We read the following narrative in Genesis 9:20-29: Noah, a tiller of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk, “and he uncovered himself within his tent” וַיִּתְגַּל בְּתוֹךְ אָהֳלֹה (va-yitgal be-toch ohaloh). “Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness” וַיַּרְא חָם אֲבִי כְנַעַן אֵת עֶרְוַת אָבִיו (va-yar Cham avi Kenaan et irvat aviv) and told his two brothers outside… And he said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; ‘let Canaan be a slave to them’ וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ (vi-hi Kenaan eved lamo). ‘May God enlarge Japheth’ יַפְתְּ אֱלֹהִים לְיֶפֶת (yaft Elohim le-Yefet), ‘and let him dwell in the tents of Shem’ וְיִשְׁכֹּן בְּאָהֳלֵי־שֵׁם (ve-yishkon be-ohale Shem); ‘and let Canaan be a slave to them.’ וִיהִי כְנַעַן עֶבֶד לָמוֹ (vi-hi Kenaan eved lamo).”

There are no Biblical names that do not carry some special significance, even when the original meaning of the name has been lost and it is no longer possible to know with any certainty what it originally meant. Let us take, for example, the name Japheth. In English it is just Japheth, but in Hebrew it means something: “expanded” or “enlarged.” So we read that God יַפְתְּ (yaft) “enlarged” the person named יֶפֶת (yefet) “enlarged” – Japheth.

It is not clear whether the offense was just seeing his father naked, making fun of him (Ex. 20:12), engaging in a homosexual rape (see Lev. 20:13), or perhaps sleeping with Noah’s wife. In Leviticus 20:11 to “uncover the nakedness of one’s father” means to sleep with his wife. One thing we do know for certain – Ham’s action was to be detested. This perplexing passage might be connected to the sexual perverseness that Israelite culture sometimes thought to be typical of the Canaanites, the descendants of Canaan (see Lev. 18:3-4, 24-30). The curse upon Ham’s son Canaan follows the ancient covenantal dynamic of corporate responsibility and explains to contemporary readers of the Torah the animosity that exists between Israelites and Canaanites. It also predicts by implication a bright shared future for Noah’s other sons שֵׁם (Shem) “Shem” and יֶפֶת (Yefet) “Japeth.”

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79 COMMENTS

  1. Looking at your last sentence about the shared bright future of Shem and Japheth’s descendants, it can’t be bright because of a lot bloodshed going on in the Middle East. I consider the pronounced blessings on Shem and Japheth a conditional blessing/prophecy. They and their descendants would be blessed if they are in full obedience to God’s will and will be cursed if they disobey. Much like the blessing and curse given to Israel before their entrance to the Promised Land as found in Deuteronomy. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)

    • Biblical future is never determined (God is engaged LIVE in relationship with His people), it is conditioned by covenant-keeping.

      • Dr. Eli I believed Ham committed a homosexual act against his father while drunk and asleep. Because a drunk sleeping can’t know what happened to him/her while asleep until he/she wakes up. Secondly, no wise person will curse his child for just looking at his physical body. Thirdly, how can a drunk sleeping person be aware that his son came and watched him naked? Fourthly if a man/woman is raped while asleep, they get to know when they wake up because of the sperm, wetness and the extreme loss of energy. So this is a homosexual act.

        • You seem very certain, Tim. What reason would you give for why Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan instead of Ham himself?

          • Noah cursed Canaan instead of Ham, because they lived in “an honor/shame” based culture. A son was a direct reflection of his father. Noah cursing Ham would have also shamed Noah. And though the Canaanites were a bad lot, the curse of being “servant of servants” is not as bad as we make it out to be. Arthur Custance wrote a book titled “Noah’s Sons -History in 3 Dimensions” in which he argues that “servant of servants” is a superlative structure, i.e. “The best of servants” like “King of Kings”. A derogatory statement would have had a different construct.

          • Thanks for sharing, Chris, but I find that Arthur provides very curious explanations in his article to support his thesis. He says that Ham’s sin was that he was surprised by the whiteness of his father’s skin and therefore completely forgot to address the bigger issue of Noah’s nakedness; he cited a verse in Aramaic (Dan 4:17b) in order to substantiate his claim that Hebrew constructs superlatives of a negative tone in a different way than positive ones; and he says that in Biblical times, behavior of a child is due to the father’s doing but then he flips for some reason to explain why Canaan was cursed for Ham’s doing. Plus, the “servant of servants” cannot be positive, as he claims, because it was given as part of the content of a curse (v. 25). Think about it, a servant of masters would be standard; but a servant of servants is a real curse. I don’t think I buy into his position.

