Post last updated on April 24, 2022
Image credit: The Jewish Museum, New York
Genesis 9 instructs us in the gracious and surprising work of God; but of course, this sentence suffers from an obvious redundancy, for God’s grace should always strike us as surprising. But should the surprising and gracious elements of this chapter not initially be evident, a brief survey of the chapter will prove helpful before the gracious surprise is considered in a following article.
When Noah and his family disembarked from the ark, they entered a new world, the old having been destroyed by the flood (cf. 2 Peter 3:6). It is ultimately impossible to read Genesis 9 without seeing the connection of Noah’s new world with the world that preceded it. That world, first entrusted to Adam, was eventually destroyed, for sin finally took its fullest and inevitable control over unrepentant humanity. This new world, then, emerged from the flood waters that destroyed its predecessor. God proceeded to bring forth this new world from waters in a way that recalls the imagery of the first creation (cf. Genesis 1:9-10).
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Of course, Noah is the first principal character in this new world, and in several respects he is presented as Adam’s successor. Much like Adam, Noah is also granted privileges and responsibilities by God (cf. 9:1-2), which remind the reader of Adam’s original mandate. Also, Genesis 9:20 tells us that Noah became a husbandman. That is, he resided and worked in a vineyard, a setting and work which again recalls the garden of Eden. In fact, the mandate that God gives Noah will differ in some particulars from that given to Adam before him; and yet, their several similarities are impossible to ignore.
That said, there are important differences in the later story from the former. Genesis 3—and this is confirmed by Romans 5:12—speaks to how sin first entered the world through Adam. Sin was not initially part of that first world that God had created; it entered from without, effected by the temptation of the serpent and the disobedience of Adam. Genesis 9, however, describes a scene in which sin—already now part of Adam’s race—finds its expression from where it begins in the human heart. Eve and then Adam faced temptations that were presented by the serpent; Noah and his sons lived in a world where sin is a contagion residing within man himself (cf. Matthew 5:16-20). This fact eventually becomes the source of a wonderful irony: man is cursed because of sin; nevertheless, man will also become the means of blessing. Sin will not frustrate God’s promises nor purposes. That is all described here in Genesis 9, but it is not our subject yet.
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At some point and in some way in which the details are not given, Noah drinks wine from the grapes of his vineyard. And on the occasion, described in verse 21, he is found unclothed. This is where many different speculations are offered by commentators, because the details they look for are missing. Did Noah merely fail to undress and dress properly himself because of his drunkenness? Or, did someone else unclothe him? The reader is not told everything here, but perhaps the point of the passage is not quite what some assume.
The events and symbols of Eden are being recast for the reader. Noah’s degradation, here, is associated with a fruit from a tree of sorts, a vine. His intoxication eventually results in his nakedness and shame. This is similar to the way that Adam and Eve eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and are then ashamed when they understood their own nakedness (Genesis 3:7). Of course, in the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s nakedness was not in itself the cause of shame; nakedness was their created and natural state. Their sense of shame arose only after their sin—an important distinction that we cannot consider here. Nevertheless, Noah’s drunkenness and subsequent nakedness is immediately shameful; but he is not as Adam, who goes from unproblematic nakedness to shame because of sin’s effects; Noah is initially clothed and is then unclothed.
Clothing here carries the symbolic significance of righteousness. After all, when Adam was clothed by God, that clothing covered Adam’s new shame. Even still, that clothing became available to Adam only upon the death of an animal, for he was clothed in animal skin (Genesis 3:21). In this way the connection between sin and shame (on the one hand) and sin and guilt (on the other) is confirmed. Importantly, the associated conditions of shame and guilt are both provided for by the same sacrifice. The death of this animal demonstrates the provisionary role of animal sacrifices up until the future day in which the Lord Jesus Christ would be offered for the sins of the world (Hebrews 9:26, Hebrews 10:4-10).
But the question remains as to the cause of Noah’s disrobing. The reader understands the fact of Noah’s nakedness without being told of the exact cause. Genesis 9:22 tells us that Ham first discovers Noah in this state, and then relays this news to his two brothers, Shem and Japheth. Whether Ham is guilty of some offense against his father has, again, been cause for debate. And yet, scripture is more explicit about what Ham did not do rather than what he might have done; for when Ham saw Noah’s nakedness, his two brothers clothed their father without him. They, in a sense, cover his shame, which Ham fails to do. Ham is content to let his father remain ashamed. The scene ends when Noah curses and blesses their sons for their respective roles. Shem and Japheth are blessed, but then comes the surprise: Ham’s son, Canaan, is cursed and Ham is not.
Just as it was in the beginning with Adam, so it becomes here with Noah: their common privileges are overshadowed by the work of sin in his world. In the cases of both Adam and Noah, sin undercuts and destroys their common blessings. Like Adam, Noah’s shame—evident in his nakedness—is eventually covered; but one important point is that Noah will not emerge as a second but victorious Adam in this second world—not the kind that the scripture will later proclaim. Unfortunately, Noah’s story takes on the same tragic character of his predecessor. A second and last Adam, then, needed to undo the sin of the first. He then underwent the shame of the first, disrobed and then disclothed on the cross (cf. Matthew 27:28-35, John 19:23).
Accordingly, 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 describes the Lord Jesus as Adam’s great contrast, rather than Noah. Indeed, from this point on scripture will highlight a list of men who, despite heroic faith, fail in saving righteousness. Hebrews 11 catalogues some of them: Moses, David, and even men like Samson—they become merely typological and predictive of their savior, but still show themselves sinners. Scripture unfolds in just this way, so that the singular distinction of the second man, who is also called the last Adam will belong to Jesus Christ himself. Genesis 9 highlights many similarities of Adam and Noah, which means it necessarily highlights Jesus’ superiority to them both—for he will be the blessed man who is made a curse for us. Blessed be the God of Shem.