Genesis 9 contains a story about Noah that is not flattering to Noah. First, it tells us that Noah got drunk and was naked. Second, it tells us that Noah punished someone who did nothing wrong. The natural instinct is to believe that it is wrong to punish an innocent person and that we wouldn’t do that, but is that true. Is it wrong to punish an innocent person? Are we guilty of punishing innocent people. Let’s look at this story about Noah and try to answer these questions.
Let’s start at Genesis 9:18. Notice the family tree.
Gen. 9:18 ¶ Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan.
Gen. 9:19 These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.
Noah fathered Ham and Ham fathered Canaan. Now read the next several verses. What did Ham do to Noah, his father?
Gen. 9:20 ¶ Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard.
Gen. 9:21 He drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.
Gen. 9:22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside.
Gen. 9:23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it upon both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness.
Maybe it is better to ask what Ham failed to do? When Ham saw that his father was naked, he went and told others. He did not do anything to improve the situation. When Ham’s brothers learned about the nakedness, they did not tell anyone, instead they went and covered their father. Notice that the Bible is very clear that Ham is the one who saw his father’s nakedness and told others about it. There is no mention that Canaan was anywhere near any of this.
What happened next? Who did Noah curse? What was the curse?
Gen. 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.
Gen. 9:25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants He shall be to his brothers.”
Gen. 9:26 He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.
Gen. 9:27 “May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.”
Gen. 9:28 ¶ Noah lived three hundred and fifty years after the flood.
Gen. 9:29 So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years, and he died.
Noah cursed Canaan and made him a servant to both Shem and Japheth. The Bible is very clear that Ham did the wrong deed, but Canaan (Ham’s son) is the one who was cursed. Why did Noah curse Canaan and not Ham? The Bible does not tell us the answer to that.
Does it seem odd or wrong that Noah cursed Canaan when Ham is the one who did wrong? Actually, we do this in our society.
There is a school that used to do an overnight senior class trip. One year, the students misbehaved so the school stopped doing senior trips. All students who came after the misbehaving students paid the price for the misbehavior of one class.
One of the players on my son’s soccer team used foul language during a game. At the next practice, all players had to run extra laps. The philosophy for punishing the whole team was to motivate the team to police themselves.
These are examples from our society of punishing innocent people and punishing the many for the misdeeds of the few. Is it okay to do this? Is it okay to punish the many for the sins of the few?
Actually, the Bible is somewhat silent on this topic. Just because Noah did it doesn’t mean it is right. The Old Testament contains two verses that prohibited putting someone to death for the sin of someone else.
Deut. 24:16 ¶ “Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.
Ezek. 18:20 “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity; the righteousness of the righteous will be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself.
You could argue that these verses only prohibited putting an innocent person to death, and that they allowed lesser punishments on innocent people. As for the New Testament, I am not aware of any verse in the New Testament that expressly addresses this question.
The conclusion is that the Bible is not crystal clear on this topic. There may be very good Biblical reasons not to punish innocent people and not to punish the many for the sins of the few, but the Bible does not provide clear emphatic instructions on this topic.
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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”