Sermon: Genesis 9:18-29: Canaan Cursed, Shem Blessed, Japheth Blessed In Shem

Old Testament Reading: Genesis 9:18-29

“The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed. Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 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.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.’ After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died.” (Genesis 9:18–29, ESV)

New Testament Reading: Acts 14:19-28

“But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city, and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe. When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples.” (Acts 14:19–28, ESV)



The story of Genesis 9:18-29 is very important for it reveals in greater detail than before something of God’s plan to bring salvation to his people. This text is crucial, for it builds upon promises that were previously made and also sets the stage for important events that would transpire in the future. In order to properly interpret this story we must both look backwards into  the earlier chapters of Genesis and also forwards. In doing so it will become abundantly clear that the events recorded in this passage build upon promises previously given by God and also set the stage for more development in God’s redemptive program.   

The text that is before us today is broken neatly into two parts. First, we have the story of Noah’s drunkenness, the shameful response of Ham to his fathers nakedness, and the honorable behavior of Shem and Japheth — their impulse was to cover the shame of their father, rather than expose it. That story is told in verses 18-23 of Genesis 9. Secondly, we find the speech of Noah wherein he pronounces a curse upon Canaan (the son of wicked Ham), and blesses both Seth and Japheth This story is told in verses 24-28 of Genesis 9. And it is the more significant of the two parts — the first section sets the stage for the second. 

I suppose it is possible to draw application from this text which condemns the sin of drunkenness and encourages children to show respect to their parents. Indeed, the scriptures forbid drunkenness. Noah sinned when he got drunk. Indeed, the scriptures forbid the disrespect of parents. And this was the sin of Ham — he did not honor his father, but acted shamefully when he drew ate nation to the shame of his father rather than covering it. But to think that this text is primarily concerned with the promotion of moral living would be a terrible mistake. If what I said was, “this story teaches us to not get drunk and to honor your parents — the end”, I would be guilty of mishandling this portion of scripture. This text is not primarily about morals. Instead, it is about God’s program of redemption. It reveals more clearly than before God’s plan for the salvation of his people.


Noah’s Sin: A Repeat Of Adam’s Sin 

It is crucial to see that in this story — the story of Noah’s drunkenness, the shameful response of Ham to his fathers nakedness, and the honorable behavior of Shem and Japheth — we find a repeat of the story of Adam’s fall into sin. Many of the themes present in the story of Adam’s fall are repeated here in this narrative. This is very significant, for it helps us to see what this story is — a reiteration of God’s purpose to save a people for himself despite man’s sin. 

In verses 18 and 19 we read, “The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:18–19, ESV). 

These verses pick up where Genesis 6:9 left off before telling us of the story of the great and worldwide flood. In Genesis 6:9 we read, “These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God. And Noah had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” (Genesis 6:9–10, ESV). Now we return to focus on these figures — Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Notice that it was from these three that the whole earth would be repopulated after the flood. Notice also the parenthetical note that “Ham was the father of Canaan”. This is emphasized again in verse 20 where Ham is again called “the father of Canaan”. This will become an important piece of information later in the story, so don’t forget it — Ham was the father of Canaan.

In verses 20 and 21 we read, “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Genesis 9:20–21, ESV). 

The story is simple enough. Noah was a farmer. He planted a vineyard (vineyards and wine are associated with God’s blessing in the scriptures). But Noah misused God’s blessing when he became drunk with the wine and, therefore, laid shamefully naked and exposed in his tent. 

I think it is important that we compare Noah with Adam, and Noah’s transgression with Adam’s. 

One, notice that Noah and Adam were both farmers. Adam was put by God “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15, ESV). True, Adam was more than a farmer, for he was to keep the garden — he was to protect it from intruders — but Adam was not less than a farmer. He was to tend the garden and expand its boarders to the ends of the earth. Noah was also a farmer. “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard.” 

Two, notice that Adam’s sin and Noah’s sin both involved a misuse of God’s blessing of the fruit of the ground. Adam was given every tree in the garden to eat with the exception of one. He sinned when he ate of the forbidden fruit. Noah was blessed with a vineyard. He sinned when he misused the fruit of the vine and became drunk.  

