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Don Stewart :: Why Was Canaan Cursed Instead of Ham?

Don Stewart
After Noah uncovered himself in his drunken state, Ham saw his father and told his two brothers.

And Ham the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his brothers outside. But Shem and Japeth took a garment, and laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father's nakedness (Genesis 9:22,23).

Ham looked upon his father's nakedness but Shem and Japeth did not. Instead they covered it. Noah awoke from his drunkenness, realized what Ham had done and then proceeded to curse Canaan.

Then he said: Cursed be Canaan a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren. And he said: Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japeth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem and may Canaan by his servant (Genesis 9:25-27).

Several questions arise. Why did Noah curse Canaan? Was not Ham the one that committed the sin? Furthermore, what was the sin of Ham that caused Noah to curse the descendants of Ham? Why was the punishment so severe?

Sin Of Ham

Many explanations have been offered as to the exact nature of the sin of Ham, and the harsh punishment that was placed upon Canaan. The event may give only a brief outline of a more sinister episode.

1.Castration

Some argue that Ham castrated Noah-which showed why Noah had no other sons. This crime would, of course, warrant the punishment.

2.Incest


Others believe it was a case of incest. Ham slept with his own mother thus uncovering his father's nakedness. Canaan, it is argued was the offspring of that union.

3. Activity

Still others contend that there was some activity between Ham and Noah. However the Hebrew makes it clear that Noah uncovered himself and that Ham saw that nakedness that was uncovered. Ham did not cover him up but rather made fun of him. Many commentators have had problems with the punishment being so severe if simple ridicule is in involved.

4.Shameful Act

In the ancient world merely seeing one's father naked was a highly offensive act. The father's position as moral and spiritual head would be held in disrepute and the family unit would suffer as a result of this. The culture in which this event occurred considered it a capital crime for a child to strike their father.

It seems that Ham innocently came upon his father after he had uncovered himself in a drunken stupor. The sin of Ham, therefore, is that he told his brothers of what he had seen. In doing so, it brought shame to the entire family. It is also possible that Ham tried to seize the leadership of the family at this juncture.

Descendants Punished

Many commentators believe that the curse of Ham was not pronounced immediately after the event but at the end of Noah's life. However, the natural reading of the text has the curse occurring directly after Noah realized what had happened. The act of Ham could not go unpunished. In the curse of Noah upon Canaan, he was not punishing him personally for something his father Ham had done. The words of Noah refer not to Canaan himself, but to the nation that would come from him. Ham had caused a breach between himself and his father that called for some type of judgment. The judgment would occur on his descendants. Ham's descendants foreshadowed the deeds of his descendants. The contrast between the reactions is the basis of the following blessings and curses on their descendants. It speaks of two groups of mankind. Shem covered nakedness and hid shame, while Ham exposed Noah's nakedness.

Summary

The cursing of Ham has to do with the sin of Ham when his father Noah uncovered himself at his drunkenness. Though we are not told the exact sin of Ham, we do know that it was reprehensible enough for God to curse the line of his son Canaan. The judgment was not directed to Canaan personally but rather to his descendants.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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