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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:Trust God to deliver on everything he's promised
Text:Genesis 9:18-29 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-07-16
Updated:2023-07-16
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 66

Psalm 119:47 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 103:1,4,5

Psalm 103:6-7

Hymn 53

Scripture readings: Proverbs 23:19-35, Ephesians 6:1-4

Text: Genesis 9:18-29

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

Some passages in the Bible are well-known for not so great reasons.  This is one of them.  In history, people appealed to Genesis 9 to support racist ideas.  They said the “curse of Ham” is the reason why it’s fitting for Africans to be slaves.  They said it’s the natural course of things when white people are the masters and black people are the slaves.  All because of what they called “the curse of Ham.”

Now before you think that this is just something out there on the fringes in the American south, when I was a seminary student I actually heard a Reformed minister preach this from the pulpit.  He mentioned it as if it was just a given.  As if we all knew and believed that Africans are an inferior race cursed to be slaves.  He too referred to the “curse of Ham” and how it applies to black Africans.  That was in the late 1990s.

Let me be clear:  that way of thinking is not supported by the Bible at all.  These evil racist ways of thinking went to the Bible to try and find support and they had to twist the Scriptures to do it.  It’s categorically wrong.  We’ll get to the curse mentioned in our passage in a few moments, but for now I’d just draw your attention to verse 19.  Note how it says the people of the whole earth were dispersed from Noah and his sons.  There are no races.  There is only one human race.  We’re all descended from a common ancestor named Noah.  We all bleed red, just like he did.  Yes, there are different skin colours, there are different cultures and ethnicities, but we are all equally human beings.  All of us have been created in the image of God and therefore have the same inherent value and dignity.

So our passage isn’t a racist proof-text.  What this passage is about is God and his purposes for our salvation.  He is revealing himself here as the One who can be counted on.  If he has promised something, you can be sure he’ll do what he’s said he’ll do.  So I’ve summarized the sermon with this theme:  Trust God to deliver on everything he’s promised

  1. Despite grievous human sinfulness
  2. Because of his gospel love for sinners.

After the Flood, it was like a new world had been created.  Noah was like another Adam.  Adam was placed in the Garden of Eden “to work it and keep it.”  He was to be a man of the soil – in fact, Adam’s name is derived from the Hebrew word for “earth.”  He was taken from the earth, but he was also going to work the earth.  We see Noah starting off like that too in verse 20.  After his short career as a sailor, now he’s a grape-grower.  And there’s nothing wrong with that at all. 

But just like Adam soon faced temptation, so did Noah.  Just like Adam gave in to temptation, so did Noah.  We read from Proverbs 23.  It contains wisdom handed down from a father to a son.  Some of that wisdom is about alcohol.  In the Bible, drinking alcohol in moderation isn’t a sin.  Overindulging, drunkenness is a sin.  And Proverbs 23 tells us that it’s a sinful foolishness which brings consequences.  Proverbs 23:32 says, “In the end it bites like a serpent and stings like an adder.” Isn’t it interesting how the abuse of alcohol is described in terms that are used elsewhere to refer to Satan?  Bad things happen when you get drunk.  And the more often you get drunk, the more likely bad things are to happen.  The more likely there’ll be violence, the more likely there’ll be relationships breaking down, the more likely there’ll be negative impacts on your health.  But bad things can happen even if just get drunk once.  Just one time of sinful foolishness can leave you with a lifetime of regret. 

That’s what happened with Noah.  Our ex-sailor is now a drunken ex-sailor.  He apparently became so drunk that he passed out naked in his tent.  He’s responsible for where he’s at here, just like Adam was when he fell into sin in Genesis 3.  The Holy Spirit doesn’t try to make Noah into a super-saint.  He’s described as a godly and righteous man in Scripture, but yet he’s still a sinner.  As our Canons of Dort rightly point out, even saints can fall into serious sins.  But as one of the Puritans wrote, “It is not falling into water that drowns, but lying in it.  It is not falling into sin that damns, but lying in it without repentance.”  Believers sin, but they also repent of their sins.  They turn from them and hate them.  They ask God to forgive their sins because of what Christ has done on the cross in their place.

As I mentioned, Noah is like another Adam.  But here as a drunken heap in his tent, he can’t be that second Adam.  He can’t be that offspring of Eve prophesied to smash the skull of Satan.  He’s too smashed himself.  The world will have to wait a few thousand years for the true Second Adam to arrive.

In the meantime we have Noah drunk, naked, and vulnerable.  And his son Ham exploits that vulnerability.  Now how he does that is a matter of debate amongst Bible commentators.  The text says he “saw the nakedness of his father.”  So some just take that at face value and say that Ham’s sin was voyeurism.  He just thought it was shocking or funny or both to see his father drunk and naked.  But others see something more sinister.  There is a long history of interpreting verse 22 to mean that Ham committed an act of incest.  Some say it was with his father, others with his mother.  There are a couple of places in the Old Testament where seeing someone’s nakedness is a roundabout way of referring to sexual intimacy, it’s a euphemism.  And in Leviticus, it says that your mother’s nakedness is your father’s nakedness.  If you see your mother’s nakedness, you’re seeing your father’s nakedness because they are one flesh.  Those who opt for the maternal incest interpretation also say that this accounts for the curse upon Canaan, because, they say, Canaan was the offspring of this encounter.

