Monday, March 7, 2016

Genesis 9:24-29 - Noah’s astounding Prophecy !

The sad  fact of  Noah’s fall so soon after  his literal ‘coming down to earth’ (having spent  a year in the ark), should not surprise us.  Noah was after all a  descendant of Adam, and as such we should not be amazed that Noah was able to sin.  The life of Noah  is no fairy tale, and there is no ‘ living  happily  ever after‘ for him and his family. Sin  with its  many  tentacles (and in this case Noah’s drunkenness)  remains a  curse  and  it is this that accounts for  the complicated history of mankind.   So let us not be amazed that Noah would sin so soon after his exit from the ark . Rather, let  us be  amazed that God,  for whom every sin  is  contrary to  His pure and holy being, should have chosen to  bear with mankind  so long after the flood.  

We have seen that God  deals with  Noah,  not in the  way of what he  deserves. He deals with  Noah  by way of a covenant. We have first seen a confirmation of  this covenant  in  Genesis  6:18 & 9:9,  “Then God said  to Noah and to his sins with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you.”\

A word that is often used  in the OT to describe God’s  heart  behind this  this covenant is the  word translated as  “loving kindness“ or “steadfast love” (ESV). The  best word  to describe this  loving kindness may be   summed up in a single word:  Grace!     Noah found grace (favour)  in the eyes of the Lord. (Gen.  6:8). 
God's loving-kindness  is  illustrated  in the OT  in His relationship with Israel.  Despite  Israel's persistent waywardness could  God would not  relinquish his love for her. The book of Hosea  bears eloquent testimony to this  ( see for instance Hosea 11). Even though  Israel  was  faithless, yet God remained faithful. But the supreme  and final token of God’s  covenant kindness is seen  in the  cross of Christ. “But God shows his love for us in that  while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8)  The  “us”, according to John  are those “…who did receive Him, who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God.”

So then  as Noah wakes up from his drunken stupor, a  series of events is set into motion  which would profoundly affect the  history of the peoples of the world. And so it is. It is  often the small, seemingly  unimportant  things that trigger  huge events.   You may have heard  this before, but it’ s worth repeating[1] :  

“For Want of a Nail”
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
 For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
 For want of a horse the rider was lost.
 For want of a rider the message was lost.
 For want of a message the battle was lost.
 For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.  
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Such illustrations we find in the Bible. One disobedience  in terms of eating the forbidden fruit drives  Adam and Eve out of the garden of God’s presence.  This act of disobedience by our first parents  has  huge consequences for the whole of mankind.   
One murder  drives Cain  and his future  offspring even further away from God and   into the land of wandering. 
A little too much wine causes Noah to behave inappropriately, and a little too much gazing upon the naked body of his father,   as he lies exposed in the tent,  affects Ham and his future family !

Noah discovers   upon awaking  from his  hangover  that  he  had been dishonoured by  his youngest  son, Ham, and following  this  he  utters  a  prophecy with far reaching consequences , containing  a curse upon his youngest son  Ham and a  blessing upon his two other sons,   Shem and Japheth.

THE CURSE AND THE BLESSING

What is  the link between  Noah’s fall and Noah’s prophecy ? Following his own sin Noah  in vv. 25-27  makes a profound utterance  concerning  the future  of his three sons  which  is  forms an outline  of the beginning  of the three great divisions of the human family after the great flood. From  Gen.  10:32  we know  that the  great races of the earth are  all descended  from Noah  through  Shem, Ham and Japheth.  
What will be the history of the races that spring from Noah’s three sons?  How will the new world  begin?  

It  can only begin with human failure,  and so we  must not be surprised  to see the rapid spread of sin  and evil  so soon after the flood .  I remind you of the initial  sequence of sin   Noah sins – Ham sins –  and Ham’s son, and Canaan,  the father of the Canaanites,   becomes the epitome of sin  in  the Bible.

But here’s  what we need to understand : These words of Noah were not  simply  uttered  as a result of  resentment against Ham for having entered  Noah’s private  space while he was lying  drunk and exposed in his tent.  That may be so at face value. There is however  far more in Noah’s words than  just a temper tantrum or words spoken in anger. These words spoken  in  9:25-27 were in fact spoken as prophecy. They were  uttered  under a Divine impulse! This  fact is proven by the fulfilment of the prophecy itself. A careful comparison of other Scriptures shows us this, and its remarkable fulfilment demonstrates that  this  was indeed  a  prophetic word.   

This prophecy  consists of two pronouncements:   a  curse and a blessing.[2]  
Initially, the cursing and  the blessing had  something to do  with  the way  the sons had  approached their drunk and naked  father in his tent.  Ham seems to have  dishonoured his father  by his irreverent approach. This is later  described as  the 5th commandment Ex.20:22. He had failed to honour his father  here.   It seems as if Ham  may  have  used this  moment not only to gaze shamelessly upon his naked father, but  he might have also  ridiculed him to his brothers. Philip Eveson says ,  “Corrupt minds feed on scantily  dressed or naked bodies in suggestive positions. The modern media have made their millions through pandering to human lust” [3]

The contrast in attitude is  observed  when his brothers, Shem and Japheth  walk into the tent, ‘backwards ‘ (i.e. respectfully!) so that that they would not see their father’s nakedness, and covered him with a garment.   Their attitudes and therefore their  action is  in direct  contrast  to  Ham.   Had he really cared for his father’s reputation   he would have acted as his brothers did. The moral law ( the 10 Commandments) which were  given  later with Moses,  included the necessity of  children maintaining respect for their parents. Children who disrespected their parents,  according to  the OT law  were  even  liable  the death penalty.  (Deut. 21: 18-21) Shem and Japheth  continued  to treat their father with respect, even though he had compromised himself.   We must never  gloat  over the sins of others. We must never  add  to their shame by our own shameful behaviour.

