Out Of His Belly
or Semina Divina
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30)
We aren’t told in Genesis 9 what Ham’s intention was when he “uncovered” his father, Noah. Peter Leithart and James Jordan both present some fascinating insights (which differ from each other), but perhaps there is a solution elsewhere in Genesis, which, combined with both these possibilities, offers something new.
Firstly, as always, the Covenant-literary structure of the passage, whose architecture often reveals the Author’s intent. (It’s not merely what is in the text, but what the text is in.) It might give us some clues.
James Jordan writes:
…Noah, having come to a time of sabbath rest, “drank of the wine [of his New-Garden vineyard] and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent” (Gen. 9:21). Noah’s robe was a sign of his office and authority. In the privacy of his tent, he laid it aside. There was no sin in this; after all, he was still covered by the “garment” of the tent itself. (Primeval Saints, p. 51-52)
The other point Jordan often makes is the significance of wine, which will become important here. Eden’s trees were prototypical “bread and wine.” Wine is a symbol of kingdom and Noah’s name means rest.
He got “drunk,” but all this means is that he became relaxed and went to sleep… In the Lord’s Supper, God wants Christians to relax and drink wine in His presence. Such rest comes at the end of our duties, not during them of course, but it is the promise of rest for every Christian toiler. (p. 49)
Identification of the literary structure reveals the purpose of many words and phrases which might be considered redundant. The mention of Canaan is not only a (chiastic) foreshadowing of what is to come (here he sits at the “Exodus” step, and later he is cursed to become a servant), but also a prefiguring of the physical sign upon all Israelite males (as Isaacs) which tied them to the Promised Land.
Noah’s nakedness is placed under the “light” of the Law at the center of the stanza, and the two brothers here are “legal witnesses,” for blessing and cursing, which again hints at the purpose of the passage. The overall theme, however, is the untimely removal of a Veil that the Father has put in place.
The structure here gives the stanza a sacrificial motif. Another Ascension passage, famous for its strangeness, comes to mind, which may illuminate what is going on in God’s mind here. It comes right after the Ten Words:
“And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.” (Exodus 20:26)
What is going on here? How is Noah’s nakedness linked to the Altar/Land? All will be revealed… quite literally.
The word “face” is usually a dead giveaway for a reference to the Table, going right back to Genesis 1, and it includes the veiling of Moses’ face at his Ascension on Sinai. Here, Noah is the source of blessing and cursing (Sanctions) and it is hinted in the last line that these brothers will be blessed. Unlike Adam and Eve, their eyes were not opened “in judgment” before time. The final line is also a reference to the Shekinah.
Noah was made a judge by God, with the authority to execute murderers. This is because he was not a man like Lamech, but understood both justice and mercy. Based on what is to come, it seems Noah could only know what Ham had done through revelation.
Again, the structure is helpful. Trumpets is the “summoning of the troops,” or Joseph’s band of brothers. What is interesting is that it is Canaan who is cursed, not Ham. Some have taken this to mean that Ham slept with Noah’s wife, and Canaan was thus cursed because he was the result of incest (like Ammon and Moab). It is unlikely that this is the case, since Noah only just woke up. There is no indication of a gap of 9 months, or that Noah is naming Canaan here in his curse. “A servant of servants” in the center is an ironic take on “king of kings.” It is the same as the curse on the serpent in Eden, which gives us another clue as to what is going on here.
These two blessings correspond to the two approaches of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement, for the priesthood and then the people. Shem is the priestly head (the Semites) and Japheth is the nations, the sea which would be gathered into Shem’s growing tent. The theses of these two stanzas are Shem (head) and “the tents of Shem” (body).
The phrase “shall make wide” has a connotation of inheritance. Shem would become the Abrahamic “Garden,” while Canaanites would continue Cain’s claim to a city before God’s time in the Land. Japhethites would populate the rest of the world.
The cycle ends with the “Succession” of Noah, and the Hebrew has a beautiful shape, which makes Noah’s life the source of a new Creation. Noah’s years after the flood are a “three” and a “half,” and his entire span at Maturity is a nine and a half. Sadly, it seems even Noah is denied rest, since the final line of the stanza is missing.
The Sin of Ham
James Jordan says Ham’s sin was not sexual, but consisted of mocking his father and inviting his brothers to seize the robe of authority, which they rejected by upholding the robe and re-covering their father. (See The Sin of Ham and the Curse of Canaan, Part 2 and Part 3)
Peter Leithart can see this going a little further, as far as maternal incest, as mentioned above, perhaps incorporating the theft of the robe as proof of Ham’s claim. (See Noah’s Nakedness)
However, despite the fact that the text remains as opaque as ever, there is no statement that Ham’s wife was barren. Despite the prohibitions against “uncoverings” in Leviticus 20:
If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:11)
…there is no mention of Noah’s wife. Certainly, this event is long before the Law of Moses, but there is a definite link. There’s just not enough to indicate that it was maternal incest that occurred. I believe that both the literary structure of the passage, the sacred architectures of the book of Genesis, and some later verses in Genesis might provide another answer.
