As a youth pastor, it always amazed me how often I would have to remind students that another person’s sin does not justify their own sin: just because he made fun of you, that doesn’t mean you can hit him; just because she dresses immodestly, that doesn’t mean you can lust after her; just because she tell you gossip, that doesn’t mean you have to listen to it and repeat it. Yesterday, we looked at Noah’s sin, and speculated that, perhaps, had Noah never sinned, then Ham wouldn’t have committed this sin. But that doesn’t mean that Ham had to commit this sin. Ham committed such a grievous sin that his son would be cursed to forever serve his brothers. But what exactly did Ham do? Let’s find out! Please read Genesis 9:18-29.
Ham’s two sins are that he “saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.” Most of us don’t see this as a big deal. We understand that Ham was maybe being disrespectful to his father, but this certainly doesn’t seem worthy of being cursed! Perhaps that’s why commentators throughout the ages have speculated with some wild theories and accused Ham of committing incest with his mother, homosexual activity with his father, or even castration of his father!
Yet, the Hebrew word for “see” is related to exposure and doesn’t necessarily imply sexual offenses. In fact, John MacArthur says “there is no reasonable support for the notion that some perverse activity, in addition to seeing nakedness, occurred.” Aside from the obvious use of language, Shem and Japheth don’t commit the sin of Ham because they “walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father,” with “their faces turned backward,” so “they did not see their father’s nakedness.” If these two brothers were so concerned with not seeing their father’s nakedness, it sure seems reasonable to accept the texts plain reading that Ham’s seen was seeing his father’s nakedness, and nothing more need be read into it.
Furthermore, to an Israelites, the act of seeing nakedness was considered “disgusting, especially when it is associated, as it is here, with an affront to the dignity of one’s father.” In seeing his father’s nakedness, Ham was dishonoring Noah. This is made clearer when his response is, not to cover up his father’s nakedness like his brothers, but to go tell his brother’s about Noah’s nakedness. Presumably, Ham was trying to get his brothers to join him in mocking the shameful sin of their father.
Tomorrow, we will look deeper at the so-called “Curse of Ham,” but I’d like to note here that the text does not call it the curse of Ham at all; it is really a curse on Canaan. Apparently, Canaan, Ham’s son is somehow involved in the whole affair. We don’t know exactly to what extent, but there is an old tradition taught by Origen that Canaan was the first one to see Noah’s nakedness and informed his father Ham, who subsequently gazed on Noah’s nakedness in disgust and then told his brothers.
So, Shem, Ham, and Japheth are all confronted with the same situation where they are made aware of their father’s nakedness—his sin and his shame. Likewise, we will all have opportunities where we are made aware of someone else’s sin and shame. If you haven’t had the opportunity already, trust that it will come. When that happens, how will you respond? Like Ham, will you revel in the sin of others and gossip about their shortfalls? Or, like Shem and Japheth, will you do your best to help those who are in need? How we respond to the sin and shame of others is a good indication of our character. Ham’s son is cursed for his response, while Shem and Japheth are blessed. Which one will you be?
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