The Covenant & The Curse (Genesis 9:8-28)

When God “remembers” it means He faithfully follows through on what He has promised to do.

The remainder of chapter 9 covers two important events – both involving Noah. First is the Covenant God announces to Noah.  The second is Noah’s cursing of Canaan.  Lets take them in order.


In this passage God announces to Noah a new covenant.  The old world was swept away by the flood and now Noah is entering a new world, a dried out, post-flood world.  So God enacts a new covenant, which theologians call the “Noahic” covenant.  

This is the 2nd covenant in Genesis we’ve seen.  The first being the Edenic Covenant.  While its not called a covenant there it has the features of a covenant:  it has two parties, obligations and reward and punishment attached to living up to those obligations.  In Eden God told Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  If he didn’t eat he would live.  However, if he violated the command, death was the consequence.  Now its not called a covenant, but, it has the basic features of a covenant and it is called a covenant later on by God in the book of Hosea.  God says, “Like Adam, they have broken the covenant – they were unfaithful to me.”  

Now in chapter 9 we see God enacting this new covenant.  I’m calling it “new”, but, let me make a clarification.  This is not “THE New Covenant” later described by Jeremiah and established by Jesus Christ.  This is “new” in relation to world history up till Noah getting off the ark.  

So its “a” new covenant, and its referred to by theologians as the Noahic Covenant.  God said before the Flood when He called Noah, in 6:18, “Everything on earth will perish, but I will establish my covenant with you…”

In short, God’s covenant with Noah was his promise to never destroy all life on earth again using a flood.  Notice verse 11, “I establish my covenant with you:  Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Verse 15 reiterates it, “Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.”  A couple years earlier He promised to destroy the whole earth with a flood.  He proved He meant what He said.  Now God is promising to never do that again.

It should be clarified:  God does not mean smaller, local or regional floods would never occur.  Nor does God mean that He will never judge the earth again and destroy all life.  That’s not His covenant.  His covenant specifically is that He won’t do it through a flood of water ever again.  In other words, every time it rains you can look up through the drops and say, “God thank you that I’m not going to drown from this.”  

APPLICATION:  God says another worldwide judgment is coming.  Turn to 2 Peter 3:3-7 with me.  The next worldwide judgment will be by fire.  God promised a global flood would come and it did.  God promised a global flood would never come again and one hasn’t.  God has promised a day of Judgment is coming.  Do you think He means it?  Are you ready for it?

APPLICATION:  God is faithful to His word.  Notice the sign of this covenant:  a rainbow.  Verse 13, “I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”  Interestingly the rainbow is for God.  Nowhere in the text does it say that we are to look at the rainbow and be reminded of the promise that we won’t ever drown again.  However, its obvious even if not stated.  No, God says the rainbow is for Him to see.  Look at verse 16, “Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds I WILL SEE IT and REMEMBER the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”  God will see the rainbow and God will remember the covenant promise.  I was reading a month ago and the idea of God “remembering” stood out to me.  In 8:1 it said, “But God remembered Noah…”  In 19:29 when God was burning Sodom and Gommorah to the ground it says “God remembered Abraham” and brought his nephew Lot out of the cities to spare his life.

This idea of God remembering is not like us when we “remember.”  When we “remember” something we are thinking of something we had forgotten about and had not thought about for some time.  “Do you remember the days when we used to….?”  Or “Did you remember to pick up milk on your way home?”  Or, “Don’t you remember the sermon from last Sunday?”  

But that’s not what “remember” means for God.  God is all knowing, He never forgets anything.  He does not ever decrease in knowledge.  He knows and perceives everything at all times.  So what does it mean that God “remembers”.  It means God faithfully comes through for someone just like He promised He would.  When God “remembered Noah” while Noah was floating in the ark its doesn’t mean God was like, “Oh, man!  If forgot about Noah, I gotta turn the water off before he drowns!”  No.  It means that at the appointed time God determined in His perfect wisdom He acted to drain the floodwaters and bring Noah safely to dryland.

When God “remembered” Abraham it doesn’t mean the angels of the Lord were sprinting away with a burning Sodom behind them and one of them said, “Oh no!  I just remembered we have to go get Lot for Abraham’s sake!”  It means that God rescued Lot out of Sodom before destroying it because He promised Abraham that He would.  God was faithful to carry out His promise.

