“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1). These words should seem familiar. Very familiar. Here in Genesis 9, God speaks them to Noah and his sons, but He issued the same commands to Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:28. Now that the waters of the great flood have receded, life is going to start again. It’s a new beginning. A new creation, so to speak. And so, God gives the new first family their marching orders, just the same as before.
What follows in this passage is nothing short of heartbreaking. Noah tends a garden, as Adam did before him, but this garden is a vineyard, and Noah gets drunk on the wine it produces. Then, one of Noah’s sons does something so horrific, we’re not entirely sure what it is. The Bible simply tells us Ham “saw his father naked” (Genesis 9:22).
It may be that Ham wanted to multiply the shame of his father, since he went and “told his two brothers.” Or it could be that “saw his father naked” is a euphemism for an indecent sexual act committed by Ham against his father. One more possibility is that Noah’s “nakedness” is a reference to Noah’s wife (who is unnamed in the text). There’s biblical evidence for this sort of language. A more literal reading of Leviticus 18:7 uses a husband’s “nakedness” to refer to his wife’s exposed body, rather than his own. She belongs to him, just as he belongs to her (see Genesis 2:23). In this scenario, Ham committed an indecent sexual act with his own mother while Noah was inebriated and unable to stop him. He would have done this in order to usurp his father as leader of the family. But regardless of which understanding is correct, the headline is the same: humanity had been given a fresh start, only to squander it in sin.
What I find amazing when I read this passage is not the depths of human depravity. (I live my own brand each and every day.) Rather, it’s that God knew this would happen. He knew it before the rain stopped falling from the sky and the ark came to rest in Ararat. He knew it before He told Noah to build a boat in the first place. He knew it before Adam and Even had first invited sin into the world. He even knew it before time began. Yet, God carved a path of salvation for humanity all the same—for Adam and Eve, Noah and Ham, and all of us who are like them in more ways than we’d like to remember.
In his memoir All Is Grace, the late Brennan Manning wrote, “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.” If we really believed God loved us like this—the way He has shown us countless times in Scripture and in our lives—the world would be a much different place, don’t you think? We might actually start to behave as we “should be” in response to God’s love, rather than as a misguided mechanism to earn it. We might all become a lot more like Jesus. And so, as we read this dark passage about grotesque sin being committed in the shadow of the world’s first second chance, the question before all of us is this: Do you believe God loves you? How you answer makes all the difference in the world.
Written by John Greco