And Noah began [to be] an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard:
We see Noah begin as a very earthy fellow, in several senses. I find it odd that it says Noah just began (chalal) to man the soil (‘iysh ‘adamah). First of all, God appears to have just condoned meat eating, so this feels like a regression. Of course, perhaps he was a professional carpenter before the flood, so only now is he personally forced to take up farming. Second, the word ‘chalal’ is a pretty nasty one; even though it can easily be (and usually is) translated begin, it also means to profane, pollute, defile, desecrate, etc., and may be related to the word for weaken (chalah). Maybe this is just an accident of language, but somehow this does not strike me as an auspicious beginning.
And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent
And that suspicion is certainly borne out. One of the things I’ve always loved about the Bible is that it never whitewashes its heroes.There is something almost unnatural in its blunt, unstudied honesty. Even Jesus, whom Christians consider sinless, is shown acting in ways that offend Jewish (and modern!) sensibilities. Heck, that’s probably the only way Jesus could establish his unique vision of morality, by speaking to a tradition that was committed to recording faithfully, not cosmetically.
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.
Interestingly, this nakedness (`ervah) differs both from the uncovered (galah) in the previous verse and naked (`arowm) in Genesis 2:25; perhaps ‘indecent exposure’ is a fair translation. Regardless, it was a pretty shameful situation in that culture, as shown the lengths to which Shem and Japheth go to avoid seeing what Ham saw (ra’aw) – which seems to have the connotation of perceive and consider.
And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.
Another odd verse. How did Noah know? Well, the logical inference is that Noah was not unconscious (as I had implicitly assumed) but still awake, if stoned out of his gourd. What had been done to him? Well, in many cultures even being seen naked is a violation; come to think of it, it is in ours, hence the penalties for peeping toms.
And he said, Cursed [be] Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.
Another one of those verses that sounds barbaric to modern ears. Yet in that culture — like in the India of my grandparents — filial respect is everything. Back then, the patriarch was high priest and king, as well as father. Imagine sneaking in on the pope in his shower. Well, don’t imagine it, but you get the idea. And since I know very few silent drunks, it is not implausible that Ham should’ve known better.
This isn’t to say Noah’s curse (‘arar) was necessarily justified — heck, he was the one drunk and disorderly — much less that Ham’s curse (actually Canaan‘s) somehow justifies African slavery, even if you accept that Ham’s descendants populated Africa.
Yet, the one thing I take from this is that images really matter. How people see us, and how we see ourselves and each other, especially in relation to the image of God, is a very potent thing. Perhaps the deception of pornography really is prior to idolatry. And just as deadly, if not more so.
God, forgive me for the times and ways I’ve mocked your image, in myself and others. Forgive me for exposing the nakedness of those who have failed, rather than covering them in dignity. God, cover me in my hour of shame, that I may awake and know myself as you know me. May you be blessed in me. Amen.