One of my favorite forgiveness verses is Hebrews 10:17.  God says, “I will forgive their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.”  Again is this a case of God just forgetting?  As though He lost awareness of people’s sins?  You know, sometimes people forget but they never forgive, and if you bring it up they get upset all over again about a matter.  That’s not God.  When God chooses to no longer remember their sins it means He will not relate to them on the basis of their sins anymore.  He will always have the knowledge and the awareness of their sins – “Hey God do you remember how so and so stole that one time?”  And God will not say, “No, I can’t recall that.  Did he really do that?  I forgot all about that.  Are you sure?”  No, it means He will not look at those people He has forgiven and “see” their sins anymore. He will see them but in forgiving them He has “removed” their sins as far as the east is from the west, He has washed their sins off of them, so that He sees them without their sins.

APPLICATION:   Does God “remember” your sins? 

THE CURSE (18-29)

Next we come to the Curse.  So Noah receives a blessed covenant from God, now he is going to give a curse to his grandson.  So Noah embarrasses himself, is embarrassed by his son, then curses his grandson Canaan.  If you didn’t think reading the Bible was interesting you’ve not read it.

Noah is like Cain, and is a man of the soil.  One of his vineyards produces and Noah proceeds to get drunk.  Very drunk.  Pause right here.  What I love about the Bible is that it doesn’t ignore the flaws of great men.  The Bible is honest.  Noah gets drunk, Abraham lies about his wife being his sister, Jacob is underhanded and conniving, Moses murders, David commits adultery and then murders her husband, Peter is impulsive and prone to peer pressure, and on.  The great men of the Bible are great – not because they are perfect and flawless, but because of their faith in a great God who is perfect and flawless.  

Noah gets drunk.  Basic Bible 101:  drunkenness is sin.  This is different than drinking.  The Bible doesn’t forbid drinking.  Jesus turned water into wine, wine referred to gladness and feasting, wine will be on the table in the MK feast.  It condemns drunkenness.  First Corinthians 6:9 says “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived, neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor DRUNKARDS nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  Drunkards is in a list with homosexual offenders, adulterers, idolaters.  It’s a list of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God.

You know what I love though?  The next verse:  “And that is what some of you were.”  Stop.  Some of you WERE homosexual offenders.  Some of you WERE sexually immoral.  Some of you WERE greedy.  Some of you WERE drunkards.  “But,” you’re not anymore.  The verse goes on to say, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  This is why any program that insists that you as a Christian STILL ARE a drunkard or alcoholic, even if you’re not drinking, is flawed and unbiblical.  You will not grow, you will not know freedom, you will not know God’s power, you will not know true joy in Christ this way.  When Jesus Christ sets you free, you are free indeed (Jn 8:38).  A drunkard is what you USED TO BE when you get Jesus Christ, because(1 Cor. 6:11). “Anyone who is in Christ Jesus is a new creature, the old person is gone and the new person has come forth.”  (2 Cor 5:17).  If you still talk like you’re still an alcoholic or a drunkard if you’re a Christian and sober you need to repent of that.  You are denying what Christ has done for you and you are saying something about yourself that is not what God says.

So Noah gets drunk.  His middle son, Ham, walks in and sees him passed out and naked.  Its disgraceful.  Noah should thank God he didn’t end up that way outside his tent for everyone to see.  But the focus of the text is on Ham’s offense.  Ham walks in, sees, walks back out and reports the scene to his two brothers Shem and Japheth.  Now we know in the next verses Noah is going to be livid over what happened.  And we are left with some big questions about this situation.  

  • What’s so wrong with what Ham did?
  • Why does Noah become angry with Ham’s son Canaan and curse him instead of Ham?  Why does Canaan get the punishment for what his father Ham did?  
  • If Ham was the one who is at fault, why does verse 24 refer to him as Noah’s “youngest son?”  It seems from the order listed that Japheth was his youngest son.  Ham was the middle child.
  • Was Canaan involved in the offense somehow that we’re not told and so he is getting consequences for his own actions?  Or is this an example of the sins of the father being visited upon the sons?
  • Why is this important to understanding Genesis or the whole Bible?

