Genesis 9:20-22 - Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.”
Instead of blessing all his kids equally, Noah curses Ham for 1. leaving him naked and 2. telling his brothers to come and look (possibly as a means of making fun of Noah).
Why such rage against this offense?
Consider what happened with Adam and Eve in Eden after they sinned:
Genesis 3:8-10 - And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
God could have left Adam and Eve naked in shame, but he didn’t:
Genesis 3:21 - And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.
He covered them.
What did Shem and Japheth do for Noah?
Genesis 9:21 - [They] took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father.
Ham was guilty of leaving Noah in a naked state - of not covering him.
We don’t know what kind of person Ham was. Maybe he was always doing wrong things and this was the final straw for Noah.
The New Clothing
Throughout the Bible, we see a curious word - “atonement.” Our eyes often pass right over the word, only vaguely sure of its meaning and intent.
People have cleverly noted its definition as “at-one-ment” - to be brought back together with God. It denotes a satisfaction or fixing of wrong. And this is true.
But the Hebrew word translated as “atonement” literally means “covering.”
Just as God covered Adam and Eve with new clothes in Eden, so he covers us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross:
Galatians 3:26-27 - So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
God built this idea of covering and clothing into his story from the very beginning and all through the Old Testament.
He’s the original and most excellent fashion house.
This post inspired by RC Sproul’s “Noah’s Nakedness”.