Sunday, February 24, 2008

Noah, his sin, his shame and his sons

Musings in Genesis and genealogies.

Before the flood we're told that hearts of all men are evil. We're also told of women marrying the sons of God and that producing the Nephilim - giants who will recur in the future of God's people, with enemies like Goliath and perhaps even Jezebel who try to wipe out God's kings.

After the flood, we're told again that the hearts of all men are evil. Humanity at this stage is only Noah and his family. Counted righteous by faith, yet still evil. So, it's not really surprising that when Noah gets into the Vineyard business he soon ends up drunk. God's new humanity are as sinful as his old humanity. Something more than a flood is required. And God has vowed (9v15) never to repeat the flood.

In comes Ham, who we're repeatedly reminded is the father of Canaan (18, 22, 24-25). Ham has the opportunity to cover Noah's sin (just as we need Christ to cover our sin with his righteousness?), but instead he gossips it to his brothers who do cover it. When Noah wakes from his stupor he curses Canaan (son of Ham) and blesses Shem and Japheth.

In chapter 10 we get the table of nations, seventy of them. Tempting to pass over this chapter! What do we see. First the sons of Japheth, mariners who spread to fill the earth - including Tarshish. The story of scripture rarely follows these.

Next Ham. His sons are Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan. From Cush comes Nimrod who founds Nineveh in Assyria - a rebel in God's face. That's not the last we'll hear of them, likewise Babylon. Those nations will blight God's people as an agent of divine judgement, except in the revival under Jonah. From Egypt will come the Philistines who will so oppose God's people in later generations until the seed David comes to defeat their giant.

And then there is Canaan whose sons will be populating the land with their sinful ways when God's people come to move into the land God gives them. Among them Sodom and Gomorrah. There also will be the Amalekites who will impede God's people. Saul will have the opportunity to defeat them but it'll take until the days of Esther and Mordecai for deliverance to come.

From Shem will come Abraham and from him God's people, the semitic peoples. Shem's line aren't any less sin-corrupted than the rest. A few chapters later in Genesis 19, Abram's brother Lot will be intoxicated by his daughters who will sleep with him and bear Moab. Judah fares similarly with his daughter-in-law Tamar. In Numbers 25 God's people will prostitute themselves with Moabite women at Shittim, before a few spies head into the land and land up at the house of prostitute Rahab (any guesses why they ended up there?). From that God will bring a hint of grace drawing the Canaanite woman into the line of King David.

Later in the land the people will intermarry with Canaanites as they proceed to do whatever is right in their own eyes. That being largely to follow other gods - the gods of their Canaanite wives. In days of famine the family of Elimilech will run to Moab instead of taking the opportunity to repent and see grace again. They'll intermarry with the Moabites, including Ruth. In something of a reversal of the story of Lot, Boaz and Ruth will give Naomi a new son to continue the line.

The table of nations sets the scene for the troubles of God's people in their sin. Not that the people here are particularly bad in themselves, but they'll ensnare Israel as they go looking for sin and threatening at every turn to extinguish the search for the seed who will save God's people. Guarded by the law and the watchful eye of the Lord God's people will endure against all odds and against their own commitment to self-destruction. As the story of the Old Testament draws to a close with exile, executed through the sons of Egypt and Nimrod, largely for sins committed with Canaanite idols.

We're left to wait for God's promises to find their fulfillment. A fulfillment that will expand to include the nations on a huge scale. Even at this stage of the populating of earth God is interested in all the nations and peopel groups. Along the way these peoples will afflict God's people and occasionally be drawn in. Genesis 10 is the seedbed of troubles for God's people and the seedbed of God's global purposes - already driven by God's commission to Noah to multiply and fill the earth. Genesis, and the genealogies, are vital for seeing the panoramic view of God's salvation story. It's one big unfolding story rather than lots of isolated incidents.


  1. a few spies head into the land and land up at the house of prostitute Rahab (any guesses why they ended up there?)

    I can't believe that I never questioned why they were in that house before. It just goes to show that you can read a passage a million times and sometimes not see the obvious.

    More generally though, great post as usual. I thought I would let you know that your musings got me musing as well (you can read it here).

    Not as well written as yours. I thought I knew what I was going to write when I started but it changed into something else.

  2. Me again,

    Just thought you my be interested to read two more posts by Peter Leithart on Ruth. This time on echoes of Tamar (1 and 2).

    It seems in Ruth there are two kinds of intermarrying and two kinds of kinsman-redeemer. There is Elimalech's sons who leave the promised land and seek the promise in another people doubting God's word. And there is Ruth who enters the promised land and seeks the promise in God's covenant people, trusting God's word.

    Then there are the two kinsmen-redeemers, one who forgets his duties according to God's word (who remains nameless) and one who honours them (who is the ancestor of David and Jesus).

    Faith and obedience. Boaz fulfils what his ancestor failed to do in Genesis 38, and Ruth does not seduce like the Moabitess' that came before her.