Three, notice the result of Adam’s sin and of Noah’s. Both men were ashamed of their nakedness after they sinned. When Adam and Eve sinned by eating of the forbidden fruit, “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths” (Genesis 3:7, ESV). When Noah sinned by drinking wine to the point of drunkenness, he fell asleep and laid naked in his tent. 

These episodes are not identical, but they are similar. They are meant to be compared. After God created the heavens and earth, he created man, placed him in his garden and entered into a covenantal relationship with Adam as the representative for all of humanity. Adam was to obey God. Instead he rebelled. And having sinned, he experienced the shame of his nakedness. Similarly, after God brought a new earth and a new humanity through the waters of the flood, he entered into a covenantal relationship with Noah as a representative for all humanity. Noah was to obey God, but he  sinned. And having sinned, he experienced the shame of his nakedness.  

In verses 22 and 23 the response of Noah’s sons to his sin and shame are described: “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (Genesis 9:22–23, ESV).

Even if we were to read this text superficially it is not difficult to see that Ham did something shameful and Shem and Japheth did something honorable for their father.

Ham showed disrespect  to his father when he exposed and magnified his sin instead of seeking to cover it. He found his father drunk and shamefully exposed. And instead of covering his fathers nakedness, he went out to tell his brothers, presumably to mock his father in his moment of shame. 

Shem and Japheth did the honorable thing. They showed respect to their father and covered the shame of his nakedness. They draped a cloak over their shoulders, walked backwards into the tent together, and having arrived the foot of their fathers bed, dropped the cloak over their father to cover his shame.

It is important to God that children honor their parents. The fifth of the ten commandments speak to this. Paul the apostle refered to that commandment when he wrote, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land’” (Ephesians 6:1–3, ESV). Children to are to show honor two their parents. This they are to do when they are young and when they are old. And this they are to do even if their parent is acting in less than an honorable way. 

Ham disrespected his father by failing to cover him, and by mocking his nakedness. Shem and Japheth honored their father by refusing to look upon his shame, and by going to the trouble to cover him in his moment of disgrace. This is evident from a superficial reading of the text. 

But I think we should continue to do what we have already done and compare this passage with the passage that describes Adam’s temptation, his sin and God response to it. When we do we will find that the actions Ham showed that he was of the evil one — he was of the seed of the serpent — whereas Shem and Japheth were of God — they were of the promised seed of the woman. 

When Ham rejoiced in his fathers shame and sought to magnify and expose it by telling his brothers, he showed that he was in league with the evil one who rejoiced in Adam’s fall and shame. Ham had the heart of the serpent. Ham was of the seed of the serpent. He was the one, as we will see, through whom the line of wicked Cain would be preserved in the new world. God will always have a people in this world, and so will the evil one. Ham was of the evil one. His response to his fathers sin and shame revealed it. 

When Shem and Japheth covered their fathers nakedness, they demonstrated that they were of God. They had the heart of God who grieved over the sin of Adam and graciously covered the shame of his nakedness. After Adam and Eve sinned “they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man and said to him, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself’” (Genesis 3:8–10, ESV). How did God respond to this? After pronouncing his  judgements, “the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Genesis 3:20–21, ESV). By their actions Shem and Japheth demonstrated that they were of God. They were in league with him and possessed his heart.


Noah’s Curse and Blessings: A Repeat Of God’s Curse And Blessing

This story — as important as it is — merely sets the stage for the curse that Noah pronounced upon Canaan (Ham’s son), and the blessing that he pronounced upon Shem and Japheth. This curse and these blessings would set the trajectory for the rest of history as it pertains to God’s redemptive purposes. From these three men the earth would be repopulated. And these three men would represent three distinct groups of people in relation to God’s program of redemption. Canaan, the son of Ham, was cursed. Shem was blessed. And Japheth was blessed by his association with Shem. 

