Genesis 9

The Word Made Fresh

1Then God made this promise to Noah and his sons: “Have children so your numbers will increase and spread across the earth. 2All the other creatures on earth, in the air and even in the waters will be afraid of you, 2and they are all available to you for food. 3Before the flood I gave you the green plants to eat. Now I give you everything, 4but you must drain the lifeblood from the meat before you eat it. 5And for your own lifeblood I will demand an explanation, whether it is shed by an animal or by another person. I will demand an account for every human life taken. 6Whoever sheds the blood of a person, that one’s blood will be spilled by another one, because people were made in God’s own image. Now I want you to have children so that you will become numerous and spread throughout the earth.”

8God continued, saying to Noah and his sons, 9“I am making a promise to you and your children and all your descendants who come after you; 10a promise to every animal and bird that came out of the ark with you. 11This is my promise: never again will all life be destroyed by a flood. Never again will there be a flood that covers the earth.”

12And God said, “This is the sign of the agreement I am making with you and every living creature, from now on: 13I have placed a bow in the clouds, and it will serve as a sign of the agreement between me and the earth. 14Whenever I send clouds over the earth and the bow appears with them, 15I will remember the promise I have made with you and every creature, and the waters will never again rise as a flood over the world to destroy every creature. 16When the bow appears in the clouds I will see it and remember the promise I made to you and all the animals on earth.” 17God said again, “This is the sign of the promise I have made between me and all living things.”

18Noah’s sons were Shem, Ham and Japheth, and Ham’s son was Canaan. 19Their descendants would spread out through all the world.

20Now, Noah was a man who knew how to work the soil, and he was the first man to plant a vineyard. 21He drank some of the wine and got drunk and fell asleep naked in his tent. 22Ham, Canaan’s father, saw him and told Shem and Japheth outside. 23Shem and Japheth found a robe, draped it on their shoulders, and with their faces turned so they wouldn’t see their father’s nakedness, walked backwards to drape it over him.

24When Noah awoke from his stupor and discovered what his youngest son had done to him, 25he said, “Canaan be cursed! He will be the lowest of slaves to his slave, 27and honor Japheth with large holdings, and let him dwell in Shem’s tent, and have Canaan as his slave.”

28After the flood Noah lived another 350 years, 29and was 950 years old when he died.”

Commentary

1-7: In the creation story of chapter 1 we were told that “God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Reproduce and grow in numbers until you fill the earth and bring it under control, and rule the fish in the seas, and the birds that fly above, and every creature that lives on the earth. (1:28).’” After the flood God starts all over again. God blesses Noah and his sons and tells them to “reproduce and grow in numbers until you fill the earth,” exactly the words used before. But then God makes some modifications. Now, instead of bringing the earth under control, God recognizes that “the fear and the dread of you shall rest upon every animal of the earth.” Human beings are a violent species, and this time around God is acknowledging that and planning around it. Before, all the green plants were given for food to every creature that breathes. Now, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you … only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.” The decline of humankind began with Cain’s spilling of Abel’s blood, and now this becomes the singular law just as “you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” was the singular law in the Garden. Violence, specifically murder, is the one forbidden thing in this renewed creation. The reason given again harkens back to the creation story; “in his own image God made humankind” (see also 1:26). The command to “be fruitful and multiply” is reiterated.

8-17: God offers a covenant that the earth will never again be destroyed by a flood. The sign of the covenant is the rainbow. It only appears when it rains – in other words, at just the moment when Noah might fear another flood. It is a symbolic bow, a weapon that God has hung up in the sky pointing not toward earth, but toward heaven. God is no longer at war with all creation.

18-28: Some commentators wonder if Canaan was born on the ark, but the text is unclear. Noah, a righteous man, planted a vineyard, made some wine, drank it and got drunk and fell asleep in his tent naked. Ham, father of Canaan, saw it and told his brothers who covered Noah up without looking at him. How Noah found out about this is anybody’s guess. He somehow knows his “youngest son,” meaning his grandson, Canaan, has something to do with it, and curses him for it. Canaan will be a slave of the descendants of Shem and Japheth, he says, while they will be blessed. Ham, Canaan’s father, is not mentioned. The story is curious and difficult. Ham saw his father, not Canaan. But Canaan is cursed for it. Apparently, something got lost from the story over the generations of passing it down orally. And obviously, the story is told to explain the poor relationship between Israelites and Canaanites in Israel’s early history.

Takeaway

It is obvious that human beings are prone to disagreement and that enmity will be a part of human history. But please notice that it is Noah, not God, who curses Canaan. It seems that we humans, deep down, know we are not perfect, and perhaps that is why nudity is something we are willing to reveal only to those we can trust.