The last time we were studying the book of Genesis, we were looking at chapters 8 and most of 9 and the conclusion of the story of Noah and the ark. And I suggested that if I were to give that last sermon a title, I would call it:
The God who remembers and preserves.
You see, we read how God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark. He hadn’t forgotten about them, but he remembered them. And so he sent a wind over the earth so that the waters began to recede. And in due course, the ark came to rest on dry land and all the people and animals on board the ark were able to come out. And the first thing Noah did after leaving the ark was to build an altar to the Lord and offer sacrifices to God. He wanted to give thanks to God for remembering his promise to save them from the flood.
But the God who remembers is also the God who preserves. And we read how God promised never again to curse the ground because of man. Never again would he destroy all life on the earth with a flood. Even though we’re still sinners, and even though we continue to do wrong, nevertheless, God made a promise and he made a commitment to preserve life on the earth despite our sin and rebellion. And we thought about how we needed that promise from God otherwise the history of the world would be the story of one great flood after another. Without this promise, God would have sent a flood on every generation to destroy all of life on the earth, because every generation is the same as Noah’s generation and all of us are sinners who sin continually against the Lord. That’s what the history of the world would have been without this promise from God to uphold life on the earth. And so, in order to avoid all of that destruction, God promised that he would not destroy all life again with a flood.
And, in fact, we finished last time by looking at the sign of the rainbow in chapter 9. And do you remember? I said that the word translated ‘rainbow’ simply means ‘bow’. And it can refer to a bow used to fire arrows. And so, some commentators think that the idea behind this sign is that God had agreed to hang up his bow and arrows and to declare peace to the human race, for now. For now, he won’t fight against us and destroy us as he did in the days of Noah. For now, he will take care of us and he’ll preserve life on the earth. And the reason he hung up his bow and arrows and the reason he’ll uphold life on the earth is because of his promise to send his Son into the world to deliver his believing people from our sin and misery and to give us everlasting life. In order to keep his promise, and in order to fulfil his plan for our salvation, he had to preserve life on the life, generation after generation, so that, in due course, the Redeemer could be born. And then, the Lord had to preserve life on the earth so that there would be a people for his Son to redeem: millions and millions and millions of people throughout every generation who would call on the name of the Lord for salvation.
So, chapters 8 and 9 are about the God who remembers and preserves. He remembered his promise to rescue Noah from the flood. And now he upholds life on the earth, day after day, to give him all the time he needs to save all of his people.
Well, one of the other things I mentioned the last time is that Noah is presented as a second Adam. For instance, in Genesis chapter 1, we read that a great deep covered the earth. But then God formed the dry land so that Adam would have a suitable place to live. And in a similar way, in chapter 9, God caused the great deep which covered the earth to recede so that Noah would have a suitable place to live.
And back in chapter 1, God commanded Adam to increase in number and to fill the earth. And, in chapter 9, God issued the same command to Noah to increase in number and fill the earth. Noah is presented as a kind of second Adam.
And you see, it’s as if God has wiped the world clean and is starting over again with a new Adam in a newly created world. The first Adam had sinned and the world was spoiled. It was ruined. But now God has wiped the world clean with the flood and was starting over with Noah, a new kind of Adam.
But oh dear. In verses 18 to 29 of chapter 9, the similarity between Adam and Noah emerges again. But it’s not good, is it? In these verses we read how Noah fell into sin just as Adam fell into sin. And so, let me outline for you some of the similarities between Noah in Genesis 9 and Adam.
And, first of all, back in Genesis 2 we read how God planted a garden for Adam to work. It was the Garden of Eden. And in Genesis 9, we read how Noah too had a garden to work. So, look at verse 20 where it tells us that Noah planted a vineyard. Just like Adam, Noah worked in a garden.
And then, back in Genesis 3, Adam sinned because he took the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which was in the garden. And in Genesis 9, what happened? Noah sinned by misusing and his abusing the fruit from the vines in his garden. So, look at verse 21 where it tells us how he drank too much of the wine which came from the grapes in his vineyard; and he became drunk.