This episode, wherein Noah pronounces a curse upon Canaan and blesses Shem and Japheth, is to be compared with that episode wherein God pronounced his judgments upon the serpent, Eve and Adam. Remember that imbedded within those judgements was the gospel. Good news was announced — a promise was given — that one would arise from the seed of the woman who would bruise the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). In other words, through the women and from her offspring a savior would come — a champion would arise. This gospel was proclaimed in the context of the judgments that God pronounced upon three figures — the serpent, Eve and Adam. 

The words of Noah in Genesis 9:24 and following are to be viewed as a continuation of the word of the Lord in Genesis 3:14 and 15. These words of Noah pick up theme of Genesis 3:14 and 15, which has to do with the curse of God upon Satan and his followers, and the eventual victory that would be won by the Messiah, and bring them into the new world. In other words, in the world that once was prior to the flood a promise was made that the seed of the serpent would be cursed, and from the seed of the woman a champion savior king would arise who would defeat the evil one fully and finally. That same message was also communicated in new world — in the world after the flood — through the curse and blessings pronounced by Noah upon his sons, but with greater clarity and precision than before. 

What do the curse and blessings of Noah communicate concerning God’s plan of redemption from the days of Noah onward? We learn that though many will belong to the evil one in the line of Ham, God will set apart a people for himself in the of Seth, and that some from Japheth will in due time associate with Seth, and will they themselves be blessed in him.  

Let us consider the curse that Noah pronounced upon Canaan (Ham’s son) in verses 24-25: “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 9:24–25, ESV). 

Why did Noah curse Canaan instead of cursing Ham directly? One, it is probably to communicate that these curses and blessings have to do, not just with these three men individually, but with their offspring. These men represent their offspring. If you know the story of the Old Testament and the enmity that will exist between the Israelites and the Canaanites, them it is easy to understand why Canaan would be named specifically instead of Ham. Secondly, there is probably a play on words in the Hebrew. The name for Canaan in the Hebrew sounds very much like the verb which means “subdue”. Canaan would subdued by his brothers —  “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers”.

This curse would play out in the history of redemption in the days of the conquest as Israel would move into the land that God had promised to them to take possession of it. Under Joshuas leadership, the Canaanites would be driven out or enslaved by the Hebrew people who were descendants of Abraham, who was a descendent of Shem, as we shall see. 

In verse 26 we find Noah’s blessing upon Shem: “He… said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:26, ESV). 

Notice that Shem is not actually blessed. The LORD is blessed by Noah — “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem”. But it is in this that the blessing of Shem is found — the LORD is their God. There is no greater blessing in all the earth than to have the LORD as God. Shem is set apart from his brothers in this regard — the LORD, the covenant making and covenant keeping God, the maker of heaven and earth, is their God. 

There is also a play on words here with the name Shem. Shem means “name”, and here is the distinguishing characteristic of the line of Shem — they have taken the name of the LORD to themselves. They are God’s people. The LORD is their God. They call upon his name. 

This will play out clearly in the narrative of Genesis. In Genesis 11:10-26 we find the genealogy of Shem. I will refrain from reading the whole genealogy to you at this time, but for now it is important to note that Abram, who will later become Abraham, is in the line of Shem (Genesis 11:26). And it is from Abraham that the Hebrew people will descend, as you know. 

What is the meaning? 

The descendents of Ham (the Canaanites) are of the evil one. They are the continuation of the line of Cain in the new world. They are the continuation of the seed of the serpent.

But the descendents of Shem are blessed in the LORD. They belong uniquely to him. They bear his name. They are the continuation of the line of Able and of Seth in the new world. They are the continuation of the seed of the women. From them the messiah would come who would conquer the evil one himself. 

Before moving on to Japheth I would like to make a point of clarification. When we talk about these genealogies — the like of Cain and Seth, or the line of Ham and Shem — and identify them with the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman respectively, we should not think that all of the individuals within those lines were either saved or unsaved, justified or condemned. The thing that distinguished between those who are saved and unsaved, justified or condemned, is faith. The questions is, did that person have faith in the promised Christ? I am sure that not all in the line of Seth or in the line of Shem had faith. And I would also imagine that some in the line of Cain and Ham had faith in the God of Seth and Shem — by the grace of God, they, though they were Cainites and Canaanites, identified with the Sethites and Shemites, and worshiped the LORD, who was their God. 

