Noah sinned and did so in a way that publicly introduced into the new world the sins for which God had destroyed the old world. His three sons were aware of his sinfulness. One responded in delight, the other two with sorrow before God and profound respect for their father.
Waking up out of his drunken stupor Noah knew what his three sons had done. And this means that he also understood what he had himself done, and the wickedness of it. God revealed both of these items to Noah. Being dead-drunk he saw neither what Ham did nor how Shem and Japheth had covered him in his shame. God revealed that to him. And God also revealed to Noah the sinfulness of his own deed. The curse which he pronounced on Canaan makes it plain that Noah received grace from God to understand and to hate the sin he had himself so publicly committed. And then, he did not hate it simply because it was public sin, but because all things are open and naked to the eyes of the living God against Whom he had sinned.
Of Shem and Japheth Noah in the name of God declares, “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem . . . God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” Of Canaan he says, “Cursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.” This is stated twice more when Noah says of Shem that, “Canaan shall be his servant.” And, as pointed out, this same expression was used after the blessing was pronounced upon Japheth.
Now the point that stands out, in this whole prophetic pronouncement of Noah after his sin and that of Ham, is that not one word is mentioned about Ham. It is, “Cursed be Canaan,” who was the youngest son of Ham. And this has led to various positions in regard to this curse. In the minds of some this is a far more severe curse than had the name of Ham been mentioned. For then it is, according to this view meant not only for Ham, who, found such delight in that sin of his father, but from him down though all his sons to the very youngest of them. It. was a total curse upon the whole race, or races, that would be his descendants.
Then there is the other side that insists that Ham was an elect child of God, as well as Noah. And as Noah was forgiven and brought by God to repentance, so Ham himself was a believer who is not cursed by Noah who knew of the repentance that God had given to Ham. In his youngest son, however, Noah saw the moral weakness of Ham boldly and openly displayed, and it is for his own sins (not those of his father, Ham, for God never punishes the children for the sins of the father) that Noah pronounces the curse, as guided by the Spirit, upon Canaan alone.
We might interject here a little stress on what was just said. That Ham need not be considered a reprobate has for its basis the fact that his sin was no greater than Noah’s, who certainly in Hebrews 11 is pictured and listed as one of the giants of faith. And the number seven need not exclude Ham. Eight souls were saved in the ark. We need not take one of them away in order to hold to the symbolism of the number seven, the number of God’s covenant. Every time the number seven is used in Scripture it does not have that symbolism any more than every time we read of the number three, it refers to the Triune God. And according to Genesis 17:12 a covenant son had to be circumcised when he was eight days old and not seven. According to Exodus 26:25 there were to be in the tabernacle, the symbol of God’s covenant with His people, “eight boards and their sockets of silver. . . .”
And as far as all the descendants of Ham coming under this curse to be servants to Shem and Japheth, history itself shows that this is not true. The second son of Ham was, according to Genesis 10:6, Mizraim, and his descendants are the Egyptians who have never served Shem and Japheth, while Shem’s descendants were for four hundred years in the land of Egypt and under some of Egypt’s very cruel, hopeless servitude.
By the same token, all of the descendants of Shem were by no means blessed by God; and some of them, in fact, crucified the very Christ!
Neither must the slavery imposed upon the African negroes be cited as a fulfillment of this prophecy. They are not descendants of Canaan, though they are of Ham. And white races have been in slavery as surely as part of the black races were. And our missionary to Jamaica, the Rev. Lubbers, used to tell these descendants of Ham whose skin is of various shades of darker color than ours — black is not the word for it; neither is colored, for we also are colored people with the color of pink shining through our skin — that it is not a skin problem, but a sin problem that is evidence of the curse and that must be changed.
But a little review of Bible history will show that Canaan moved after the confusion at the tower of Babel to what became known as the land of Canaan. All of Ham’s descendants did not by any means or stretch of the imagination move there. God called Abraham some years later out of Ur of the Chaldees where Shem’s descendants had settled; and before this the Canaanites had already begun to dig wells, plant vineyards and olive yards, pave roads and build cities, cultivate land and prepare a land for Shem’s descendants, who, in God’s time would come up out of Egypt to enjoy what Canaan’s children had prepared — be it unwillingly and unconsciously — for Shem and his descendants as they were now centered in Abraham and his seed. These descendants of Canaan served the Church of God in a very unique way. And the prophecy of Noah looks forward to this service they rendered by God’s decree.
