Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Noah's drunken nakedness and the aftermath

Intro to an oft-overlooked story: brief, ugly, and not understood in its context
--> given the post-Flood law/covenant to Noah, see: Kass (197) on “the founding of civil society, based on rudimentary but explicit notions of law and justice, rooted in the idea that all human beings are created equally in God’s image. Humankind now faces a new prospect, founded on the hope for an enduring human future protected against natural cataclysm, thanks to God’s covenant—and the hope for a peaceful social order protected against the violence of other men, thanks to the Noahide code.”
-so, the story is both domestic and political/social: Will the new order succeed? Is this law and covenant sufficient?

-19b's “scattered” descendants: alludes to flood and foreshadows events to follow (Ch 10's genealogy, Ch. 11's Babel)
--> Kass (201): looking forward “to a time in which the whole earth will be overspread not with water, but with people”
-18-19a's reintroduction to Shem, Japheth and esp. Ham as Noah’s three sons
            -as an aside, 2nd mention of Ham as Canaan’s father (more later)
            -Ham’s name means hot/warm—from a verb meaning “to inflame oneself”
-Shem’s name means “name”—a word used often prior to this; a key to the Babel story; and eventually how he will earn his “name” through his lineage to Abraham
--> Noah's sons and male ark companions—or in particular, our first [prototypical] (parent) father and son(s) story
-in context, the timing is not surprising: post-Law/Covenant, the ability of Noah (or not) to pass this on to his sons—the next generation, tradition
-from Noah’s personal piety to passing along law’s righteousness, covenant’s implied holiness, and most broadly, looking up to God
-Kass (197): “depends decisively on paternal authority and filial piety”
-vs. neither (a mess—individually, and if widescale, socially)
-vs. one or the other (exceptions)
-or hopefully both—see also: mom (!), but the importance of fathers AND the need for fathers to be exhorted (vs. sin of Adam’s silence, seeking esteem outside the home, etc.; Eph 6:4, Col 3:21)
-Kass (199): “because [the father] is capable of inspiring awe as well as security, shame as well as orderliness, distance as well as nearness, emulation as well as confidence, fear as well as hope, [he] is able to do the fatherly work of preparing boys for moral manhood, including, eventually, their own fatherhood.”
-can certainly be abused; difficult to balance encouragement and discipline
--> two clues that something might be unusual here
-8:16’s command vs. 8:18’s different order (followed 6:18’s command on how to enter—the old world’s model!)
-Kass (202): “Noah, a new man rescued from the Heroic Age, nevertheless apparently still holds to a heroic model of family structure: it is only the men who count.” (!)
-see also: little mention of women (Noah’s wife’s name?) until their vital role with the patriarchs
-here, not listed in order; not Biblically unusual to have two siblings reversed, but here…
-Shem as middle son (given 5:32, 7:11, 11:10)—model son, and thus, always mentioned first; virtue trumps birth order
-Ham youngest (9:24)—central character, mentioned in the middle here

-20's vineyard (Ps 104:15, Pr 31:6-7, Dt 14:26, etc. for drink OK)
-follows Cain into agriculture
-moves into wine: here, portrayed as man’s invention vs. divine gift (as in pagan myths)—and thus, a mixed bag
-21's drunk and naked (19:30-35’s Lot with daughters; Pr 23:35)
-a one-time slip or a recurring problem?
-former as not knowing wine’s potence or a mistake / too far
-latter as “PFSD” (post-Flood stress disorder)?! Pre-Flood, flood, seeing desolate landscape littered with animal and human corpses; overwhelmed with his responsibilities
-perhaps related to more idle time for all of them!
-either way, robs him of (some of) his dignity and authority
-Noah's account parallels Adam's account (cont'd)
-20's vineyard vs. God's garden in 2:8
-21’s sin from the fruit of the vine/tree
-21's nakedness of degradation vs. 2:25 for Adam's innocence and 3:_’s recognition of guilt
-Adam sought cover for his shame; Noah not even conscious of his
-in both cases, a pivotal event/revelation

