Studies in the Book of Genesis Part 1: The Curse of Canaan -- By: Allen P. Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 137:547 (Jul 1980)
Article: Studies in the Book of Genesis Part 1: The Curse of Canaan
Author: Allen P. Ross


Studies in the Book of Genesis
Part 1:
The Curse of Canaan

Allen P. Ross

[Allen P. Ross, Assistant Professor of Semitics and Old Testament Studies, Dallas Theological Seminary]

The bizarre little story in Genesis 9:18–27 about Noah’s drunkenness and exposure along with the resultant cursing of Canaan has perplexed students of Genesis for some time. Why does Noah, the spiritual giant of the Flood, appear in such a bad light? What exactly did Ham do to Noah? Who is Canaan and why should he be cursed for something he did not do? Although problems like these preoccupy much of the study of this passage, their solutions are tied to the more basic question of the purpose of the account in the theological argument of Genesis.

Genesis, the book of beginnings, is primarily concerned with tracing the development of God’s program of blessing. The blessing is pronounced on God’s creation, but sin (with its subsequent curse) brought deterioration and decay. After the Flood there is a new beginning with a renewal of the decrees of blessing, but once again corruption and rebellion leave the human race alienated and scattered across the face of the earth. Against this backdrop God began His program of blessing again, promising blessing to those obedient in faith and cursing to those who rebel. The rest of the book explains how this blessing developed: God’s chosen people would become a great nation and inherit the land of Canaan. So throughout Genesis the motifs of blessing and cursing occur again and again in connection with those who are chosen and those who are not.

An important foundation for these motifs is found in the oracle of Noah. Ham’s impropriety toward the nakedness of his father prompted an oracle with far-reaching implications.

Canaan was cursed; but Shem, the ancestor of Israel, and Japheth were blessed. It seems almost incredible that a relatively minor event would have such major repercussions. But consistently in the narratives of Genesis, one finds that the fate of both men and nations is determined by occurrences that seem trivial and commonplace. The main characters of these stories acted on natural impulse in their own interests, but the narrator is concerned with the greater significance of their actions. Thus it becomes evident that out of the virtues and vices of Noah’s sons come the virtues and vices of the families of the world.1

The purpose of this section in Genesis, then, is to portray the characteristics of the three branches of the human race in relation to blessing and cursing. In pronouncing the oracle...

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