And then, back in Genesis 3, what happened once Adam took the forbidden fruit? Do you remember? He and his wife immediately became aware of their nakedness. And they were ashamed. And they tried to cover their nakedness with fig leaves. And in Genesis 9, Noah became drunk and while he was drunk, he lay naked in his tent. Do you see that at the end of verse 21? Presumably, in his drunken stupor, he fell over or he lay down and his clothes must have come undone or his cloak rose up so that he was exposed.
Now, do you see? God may have wiped the world clean with the flood, but the fact is, Noah was just like Adam in that he too was a sinner. Adam was once sinless: he never did anything wrong; and he was the crowning achievement, the apex, of God’s creation. But then, he fell into sin. And in the account of the flood, Noah appeared as this superbly righteous man who always did what was right; and he always did everything the Lord commanded him to do. But then, he became drunk and what a sad and shameful end to the story of Noah.
However, the focus of this story is not so much Noah’s drunkenness, but it’s what his sons did while he was drunk. Look at verses 22 and 23.
First of all, in verse 22, we read how Ham saw his father’s nakedness. And what did he do about it? Did he cover his father up out of respect for him? Did he keep quiet about what he had seen in order to protect his father’s honour? What did he do? Well, look what the text says. Verse 22: He saw his father’s nakedness; and he told his two brothers about it.
I wonder did he laugh about it? Did he mock his father? Or did he say it with disdain? You know, did he say, ‘Let me tell you what the old fool has done now’? Well, whether he laughed about it or whether he said it with disdain, the one thing he didn’t do was keep it to himself.
Look now at what Noah’s other two sons did. Verse 23: Shem and Japheth took a garment and they laid it across their shoulders; then they walked into the tent backwards. And, of course, they walked backwards so that they wouldn’t see their father’s nakedness. They didn’t want to dishonour him by looking at him with his clothes undone. And having walked into the tent backwards, they covered their father’s nakedness with the garment. And just so that there’s no misunderstanding, Moses explained that their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. Ham saw it and made it known to his brothers. He thereby dishonoured his father and spoke about him disrespectfully. But Shem and Japheth looked away and they covered him up. They therefore did what they could to preserve and protect their father’s honour.
Now, what’s the significance of this? What’s the point of this little story about Noah and his three sons. Well, think again about how Noah is being presented as a kind of second Adam. Once again, there are similarities between Adam in the Garden of Eden and Noah in his vineyard garden.
You see, back in Genesis 3, the Devil, in the form of a serpent, tempted Adam and Eve to sin against the Lord. And, as a result, their nakedness was exposed and they were ashamed. Do you remember? They wanted to cover themselves up and they wanted to hide because they were naked. They were ashamed.
And here in Genesis 9 we don’t have the Devil. But we have Ham. Now, he didn’t cause his father’s nakedness. However, he made his father’s nakedness worse by talking about it to his brothers. He aggravated the shame of his father’s nakedness by telling his brothers about it. Do you see? There’s this connection between what the Devil did to Adam and what Ham did to Noah.
And then, back in Genesis 3, what happened whenever the Lord found out about Adam and Eve’s sin? Well, he made garments of skin for Adam and Eve to wear so that their nakedness was covered. And here in Genesis 9, Shem and Japheth took a garment and they put it over their father so that his nakedness was covered. There’s this connection between what the Lord did for Adam and what Shem and Japheth did for Noah.
Noah is presented as a second Adam. And Ham — by aggravating the shame of his father’s nakedness — was emulating what the Devil did to Adam and Eve. And Shem and Japheth — by their loving concern for their father — were emulating the Lord’s loving concern for Adam and Eve. What happened to Adam in the Garden of Eden is happening all over again in the life of Noah.
But the similarities between the story of Adam and the story of Noah are not over yet. What happened after the Devil tempted Adam and caused him to sin? Well, the Lord found out about it and he did what? He pronounced a curse upon the serpent; and he announced that one of Eve’s descendants — and he was referring to the Lord Jesus — one of Eve’s descendants would eventually crush the Devil and destroy him and his work. And in the meantime — until that day comes — there would be an ongoing conflict between the Devil’s offspring and the woman’s offspring; between those who belong to the Devil and side with him and those who belong to Jesus Christ and side with him. That’s what God was saying in Genesis 3 verses 14 and 15. He pronounced a curse on the Devil; and he announced this ongoing conflict between these two sides; and he announced that in the end, the Lord Jesus would have the victory and he would crush the Devil.
