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Genesis 9 Notes

Posted by janet on May 12, 2014

Genesis 9

vs. 2-4: I think that this must mark a new point in humanity’s relationship with the animals.  As far as I can tell, this is the first record of the moment in which God gave us permission to eat the flesh of animals.  Humans may have been eating animals before this, even if the practice was forbidden (or at least not expressly allowed), but this verse seems to record the official declaration of permission.  I suppose God allows this now in token of the debt that the animals owed Noah for the preservation of their lives.  The fear that animals have developed for humans is a consequence of the new level of authority that humans received after the flood.

It is interesting to note that Noah did not have to distinguish between clean and unclean animals when it came to eating them.  At this time, therefore, the distinction must have been for purposes of religious sacrifice.[1]

The injunction against eating blood is also very interesting to me.  The reason we were forbidden to eat blood is because the blood contains the life of the animal.  The Hebrew word for “life” here is nephesh,[2] which means “living soul” and is synonymous with the breath of life.[3] This must mean that the blood of all animals (including humans) has deep mystical significance.  In it, more exactly than in the general body, resides the soul.  I believe the soul is supernatural; thus, it is not the same thing as the blood, but it does reside within the blood in some mysterious way.  If anyone scorns such an idea as mere superstition, let him consider the fact that the literal breath of animals (the intake of oxygen and the expelling of carbon dioxide) does reside in the blood.[4] My breath is to my soul what my shadow is to my body.  If my literal breath resides in my blood, how much of a stretch is it to believe that my soul is there as well?  I suppose that God did not permit us to eat of the blood because this would have been disrespectful to the animal in a way that killing it and eating its flesh was not.  At the very least the practice of abstaining from animal blood would serve to remind us that the animals have souls just as we do.  This would be a valuable reminder to us in any era because we are their stewards and fellow creatures of God; we should never kill them flippantly.  But the practice of abstaining from eating animal blood would have had particular significance in times when God demanded animal sacrifices, sacrifices which prefigured the ultimate holy mystery of Christ’s own blood.

As a matter of ritual observance, I do not believe we are required to abstain from eating animal blood anymore.  (For my reasons, see notes on Acts 15.)  Of course, anyone who chooses to abstain out of respect for God and the animal does well; those who do not abstain should still respect God and his animals and always eat their blood with thankfulness.

v. 21: Drunkenness is a sin, a subcategory of Gluttony, but the writer chooses not to address this subject in the story, possibly because the point of the story is to explain the curse of Canaan.

v. 22: Ham’s sin becomes clear by contrasting his behavior with that of his two brothers.  Since the two brothers refuse to look on their father’s nakedness and immediately seek to cover him, Ham’s sin must lie in the fact that he did neither of these things.  I suppose he thought it was amusing to see his father in such an undignified stupor and told his brothers about it because he thought they would share his amusement.

v. 24: Ham is called Noah’s youngest son here, but the common listing of the sons (Shem, Ham, and Japeth [9:18]) would lead one to believe that Japeth was the youngest.  The most likely reasons that Japeth would be at the end of such a list are 1) he was the youngest, or 2) he was the least honored, or 3) he was the most honored.[5] Shem, as the eldest and as the father of the Hebrews, was most honored; therefore, three cannot be correct.  Since Ham committed this sin, and since his own son was cursed as a result, it is safe to conclude that Ham was the least honored of the three brothers, not Japeth; therefore, the list might put Japeth at the end because he was literally the youngest.  When the writer calls Ham the youngest here in v. 24, he might refer to the loss of status which Ham suffered as a consequence of this sin; metaphorically, he would have fallen from being the second-born to youngest.

v. 25: It is strange that Canaan, the son of Ham, is the one whom Noah curses.  One would have expected for Noah to curse Ham.  Ham is identified as the father of Canaan in v.18, but Canaan is Ham’s fourth and youngest son.  Why did the writer use him to identify Ham?  Why not Cush, Ham’s eldest?  The writer must have chosen Canaan as the identifying son in anticipation of the curse that comes later in the story, but this still does not explain why Canaan was the object of the curse.  Perhaps Canaan was more like his father and thus deserved, in some sense, Noah’s curse more than his brothers.  Still, why Canaan rather than his father?  I do not believe that Canaan actually partook in the sin of his father; if he had, why would the writer have left that out?  It seems like a serious omission, given that it would help explain why Canaan appears to take the direct weight of the curse.

Below are some possible explanations for why only Canaan is named as the object of the curse.

1)  Perhaps Canaan was Ham’s favorite.  By directly cursing him, Noah may have sought to hurt Ham even more than directly cursing Ham himself would have.

I tend not to believe this is true.  If Noah had cursed Ham and his descendants (as he curses Canaan and his descendants), then the effect would have been the same as far as Canaan goes.

2)  Perhaps Noah wanted to curse Ham and his descendants (as a punishment to Ham) but wanted to spare Ham’s eldest three sons for their own sakes (rather than for Ham’s) because they were righteous, like their uncles.

The problem with this idea, however, is that Ham himself, the one who is actually guilty of the sin, is not cursed.  This alternative would have been more acceptable if Noah had cursed Ham, Canaan, and Canaan’s descendants, but that is not what happened.

3) Canaan actually commits the crime in the name of his father; in this case,  Canaan would have been the one to be amused by his grandfather’s drunkenness.

