One of the sad realities of church history is that many Christians (some “so-called” Christians who are actually false teachers, and some misguided genuine Christians) have taken texts out of context to justify their own sinful desires. Today’s text is one of the most prominent examples of such shameful mishandling of Scripture. This text is commonly referred to as “The Curse of Ham,” and was used by many white Christians in the previous centuries to justify the enslavement and horrible treatment of black people by white slave masters. These people believed that Ham’s descendants eventually populated Africa, and their dark skin is a sign that they are under the curse, and thus subject to enslavement by the descendants of Shem and Japheth (non-black-skinned people).
Not all Christians of the time believed this. However, even after zealous Christians fought in the Abolition movement to get rid of slavery, many exegetes of Scripture continued to use this passage to justify Jim Crow laws, segregation, membership in the Ku Klux Klan, and the general mistreatment of black people. In many churches, the Curse of Ham was an understood doctrine that was regularly taught and used to defend what was clearly ungodly treatment of fellow human beings. Such false teaching would have been easily corrected by a careful look at their proof-text. Let’s do that today.
Please read Genesis 9:24-27.
The first thing we immediately notice is that there is no curse on Ham! The very doctrine has no basis because Ham is not even cursed in this passage! (Nor in any other passage of Scripture for that matter.) Nor are all of Ham’s descendants anywhere cursed in Scripture. One of Ham’s children, Canaan, is under the curse in this passage—and they weren’t even black! Canaan’s descendants, the Canaanites, populated the Promised Land and likely had the complexion of modern-day residents of Palestine.
Why did Moses even include this curse on Canaan in the Book of Genesis? Could it have anything to do with the fact that God was giving this revelation to His people as they were about to enter into the land of Canaan? While this text was read aloud to the Israelites, the descendants of Shem, they were being called by God to conquer the Promised Land, and destroy or enslave all of the Canaanites, just like Noah prophesied in this text.
Maybe it would be motivational for them to know that the Canaanites were under a curse from the beginning—their ancestors were shameful and sinful from their first mention in Scripture! God had pronounced a curse upon Canaan, a judgment on the entire race of Canaanites, and now the Israelites were being called to fulfill it! If you read the rest of the Old Testament, you’ll find that’s exactly what they did—this curse was literally fulfilled when the Israelites conquered Canaan… eventually.
This passage has nothing to do with skin color. All people are descendants of Adam, and all true believers are descendants of Abraham. One day, all nations will have representatives bowing before the throne of God and singing His praises. Even if previously some have used skin tone as justification for separation, there is certainly no place for such separation within the church. As the wonderful children’s song tells us:
“Jesus loves the little children.
All the children of the world.
Red, brown, yellow, black and white,
They are precious in his sight.
Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
Or as Scripture tells us: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29).
Unfortunately, the church has not always acknowledged this truth. We must repent of this intolerance on a church-wide level. Furthermore, we must ask the Lord to search our hearts as individuals, and, if there are any seeds of racism within us, we must repent and ask the Lord’s forgiveness. God loves everyone, so much so that He died for them, and He has called us to show that love to the world, whether they be red, brown, yellow, black, or white.
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