(A) Noah and his family teach us how God’s grace may seem to disappoint in day to day life (9:18-28)
These verses follow the life of Noah and his family after they disembarked from the ark. From the 3 sons of Noah -- Shem, Ham and Japheth -- come the nations (v.18-19). God destroyed the earth, but subsequently appointed Noah and sons to repopulate the whole earth.
How does the Scripture describe Noah- why is this important? At this point, it is important to realise that Hebrew narratives are economical in their word choices, hence words are often placed deliberately and are carefully chosen. Noah was described as a “man of the soil”, a farmer like his ancestor Adam. After the flood, he worked and planted a vineyard. But the verses also tell us that he got drunk. At this point in Genesis, we are told that Noah was a 600 year old alcoholic farmer. Not only so, in his drunken state, we are told that Noah “lay uncovered”, a picture of excess, hedonism and sheer lack of self-control. This seems different from the Noah that we have seen till now. Noah's shame in this passage and verses like Prov 23:20, 1 Cor 6:10, Eph 5:18 remind us that God does not want his people to indulge in the flesh and lose control to artificial substances. It is far too easy to lose our senses and control under the influence of alcohol.
Noah's sons saw what happened, and each reacted different. Ham saw his father's state and told his brothers, not out of concerned, but with more of an intention of making a joke and calling attention to his father’s shame. As a result, Ham committed a sin -- the sin of dishonoring his father. He broke what we now know is the 4th commandment. What about us today? As we get older, our perceptions of our parents change and we tend to see more of their flaws. Sometimes we are even led to think that they are doing foolish things. Despite all these, despite seeing their shortcomings, do we still honor them, or are we like Ham, quick to point out only with the intent of shaming them?
Shem and Japheth, however, were very careful not to see their father’s nakedness and took pains to cover it. They were careful to cover their father’s guilt and shame, in a way similar to how God treated Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. These two sons were able to forgive their father.
Noah's family was not perfect, and was very much affected by the broken relationships that plague the world after the fall. After this awkward encounter, Canaan, the son of Ham was cursed by Noah. This curse meant that Ham’s line was unable to participate in the redemptive plan of Genesis 3:15, where children played a crucial role in advancing this hope of redemption and restoration. In contrast, Shem was blessed, and the personal relational name of God was used in the verses. “The God of Shem” conveys a relationship with God, just like what Noah and Enoch had. Japheth was also blessed with the promise that he will continue to dwell in the provision and blessing of this God. We see that the Bible's definition of blessing is not to be showered with material provisions, but it is closely tied to God. The ultimate blessing held out in the Bible, is to enjoy the presence of this God.
This account (especially verses 25 to 28) reveals to us the domestic, familial sin that could plague families, even a family that God chose and chose to bless. How, then, should we learn to understand this seemingly awkward account? In Rom 15:4, we are reminded that Scripture, even this passage, serves as an encouragement, a source of hope, and instruction for us (c.f. 1 Tim 5:1). The Bible also reminds us that we will also be like Noah, and there will be times when we fail. The world is still broken, even after the judgment of the flood.
(B) The table of nations teach us God’s common grace, and His amazing sovereignty (10:1-32)
Chapter 10 provides for us a table of nations. The table has been organised according to the three sons, which make a total of seventy nation.
To us, genealogies may make not sense and can seem painful to read, but actually, each genealogy reminded the Israelites who read these verses that the promise made to Adam in Genesis 3 is being upheld!
Here, we also see that the people were grouped according to language and nation. The concept of nation in the Bible was closely related to bloodline and language (sets up Gen 11!). The use of the word “spread” paints a picture of multiplying and filling the earth, and is a fulfillment of the command in Gen 9:7. And the wonderful thing is that this is the same command given in the New Testament in Matt 28:18-20! In both the Old and New Testament, we are told that God has always intended for his people to be called from and his disciples to be made from all nations.
This chapter also serves to tell us the world that grows from the Second Adam, Noah. There are some important names and characters that we can pay a closer attention to:
Among his descendants include Sodom and Gomorrah (a symbol of sin) and many people groups that were eventually destroyed by Israel. His line was cursed, and we realise that Israel’s subsequent wars with his descendants were not just mindless bloodshed!
Nimrod was described as a mighty man, and was probably known for his valour and violence (c.f. Gen 6). He built cities for himself, and Babel was his son.
Egypt was a symbol of spiritual darkness and slavery in the Old Testament. By the end of the book of Genesis, we learn of how Jacob and his family move and live in Egypt, and the great nation of Israel begins to emerge from those times. The Exodus (of the book of Exodus) therefore is a lovely picture of God bringing his people out of darkness into light, from slavery into a relationship with Him.
From verses 6 to 20, we see that all of Ham’s children lived a life of sin apart from God. They were clearly not of the same line as the promise of Hope. Joshua 24 reminds us that there are two ways to live and Genesis 10 also illustrates this same idea. This is a choice that confronts each and every single one of us, and it is not merely something that the ancients had to grapple with. The same question lies before us now, and perhaps, has to be renewed everyday. Which will you choose? Whom will you serve?
In verse 21, we are introduced to Shem's son, Eber. Eber is the root word for Hebrews, and is the father of pepoel that eventually became the people of God. The rest of Genesis fleshes out the growth of this group of people that God has chosen, and Genesis 50 closes with a family that has grown to a tribe of 70 (spoilers!).
(As an aside, Japheth became the Indo-European peoples, Ham’s descendants are the Northern Africans, and Shem’s line became the Semites.)
As we end this chapter, what can we learn about the God who watches over the events in the book of Genesis? Acts 17:24-28 reminds us of the sovereignty of this God. Things don’t happen randomly and He does not sit back and watch chaos in the world unfold. Rather, the God of Genesis and the God the Bible puts everyone where they are so they should seek Him. We are Christians today not by accident, but by design. This God who watches over nations, puts kings into places, reached out and arranged events in time and brought about our salvation. Right from the beginning, He had a plan. In Genesis 10 we catch a bit more of this unfolding plan to seek and save us that cannot save ourselves from our shame and guilt.
This God, did not launch a plan for us to live up to His standards. This powerful God also came as a baby, born to a small, insignificant people group. He was born to the poorest of the poor. He did not live as a king. He lived a life of wandering with no home, practically a beggar. At the end of His life He died in shame and pain -- death on the cross, which was reserved for the worst of criminals, hung out for all the people to ridicule. Why? He took our shame, so that we can get all the praise and glory that is His.