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          • In his book, Mr. Custance also points out that Ham’s descendants truly were “servants par excellence” in the area of material culture. Every place on earth where men have settled, a “Hamitic” culture has been found to predate the others. Every form of technology and tool of survival that we have can be traced back to its earliest form arising in a “Hamitic” culture. The only exceptions are the windmill and Archimedes screw principle. I recommend this book highly. It’s too bad a lot of white supremecists don’t realize what a debt we owe to “backward” cutures.

          • In response to Chris, I believe that what happened was that Ham slept with Noah’s wife (Ham’s stepmother) and Canaan was the offspring of the act. Let’s not forget that when Moses is writing this event it was already in the past. The name was known already

        • I believe that Ham slept with his father’s wife and that is why Noah cursed Canaan because Canaan was not his son. Canaan was Hams son through Noah’s wife.

        • Tim….i read it this way too when i first read it in the Spirit.Your comment was the first i read or heard that is the same as mine.to me it is straight forward.

  2. There were two types of covenant. One type was of entitlement (unconditional) the other of domicile (conditional). Israel broke all domicile covenants hence suffered accordingly.

    • Thank you Dr. John Belena, for your comment. What biblical support to you offer for establishing two types of covenants? I’d be happy to hear your answer.

  3. I have been informed that Japheth’s descendants form the current nations of Europe. If Shem and Japheth share the same bright future, why is it that Japheth is so incredibly anti-Shem?

  4. I have been informed that the symbol of Jewish Shemites is the star of David and the symbol of European Japheth is the Illuminati eye inside the triangle or similar designs. Looking at your LOGO, I can detect a branch of a tree and a little star of David inside forming an Illuminati eye. Are you Illuminati????????

  5. So, generally speaking, and depending on how well they kept covenant with God, the descendents of Shem and Japheth would enjoy greater favor with the Lord than those of Ham, no?

  6. The three sons of Noah were named Yafet, Shem, and Hom. From Yafet comes what we generically would call the Europeans or “white people.” The root of the world Yafet is ya’fe which means beautiful or ascetic. For example, the port city of Yafo (Jaffa) means beautiful port. SO the Bible essentially gives the attributes of physical beauty and proportions to the Japhetites. The word “Shem” means “name.” The people of Shem, or “semites” are the peoples of the word, or books. The Canaanite/Phoenicians invented the modern alphabet. Hom means “warm” or hot. War or hot Temperament. Movement.

    • Thanks for your comment. I think it was slightly inaccurate, though. The root of Yafet is peh-tav-yod and means “to be wide”, whereas the root of yafe is yod-peh-yod meaning “to be bright”.

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      • Dr. Eli, I don’t understand how Noah could curse Canaan for his father’s actions also it would mean that Noah’s word was over God’s who blessed them in Gen 9:1 Although Ham’s actions were wrong.

        • Maybe Noah could not curse Ham precisely because God had already blessed him. But for Canaan to be cursed for his father’s action, it stands to reason that he must have played into the ordeal in a bigger way than the Bible lets on.

  7. I do not think of the creation of earth as the only creation of the world but think of it in a different way. God greated people and took Adam as the first man entercounting with God as it is said the first Adam was a living soul and the second Adam a live giving soul so he became the First God thinking and obient soul to God in his mind that placed him in Paridice with peace and tranquility to the peace that was invoked and the thoughts that was born in his mind. Yes God made all things.

    • Are you saying that there were multiple creation stories? Yeshua says Adam was created in the beginning, and Paul says that sin and death did not enter the world until after Adam’s sin. How do you reconcile such passages?

  8. I would like an awnser to two previos qeustions I asked but no avail I do not get any awnsers at all And I know it has been read and I think discuseded by your teachers but I still think that I must try to get awnsers so please in your busy time awnser them for I will appreciat it.

      • I think that I can answer your question. Dario is speaking from the Black Hebrew Israelites teaching. Too violent.

    • The Bible says that the descendants of Ham are Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Cana’an. Cush is generally equated with Ethiopia, Mizraim is Egypt, Put is generally Libya, and Cana’an is the collection of peoples that were in the Land of Israel before the Exodus.

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  9. Noah made the comment when he knew “what his youngest” son had done to him. Ham saw his father’s nakedness but was not cursed by Noah. Canaan was Noah’s youngest grandson. Ham told his brothers and they excluded Ham from their solution. Maybe Ham was disciplining Canaan and Noah was just awake from his drunken stupor. Note Japeth will dwell in the tent of Shem.. He can do this only by force or invitation. The Japhetites have always been cruel..Romans Greeks. Germans. British. Shemites mostly cruel to other Shemites and Canaanites. The Hamites are the most peaceful people Thank you.

