Genesis 9-Scandal, Wrath, and Justice

Genesis 9:18-28

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the whole earth.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded[a] to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said,

“Cursed be Canaan!    The lowest of slaves     will he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem!     May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend Japheth’s[b] territory;     may Japheth live in the tents of Shem,    and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

28 After the flood Noah lived 350 years. 29 Noah lived a total of 950 years, and then he died.

A Heart That Condemns or a Heart That Protects

I find my thoughts on Chapter 9 of Genesis relating to much of what we spoke about in terms of Adam & Eve and the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

We read here how Noah takes up cultivating a vineyard and happens to have too much wine. It’s not a proud moment for Noah that he should end up naked after drinking so much–I admit this story conjures up images of frat parties and the poor decisions made when one is under the influence.

We hear that one of Noah’s sons catches sight of this poor state his father is in. His first response is to tell his brothers about it, though we don’t hear the tone nor do we know exactly what he said. What we do know is that his first action is to share this vulnerable sight with others and that he is nowhere to be found in the next part of the story…

Noah’s sons, Shem and Japheth, take action with this news…a very prudent and careful act. Not only do they take a garment to cover up their father, but they put forth the extra effort to walk into the tent backward, to not catch sight of their naked father. They cover him and leave without scandal.

Somehow Noah gains insight into what Shem and Jepheth have done for him, and of what Ham spoke of. Noah speaks curses against his son.

Is this fair?

This is perhaps a hard story to read, especially when we are employing some guesswork as to what exactly has transpired. We could reason in this story that Ham was trying to spur his brothers into taking some action of decency or perhaps prepared to host an intervention for their father. But these details and assumptions are missing, just as much is the tone of gossip from the story. 

That being said, Ham’s only action in this story is to tell his brothers what he has seen–he does not help with covering his father. Conversely, the brothers take specific action to cover his father, not to investigate to see if it is true but to cover their father’s shame. Ham’s lack of action to protect his father, to cover his father, and only to share this information versus his brothers’ actions to cover, respectfully, their father is a stark difference.

Another thought we might have reading this story is that the two brothers are conspirators and that only Ham is an agent of truth. Ham looks to expose his father’s shame by telling of this news, and perhaps the two brothers look towards sweeping this under the rug by covering their father, so no further accounts of their drunk, naked father might be shared. In this light, is Ham the hero of truth, a just reporter looking to expose filth?

This sentiment I believe harkens to our current feelings towards scandal. Whatever your political leaning, when a figure on the opposite side of the aisle is caught having spoken or acted indecent, our immediate reaction is to blast the truth, to put a spotlight and microphone to the scandal, to become indignant as though that person personally attacked us. We have a secret craving for these stories and scandals, an appetite for dirty laundry that I think is worth us calmly sitting down and reflecting on.

The Passions

This appetite for such truth and “gossip” comes from a passion: wrath. We should note here that the passions are innately positive motives in our being, things that move us towards something that is necessary or good. Gluttony is actually a healthy appetite, a realization we need to nourish ourselves. Lust in its purest form is communion and sociability, a need to find intimate and meaningful relationships with others, not necessarily carnal. Even pride, the highest and riskiest of all passions, is a holy drive to behold the image and likeness we are sculpted in, and to therefore treat our bodies, our minds, our image with dignity and respect. Any of these passions, when out of check or indulged in, spike into their namesake, into their vice that is detrimental to us and to others.

Take wrath for example. In its wholesome and proper form, wrath is justice, a righteous indignation against things that are unholy, cruel, or abusive. The proper action of wrath is one that intervenes, one that protects the abused, one that deposes unrighteousness, one that speaks the truth to power. That being said, wrath obviously has a dark side, and although we typically see it through the lens of violence, it manifests in other ways as well. Wrath can be wielded with our words, using our disappointment of others’ actions to humiliate, to expose, to chastise. 

