Meditating on the Judgements of God:
3.4 Canaan Cursed
Gen 9:25,26 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem
The incident involving Noah and his sons might be questionable as an example of the judgment of God if it wasn’t for the fact that it appears also in the story of Abraham and then of course following the Exodus, both of which reveal it as a judgment of God. To clarify the details:
- Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Gen 9:18,19)
- Noah, rather foolishly got himself drunk (Gen 9:21) and ended up falling across his bed naked (we would assume) where he is seen by Ham (v.22) who told his brothers in what we must assume was a disrespectful way.
- Shem and Japheth remedy the situation by covering up their father in such a way that they did not look on him (v.23). In the morning (somehow?) Noah found out what had happened and placed this curse on Ham for his disrespect.
- Intriguingly Canaan was the one placed under the curse, the younger son of Ham whose name eventually became synonymous with the land eventually taken over by Israel.
- The descendants of Seth eventually included Abram and subsequently Israel.
Now the question arises in a situation like this, did God MAKE Ham submit to Shem or was this simply a prophetic foreseeing of what would come about because of the nature of Ham which would be conveyed down through his descendants. The answer has got to be somewhere between the two.
First of all God does foreknow the future, so He would have known how things were going to work out between these peoples and therefore we might consider that He inspired Noah to prophesy this future.
Second, there do tend to be certain propensities that run through families, so when in Ex 20:5 the Lord speaks of Himself as “punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” it is more likely that He is referring to the ungodly rebellion being passed on from one generation to another, until there comes a generation who comes to its senses and turns to God. We see it a number of times in the kings of Israel and Judah. The crucial words in that verse above are “of those who hate me”. God does not punish the godly but rebellion against God can be passed from one generation to another. So, yes, there is this element to be taken into account.
Third, there is the fact that God acts into His world and the Bible is the testimony to how He chose a man called Abram to reveal Him, a man descended from Seth, and a man who had a grandson named Jacob who was renamed Israel and grew into a nation who the Lord used to bring judgment on the peoples of Canaan because they, as the world we observed earlier in our considerations of the Flood, had degenerated so far the only hope was to bring them to an end – as we’ll see in a later study.
When Abram first arrived in the land we find, “The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” (Gen 12:7) and a little later he reiterated that: “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” (Gen 13:15) It wasn’t until we find Abram making his big act of faith – “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness,” (Gen 15:6) that the Lord reiterates it a third time: “He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” (Gen 15:7) It was only as they entered into a solemn covenant (see Gen 15:9-12) that He reveals to him that the land will be taken by his returning people and part of the plan is to deal with the sin of the people of the land when they return: “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” (Gen 15:16) Left to themselves, the sin of this family of Ham will grow and grow and grow until it is intolerable.
When it comes to that judgment on Canaan through Israel, as we’ll see in a future study, the Lord said He would drive out the peoples of the land and failing that Israel would drive them out. The options for the Canaanites were:
- They could leave the land peaceably – it is quite clear from the way Israel came up from the south and the way that they approached the kings of the south, that death was not high on their agenda. Who wants to risk death if there is a peaceful way through?
- They could join Israel – this is clear from the story of the Gibeonites which would have given them a much more stable and secure life than they had previously experienced under superstitious paganism.
- They could resist and fight and either win or lose. Some lost and some won and stayed in the land despite the Lord’s instructions to Israel. In fact when they failed to clear them out, the Lord said He would allow them to stay to act as a constant provocation to Israel (to encourage them to constantly rely on Him!).
So to return to our original verses, the curse on Canaan was a combination of a) prophecy, b) the family propensity to rebel against God, and c) the Lord’s intent to choose and bless the family of Seth because He would choose Abram who would become known as the father of faith. Was that because He foresaw what He could achieve through Abram?