9:22-23’s sons’ responses
-22's Ham sees—and then, tells brothers
-again identified as "father of Canaan" (9:18), foreshadowing…
-first may have been accidental[1] (although what was he doing in his dad’s tent?); second as purposeful
-both as a breach of family/cultural ethic (see: 24's “done to him")
-vs. Cain: am I my father’s keeper?
-Kass (208): “What sort of human being is Ham? What sort of person delights in rebelling against…law and authority?...Most often, he is the would-be tyrant, a man who seeks self-sufficiency.”[2]
-see also: his grandson Nimrod in 10:8-12
      -a form of patricide (a la Mt 5)
--> had enough faith/respect to get on the ark, but not enough to respect his father here (had Noah gone downhill?)
            --> big picture: Ham implicitly rejects the new law/covenant
--> w app. to how we handle others who have shamed themselves
-see: pop culture and talking about or even delighting in others falling
-public vs. private, mostly hurting self vs. others (drunk in house vs. driving or with grandchildren around)
-23's Japheth and Shem
-surely shocked to hear of the event—or at least, Ham’s account of it
-again, one-time or repetitive? in the past, had probably seen their father as courageous and authoritative (righteous; building/on the ark)
      --> what to do?
-where’s Noah’s wife?
-go and see; disbelieve; ignore/wait or proactive benevolence...
-confront Ham (nothing recorded)
-didn’t look—and covered Noah
-an act of grace (vs. mercy's just don't look—and wait ‘til he wakes up)
-Kass (209): “We readers are touched by this display of loyalty and filial piety…the perfect way they found delicately to correct the problem without participating in it…but they cannot erase the memory of their deed or of what made it necessary for them to perform it.” (and probably made things weird with Dad, from here forward)
-as God covers our shame/nakedness
-again underlines advantage of ears vs. eyes: once you see, it’s burned in your memory; if you hear, you may dismiss it as hearsay
-an interesting reference, again, to (appropriate) “knowledge”
--> big picture: both embrace authority and law/covenant

--> sobering: Cain/Abel’s first sibling story—rivalry; here, first parental story—Dad stumbles, struggles to pass on law/covenant and some conflict
-Kass (198): “fundamental and troublesome aspects of the natural relationship between father and sons…not how things ought to be but rather how they are, absent some additional, corrective teaching [or other intervention]”

9:24-29’s Noah’s response
-28-29’s Noah’s death/age
--> Kass (210) quips: “Noah does not take his shame lying down.”—before observing “for the first time in the biblical narrative, we hear Noah speak…Noah’s anger is surely expected, as rage is the usual response to being shamed.”
-anger seems to stir Noah to rare words (and perhaps action—at least, in dealing with his sons)
--> how did Noah know who did what? some combo of 24’s asked around and reasonable inferences given what he knew of his sons’ character
-25's “curse” for (Ham's son) Canaan and his descendants (fulfilled w/ Gen 14:4; Josh 9:27's Gibeonites, Judg 1, I Kings 9:20-21, etc.)
-“curse” communicates severity of the offense (Gal 1:8-9)
-curses and blessings as analogous to prayer (see: Psalms): supernatural petition—or at the least, what one hopes/wishes for another
-Kass (212): “exercising what he takes to be the magical potency of imprecatory speech, he summons the powers that be to exact vengeance upon Ham by punishing his son (and descendants)”
--> did Noah over-react (kicking the dog and continuing his sin)? why curse Canaan vs. Ham?
-presumably, in context, the last straw
-breach in father's family --> curse on son's family
-Ham sought to be free from parental authority and will be held responsible by his own son
      -as Ham had responded to Noah, so Canaan would respond to Ham
-25, 27’s slavery appropriate—might/right follows naturally without law/authority (what ch. 9’s law/covenant was trying to prevent and what Ham is militating against)
-probably more painful for Ham: for most fathers, worse that a child bears a cost
--> but is it fair/just?
-things don’t turn out too well for Canaan’s descendants
-curses/blessings somehow effective at times within the divine economy, but not in a deterministic sense (see: 26, 27’s “may”)
-Canaan not punished for father's sins (Ez 18:2-4, incl. grapes/wine reference!); instead...
-God’s pre-destination and foreknowledge: a nation He knew would be wicked (vs. their future being actively cursed)
-Ham's nature would be transmitted to his descendants—the practicality of the sins of the fathers
-life as communal/relational vs. individual
-do we count the blessings of family/generations as unfair?
-whatever the justice, it’s almost inevitable that there will be some curse/blessing from one generation to the next (what kind of son would Ham likely raise?)
--> practically, Noah as prophesying more than causing or wishing
--> some of Ham's sons settled Africa, BUT unfortunately this verse has been used incorrectly to argue for the enslavement of blacks
1.) would contradict NT teaching
2.) Canaan didn't settle in Africa
3.) Canaanites were Caucasian
-see also: Moses’ Cushite wife (and God’s defense of their marriage—Num 12:1,9-12) and interracial marriage