Consider the adulterer brought before Jesus who was to be stoned. The men who brought her to Jesus to be stoned were likely none of those offended by this woman, though they were indignant with her unchastity, hungering her defamation, chastisement, and death. Jesus does not respond to the crowd’s indignation, but rather looks for this woman to be restored, for her shame to cease, seeing within her the weakness that had led her to be unfaithful as well as seeing her potentiality of repenting and becoming someone new. Jesus counters the crowd by writing their sins in the sand and says, “go ahead, any of you who is without sin: cast the first stone and get on with it.” The crowd is trapped, realizing they themselves have shameful deeds, and as they consider their own imperfections and embarrassing secrets, they drop their stone, as though petitioning for the rest of society to drop their stone against them should their shame ever be exposed.

Another place we might look in the Gospels to this end is how Jesus instructs us to correct one another and settle disputes from Matthew 18

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

The Lord instructs us to a kind of progression of redemption and accountability. He does not inform us to proclaim the sin to the court or broadcast at all in the first step. The sin, the shame, is to be handled with discretion first with the individual. It is only when the person does not listen that another witness is brought into the fold, but this step is really only done as a proper intervention, as a means of providing more objectivity for the sake of that person’s repentance. Should this intervention not work, it is brought to the “gathering” or church, but it should be noted that this was a religious community to be aware of the sin as an act of helping that person transform rather than to indict. Only after those steps have been navigated and not proved to save that individual are they treated as a “gentile or tax collector” which perhaps implies legal action.

I imagine there is some hesitation seeing this passage of the Gospel presented next to this topic, especially the story of Noah. Would Jesus have informed Ham to speak to Noah first before speaking to Noah’s brothers? Perhaps, though it’s hard to say if Noah would have listened in his current state. Still, to address the problem immediately before broadcasting the shame would perhaps help Noah see his error instead of his shame being multiplied.

The Fine Line: Justice Vs Wrath

There is a fine line between exposing someone’s sins and giving truth and justice its proper podium. Casting light on the abuses of organizations and individuals is important so that we do not repeat the sins of the past. Doing so to demand a pound of flesh in return goes beyond the scales of justice. To imprison someone who is a threat to society for their deeds is an opportunity for society to heal and an opportunity for the individual to repent. To incite the population towards disgust and dehumanizing an imperfect individual by stoking the fire of said scandal does not progress humanity at all, but rather makes us into appetitive beasts.

Again, there is a very fine line between justice & truth vs wrath & gossip.

For us to return to Noah, we can see in his weakness–perhaps out of despondency or stress from enduring the crisis of the flood–turned to strong drink to ease his pain; this is not an excuse, but rather some perspective so we can understand Noah rather than put him at our feet for his shameful deed. Noah gets drunk and gets naked, and this weakness does not deserve to be broadcast. 

Yet too often we see the poor decisions of our youth being broadcast, text chains, and online bullying that makes one bad photo or post into a lifetime of regret…and that person and their shame is devoured like hyenas on a fresh carcass. Don’t our hearts break for our youth who are pressured into such compromising situations and make poor decisions in the crisis of their circumstances, and if we are inclined to feel pity, mercy, and compassion for them can we not do the same for Noah and for all our neighbors?

Our culture seems fixated on justice and broadcasting the shame. But which of any of us, were we to become a public figure, would not have a skeleton waiting to be shown the light of day? Which of us would come clean after the scrutiny of a reporter, after immense pressure of whatever flood we have endured?

Our culture continues a witch hunt against the drunk and naked Noahs, though it does not at all care to examine the times it has been drunk and naked. We salivate over scandal, but we are all starved of mercy, shivering for a cloak of empathy.

Today, consider the following:

  • Who is the drunk and naked Noahs of our time, and of our own lives? Who do we gossip?
  • Who do you think is in need of a cloak of dignity/compassion? How would you extend this?
  • Who have you gossiped about this past week and to whom? What did speaking about this help you with? What could be a productive way of sharing with someone else your feelings without tearing someone else down?
  • What do you find yourself focusing on the most? Do you look for shame, nakedness, or scandal? 
  • What is your drunk and naked secret (contemplate that to yourself)? What skeleton do you keep locked hidden up? Can you think about that next time you consider lashing against someone else for their poor decision?