Shem and Japheth here do not simply stand as individuals, nor are all their descendants included in the blessing and in the service which Canaan individually or in his descendants shall give. The promise of God is always to His Church. And Canaan shall serve the Church, and that includes those of Japheth’s descendants who belong to that Church.
The slavery of the negro never served in that capacity. They were made to be slaves of unbelievers, were cruelly torn from their land by unbelievers and sold for carnal reasons. That is not in the fulfillment of God’s promise to His Church. And let no man sell the Holy Spirit short as though He cannot gather into the tents of Shem also those with Ham’s blood in their veins, yea even with Canaan’s blood in their veins.
What will you say of Rahab, a Canaanitess? What will you say of the Canaanitish woman of whom Jesus said that He had not found so great faith in Israel? What about the Ethiopian eunuch to whom Christ sent Philip? And what of Simeon called Niger (which means black and perhaps from it comes the shameful word “nigger,” which surely ought NEVER to be used upon a child of God.) The curse is not, according to the passage, a matter of color, and the curse is not removed by the change of the color of the skin. It is deliverance from the servitude of Satan, and slavery under the power of sin that is needed and that today God is pleased also to give to some of Ham’s and Canaan’s children.
But the slavery of the negro races surely is not the fulfillment of this prophecy also from the point of view that it was not Shem’s descendants in the Old Testament dispensation who were served by them to such a special degree that God would here predict it through Noah. If any of Shem’s descendants were guilty of selling the bodies and souls of the descendants of Ham in Africa for slaves, it was not the spiritual seed of Shem, and it was not the Church that had their servitude, but it was the fleshly seed, and the flesh of that seed that had this service from Ham’s descendants.
But the striking element in the whole account is the sovereign decree of God that makes such a sharp distinction between four men involved in one incident, together with their descendants. Noah initiated the sin, and can be held guilty for Ham’s sin. Had Noah walked as an upright example for his son, his son would not have committed the sin of calling his brothers to enjoy with him the evils of the first world. But no curse is pronounced upon Noah. Instead he may with joy pronounce a blessing upon his son Shem that signifies all the covenant blessings being upon him and his spiritual seed. Through Shem, and that means through Christ, Noah himself will be blessed with the forgiveness of sins. No wonder it is that he says,) “Blessed be the God of Shem.” God be blessed for His pardoning grace and sanctifying Spirit that bought him upon his own knees in sorrow and contrition for his evil deed and example before his children. And that Jehovah is Shem’s God indicates that all the blessings of salvation are promised to Shem and to his spiritual seed after him. Here the covenant line will be found until that day when Japheth’s children shall also be gathered into that same temple of God – here called the tents of Shem. And the word enlarge can mean persuade, that is, convert and bring to trust in this same God.
But were Noah and Shem and Japheth in themselves any different or better than Ham’s youngest son would soon reveal himself to be? Why the distinction made? Noah sins. Ham has pleasure in them that do such things and is led by Noah into sin. Ham’s youngest son progresses in evil beyond this and without any repentance or concern. That Shem and Japheth receive a reward of grace for their work is not hard to understand. But Noah goes Scott free?
Divinely it was decreed that Noah should be set aside for salvation, now not by the waters of the flood and in an ark, but by the blood of the cross of Christ and in the mercy and grace of a sovereign God. We are reminded of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians in II Thessalonians 2:13, “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God, for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” For there you have it. God made a distinction eternally, and while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us according to that distinction.
And who shall say that God may not deal with two sinners in two different ways? Who will find fault with the divine Potter? Well, you may not tell Him what He may or may not do. You may not tell Him whom He may elect and that He may not reject. The decree to distinguish between His creatures belongs to the Creator. However, it is not an unjust distinction that He makes. It is not measuring with two rods. He is righteous is all His ways. It is the distinguishing grace of God’s sovereign predestination that has Noah chosen in Christ and that Canaan has rejected. It is a divine decree that makes distinction between sinners. And because according to this eternal distinction Noah is in Christ and Canaan is not, there is forgiveness for Noah and a curse upon Canaan in strict righteousness.