Today’s reading: Genesis 8,9 and Psalm 12.
The aftermath of the flood brings us a new covenant with God. He has promised to never destroy the Earth in this manner again. God blesses Noah and his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth and tells them to be fruitful and multiply, which they set about doing with fervent dedication.
This passage contains one of the most controversial parts of the Bible. Not controversial because of what the text actually says… but controversial because of how various people groups have wrongly interpreted this passage to use as justifications for evil.
If you google (funny how I have no qualms about using that term as a normal verb) “Curse of Ham” (and I don’t recommend you do) you will be blasted with all manner of opinions and ‘scholarship’.There are enough confusing elements of this passage to make just about every theory incorrect in some way – and I have no interest in dissecting this passage, but I would like to sum up and then move on:
Noah plants a vineyard and partakes of it’s fermented fruits. While presumably passed out in his tent, Ham (or possibly Ham’s son Canaan) enters and does something. Perhaps he simply saw Noah’s nakedness. Perhaps he saw Noah’s nakedness and proceeded to laugh about it. Perhaps some seriously untoward activities occurred. After “The Event”, Ham told his brothers (Shem and Japheth) about their father being naked. Shem and Japheth entered the tent backwards and averted their gaze while covering their father. After Noah awoke and learned what had happened, he cursed Ham’s son Canaan and said his descendants would be servants to Shem and Japheth’s descendants.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was widely circulated (particularly in the Southern United States) that Ham’s descendants were the dark skinned people who eventually inhabited Africa. As such, the use of the descendants of Africa as slaves was given a sense of Biblical justification.
The idea that Ham’s descendants were African was not new to the 18th century, but it also developed much later than the thousands of years before Christ and immediate centuries following His time on Earth. There is reason to believe that the whole notion of Ham’s descendants being dark-skinned or “black” is simply a misunderstanding or mistranslation of the original Hebrew meanings of the name Ham.
It is also possible that the idea of using “The Curse of Ham” as justification for African slavery first became truly en vogue with the rise of Islam and their subjugation of East Africa and use of it’s inhabitants as slaves. Other groups used “The Curse of Ham” in ways that tied Ham to whichever group of people they wished to oppress and enslave.
While this is the sad legacy of what, most likely, is a mistranslation which was turned into an evil and incorrect justification, it is not God’s story. The way this passage has been mis-used throughout the ages illustrates the danger of looking at the Old Testament without the filter of the Cross.
Though we in our modern faux-wisdom may look down on those who used the Curse of Ham to justify slavery, the plank looms large in our own eye. Examine your Heart. Are there any practical beliefs you hold that do not fit in with the Grand Narrative of the Cross? I’m sure we are all guilty as charged.
Look at what you believe. Look at what you do. Are there areas in your life where the Cross get’s blurry… or even blotted out altogether? Political convictions, entertainment choices, attitudes and outlook at work, relationship with family and friends… are any of these areas of life not dominated by the Gospel?
If we are honest, the answer is a resounding, Yes!
We should make every effort to examine our daily living… and excise any thought, belief, or common action that falls outside of God’s Story. This way we can at least help to avoid the misuse of God’s Word for purposes of wrongdoing.
A final note:
That the Bible has been misunderstood or misused by various people/groups throughout the ages should not frighten us away from it. Nor should that cause us to cast doubt on it’s inerrancy. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us to interpret God’s Word. Some teachings resound with clarity. Other passages remain shrouded in Mystery. All we need do, and I really can’t stress this enough, is read every verse in the context of the big picture… the Grand Narrative. God will open your Heart and Mind to see what He wants to show you.
Be faithful in reading and He will provide conviction.
Be faithful in prayer and He will provide understanding.