I’m not sure.  The text is ambiguous.  I don’t think it matters too much what interpretation we adopt.  But if you pushed me on it, I’d say that something really bad happened here and that’s why the author kept it ambiguous.  It was so shameful that Moses wanted to preserve at least some dignity for Noah.  I’d say it was something more than voyeurism, but it likely only involved Ham and Noah.  Perhaps it is better left imagined than said.

But again, it doesn’t matter that much for the interpretation of the passage.  Whatever it was, Ham did something terrible to dishonour his father.  The Fifth Commandment tells us to honour our father and mother.  This commandment is repeated in our reading from Ephesians 6.  Paul tells the children who are members of the Ephesian church to honour their parents, “that it may go well with you.”  Well, things didn’t go so well for Ham when he dishonoured his father.  This was a horrible sin.  Then he aggravated it by bragging about it to his brothers.  He made it that much worse by revelling in it.  It’s one thing to sin and then regret it and repent.  It’s quite another to sin and then be proud of it. 

What we see here in this situation is that not only is there still sin in the world after the Flood, there’s also that line of hard-hearted opposition to God.  There’s still the line of the serpent.  Ham represents the principle of unbelief and wickedness in the world.  That principle or line hasn’t been drowned by the Flood.  It survived and it still survives until this day.

But there was also another line.  At this point, there are two sons who are willing to cover the shame of their father.  This is verse 23.  Shem and Japheth walk backwards with a garment on their shoulders and cover Noah with it.  Unlike their brother Ham, they don’t look at their father’s nakedness.  They just do what they have to do and get out of there.  It was the best way they could still honour their father under the circumstances.

This is the new first family.  A drunken father.  A son guilty of dishonouring his father in some grievous way.  Yet somehow through this broken family God is still going to deliver what he’s promised.  Through one particular line stemming from Noah, God is yet going to bring the one who would have victory over sin, Satan, and death.  In the fullness of time, in his love God did send his Son for sinners like you and me.  Perhaps you’ve sinned like Noah did, maybe drinking too much, maybe even making a habit of it.  Christ came for you.  Hate your sin and turn to him.  Perhaps you dishonoured your father or mother, maybe not exactly as Ham did, but in another way.  Brother, sister, Christ came for you.  In his love, the Father gave you his Son to die in your place on the cross to pay for your sins.  Turn from your sin and turn to Christ.  At his cross, you’ll find forgiveness for everything you’ve done.

At the cross, God delivered on what he promised.  There, at the cross, there we see nakedness again.  It’s not the Father naked, but the Son.  The Son agreed to bear our curse with his naked body nailed to that cross.  His naked body was abused in horrible ways to take what we deserve for our sins.  He was given sour wine, but he certainly didn’t get drunk.  He was sober as he endured our hell.  Through this descendant of Noah, God gave us deliverance from the eternal consequences of all our foolish sinfulness.  This is amazing.  What love we see at the cross!  What faithfulness.  Let’s worship God for his gospel love in Jesus.

Just like the account of the fall earlier in Genesis concluded with words of curse and blessing, so also this account of sin concludes with words of curse and blessing.  As we look at these words, we also see God’s gospel love for us.

The first thing we should notice is that there is no “curse of Ham.”  Ham isn’t the one who is cursed here, at least not directly.  Instead, it’s his son Canaan.  We’ve been prepared for something involving Canaan already from verse 18 and verse 22.  When Noah somehow figures out what has been done to him by Ham, he curses Canaan.

But why Canaan?  Canaan was the youngest son of Ham.  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly why Noah singled out Canaan.  Again, commentators have their theories.  We already heard about the maternal incest theory – that Canaan was the product of this relationship.  With that interpretation, however, you have to insert a large time gap in between verses 24 and 25, between Noah waking up from his drunken stupor and Noah pronouncing the curse upon Canaan.  Such a time gap is possible, but it doesn’t seem a natural way to read it.  Another theory is that Canaan was involved with his father’s sin.  He somehow participated and that’s why the curse lands on him.  Again, it’s hard to say for sure when the text doesn’t tell us.  Noah had his reasons, but God doesn’t tell us what they were.  We do know that cursing a son would mean cursing the future of his line.  And perhaps singling out the youngest son was a token of mercy.  Assuming Canaan had nothing to do with Ham’s sin, Noah could have cursed the oldest son of Ham if he’d wanted to, or even all his sons.  But in his mercy, he only curses Canaan. 

And this curse upon Canaan points ahead to the place his descendants will have in the history of salvation.  The Canaanites will be those dwelling in the Promised Land when the Israelites come out of Egypt.  At that point, the Canaanites were in subjection to Egypt.  And when the people of Israel come, they either completely destroy the Canaanite peoples or they make them into slaves.  Still in the time of Solomon, we read in Scripture that the Canaanites were servants to the Israelites.  When it says that Canaan will be “a servant of servants,” what it means is that his descendants will be the lowest of servants.  That’s exactly what happens.  This in turn points ahead to the way that Christ will ultimately conquer the line of the serpent. 