We have lots of questions here.  It seems a more straightforward account would have been that Ham gets cursed.  Lets see if we can try and answer some of these questions.

First, this scene is important because Noah’s words regarding his sons and his grandson lay some prophetic ground for their futures.  Specifically the Israelites taking possession of the promised Land later on has its origins in this passage.  This passage also gives us some practical applications.  For one thing:  don’t get drunk.  Another application is protect the honor and dignity of others even if they aren’t for themselves.  We’ll have more, but lets dig in.  

One question we might have is, “What is wrong with what Ham did?”  All it says is that he saw his dad and he told his brothers.  It doesn’t explicitly say he did anything wrong.  I think the key to making sense of Ham’s fault is found not just in his father’s anger, but in the actions of his two brothers.  What I mean is notice what Ham did NOT do in contrast with what his brothers DID do.  They protected Noah and covered him up and made sure they personally did not look upon him in that condition.  Ham looked, but then left him there without covering him up.  Then, he went and told his brothers, which in a way “exposed” Noah more. His brothers probably kept the matter to themselves and didn’t tell anyone – their wives, their mother, their children.  

Commentators point out that in those patriarchal cultures to see the nakedness of the patriarch would have been disgraceful.  

There is a similarity between the two brothers’ behavior and that of God in the Garden with Adam and Eve.  When Adam and Eve were naked with shame God covered them (3:21).  When Noah was naked with shame his two sons covered him (9:23).

APPLICATION:  Are your sins covered?  Did you know that if you’re saved and God has forgiven you in Jesus’ name, that He will never shove your sins in your face?  As far as the east is from the west.  He remembers them no more.

APPLICATION:  Cover over the sins of others.  That’s love.  Proverbs 10 says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”  Like 1 Corinthians 13 says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”  Proverbs 17 says “Whoever covers over a sin promotes love.”  Love is seen in covering sins, not trotting them out to embarrass someone.  Don’t mistake that for not dealing with sin.  There’s a difference between dealing with sin and splashing that sin around publicly.  That’s done from hatred to destroy.  Dealing with a sin privately is done from love to build up that person.  

APPLICATION:  Cover up.  Can we encourage stylish modesty?  Be sure at the very least when you come to church that you’re not exposing what you shouldn’t.  We come here to focus on God, not other things.  I’m not a “come as you are” and “come in what makes you comfortable” sort of guy.  You don’t have to dress up but you better have enough dress “on.”  This is worship of God, not your body.  It was disgraceful for Noah to be undressed and it is for us today to be under-dressed in church.  In case anyone is confused and is thinking I’m demanding suits and frontier dresses I’m not.  I’m talking about cleavage and legs and rear ends.  Don’t show them off here.   

Another question relates to Canaan:  How is he involved?  Why is Noah’s wrath directed towards him?  Was he there with his dad?  Did he go in after his dad?  Admittedly this is confusing because text clearly has Ham as the one who sees his father and is the offender.  Yet the text is also clear that it is Ham’s son Canaan who gets cursed by Noah.  Why?  

Keep in mind that Ham had 4 sons and Canaan was the youngest.  In chapter 10:6 we’re told that Ham’s sons were “Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan.”  So how did Noah’s wrath fall on the one son and not the others?  It may suggest that Canaan was already a standout when it came to sin and immorality.  Canaan may not have been the kind of man who was interested in walking with God and doing what was right in God’s eyes.  Canaan may have been doing his best to pick up where humanity left off before the Flood.  

While I think this is reasonable conjecture, it is still conjecture.  Clear answers are not found.  But there are some things we see in Scripture that may add information and be of help.  I’ll raise 3 for us to look at:  prophecy, punishment and perpetuation.

First, Noah is giving prophecy.  He’s like Jacob in chapter 49 in this sense where he prophecies the future of his sons.  And just like Jacob, the prophecies go beyond his sons and to their descendents generations into the future.  Turn to chapter 49 with me and follow along….[READ verse 1, 7, 8, 10, 13..]

The similarities go beyond the fact of prophecies concerning sons and generations of descendents to come.  Notice that both Noah and Jacob when it comes to prophesying over their prized sons, they praise God exuberantly.  Noah says, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!” and Jacob says, “because of the hand of the Mighty One of Jacob, because of the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel, because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you….”  When Noah spoke of Shem he praised God and when Jacob spoke of Joseph he praised God.