Genesis 8: What To Do After A Crisis

Genesis 8:1-20

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.

6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.

13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.

15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”

18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

20 Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 

What to do when the storm is over

Noah and his family have endured a lot.

They have separated themselves from their neighbors–for better or for worse–and likely felt loneliness either from their different way of life or for their call to this holy task of building an ark. They have been stuck over a month on a boat, tossed and turned by a storm, enduring the sounds and smells of their animal companions. There is nothing but water around them, and as the storm raged there is no sunlight.

When things begin to clear up, they are met with uncertainty, sending out birds to find hope of dry land. It takes multiple attempts before they have any reassurance that there will be normalcy. But finally they come out of the Ark, inhabit earth again, and what is the first thing Noah does?

He gives thanks. He makes a sacrifice to God.

What a strange gesture.

We are to believe that the only animals left on the earth belong to the Ark, and so a sacrifice of animals is a strain to say the least on the circle of life. Noah gives this animal back to God as a token of trust and gratitude, of consecrating new ground: the new earth baptized.

Here is the first implication: consecration. Noah gives nature back to God in sacrifice, consecrating over a precious and limited commodity to God. Noah plants a spiritual flag in the earth through this sacrifice, claiming it as God’s earth. The stewardship man abused in previous generations is restored in a way as humanity realizes this is not a playground to make amuck of, but a precious gift that we are honored to enjoy that will be expected to be given back into God’s hands. 

The other implication of this sacrifice is trust. As mentioned, Noah is endangering new life through this sacrifice as it comes at a cost. Perhaps that burnt offering was supposed to be their next meal, or their livestock they would have raised to sustain themselves with. Noah and his family are sure to be no strangers of scarcity after seeing all things perish by the deluge, and perhaps they have considered another flood could come, or perhaps even a drought. The sacrifice is a leap of faith by Noah, a bold gesture that communicates to God: this is yours, I’m giving it back knowing full well that I might need it, but I trust you’ll take care of me.

The last piece of this sacrifice is the gesture of gratitude. Noah easily could have become bitter by this whole operation, said no to God outright, tore his clothes for all that he had to endure and for knowing what kind of destruction lays all around him. Instead, Noah gives thanks to God. Perhaps this thanksgiving was for being spared, or for giving creation a second chance. After the turmoil, however, Noah does not walk away feeling entitled or jaded, but rather chooses to be grateful through an act of sacrifice.

do we have a responsibility to sacrifice?

What bearing does this simple act have upon us?

As mentioned before, we all will encounter our own storms, our own deluge, our own floods. Sickness, loss, trials, suffering, whatever it may be, we all will find life tests us in different ways. When we are so fortunate, so blessed, to come out of said circumstances and find dry, stable ground again, the question must be posed to us: what are you going to do with this?

Too often I’ve met individuals who walk away from their malady, giving little consideration as to any change or feeling they ought to feel leaving the clinic, the hospital, their sickness. Should one just carry on, back to normal? Or shouldn’t we give pause to how to consecrate the new ground of our new life? Shouldn’t we, after enduring such a storm, learn or endeavor to trust having come out alive and well? Shouldn’t we lift our eyes, our hearts, and hands in thanksgiving to God, rising up to acknowledge what He has done, and give testimony to the blessings in our life?

Today, consider the following:

  • When you experienced a particularly “flood-like” trial, what did you do after going through it? Was it something self-serving or negative? Was it something gracious or positive?
  • Who are those you can trust? Who are those you can’t? Do you find yourself beholden to a schedule or routine? What is your relationship with the word control?
  • What are your first thoughts or actions when you first wake up? Where is your attention? What are five things you can be grateful for any given morning, and how d you put this gratitude into a habit?
  • What is something you can “set aside” for God and understand your role as steward?