Grace for Drunken Farmers
OCTOBER 14, 2021
Sometime after the floodwaters receded, and after God made promises to all living things, sealed with a rainbow in the sky, Noah decided to plant a vineyard.
It’s not hard to imagine how months and months at sea would turn someone toward manual labor, i.e., to “be a man of the soil,” and to bury his sorrows in the bottom of a bottle.
But, intentions aside, the Bible shows us how Noah’s drunkenness leads to his shame and redemption, not simply for our moralistic instruction but our gospel instruction. Let’s read.
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 their father’s nakedness. 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.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.
– Genesis 9:20-26
In a nutshell, Noah gets drunk and passes out, Ham sees him naked and disrespects him to his brothers (likely making fun of him? — the details aren’t clear), but Shem and Japheth cover him up instead of furthering the embarrassment.
A fairly cryptic story, to be sure. But how does Jesus clarify it for us? It helps to back up and understand that the book of Genesis is a book of genealogies, family narratives, and bloodlines. Its theology is derived from genealogical patterns and familial resemblance. Some characters resemble Jesus and anticipate grace. Others send a different message.
We know from Genesis 10 that Shem is in the line of Christ, and Ham is in the line of many of the enemies of Israel who would arise later in the story … “types of sin,” we might say. So, this isn’t simply a story about trying hard not to see your dad naked. There’s a bigger and better message for us here.
Grace vs works
The Bible is a story of the interplay between grace and works. In fact, it’s one of the very first things you see arise after sin enters the world in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve work on sewing fig leaves and covering their nakedness themselves, but then God says, “No” to their work and graciously sews better clothing for them out of animal skin, by grace. And with that, the story is set in motion. Genesis 9 is another iteration of the same idea.
Ham is a picture of the law, how it exposes our sin, provokes disobedience, and leads us to shame and embarrassment. Nakedness is a significant motif in the Bible, but not in physical terms as much as spiritual terms. We are naked in our sins, hiding from God, and nothing we do to cover up ourselves can hide us from his all-seeing eye. The commandments and the “Do this and then you will live”‘s of the Old Testament simply won’t suffice. They are a mirror, exposing the nakedness, but doing little to cover it.
But, thankfully, there are other sons in the story. Shem and Japheth are pictures of grace, who cover Noah’s nakedness with a garment. Stretching back to Genesis 3, God is making it clear that one day, after the law has had its day in the sun, he would come in to replace it and lovingly and gently cover over our sins.
Genealogically, it’s no accident that Jesus comes from the line of Shem! He is born in the line of “covering,” not “exposing.”
Sobriety is not a prerequisite
A final note to consider is how this is all happening while Noah is passed out drunk. He’s not even conscious. See what this tells us about grace? God doesn’t expect you to sober up before you’re saved. He doesn’t even ask you to be awake, spiritually speaking. He just asks that you believe in him and his Son, the second Shem. There’s nothing he can’t cover with his blood.
See, Jesus is not just the Shem in this story; he’s the garment too. And he’s the second Noah, who was stripped naked and mocked, even cursed, so that we might be clothed and have our shame covered (Matthew 27:28). And it’s only his love that covers sin (1 Peter 4:8), something never said about the law anywhere in the Bible.
So, as the passage says, “Rejoice in the God of Shem!” which is to say “Rejoice in Jesus Christ, the mediator of a new covenant.” His covering grace really is enough. Wear it today.