And now, here in Genesis 9, what do we find? After Noah discovered what his sons had done, he announced a curse on one of his sons and he announced a blessing, and the promise of victory, on two of his sons. Look at verse 25. Noah said:
Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.
And look at verses 26 and 27:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem.
May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.
A curse on one. And a blessing and the promise of victory on the others. A curse on Ham who emulated the wickedness of the Devil. And a blessing on Shem and Japheth who emulated the loving-kindness of the Lord.
You see, this passage in Genesis 9 is not really about Noah’s nakedness and how Ham laughed about it. It’s about the same thing Genesis 3 is about. Through the story of Noah and his sons, God was revealing to us once again that throughout the history of the world there would be this ongoing division and this ongoing struggle between those who belong to his Son and those who belong to the Devil. An ongoing division between the church of Jesus Christ on the one hand and all those who remain part of the fallen, unbelieving world on the other hand. And those of us who belong to Jesus Christ must stand firm every day against the Devil and all his wicked schemes and we must resist the ongoing temptation to turn away from the Lord Jesus and rejoin the world in their unbelief and sin; because in the end — if we remain on the side of the Lord Jesus Christ — we will have the victory just as Noah promised victory to Shem and Japheth over their wicked brother, Ham.
And, of course, as you read through the remainder of the Bible, you’ll see other examples of this ongoing division and this struggle. For instance, there was the conflict between Moses and the Israelites on the one hand and the Pharaoh and the Egyptians on the other hand. Pharaoh and the Egyptians tried to oppress the Israelites with hard labour. But in the end, the Egyptians drowned in the River Nile and the Israelites were set free.
Then, throughout the history of the Israelites in the Old Testament, there were the other nations who used to attack them and who caused them so much sorrow and sadness. But, again and again, the Lord rescued his people from their enemies.
And then, in the New Testament, we have all the Jews who stood opposed to the Lord Jesus and his people. Think of the Pharisees and the Sadducees and the teachers of the law who hated the Lord Jesus and who used to plot together how to kill him. Think of the Romans who treated him so cruelly and who crucified him. Think of the persecution the Lord’s people suffered in the early days of the NT church. But, God raised the Lord Jesus from the dead and he strengthened his church when they were being persecuted and prevented the gates of hell from prevailing over it.
Down through the generations, we’ve seen examples of this ongoing division between those who belong to the Lord Jesus and those who belong to the Devil; between believers and unbelievers; between the church and the world. And the same division appears here in Genesis 9 when Ham dishonoured his father and was cursed and Japheth and Shem refused to follow his example and instead they treated their father with loving-kindness and were blessed. Victory belongs to those who side with the Lord Jesus. And so, we must stand firm against the Devil and his wicked schemes and we must resist every effort of his to persuade us to follow him. Instead of siding with the Devil we must side with the Lord Jesus because we believe that, in the end, the Lord will crush the Devil and punish all his followers. And we believe that in the end he will give to his faithful people everlasting life in his presence.
But here’s a question to consider, and maybe you’re already thinking this. Noah didn’t pronounce a curse on Ham. He pronounced a curse on Canaan. Do you see that in verse 25? Noah said:
Cursed be Canaan!
So, who was Canaan? Well, look back to verse 18 where it tells us that Ham was the father of Canaan. And then jump forward to verse 6 of chapter 10 where it tells us that Ham had four sons: Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan. So, Canaan was Ham’s son.
Now, the commentators discuss why it is that Noah cursed Canaan, Ham’s son, and not Ham himself. It seems a bit unfair, doesn’t it? Why should Canaan by cursed for what his father did?
Well, it seems to me that Noah was speaking prophetically about about all the Canaanites who were descended from him. You see, we know what happened in the future to the Canaanites, don’t we? Remember how God’s people were slaves in Egypt. But God rescued them from their slavery. And he brought them through the wilderness. And eventually he brought them where? To the Promised Land which was the land of Canaan. You see, God was determined to destroy the Canaanites for their sin; and he was going to hand over their land to his people. That’s what was going to happen in the days of Moses.