And now we see something peculiar. When   Noah wakes up from his drunken stupor  he  curses not Ham, but his son Canaan, and in the curse passed upon Canaan we find a very  solemn instance of the sins of the fathers being visited upon the children.
Note the consequence: he reaped exactly as he had sown—Ham sinned as a son and was punished in his son! [4] (A.W.Pink) .  So, the curse uttered by Noah did not fall directly on Ham but upon one of his sons, in fact,  the fourth son who was called "Canaan" (see Gen. 10:6).  So, we discover  that not all the sons of Ham bore the curse!  Canaan bore the curse!

We have to  make this point  because there is some horrible theology  that has been associated  with this text.  The appalling misuse of this passage had been sometimes used   by  to justify the enslaving of  the African people.  This warped theology came  mainly from the proponents  of slavery in 19th Century America and Britain, who ignored the unexplained transition from Ham to  Canaan in Noah’s curse , and  who drew  the simplistic conclusion that according to Ch. 10,  Ham was the ancestor of  Africans, concluding   that his black descendants may be rightfully enslaved. However , they ignored the plain fact that the curse is directed against Canaan, and  Canaan was neither black, nor African! 

The Canaanites  were  the  inhabitants  of the  territory that was promised by God on oath to Abraham and his descendants.   And these Canaanite  tribes of which you read  – they were the cursed  people , and the prophecy was  fulfilled  when Israel took over that land, and  they  were either annihilated or subjected   to slavery  with the conquest of Canaan under Joshua. In many instances the Canaanites  actually became a stumbling block to Israel when   Joshua and Israel  failed to drive them out of the land.  The point is   that this is the fulfillment of the curse  in relation to the promised land. It has nothing to do with Africans.

Besides that we do not  actually know , who exactly the Hamitic races  might be today. That issue is not  exactly relevant to the central message of the Bible , since it is now clear to us that “ all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God”  (Rom. 3:23).  Today  there  are  really only two types of people in this world today : Christians and non-Christians, and they are not separated along racial lines!
From the clear perspective of the N.T.  it is important  to understand  that all tribes, nations and tongues  are fallen. The curse rests on the entire human race, and no man shall  escape the coming judgement by fire, unless they are washed in the blood of the Lamb!

THE BLESSING :

The curse was upon Canaan. And the  particular blessing expressed  was upon (note) the God of Shem. "Blessed be the Lord, the  God of Shem; and let Canaan be  his servant.”  (v.26) Donald Grey Barnhouse says : “The blessing is not upon Shem , but upon the God of Shem. Nothing can take root in man. It is the God of Shem who will bring forth Christ from Shem “[5]

This   fact speaks  of the  continued covenant relationship in which  God was to enter into a covenant relationship with the children of Shem. The realization that Yahweh  was to be the God of Shem caused Noah to break forth into thanksgiving—"Blessed be the Lord God of Shem."  It is very clear that the Shemites are the Semites, from which the Hebrew people  are descended , and through whose line  the Lord Jesus was to be born.

"May God enlarge the territory of  Japeth (v. 27). The name  Japheth means "enlargement" so  that here there was a play upon words.  The Japhetites are  most probably the  progenitors of Greeks , Romans  etc. the first fruit among the gentiles  following the preaching of the gospel to the gentiles.  It was through the influence of the Greek and Roman empires that the gospel spread – and so it was: "May Japheth live in the tents of  Shem."

The fulfilment of Noah’s prophecy.

This  prophecy uttered by Noah gives us  in a few brief sentences the history of the new world and thus  in the closing verses of Genesis 9 we have an  unfolding of the future destinies of the new humanity.   Shem is to have  the spiritual  pre- eminence  among his brothers ; to Japheth is given  the task of enlarging their territory; and Ham  and his sons are  left  without a substantial commission; except that Canaan is cursed.
An attempt to categorise  exactly   as to who  today  descends from whom is futile.

The  NT view   needs to guide out OT interpretation. We are assured  that all the nations today  are in need of the gospel .  The temptation to  separate this or that nation as God’s favourites (as has been attempted in many instances in history) will just not do. “All have sinned  and have fallen short of the glory of God”. No single civilization, including the Hebrews have ever managed  to live righteously before God.

What we do understand clearly from this text is that God’s plan is clearly outlined in history.
What we know  is that God’s blessing would be upon Shem – but only, because this was the one through whom the promised Messiah (the Lamb that would take away the sin of  the world)  would be given. In this  Shem was singularly privileged – but (note!) the glory goes to the blessed God of Shem! Shem himself, was subject to sin as were his brothers. 
What we know is that the whole world needs a Saviour. 
What we know is that this Saviour has come
And all the nations must bow before Him. He alone will present us  perfectly before the presence of God’s glory. 
That is the true future of the human race.  
Amen.



[1]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/For_Want_of_a_Nail  The earliest reference to the full proverb may refer to the death of Richard III of England at the Battle of Bosworth Field. This short variation of the proverb (shown to the right), was published in "Fifty Famous People" by James Baldwin. The story associated with the proverb, describing the unhorsing of King Richard during battle, would place the proverb's origin after the Battle of Bosworth on 22 August 1485. However, historically Richard's horse was merely mired in the mud. In the story, the proverb and its reference to losing a horse is directly linked to King Richard famously shouting "A Horse! A Horse! My Kingdom for a Horse!", as depicted in Act V, Scene 4 from the Shakespeare play Richard III, which was written circa 1591
[2] See Deuteronomy 28  for a  further example
[3]  Philip Eveson :The Book of Genesis  simply explained,  p. 202  ( Evangelical Press)
[4] A.W. Pink :Gleanings from Genesis, p. 
[5] D.G. Barnhouse : Genesis , p. 66

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