-26's indirect blessing for Shem (through God); 27's direct blessing for Japheth
-Shem as father of Shemites/Semites—Jews
-Noah seems to attribute greater righteousness to Shem
-Japheth as father of non-Arab/European Gentiles
-lived on friendly terms with each other
-“tents”: Gentiles share in and sheltered by Jewish people / God’s blessing
-in inheritance terms, Shem receives priesthood/birthright, Japheth receives double blessing (27's "extend territory")[3]
--> Kass argues that Noah’s three sons represent tyrannical man, noble/decent man, and pious man
--> interesting that first post-Flood speech (Noah’s last recorded deed) is meant to divide
-this is Noah’s division not God’s (although God might concur)
-God had divided Noah & Co. from the unrighteous (pre-Flood) and his next division will be with Abraham

--> why this story?
-as the Bible depicts (most) others “heroes of the faith”—with warts (w/ app.)
-sets up choice of Semites as the people with whom God would choose to work with more explicitly
-after the flood, evil reappears in a "godly man"—not a good sign!
      -continuing to point toward the OC—and eventually, the NC
--> what happened to Noah?
-starts off so strong (6:9’s character accolades), an amazing task, but a rough finish
      -3 big actions—builds ark (good), offers sacrifice (mixed), gets drunk (ugly)
--> bad ending or something larger? “the silence of Noah” (as Adam)…
-nothing recorded except (8:22,24 and) post-drunk curse/blessing
-Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (45-47) points back to the flood narrative and is pretty rough on Noah
-what does Noah say to God when it’s time to build the ark and save his family? silent obedience—but maybe obedience is not enough…
-what did Noah say to those around him? unknown, except Heb 11:7’s “by his faith he condemned the world” (how much of that was spoken?)
-the biggie: no intervention with God on behalf of those to be destroyed
--> “God seeks from us something other and greater than obedience, namely responsibility...the hero of faith was not Noah but Abraham”—fought a war for his nephew and prayed for the people of the plain, even challenging God: “What might an Abraham have said when confronted with the possibility of a flood?...Abraham might have saved the world. Noah saved only himself and his family. Abraham might have failed, but Noah—at least on the evidence of the text—did not even try…Noah’s end—drunk, disheveled, an embarrassment to his children—eloquently tells us that if you save yourself while doing nothing to save the world, you do not even save yourself…”
-Soloveitchik draws an analogy here between Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler (p. 13-14)
--> Sacks notes that Noah walked “with God” (6:9) while Abraham walked “before God” (17:1)[4]

[1] Later, the phrase “uncover the nakedness of” became a euphemism for “have sexual relations with”, but there is no sense of that context here. Kass (212-213) wonders whether its repeated use in Lev 18—with child sacrifice in the middle of a long list of sexual prohibitions—is a reference to Noah/Ham here. It’s also interesting that the Canaanites would struggle with sexual perversions.
[2] Kass also wrestles with the philosopher as antinomian. Here, Ham’s deed would be a function of curiosity, willing to look at/into anything. Ultimately, given that he also “tells”, Kass seems this as more tyrannical.
[3] 10:21’s Japheth as prob. older brother of Shem (but NIV text note). Judah/Joseph parallel would argue for Shem as oldest, but favoring oldest would be atypical in God’s economy.
[4] Sacks also points to the pace of the narrative: very quick until the waters recede; would expect Noah to emerge, but little action for 14 verses (ch. 8’s birds sent out); and then, he does not come out until commanded by God (good news earlier; other side of the coin here). Sacks concludes “It takes courage to rebuild a shattered world…When it comes to rebuilding the ruins of catastrophe, you do not wait for permission. You take the risk and walk ahead. Faith is more than obedience. It is the courage to create.”


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