Grace that Covers Sin
And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants He shall be to his brethren.” And he said: “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.” And Noah lived after the flood three hundred and fifty years. So all the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died. (Genesis 9:22-29)
A situation had developed in Noah’s tent. Noah had gotten drunk and while in his drunken state—fast asleep—he “became uncovered” (verse 21). It is evident from the text that some sort of lewd act was performed by Noah’s son Ham. Verse 22 states that Ham “saw the nakedness of his father,” and verse 24 states that when Noah awoke he “knew what his younger son had done to him.” Something happened to Noah. If it were only a matter of Ham seeing his father naked, no mention would have been made of something happening. But something did happen, something unspeakable and shameful. Later in the law to uncover someone’s nakedness equaled some sort of sexual deviancy (Leviticus 18:6-19; 20:11-17-21).
Shem and Japheth were the honorable ones here … they covered the nakedness of their father. They did not expose it, they covered it. This is a tremendous spiritual reminder to do the same for others, as God has for us (1 Peter 4:8; James 5:20; Proverbs 10:12; Psalms 32:1; 85:2).
With regard to our own sin, we must expose and admit it to God (and if necessary to others) in confession (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; James 5:16). With regard to other’s sins, we do our best to cover them unless it is a matter of church discipline or legal accountability.
Canaan bore the curse of his father’s transgression. Likely this was a prophetic curse. Gazing into the future of the Canaanite people, they became utterly despicable in thought, word, and deed. Their evil was so pervasive that as a people they were unredeemable. As with the culture prior to the great flood, judgment was God’s only option for them.
Noah lived hundreds of years after this incident, no doubt years of further godliness and influence. This incident does not define him, as our sins do not necessarily define us.
For Further Review
1. Think about the actions of Shem and Japheth. How is it a loving thing to cover another’s transgressions? See 1 Peter 4:8.
2. Why is it important to confess our own sin, while covering another’s? What is the blessed outcome of each action?
3. Consider the concept our sins do not necessarily define us. How has the grace of God in Christ affected the believer’s identity?