  10. The descendants of Yefet are the Europeans, who colonised large parts of the earth and brought the gospel to Africa, Asia and the Americas. The future belongs to the Jews, the descendants of Shem, and the Christians.

  11. Lev. 20:11 may be the strongest clue to the real meaning of this passage.
    Re: Reuben and Bilhah, Absalom in 2nd Samuel, David and Saul’s concubines; perhaps Ham was making a move for power over the family.
    Another clue is in the Hebrew word ‘tent’; Safaria has indications it may be in the feminine form as in ‘her tent’ (the mothers).
    Why curse Cannan? Is it possible Cannan was the offspring of what occurred in that tent and Noah knew it wasn’t his offspring?

    • Excellent comment, Richard. Many people believe this verse is the key to understanding what happened during Noah’s stupor.

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    • I think Noah could not curse Ham because Ham together with his brothers had been blessed by God, and what God blesses, no man can curse, hence the cursing of Cannan who was not yet born. Noah did not have the power to curse what God had blessed.

  12. Yeah, this is the SVU part. So it was rape. Which is the only thing that explains the walking backwards to cover him so they did not see the result. Imagine how socially evil the antediluvians were. That Ham thought nothing of raping his drunk dad and then went to see if his brothers were interested in doing the same. So glad they were better sons.

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      • Hams lineage is cursed because of Hams perverseness.The sins of the fathers is a generational curse till broken…….

        • Just a small correction: Canaan was cursed. Not Ham nor his sons Mizraim, Put or Cush. In fact, God blessed Ham (Gen 9:1).

    • In Leviticus 20:11 we see that “a fathers nakedness is basically the rape of his wife, so they would walk backwards to cover up his nakedness so as not look upon their mothers naked body.

  13. Canaan was Hams son that came from ham sleeping with his mother. Thats why Noah cursed Canaan. Thats what it means when the bible means to see your fathers nakedness. to put it bluntly.

  14. Shalom. We can never know for certain what happened while Noah was intoxicated and asleep. My guess is that he slept with Noah’s wife. We do not know if Noah’s wife was Ham’s mother. As a descendant mostly of Japheth I have never been anti-Shem or anti-Ham. I have had good Jewish friends and good friends who are Asyrians and I have had black friends also.

  15. Thanks for helping me to understand what happened in genesis 9:20-29. I always knew that it was more to the story than what meets the eyes. The curse fell on Canaan,ham son Noah’s grandson praphas with hams son with Noahs wife. The blessings fell on the other two sons.

  16. I have always taken the passage as Ham showed lack of respect toward his father by blabbing it around instead of lovingly covering him, while the brothers showed respect, blanketing the fathe with their eyes turned from his nakedness. I also believe that blessings and curses can made with God; knowing how things will turn out and turning it to his glory; authoring the moment.

  17. We need to recognize that It was Noah that did the cursing. We act as though this curse came from God. Also Noah did not curse Ham himself and the reason why he did not curse Ham we are not told. He cursed Canaan. This is very important to establish because if we leave it just as you presented the facts it continues to allow racist to spew venom that God cursed Ham and all Black people are cursed. This theory is the basis for slavery and the reasoning to not have to recognize a slave converted to Christianity. Continued:

    • Thanks for your enlightening comment, Randall! As one Black Voice from Brazil, It sounds me true that all this human curses could never come from a God of justice and love. May He bless you all!

  18. Continued:
    To further not only did God not curse Ham he actually blessed Ham along with the rest of the family in the beginning of Genesis 9. So we should stop saying the curse of Ham and say correctly the “blessing of Ham”. Even if Ham was cursed it is probably safe to say that Hams oldest son Cush (Africa) was already alive and grown when Ham did what ever he did. This means that even if Ham and Canaan was both cursed that The father of all Africans Ham was not.

  19. I just wonder for what purpose thus Ham went to his father’s tent. Was he maybe inquisitive about his father’s nakedness or maybe his reaction while he was under the influence of alcohol. If he was inquisitive of he’s father’s nakedness, then it might proof, that he is homosexual. If he was inquisitive of he’s father’s reaction while he was under the influence of alcohol, then it might proof, that he was spying on his father. I think he was inquisitive about something about his father.

  20. I have learnt over the years that all scripture is about Christ. The account of Noah getting drunk is not tabloid journalism. What is scripture communicating to us about Christ? The curse on Canaan, “servant of servants”, I understand as ultimately fulfilled in Christ who came as a servant, to redeem us who were servants of sin, thus becoming “servant of servants”. Christ said, “He who would be greatest amongst you, let him be your servant”. Christ turns the Canaanite curse on its head! More could be said, but enough for now.

