December 3, 2017
All people have stories. But perhaps the most interesting ones are origin stories. For example, in the movie Batman Begins, there is the story of Bruce Wayne who emerges from the death of his parents and becomes a hero for Gotham City. In the world of sports, athletes share their stories about the people and circumstances that shaped them when they were growing up and made them who they are today. And over coffee or tea, few things are better than listening to your parents tell the story of how they first met.
Origin stories can captivate us because they reveal why things are the way that they are. And today’s story about Noah and his three sons is very much an origin story. It reveals the origin of the Canaanites, who were enemies of the nation of Israel. The Canaanites were the descendants of Canaan. Canaan was a son of Ham. Ham was a son of Noah. And Ham was cursed because he saw the nakedness of his father Noah and told his two brothers. And Noah was naked and uncovered because he got drunk from wine.
What an origin story! Israel would have and should have been captivated by it. On one level, they would have and should have remembered it when God commanded Israel in Deuteronomy 7:1-3 to defeat the Canaanites and devote them to destruction. But on another level, they would have and should have remembered it because they were waiting for the one who would crush the head of the serpent, the one whom Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:45 would majestically call the last Adam. Israel would have and should have been captivated by the story of Noah and his three sons. Because it is really an origin story about the ultimate origin story.
When Noah got drunk, he was doing something profound. He was abusing God’s creation for his own personal glory. There was nothing wrong with having a vineyard. And there was nothing wrong with drinking wine. But what made Noah totally wrong was that he twisted and distorted and abused God’s creation. And he did it for his own personal glory. We know this because we know the poetic penalty and result of his drunkenness. Noah was uncovered and naked in his tent. The penalty for Noah’s sin of personal glory was personal shame.
Brothers and sisters, this is a very sad and serious thing. And when the people of Israel received this origin story, they would have and should have remembered Adam. For the parallels between Noah and Adam are sad but strong. Adam had a garden. Noah had a vineyard. Adam had guilt and shame in his nakedness. Noah had guilt and shame in his nakedness. This is a sad and serious story. Israel would have been reminded of the terrible effects of Adam’s sin against God and how the whole world was rightfully plunged into God’s punishment of suffering and death. Israel would have received this origin story and thought about the ultimate origin story of Adam and God.
When Ham saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers, he was doing something profound. He was committing sexual sin (We may not know this clearly from the text, but we do know this clearly from Leviticus 18 and 20) and he was dishonoring his father. Ham did not do what was righteous. He did not take the garment and lay it on his shoulders and walk backward and cover the nakedness of his father all while having his face turned backward. Instead, he saw his father with sin and perversion in his eyes and he amplified his father’s nakedness by declaring it to his brothers, perhaps even inviting them to join him in his sin and perversion.
Brothers and sisters, this is a very sad and serious thing. And when the people of Israel received this origin story, they would have and should have remembered Adam. For the parallels between Ham and the enemy of Adam, the serpent, are sad but strong. The serpent invited sin and accused God. Ham invited sin and amplified the shame of his father. The serpent received a curse from God. Ham’s action led to a curse from Noah. This is a sad and serious story. Israel would have been reminded of the terrible effects of Adam’s sin against God and how the whole world was rightfully plunged into God’s punishment of suffering and death. Israel would have received this origin story and thought about the ultimate origin story of Adam and God.
Let us pause for a moment and be humble before the Lord. Remember how the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. Remember that Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth. Remember that sin grieved him to his heart.
Brothers and sisters, sin is serious. God does not take sin lightly. This story introduces the very true but very difficult concept of how God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him. Notice that Ham is not cursed. But his son Canaan is cursed. Why is this so? It seems like unfair treatment from God. But that is not a good way to understand this story. Here are two reasons why.
If you feel like this whole thing is unfair for Canaan, then you’ve completely missed this simple but profound point: The reason why God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him is because sin is serious. Sin is devastating. Sin doesn’t just ruin individuals. Sin ruins entire nations. Sin burns down entire family trees. This is the meaning of why Canaan is cursed. And if you’re still a little upset because Ham gets nothing here, just remember this: Ham is cursed anyway by default. For according to Romans, all human beings deserve to die because of sin. Ham may not be included in the curse of Genesis 9:25. But he is already included in the curse of Genesis 3:16-19. Sin is serious. This is the first way to understand this story.
