Monday, November 17, 2008

The Nakedness of Noah and the Sin of Ham (Gen 9:22)

This passage may seem confusing at first glance as it appears Ham was cursed simply for the accidental sight of his naked father. In spite of this, many commentators agree that there is no sin committed by the accidental sight of a naked individual, but rather Ham’s actions and thoughts stemmed from a purposeful and sinful behavior. Beza remarks that Ham’s sight of his father was, “In derision and contempt of his father.”[1] Gill agrees as he states that this sight, “Which, had it been through surprise, and at an unawares, would not have been thought criminal; but he went into his father's tent, where he ought not to have entered; he looked with pleasure and delight on his father's nakedness…he went out of the tent after he had pleased himself with the sight; see (Habakkuk 2:15) and in a wanton, ludicrous, and scoffing manner, related what he had seen.”[2] According to Gill, this sight was premeditated, and Ham entered Noah’s tent with the intention of either humiliating him, reveling in his foolish drunkenness, being pleased erotically at the sight, or a combination thereof.
Henry agrees with Beza and Gill over the nature of Ham’s viewing his father, as he states, “To see it accidentally and involuntarily would not have been a crime; but, 1. He pleased himself with the sight...2. He told his two brethren without (in the street, as the word is), in a scornful deriding manner, that his father might seem vile unto them.”[3] In contrast to the sinful activity of Ham, Henry further elaborates on the response of Ham’s brothers, Shem and Japheth: “They not only would not see it themselves, but provided that no one else might see it, herein setting us an example of charity with reference to other men’s sin and shame.”3 So then, while Ham purposefully intended to see, mock, and humiliate his father, his brother’s responded with honor toward their father by attempting to minimize both his sin and shame.
Looking to Calvin, we find his comments not only agree with Beza, Gill, and Henry about the nature of Ham’s sight, but he also develops why both Noah and Ham’s sins were wrong. He states, “Drunkenness in itself deserves as its reward, that they who deface the image of their heavenly Father in themselves, should become a laughingstock to their own children…In the meanwhile, Ham, by reproachfully laughing at his father, betrays his own depraved and malignant disposition…This Ham, therefore, must have been of a wicked, perverse, and crooked disposition; since he not only took pleasure in his father’s shame, but wished to expose him to his brethren.”[4] Like Henry, Calvin notes how the actions of Ham attempt to shame his father beyond the mockery of a single individual with the invitation to his brothers to join him in this sin.
Finally, MacArthur also agrees with Beza, Gill, Henry, and Calvin over the nature of Ham’s sight, however, he disagrees with Gill over the particular thing that Ham had done to him. While Gill leaves open the possibilities of Ham’s actions beyond seeing his father’s nakedness, MacArthur swiftly refutes this possibility with the statement that, “There is no reasonable support for the notion that some perverse activity, in addition to seeing nakedness, occurred. But clearly the implication is that Ham looked with some sinful thought, if only for a while until he left to inform his brothers. Perhaps he was glad to see his father’s dignity and authority reduced to such weakness. He thought his brothers might share his feelings so he eagerly told them. They did not, however, share his attitude (v.23).”[5]
In conclusion, it is quite obvious that the “nakedness of Noah” was simply that: being naked without clothing. The sin of Ham on the other hand was not simply an accidental viewing of his father’s nakedness, but rather the premeditated intention to see this nakedness so as to shame his father before himself and others. If we consider the situation of drunkenness and nakedness related by Scripture in Habakkuk 2:15 (Woe to you who make your neighbors drink, who mix in your venom even to make them drunk so as to look on their nakedness!), perhaps there is even the possibility that Ham played a hand in securing his father’s drunkenness for this purpose. That being said, this particular action was obviously not innocent as it resulted in the curse of the descendents of Ham (the Canaanites), which was necessary for the future conquest of the Promised Land (Canaan) by the Israelites.

[1] Theodore Beza, Commentary on Genesis 9, The 1599 Geneva Study Bible, , 1599-1645.
[2] John Gill, Commentary on Genesis 9:22, The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible, . 1999.
[3] Matthew Henry, Complete Commentary on Genesis 9, Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the
Whole Bible, . 1706.
[4] John Calvin, Commentary on Genesis – Volume 1, Translated by Rev. John King, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, 2008, .
[5] John F. MacArthur, Notes on Genesis 9:22, The MacArthur Study Bible (Thomas Nelson: La Habra, 2006), 29.

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