    • That’s one good insight. Maybe another is equating Messiah to Noah, who has or will curse the wicked. But these particular metaphors quickly break down.

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    • That seems me to be the best path to the most right exegesis in search of the meaning of this text for us nowadays: linking It to Christ redemptive assignment showed up throughout the whole Scripture. The participation of Simon from Cyrene while helping Yoshua on carrying the Cross shines.

  21. Dr. Eli, it seems to me that the last option is the most feasible. Dr. Michael Heiser has a podcast where he deals with this. And when we look at what the Torah says, as you’ve shared from Leviticus, it seems to bring clarity, or at least, further clarity. I have ruled out the homosexual idea. Seems to me you have to read it into the text. Thank you for another good post. Blessings!

  22. Coursing Cham’s son instead of Cham is a really good question, if you address the pure literal story. However, the whole Noah’s story is a psychological story of the human being. Canaan is going to be the father of the land we have to conquer later, father of 7 nations

  23. Let me share another take on this. I have my MDiv and pastored for 23 years, then retrained now do trauma recovery counselling. Was Noah’s curse on his grandson (not the perpetrator himself), an “after drunk anger and shame” damages subsequent generations? Ie – Neil Anderson, “The Bondage Breaker.”

  24. Thank you for your insight Dr Eyzenberg, I am persuaded that the rape of Noah’s wife was the cause of the curse. This removes racism from result of the sin. Our Heavenly Father is not a racist, however he does judge the actions of the person and their character. Amen

  25. It should be noted that Ham did not uncover Noah’s nakedness. Noah did that himself. Ham SAW his father’s nakedness. The only verse in Leviticus 20 that relates seeing nakedness to sin is v.17, but that verse does so in relation to someone “taking” a sister and “uncovering” her nakedness.

    • Hi Chris, Check out Lev.20:11 in the Hebrew (‘ervat aviv=father’s nakedness) with Gen.9:22 (‘ervat aviv).

      • Ididthatbeforerespondingpreviously. Iknowthe same words are used, but Lev. 20:11 says that the man who sleeps with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness. Does Genesis 9 say anything about Ham uncovering his father’s nakedness? V.21 uses reflexive ‘yeet-gal’ to indicate Noah uncovered himself. Ham just saw and told.

        • Maybe you’re right Chris, no one knows for sure. But there are two things to consider: 1) Whatever happened, the details appear severely downplayed (probably to defend the honor of the victim) which decreases our certainty of what happened, and 2) this is just one theory. It is better that we have clarity on the various theories than it is that everyone should agree with each other. Thank you for engaging!

  26. Verse 23 also makes it clear that it was only “seeing” nakedness that was meant in this passage. Hence, Shem and Japheth walking in backwards to cover their father with their faces turned away.

    • That’s one explanation, but why curse Canaan then? Or why curse anyone; is that fitting for accidentally seeing one’s disrobed father and telling his brothers?

      • I am not convinced that surprise over seeing white skin on Noah’s normally covered parts is why Ham told his brothers what he saw. Ham may have been making the aforementioned “power-play” by blabbing about his father being unfit to lead due to his getting drunk and exposing himself.

  27. Mr. Custance did not forget to address the issue of Noah’s nakedness. He is saying that Noah’s face, arms, and other body parts that were normally exposed may have been darkened by the sun. These were the only parts that Ham had seen previously, but when Noah uncovered himself and lay naked, Ham was surprised to see the white parts and that is what he went out to tell his brothers about.

    • Yes, I read his article. So Ham’s descendant Canaan would forever be cursed as being a superlative servant because he noted to his brothers how pale Noah’s covered skin was?

      • To me, also, the “white skin”argumentistheleastconvincingpartofCustance’sthesis. ButHamwasshamedbythe”curse”Noahputon hissonCanaan. Thiscursealsoputthe kaboshonanypossiblepower-playsin the future. Custance is correct in saying that history shows Ham’s descendants as being servants par-excellence as far as material culture is concerned. The “curse” has been that their ingenuity in that arena has benefited others far more than themselves.

  28. WOW, in all my years I have never learned it as stated in all the above. I am so glad(GOD’s willing)to get to enroll soon. And I thought the curse was only by seeing his father naked and joked about it. Amazed!!!

    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with Exodus and The New Testament or Jewish Insights Into Scriptures I. You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!

  29. A lot o very interesting speculation. But in the end, that is all that it can be. Sometimes we just have to admit that we don’t “know” for sure. Well done for getting them all going!

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