Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Genesis 9: A Botched New Beginning

Check out today's episode

God's Covenant with Noah [cont.] (v. 1-17)

God tells Noah to be fruitful and multiply and to fill up the earth. He also tells him that every animal will be afraid of him and he can use any of them for food as well as any plant he wants, although he instructs people not to eat any meat that still has blood in it.

I know he is talking about animals, but here we see being feared as a good thing. The animals all fear him and that is good, he will rule over them. Definitely some might makes right here.

Guzik's take on this is that before the flood man didn't eat animals, so our relationship with them was much different and they had no reason to fear us. But after the flood man was going to start eating meat, which necessitated him changing their reactions to us. I guess that makes some sense.

Also, notice that in verse 3 it says quite explicitly that it is okay to eat any living thing, aren't there certain things that are forbidden to eat? Like shellfish and pigs for example. What's up with that? Does God change his mind later?

Matthew Henry basically that yes, God changes the rules later. He says that some foods were later prohibited for ceremonial law. Seems quite peculiar.

Similarly, Gill says that there is a difference at this time between clean and unclean animals when it comes to sacrifice, but not for food.

God also says that whoever sheds blood of another man shall have his own blood shed by man, "for God made man in his own image"

We definitely have eye for an eye here, but that last phrase is interesting, "for God made man in his own image". In my mind, there are 2 ways to interpret this, the good version is that man is made in God's image, and therefore it is really bad to hurt them. Damaging an image of God is a very high sin. The other interpretation is that God would engage in retributive justice, and since man is an image of God he should do the same. Given that God just killed almost everyone and everything on the planet, the second interpretation makes more sense to me.

Guzik and Gill seems to go along with my first interpretation.

God promises to never flood the earth again and kill almost everything, the rainbow is a sign of that promise.

I remember this part of the story from childhood, and the idea that a rainbow was a sign from God was always cool. 
pic found here
This is interesting, Guzik says that the rainbow was new at this point, the 
blanket of water vapors was broken up in the flood and the water cycle of the earth changed after the flood, this may be the first occurrence of a rainbow.
I suppose this is a necessary step to take if you want to take this whole thing literally, but it just seems silly to me.

Noah's Descendants (v. 18-29)

Noah wound up planting a vineyard and became drunk on wine and was passed out naked in his tent. Ham (who later will be the father of the Canaanite people) saw his father's nakedness, so he told his brothers, who managed to cover their father by walking backward toward him and putting a garment on him. In this way they didn't see him naked. When Noah woke up he somehow knew exactly what had happened and he was pissed about what "his youngest son had done to him". He cursed Ham and said Canaan should always be servants to the descendants of Ham's brothers.

What the hell? What crime did Ham commit that was so terrible? He accidentally saw his father naked. If there is any issue here it is that Noah is apparently a drunk. This was some dedication to being a drunk too, he didn't pop down to the corner store for some liquor, he had to plant a damn vineyard. Let this sink in too, Noah is the guy who God chose as the best person on the planet, the only person who deserves to live. He is apparently a drunk, and a totally irrational asshole. He's punishing Ham and all of his descendants because Ham walking in on him passed out drunk and naked?

You can tell how unjust this passage from the bible is from the way that the Christian commentaries have to add details to make it okay. Matthew Henry first tries to redeem Noah by conjecturing that he was celebrating the wine being made, and saying that he must have given glory to God first, and that it was the first and last time he got drunk. All of these details are nowhere to be found in the actual text. He then says that Ham had looked on his father with a pleased an insulting manner. He also suggests that Ham was a drunk himself, and that is why he delighted in his father's drunken nakedness. None of this is in the text at all. Let me quote the entirety of what the bible actually says on this point:
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside.
Gill also adds details, he says that if Ham had merely seen him on accident it would have been no big deal, but he was going into his father tent (where he didn't belong) and he looked with pleasure and delight on his father's nakedness. He also points out that many people cast Ham as a very wicked, immodest, and profligate creature, a magician, and the public corrupter of mankind. That may be true, but based on what? As I see it, this is all based on trying to make sense of a horribly unjust story.

Guzik says that it is possible that Noah was sexually abused by his son. There is nothing in the text that suggests this, it is so painfully clear that you are reaching to try to explain something that is completely ridiculous in the bible. Alternatively, he suggests that Ham was making fun of Noah and mocking him, he supports this idea by saying that the ancient Hebrew says that he told his brothers with delight. It's hard for me to check on this, but I can look at the lexicon, which says no such thing.

That's it for today, and I'm going to be gone for about a week. I have a few guest posts to fill in the gap, but I may not respond to comments right away. I have a feeling there might be some interesting ones from this post.

For the Verses of Note post:


Genesis 9:2 Being feared is is given high praise

"The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered."


Genesis 9:3 You can eat any animal

"Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you."

Genesis 9:4 Don't eat meat with blood still in it

"But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood."


Genesis 9:20-25 extreme punishment for accidentally seeing your father naked

"...Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father...When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, 'Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.'"


Genesis 9:6 eye for an eye

"Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image."


  1. I can understand why Noah would have wanted to get good and drunk. After all, after narrowly surviving a catastrophic flood and witnessing widespread death, he was probably traumatized and needed to dull the pain. But enslaving his own son and his son's descendants? Over seeing the old man's giblets? Noah took it WAY too far.

    1. Definitely. Ham did nothing wrong here, at least according to the text itself. But even if you take the most extreme justification that the Christian commentators had (sexual abuse), Noah still went way too far. It's not justice for someone to be punished because his father committed a crime, no matter how severe that crime was.

  2. "If there is any issue here it is that Noah is apparently a drunk. This was some dedication to being a drunk too, he didn't pop down to the corner store for some liquor, he had to plant a damn vineyard. Let this sink in too, Noah is the guy who God chose as the best person on the planet, the only person who deserves to live. He is apparently a drunk, and a totally irrational asshole."

    I laughed so hard when reading this paragraph, though it really isn't a laughing matter. This story, and Noah's curse upon Ham was used by Christianity and Mormonism to justify racism until the 60's/early 70's. Supposedly Ham's descendants were the people of Africa.

    Have you ever read the Stephen King book "11/22/63"? In one scene, there's a general whom Lee Harvey Oswald tried to kill, not long before he killed JFK (Oswald felt he a was a "fascist"), who was on a local minister's TV show in Texas, both the minister and the general used this passage to support segregation.

    As for the point about humanity being granted dominion over the earth, and given the animals to eat, then some foods being banned in the Mosiac law, I have never thought about it that way before. It is highly contradictory.

    1. People used this passage to support segregation? Where do they get the idea that Ham's descendants went to Africa? Is there any actual reason for that, or is it just them using it to justify their already established hatred? I'm assuming it is the latter.

      This kind of thing is really interesting to me. The claim that is sometimes made is that the bible, or religion, is the source of this kind of prejudice. These kinds of things can certainly exist outside of religion (just look at partisan politics). But I would argue that religion makes it worse. Sure, convincing someone that their established opponents might have a point somewhere is always hard, but once they think they have God on their side it becomes basically impossible. Sure, convincing a staunch republican that a democrat has a good idea is a very difficult thing indeed, but compare that to convincing a fundamentalist Christian that a Muslim is right about something.


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