By the way, going back to the racist thinking for a second, it might be obvious but Canaanites weren’t Africans.  Ham is only cursed indirectly and it’s through his son Canaan.  It has nothing to do with Africans at all.

But just like Ham is cursed indirectly, so Shem is blessed indirectly.  Ham’s curse comes through Canaan, but Shem’s blessing comes through Yahweh, his God.  When you see the LORD in all capital letters in our Bible translation, that’s God personal name Yahweh in the Hebrew.  The name Yahweh points to God’s personal covenant relationship with Shem.  That’s why he’s described as “the God of Shem.”  Shem is the line through which salvation will come. 

Perhaps you’ve heard of anti-Semitism.  To be anti-Semitic is to be prejudiced against Jewish people.  Our English word ‘semitic’ comes from the Hebrew name Shem.  Hebrew is what’s called a semitic language.  Other semitic languages include Aramaic and Arabic.  That reminds us that originally ‘semitic’ meant anything related to the peoples descended from Shem.  The Jews are a semitic people, but so are the Arabs.  For our purpose, the important point is that the Jewish people, and the line of the Messiah, will come through Shem.  God will be their God and his loving gospel promises will come to fulfillment through them and among them.

Noah also has a blessing for his son Japheth.  He prays that God would enlarge him.  He’s asking that God would make him into a vast array of peoples.  And he did.  Anyone with a European ancestry is probably descended from Japheth. 

Now the next part of verse 27 says, “and let him dwell in the tents of Shem.”  Some say that this refers to Japheth.  However, the subject of verse 27 is God, so it makes the most sense to understand it as meaning that God will dwell in or among the tents of Shem.  And then, as God dwells with them and among them, Canaan will also be his servant.

The focus here again is on Shem.  That’s because of the line that God is going to follow through him.  In due time, God will dwell amongst the tents of Shem.  In the wilderness, right before Canaan fell under the power of Israel, God made his dwelling with them in the tabernacle.  They had God’s dwelling place among them.  As time went on, eventually the temple was built and there too God dwelt among the descendants of Shem, while the descendants of Canaan were in servitude.  Finally, this was all fulfilled in Christ.  Remember that special name for him?  Immanuel.  God with us.  God came to dwell amongst the tents of Shem in an unparalleled way, and in so doing he showed most beautifully his gospel love for sinners.  Because of what Christ did in his perfect life of obedience and his death on the cross, we now have the blessing of having God dwell in us and among us with his Holy Spirit.  We have the confidence of knowing that the power of sin and Satan, represented by Canaan, that power has been decisively broken.  What Noah was saying here was prophetically pointing ahead to these incredible gospel realities.  Filled with the Holy Spirit, he spoke and it came to pass.  That’s the mark that the man was really speaking on God’s behalf.

Brothers and sisters, remember again what Scripture says in Romans 15:4.  This is really the key to understanding how to apply this passage.  It says in Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”  This passage was written to give us encouragement and then hope.  It’s not the hope that’s a kind of wishful thinking.  “I hope today will be better than yesterday,” when you don’t know for sure what the new day holds.  But the hope of the gospel is a sure hope.  It’s not wishful thinking.  It’s a confident hope.  Our passage is part of God’s long track record in faithfulness.  God was the God of Shem, the covenant making and covenant keeping God.  God did and does dwell in the tents of Shem. 

These are big ticket items, so to speak.  God delivered on those promises.  He’s made great promises to us too.  Most of all, he’s promised us a new heavens and new earth where he will dwell amongst us in the most beautiful fellowship ever.  Trust him to deliver on that promise, also when life here is hard.  Don’t give up your hope.

Loved ones, like in the days of Noah, some day there’s going to be a new world in which we’re going to live.  Unlike Noah as he began living in his new world, we won’t be able to sin any more.  Unlike Noah as he began living in his new world, we won’t be able to be sinned against either.  Unlike Noah who only had 350 years in his new world before he died, we are going to have endless years into eternity.  God promises all of this to us in his Son Jesus Christ.  Believe and keep on believing that God will deliver.  AMEN.

PRAYER

O Yahweh, our God,

Thank you for your gospel love for sinners.  We confess to you that we’re not worthy to be loved by you.  Some of us have at times committed sin like Noah – we’ve gotten drunk or even made a habit of getting drunk.  Some of us have at times committed sin like Ham in that we’ve disrespected or dishonoured our parents or others in authority over us.  Father, we hate these sins and trust that you’ve forgiven us these sins through what Christ has done in our place on the cross.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to trust your promises given in Scripture.  Father, we so much look forward to the new world.  We pray that you would bring it quickly.  Bring Christ quickly with the clouds of heaven.  While we’re waiting for him, please continue to give us faith, hope, and love.                                                                     




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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