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What did Ham do when he ‘saw the nakedness of his father?’

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“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside…” ~ Genesis 9:22

Most students of Scripture believe the sin of Ham to be some kind of leering look cast at Noah while he lay exposed in a drunken stupor in his tent.

What interpreters miss is that Ham’s sin was almost certainly not homosexual lust but incest. He had sex with his own mother while Noah was too drunk to notice.

The phrases “to see the nakedness of” and to “uncover the nakedness of” are used repeatedly as unmistakable euphemisms for sexual intercourse by Moses himself. No less than 17 times in Leviticus 18 alone Moses uses the phrase “uncover the nakedness of” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse, and particularly for the sin of incest. I submit the phrase has the same meaning in Genesis 9 that it has in Leviticus, for both books were written by the same author at the same time.

Leviticus 18 contains a list of the kinds of sexual intercourse that are off-limits by God’s design. For instance, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister…you shall not uncover the nakedness of your son’s daughter…you shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister…etc.” (vv. 9,10,12).

And “to see the nakedness of,” the exact expression found in Genesis 9:22, is also clearly used as a euphemism for sexual intercourse in Leviticus 20:17: “If a man takes his sister…and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people.”

The sordid list of illicit sexual activity in Leviticus 18 includes homosexuality and bestiality but is occupied primarily with incest, whether a man commits the sin with his mother, his step-mother, his sister, his granddaughter, his step-sister, his aunt,, his daughter-in-law or his sister-in-law. All such liaisons are forms of “depravity” (18:17). In each case, the phrase “uncover the nakedness of” is used.

Now the first incestuous act on the list is described in Leviticus 18:7:

“You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother; you shall not uncover her nakedness.”

In other words, a man’s mother has a nakedness that is his father’s nakedness, that is, a nakedness that belongs to his father alone. He is not to “uncover her nakedness,” i.e., have sexual intercourse with her, because her sexuality, her nakedness, is to be reserved only for his father.

This sheds an entirely fresh light on Genesis 9:22, for it reveals that Ham’s sin is not that he leered at Noah but that he had sex with Noah’s wife, his own mother, while Noah was passed out on the couch. He “saw the nakedness of his father,” that is, the nakedness that properly belonged only to Noah.

Shem and Japheth backed into the room so they themselves would not be tempted to commit the same sin, and laid a blanket over the exposed body of their mother.

This also explains an otherwise odd thing. In Genesis 9:22 Ham is identified not just as Ham but as “Ham, the father of Canaan.” This is incongruous, unless of course, Canaan is the son who was born of this incestuous union between Ham and his mother and became the father of the Canaanite people.

This explains why the curse of Genesis 9:25 fell, not upon Ham, as one might expect, but upon Canaan. Noah does not say, “Cursed be Ham,” but “Cursed be Canaan.” (Now Ham certainly experienced the effect of this curse himself, as his legacy would forever be tainted.)

In the larger narrative of the Pentateuch, this story is included to lay the foundation for God’s decision to use Israel as a means of judgment on the Canaanites. They were a people conceived in incest, a people who began their history under the curse of sexual depravity, and were a people characterized by sexual perversity for their entire history, as events in Sodom and Gomorrah illustrate.

In time, the unrepentant sexual deviancy of Canaan caused them to forfeit their moral right to exercise sovereignty over their native land and they were destroyed. The land “vomited them out” (Lev. 18:25), as if their depravity had made their homeland physically sick. In time, when the “iniquity of the Amorites…(was) complete” (Genesis 15:16), God’s patience was exhausted and Canaan was judged by the armies of Israel.

If God does eventually cause the hammer to fall on nations who indulge in and celebrate sexual deviancy, the question we must ask ourselves in today’s America is this: how long before God’s judgment must fall on us? Will the pagan armies of Allah be his tool of judgment just as he used the pagan armies of Babylon in Jeremiah’s day?

Let us hope and pray for national repentance so that we do not have to discover the answer to that question the hard way.

(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)

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