Lets press this a little further and notice that at least in some degree the prophecies towards the sons of both men are related to the behavior of those sons.  Some negative consequences are determined for immoral or violent sons.  Take Jacob’s son Reuben – he acted immorally and therefore Jacob says, “you will no longer excel.” (v4).  Then there are Simeon and Levi, violent and angry men, and Jacob says, “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel.” (v7).  

Similarly, the curse pronounced on Canaan is because of immorality.  You’ll notice that several times in the text when Ham is mentioned it parenthetically points out that he is the father of Canaan (18, 22).  It’s like with Judas in the New Testament – whenever Judas is mentioned by the Gospel writers they always point out “the betrayer” or “the one who betrayed the Lord”.  When you think of Judas they want you to think of him betraying Jesus.  When you think of Ham, you’re to think of his son Canaan.  Rather than his son bringing him honor, Ham would be covered in shame with a disgraceful son and all his descendents.  

Canaan is immoral.  Like his father Ham, but, also Canaan’s descendents would prove to be exceedingly sexually immoral.  Sodom and Gomorrah were in Canaan’s line, and so were all the nations living in the Promised Land when the Israelites arrived.  Were they a bad group?  You’ve never seen anything like them.  The thing is when you look at Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy you find God warning the Israelites not to engage in a list of all sorts of disgusting sexual behaviors.  You want to know why God listed them?  Because all the nations living in the land that the Israelites were about to possess engaged in all those behaviors.  And God was bringing the Isrealites in to destroy them all as a judgment on them.  Deuteronomy 9:1-6….God says to the Israelites:  “I’m not giving you this land because you guys are so righteous.  I’m giving you this land because they are so evil.  And by the way, if you act like them I’ll drive you off the land too, just like I’m about to do to them.”  

Second, not only did Noah prophesy about Canaan, but its also punishment.  Verse 25 says, “Cursed be Canaan, the lowest of slaves he will be to his brothers.”  Literally the Hebrew says, “a slave of slaves,” he would be a slave to slaves, the lowest most abject slave out of all the slaves.  He is stripped entirely of any honor, dignity and esteem.  He would have no position or rank.  This is definitely not a blessing, but, like Noah said, a cursing.  

Noah specifically blessed Shem and Japheth, which made the sting even worse to Ham.  

But  punishing Ham’s son Noah is punishing Ham.  Your lineage and the honor of your name and your descendents was an enormous priority in ancient times.  Ham disgraced his father, so Ham would be disgraced by his son.  There is a symmetry in this.  We do find examples in the Scriptures that subsequent generations are judged for the sins of previous generations.  

  • Exodus 20:5-6; 
  • 34:7;
  • Leviticus 26:39-40….
  • Numbers 14:32-33

You see this in the Fall:  every human being since Adam and Eve did not each choose corruption and sin, yet because of our Father and Mother we are suffering the consequences of their actions.  

The point is that the curse on Ham’s son and his descendents was itself a punishment of Ham.  In case we might think this is “unfair” lets look at the 3rd point.

Third, we see the sins of the fathers perpetuated by their sons.  There is the propensity of sons to be like their fathers.  At the very least, you see examples where the “head” of a family seems to “set the course” for his descendents.  Think about it:  Ham’s offense was related to nakedness.  How does that sin grow down through the generations especially through Canaan?  It grows more and more corrupt, thats for sure.  Have you ever seen one of those memes that has the formula:  “How it started….How its going”?  “How it started” is Ham seeing his dad naked and disrespecting him.  Fast forward to “How it’s going” and you’ve got the Canaanites in the land engaged in the most degenerate sexual behavior imaginable – things that will make you a believer in the death penalty.    

We can be sure that this does not mean that since a dad sins then his innocent son will suffer.  When you start looking at all the Scriptures what you see is the sinfull tendencies of the father are picked up by the sons.  “Apple doesn’t fall far” you might say.  How many times did Jesus rebuke the Jewish leaders by saying, “You are just like your forefathers”?  Or think even in Genesis 15 where God says that the sins of the Amorites would grow for the next several hundred years and then He would bring judgment on them for their wickedness.  Each new generation would follow the sins of the previous generation AND become more sinful than the previous generation.  

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