So, when Noah announced this curse on Ham’s son, Canaan, he was speak prophetically about what was going to happen in the future to the Canaanites. God was going to destroy them for their sin and rebellion. And so, when God destroyed them for their sin and rebellion and gave their land to the Israelites it was a fulfilment of the curse which Noah announced here in Genesis 9. But it was also a foretaste of the coming day of judgment when all those who have sided with the Devil and who have refused to come to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation will be punished for their sin and rebellion against God. What happened to the Canaanites in the days of Moses was a foretaste of what will happen when Jesus Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead.
Shem and Japheth
But there’s one other thing to notice here. When Noah announced the blessing on Shem, he didn’t bless Shem. Instead he blessed ‘the Lord, the God of Shem.’ And he blessed, or he praised the Lord, because the Lord is the one who was going to work all of these things out. He blessed the Lord for giving the victory to Shem and Japheth.
But the really important thing to notice is that Noah describes the Lord as ‘the God of Shem.’ In other words, Shem and his descendants would be known as those who belong to the Lord. They would bear his name. They would be his special people. And, look at verse 27: Japheth, and his descendants, will live in the tents of Shem. In other words, the descendants of Shem and the descendants of Japheth will join together in peace.
So, who are Shem’s descendants? Well, if you read on into chapter 10 and the table of nations and especially into chapter 11 which gives us Shem’s genealogy, you’ll see that among Shem’s descendants are Terah who was the father of Abraham. And from Abraham there came Isaac. And from Isaac there came Jacob. And from Jacob there came the people of Israel, the Jewish people, who in the Old Testament were regarded as the Lord’s special people.
And who are Japheth’s descendants? Well, from Japheth came all the Gentiles. And many, many years later, following the Lord’s death and resurrection, we read how the Lord sent the apostles out into all the world, to preach the good news of salvation to the Gentile nations. And through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, believing Gentiles and believing Jews are brought together and they’re able to join together in peace to worship the Lord God for his mercy towards them. In other words, through the preaching of the gospel, Japheth has come to dwell in the tents of Shem.
What’s Genesis 9 about? It’s not really about Noah’s drunkenness and his nakedness. It’s about the curse he announced on Ham which speaks to us of the judgment which will come upon every unbeliever like him who refuses to come to Jesus Christ for salvation. And it’s about the blessing Noah announced on Shem and Japheth and how he foretold the extension of Christ’s kingdom throughout the world and the fellowship that would exist between believing Jews and believing Gentiles. The Lord announced through Noah his intention to create a worldwide church.
And, you see, that’s so important here in Genesis 9 which comes after the story of the flood and God’s promise never again to destroy all life on the earth with a flood. Someone might misunderstand and think that God will therefore overlook the sins of all who live on the earth and he will pardon all who do wrong. Someone might say:
Sure, in the days of Noah, God punished the world. But he will never do that again.
However, the words of Noah to his sons reveal to us that there is this fundamental division in the world between those who, by their faith and good deeds, show themselves to be on the side of the Lord Jesus; and those who, by their unbelief and disobedience, show themselves to be on the side of the Devil. There’s the church on the one hand, represented by Shem and Japheth; and there’s the unbelieving world on the other, represented by Ham. For now, God is withholding his wrath and he’s preserving life on the earth as he promised he would do when Noah stepped off the ark to give sinners everywhere the time to repent and to believe and to leave Satan’s side and to come to the Lord Jesus for salvation. But the day will come, when Jesus Christ comes again, and God will punish forever all those who belong to the Devil. He will punish them. But he will give everlasting peace and rest to all those who belong to Jesus Christ the Saviour. And so, we must remember the wrath of God against unbelievers and we must continue to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. And we must resist every effort of the Devil to persuade us to turn away from the Lord Jesus Christ. We must stand firm and wait for our Saviour to come again to crush the Devil and to destroy him forever and to give his believing people eternal peace and rest.