When we say that these genealogies — the genealogies of Seth and Shem — belonged to God and to the seed of the woman, what we mean is that the worship of God was promoted and maintained amongst them, and the promises of God were preserved and propagated. In general and in an external way, they belonged to God. Many of them had faith, no doubt, but not all. 

To illustrate this principle we only need to point to Old Covenant Israel and to say, though they all were the descents of Abraham, not all had the faith of Abraham. This is what Paul is referring to when he says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Romans 9:6–8, ESV).

In general, therefore, the Canaanites were cursed of God and belonged to the evil one, whereas the Shemites were God’s people. They bore his name. The LORD was their God, and they were his people. 

But what about Japheth? In verses 27 we read, “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:27, ESV).

Notice that Japheth is blessed, but he is blessed in Shem. “Let him dwell in the tents of Shem”, the text says. The blessing communicates that in due time the tents of Shem will be opened to Japheth so that he mighty come in and enjoy the blessing that belonged uniquely to Shem.

There is also a play on words here. The Hebrew word translated as “enlarge” in the ESV in verses 27 might also be translated “open wide”. It is a rare Hebrew word that sounds very much like name Japheth. In the Hebrew it would should like this: may God yapht (that is “open”, i.e. the tent) for yephet. Again, the meaning is this: God will eventually “open wide” the tent of Shem so that Japheth might enter in to enjoy the blessings of Shem. And what were the blessing of Shem? The LORD was their God. They bore his name. He was their God and they were his people. In due time the doors of the tents of Shem would be thrown open to that the descendents of Japheth might enter in.

Who are the descendents of Japheth? If we pay careful attention to the development of these things in the scriptures it becomes clear that they are the gentiles. For a time the promises of God and the worship of God would be confined to the descendents Shem, that is to the Hebrews. From Shem would come Eber, and this is where the name Hebrew comes from. And from Eber would come Abraham. From Abraham would come Isaac, and from Isaac Jacob. The children of Jacob would go into Egypt. And then God would appoint Moses to call them out. Under Moses the Hebrews would made into a unique nation for a time. And from them the Christ would eventually come. But when the Christ came the kingdom of God would no longer be restricted to the Hebrew people. Indeed the gospel of the kingdom would preached to all nations. And it would be in the gospel of the kingdom going to all nations that the blessing pronounced by Noah upon his son Japheth would be fulfilled. In the days of Christ  and under the New Covenant the doors of the tent of Shem would be thrown open so that the descendents Japheth might come in and have the God of Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses as their own.

Brothers and sisters, this is such an major theme in the pages of the New Testament. Look for it as you read. Look for the emphasis upon the fulfillment of these promises, that in the days of Christ and under the New Covenant, the kingdom of God would burst forth from Israel and expand to the furthest corners of the earth. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, ESV).

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18–20, ESV).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8, ESV).

“And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’’” (Acts 13:46–47, ESV).

“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace…” (Ephesians 2:11–15, ESV).

Friends, most of you are not the descendents of Shem, but of Japheth. You are those gentiles who are blessed in the tents of the Hebrews. The door of the tent has been thrown open to you by Christ who came, not to save the Jews only, but also the gentiles. Though you do not descend from Abraham according to the flesh, you are are his children according to promise and by faith. 



Isn’t this incredible? Isn’t it incredible how God has revealed the gospel successively and by steps throughout the history of redemption? 

Even Adam and Eve had access to the gospel. They new that a savior would eventually come through the seed of the woman. 

But in the days of Noah things were reiterated and made even more clear. A unique people would be set aside in the line of Shem, and through them the descendents of Japheth would be blessed.

This reached its climax with the coming of the Christ. 

Are you are in Christ?

Are we together laboring to proclaim Christ?

Are we consented to see Christ preached to the ends of the earth?

Are we committed to do this until he returns?

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