Good Sunday morning. It is a weekend where Americans consider our nation in so many ways – some positive, some not. Some 240 years ago, this country was born, and in that short time its legacy is already cemented in the annals of history. It has become the most dominant geopolitical power of the age, almost imperial in its scope and influence. There is hardly an area of the world that it does not reach in some way. Our prayer should be that, when it reaches, it always does so with goodwill and self-sacrifice, no matter what the situation is or why it is. But if we forget that, we can look to Genesis 9 for a reminder.
Genesis 9 is the “flood aftermath” chapter. Beginning with verse 20, we read that Noah…had a little too much wine. He is described as sleeping in his tent, “uncovered.” Must have been quite a night. Now, nakedness was shameful – we learned that in the story of Adam and Eve. Even though Noah was probably unaware of what was happening, AND even though one could argue that he did this to himself, this was still a problem that required remediation.
Enter his three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. I could spend an entire post on the etymology of those names, but today I want to focus on nations. According to Hebrew scholars, Japheth is the root of many ancient and modern nations of southern and far eastern Europe. Ham is considered to be the root of many north African nations (including Egypt) and some Arabic nations, including ancient Canaan, which was under Egyptian control in Genesis until the Exodus. Shem, however, is considered to be the root of the Hebrew nation – his name is actually written into the name of the Hebrew languages and culture – S(h)emitic.
With that context, back to the story.
Ham enters Noah’s tent and sees that he is naked and in need of covering. Rather than do that himself, Ham wanders out of the cave and tells his brothers about the situation. Shem and Japheth act differently, however – they band together and cover their father. They do so without any expectation of reward – all Noah would realize when he awoke is that he was covered. He may not have even known he was naked in the first place. But the next morning, Noah learns about what happened. He curses Ham and tells him that his people will, in the end, serve the people of Shem and Japheth.
Sometimes the Bible is like an inkblot test – it tells us more about who we are than about the characters themselves. This is a good example of that. Some will read this story and think that Ham became cursed because of what he SAID to his brothers. They imagine that he ridiculed his father, slandered him, or disrespected him (“Look at that old fool in there!”) That is not in the narrative, though. It simply says that he “told his two brothers outside.” (v. 22). But if that is what we infer, then the lesson we learn is that we shouldn’t slander people or make fun of them. A good lesson, to be sure…but completely beside the point.
Ham was cursed because of his actions. Ham encountered a situation that he could remedy. But instead of putting himself aside and doing what needed to be done, he selfishly passed that on to others, thinking, “It’s not my problem.” Ham had the opportunity to help his father…but he just didn’t care enough to.
He was too self-centered to be inconvenienced.
We see people all around us today, in the midst of suffering and pain, none of which is their fault personally, simply walking away. There are opportunities to help, to support, to contribute to the greater good, and we step outside the tent and tell someone else. We turn the needs of others into spectacles to be observed, shaking our heads and chastising them. Just like Ham, who acted like he cared, but couldn’t be bothered to actually care.
We will never know exactly what Ham was thinking – maybe he disapproved of drunkenness, maybe he and his father were fighting, maybe he was just an avoidant personality. Whatever the case, because he chose not to serve others, he became their unwilling servant.
Which brother have you been recently? Have you been Ham, Shem, of Japheth, when God puts something in front of you and asks you, “What will you do?” What has been most important to you – your own convenience and comfort, or the needs of others? The answer is between you and God – no one can sit in judgment of you, because at times, we are ALL like Ham. But next time you have one of those “look hard in the mirror” moments, I pray that you have the courage to honestly ask yourself that question, and give God the opportunity to make you more like Him.
Have a wonderful Sunday 🙂