The second way to understand this story is to appreciate this simple but profound concept: when it comes to God’s judgment or God’s salvation, your destiny depends on someone other than you. Just as the destiny of the Canaanites as a nation was determined by a single individual (Ham), the destiny of all mankind fall under either Adam or Christ. This simple but profound concept is the concept of federal headship. Representative headship. Covenant headship. Your destiny is determined by another person and not you.
Brothers and sisters, I understand how you may feel like this whole thing is unfair for Canaan. But consider this. Listen carefully. If you don’t like the idea of getting punished for someone else’s sin, then you should kiss the idea of getting rewarded for someone else’s righteousness goodbye. If you don’t like the idea of losing because of Goliath, then you should kiss the idea of winning because of David goodbye. If you don’t like the idea of children suffering because of their parents, then you should kiss the idea of children getting baptized because of their parents goodbye. If you don’t like the idea of being attached to Adam and cursed in Adam and going to hell because of the person and work of Adam, then you should kiss the idea of being attached to Christ and blessed in Christ and going to heaven because of the person and work of Christ goodbye. If you don’t like how God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate him (Exodus 20:5), then you should kiss the idea of how God shows steadfast love to thousands of generations of those who love him and keep his commandments (Exodus 20:6 - the verse right after 5!) goodbye. If you don’t like the origin story of your death, then you should kiss the origin story of your life goodbye.
And that brings me to the two other people in today’s story that we haven’t talked about yet: Shem and Japheth. Who were their descendants? If the Canaanites came from Ham, who came from Shem and Japheth?
First, Shem. Shem would eventually have a son named Arpachshad. Arpachshad would eventually have a son named Shelah. Shelah would father Eber. Eber would father Peleg. Peleg had Reu. Reu had Serug. Serug had Nahor. When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. And when Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered a son by the name of Abram. So, the descendants of Shem were the nation of Israel! What an origin story!
And that leaves us with Japheth. This guy is really, really interesting. Who were Japheth’s descendants? The Bible describes the descendants of Japheth as “coastland peoples.” This seemingly mundane geographical note is a bombshell. Because Old Testament prophets used that same geographical tag to refer to… the Gentile nations - people, other than the Israelites, who would experience the blessings of God’s ultimate promise. Just as Ham represents the rejection of God and his promise of salvation, and just as Shem represents the acceptance of God and his promise, Japheth represents a gospel extended to all the nations of the world - all of us who are not Jewish by blood.
This is a big deal. Paul talks about this gigantic “Japhethic” gospel in Romans 9-11, some of the most mind-blowing, intense, and mysterious chapters in all the Bible. And in the book of Acts, Luke the physician gives an amazing account of how God’s promise of salvation extended to all the nations of the earth - of how God has enlarged Japheth and let him dwell in the tents of Shem. What an origin story!
Let us praise the Lord! Origin stories can captivate us because they reveal why things are the way that they are. Let us be captivated by the story that we have in Jesus Christ. Let us praise God, for our Lord and Savior was both cursed and then blessed! He was the perfect offering who paid our curse for us, and he was the perfect person who earned our blessing for us. Let us praise Jesus, for our Lord and Savior covers our nakedness with THE garment of his obedience and righteousness! Now those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed (Psalm 34:5). Let us praise Christ, for our Lord and Savior is our representative head. Our destiny does not depend on us; it depends on him. Let us praise the Good Shepherd, for our Lord and Savior crushes the head of the serpent! He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:4). Let us praise the last Adam, for the first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit (1 Corinthians 15:45).
All people have stories. But the most interesting one is the origin story that we have in Christ. He is the hero for the city of God. He shapes us and makes us who we are today. And over the bread and the cup, few things are better than remembering the story of how Christ met his church.