If this explanation is correct, it could explain the otherwise problematic reference to “the younger” son (i.e., the youngest son of Ham) in 9:24.  The problem with this explanation is that I cannot see why the writer would use the name of Ham to designate Canaan.  He does not do so when it comes to the curse.

4)  The curse actually includes Ham and all of his descendants, but the writer only emphasizes its effect on Canaan to anticipate and justify the future subjugation of the Canaanites by the Hebrews during the conquest of the Promised Land.

This last explanation seems the most likely to me.  Still, I would like to finish this section with a couple of points.

First, the text does not actually say that Ham or his other three sons are cursed; I only infer this from the fact that Ham committed the sin and that his youngest son, who (judging by the narrative) had no more to do with actually committing the sin than his other brothers, is cursed.

Second, if the curse includes the brothers of Canaan, its effects are sometimes difficult to explain.  For instance, some sons of Shem (the Israelites) were slaves to the sons of Ham (Mizraim, which is Egypt) for centuries, which goes against the spirit of the curse.  To balance this out, however, the Persians, Greeks, and Romans (all descendants of Japeth) did reduce Egypt to slavery, which confirms the curse.  One should be careful, therefore, in looking for specific effects caused by this curse throughout history.  We have a divine guide regarding its specific effects on Canaan, but beyond that, interpretation can be tricky, even dangerous.  It is particularly dangerous for the children of Shem and Japeth to take the curse into their own hands and interpret it as a license to enslave the children of Ham.  God commanded the Hebrews to conquer Canaan, but he did not issue a general command to all the sons of Shem and Japeth to conquer all the sons of Ham.  Noah’s curse stems from the will of Noah and prophesies generally what will be; it does not necessarily come from the will of God and thus describe what should be.

[1] Genesis 7:2 makes it clear that Noah did distinguish between clean and unclean animals. 

[2] Strong’s Concordance entry 5315.

[3] See notes on 2:7 and 7:22.

[4] Incidentally, how would Noah or any one of his contemporaries have known this except by divine inspiration?

[5] In this case the writer would save the best, or most relevant, for last as he does in 10:21 where Shem’s descendants are listed after those of Japeth and Ham.

2 Responses to “Genesis 9”

  1. AL ANSLEY said

    Dear Larry,

    Your article was very thought provoking.I’ve wondered about the birth order of noah’s sons for some time now. I am one that takes what the bible says literally & one can easily see why many feel that the order that’s presented from Gen.5:32 up to Gen.9th chapter is the correct order that noah’s son were born in.

    But then we have shems son *ARPHACSHAD. In Gen.10:22 he is listed as shem’s 3rd born son, but later on he is listed as shems first born, along with a list of others in Gen.11th chapter. What does one make of that?

    I’ve been told that shem is not the first born, but is listed as such, being that he is linked to G*DS future plans for humanity, regarding the Messiah. Ham is listed next, due to the Technological supremacy held by the Descendants of ham in ancient times.

    As I thought about this, I wondered why then was the order changed in Gen.10th chapter? It occured to me that in scripture, when siblings & their descendants are mentioned, the first born & his descendants are mentioned first, then the younger sibling & his children are presented last.

    Because this is illustrated, I thought that the order that we see in Gen.10th chapter, which shows Japheth & shem switching positions, could possibly reveal that Japheth was the elder, Ham 2nd & shem the youngest. Also Gen.10:21 seems to show that japheth to be the older,as the word there in Heb is(*GaDOL).But again, if you go by Gen.11th chapter it would appear that Shem is the first born, considering that Abraham appears in that list also.

    It’s very confusing larry, & I know that the G*D we serve is not the author of Confusion.(SMILE)! I also like the point you made pertaining to the idea of Ham not being honored, & loosing his place. The word Kitan can mean younger or youngest. But as an adjective can point to something that’s insignificant,worthless,of no importants. I never considered what you’ve brought to light, and will now have to do so.

    Getting back to those appearing to be first borns in Gen.11th chapter larry.Mabey thier listings have more to do the the Messianic bloodline, like we see in Gen.5th chapter & less with a literal birth order.Seth was not adams first born, yet he appears in the messianic bloodline in Gen.5th chapter.

    Well your article was very enjoyable & thought provoking. Hope to hear back from you personally, as I would love to hear anymore thoughts you may have on the subject. Take care & have a blessed work wk in the Lord Yeshua HaMoschiach—>JESUS THE MESSIAH. AL!

    • Lehunt said


      Thank you for your thoughtful analysis of such an elusive subject. I agree that the order might be governed by something other than literal chronology of birth. The Genesis 10:21 scripture that you point out is particularly interesting if it should be translated as “Shem, whose older brother was Japeth” as the NIV and NKJ translations have it. In that case, Japeth may have literally been the oldest while Shem (as the father of Messianic line) was the most honored. What you say about the Hebrew word Kitan is also very interesting. I did not know it had that meaning.

      As for ARPHACSHAD, I wonder if the genealogy in 11:10 is really treating him as the first born. It seems to imply that he is the first born by naming him and then saying, “After he became the father of ARPHACSHAD Shem…had other sons and daughters,” but I wonder if one could harmonize this verse with 10:22 in the same way that you suggested one could harmonize the Shem, Ham, and Japeth verses: by concluding that Elam and Asshur are left out of 11:10 because 11:10 is only concerned with tracing the Messianic line. In that case, Shem did have other sons (Lud and Aram) and daughters (not mentioned by name) after ARPHACSHAD, but ARPHACSHAD was not literally the first born.

      Thanks again for your thoughts. God bless you.



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