with a completely new earth. Mark these verses in your Bible and read them often.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying:
“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes,’ and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away.”
And the One seated on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Then He said, “Write this down, for these words are faithful and true.” And He told me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give freely from the spring of the water of life. The [ones] who overcome will inherit all things, and I will be [their] God, and [they] will be [My sons and My daughters].