Firstly, a little bit of architecture. James Jordan has some fascinating comments on Ham’s sin:
The situation is just like that in the Tabernacle. God is enthroned naked in the Holy of Holies, but the priests are never to see Him. When they move the Tabernacle, they unhook the Veil and carry it backwards to cover the Throne. When they set up the Tabernacle, they pull off the Veil carefully and walk forward and hook it up without looking. On the Day of Coverings (Lev. 16), when Aaron does go into the Holy of Holies, God wraps Himself in His cloud. God is not to be seen in His tent, but God does speak from His throne. The same is true of Noah: when he awakes, he speaks. (See The Sin of Ham Revisited)
Looking at the illustration below, we get the picture. The Master resting behind the Veil (“Noah” means “Bringer of Rest”), two “cherubim” witnesses with their eyes averted, and the serpent in the garden.
Noah’s narrative follows the same pattern as that of Adam. There is a sin in the Garden and a “city” sin in the Land, but God cut into Adam’s flesh through circumcision to prevent another flood. Jordan shows us that Ham’s sin had to do with authority, as did Adam’s. The material Leithart shares shows us that the sin had to do with offspring, namely, Canaan. Jordan shows us that the architecture is later replicated in the Tabernacle. So, what was it that Ham was after? What is something that ties the Most Holy to the Land (Canaan) and offspring?
A Deathbed Will
The end of the passage concerns generational Covenant blessings, so it would seem obvious that this is what Ham was after. Ham was the youngest son (Genesis 9: 24) and Japheth the oldest (Genesis 10: 21). It would also explain why Ham told his brothers when he left the tent. If he had committed maternal incest, there would be no way to know if his mother had conceived, and thus not much to boast about. And, as mentioned above, there is no mention of her presence, unlike the account of Lot and his daughters.
However, there are two other texts in Genesis which might give us a clue as to what Ham actually did, and they are both related to oaths concerning Covenant Succession.
So the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master and swore to him concerning this matter. (Genesis 24:9)
And when the time drew near that Israel must die, he called his son Joseph and said to him, “If now I have found favor in your sight, put your hand under my thigh and promise to deal kindly and truly with me. Do not bury me in Egypt, but let me lie with my fathers. Carry me out of Egypt and bury me in their burying place.” He answered, “I will do as you have said.” And he said, “Swear to me”; and he swore to him. Then Israel bowed himself upon the head of his bed. (Genesis 47:29-31)
Generational Covenant blessings involved the one being blessed putting his hand “under the thigh” of the one doing the blessing. Some believe this involved the younger touching the testicles of the elder. The proven fruitfulness of the father was being transferred to, identified with, the son. The word “thigh” also relates to the fruitfulness of females:
And when he has made her drink the water, then, if she has defiled herself and has broken faith with her husband, the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain, and her womb shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away, and the woman shall become a curse among her people. (Numbers 5:27)
The most likely scenario, given what is mentioned in the text, and taking its structure into account, is that Ham mistook Noah’s drunkenness for death, or at least near death. It was a Covenantal “deep sleep” like that of Adam and Abraham. He attempted to steal the “Oath” of Land and offspring for his son before Noah actually expired. Just as Adam’s theft of fruit led to a curse upon the fruit of the Land and the womb which had been promised to him, so Ham’s attempted theft of these blessings led to curses concerning the Land and the womb for his offspring. Noah was now the representative of God, the man with the robe of office, a human tabernacle.
What about the architectural aspect? What was in the Most Holy Place? The “stones” of Moses, two witnesses with a prophetic aspect once combined, flanked by two witnesses, just like the two trees in the Garden, and the two pillar “legs” of Solomon’s Temple. We might also see these witnesses in the two stones in the “scrotum” worn by the High Priest, which, as X and Y, revealed God’s will for Israel.
Adam’s father was God, and Adam’s theft, architecturally speaking, was the rebellious son going for the gonads of God, the low-hanging fruit in the Garden. Genesis is, after all, a book all about seed, flesh and skin.
As strange as that sounds, this does seem to be a theme. Adam was second-guessing the mind of God, based upon the serpent’s slander. The Ark was the mind of God hidden behind a veil. Noah was God’s first real Man, whose fellowship with God included revelations. Both Adam’s and Ham’s sin was an attempt to hijack “the will of the father” concerning fruitfulness, that is, the fulfillment of Covenant promises. Procreation is always “the will of the father.” John contrasts the first birth (circumcision) with the second birth (baptism) for us.
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:13)
It amazes me, now that I am aware of Covenant structure, how little the idea of “inheritance” in the New Testament means to modern Christians. Ham’s assumption of his father’s will on his “deathbed” is very similar to that of the prodigal son, who demanded his inheritance, squandered it, and ended up as a slave. This son realized he had sinned against both of his fathers:
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.” (Luke 15:18-19)
This son did not know his father’s mind either, but in this case, the surprise is that the father only has blessing for his rebellious, thieving son, not cursing. The New Covenant is all about the will of the Father revealed in the Son by the Spirit. It is an unexpected inheritance for slaves and eunuchs, and miraculous offspring for the barren. And it is all sourced in a Canaan transfigured by a son “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Philippians 2:6) becoming instead a servant of servants that He might be King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Give the literary structure another read with this interpretation in mind.