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The Covenant with Noah


God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2The fear and dread of you shall rest on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the air, on everything that creeps on the ground, and on all the fish of the sea; into your hand they are delivered. 3Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you; and just as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything. 4Only, you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life.


Whoever sheds the blood of a human,

by a human shall that person’s blood be shed;

for in his own image

God made humankind.

7 And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it.”

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9“As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” 12God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” 17God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”

Noah and His Sons

18 The sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled.

20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23Then 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 away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. 24When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25he said,

“Cursed be Canaan;

lowest of slaves shall he be to his brothers.”

26 He also said,

“Blessed by the L ord my God be Shem;

and let Canaan be his slave.


May God make space for Japheth,

and let him live in the tents of Shem;

and let Canaan be his slave.”

28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred fifty years. 29All the days of Noah were nine hundred fifty years; and he died.

25. Cursed be Canaan298298     It has been remarked by Bishop Lowth, that nearly all the indications of future events in the Holy Scriptures are announced in verse and in numbers. — Prael. 2 We have here a remarkable instance of this peculiarity. The following is a translation of Bishop Lowth’s version of Noah’s prediction: —
   Cursed be Canaan!
A servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.
Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem!
And let Canaan be their servant.
May God enlarge Japheth,
And may he dwell in the tents of Shem;
And let Canaan be their servant.
Prael. 4

   The adoption of some differences of reading has been suggested by later critics. It has been especially observed, that the first hemistich is a broken or short line, and does not correspond with the next in length or rhyme. And on the authority of the Arabic version, (see Walton’s Polyglott,) many learned men would thus fill up the line —

   “Cursed be Ham, the father of Canaan.”

   They would also, on the same authority, alter the fourth and sixth lines, by inserting the word “father,” thus —

   “And let the father of Canaan be their servant.”

   Yet such alterations are not lightly to be made in the sacred text; and it seems highly probable, that the addition in the Arabic version was intended for nothing more originally than a paraphrase to explain the translator’s view of the passage. The reader is referred to Caunter on the Poetry of the Pentateuch, for further information respecting the poetical character of these verses; and to Bishop Newton’s Dissertations, No. I., for its prophetical application. Some excellent remarks, of a practical kind, will be found in Bishop Hall’s contemplations. — Ed.
It is asked in the first place, why Noah instead of pronouncing the curse upon his son, inflicts the severity of punishment, which that son had deserved, upon his innocent grandson; since it seems not consistent with the justice of God, to visit the crimes of parents upon their children? But the answer is well known; namely that God, although he pursues his course of judgments upon the sons and the grandchildren of the ungodly, yet in being angry with them, is not angry with the innocent, because even they themselves are found in fault. Wherefore there is no absurdity in the act of avenging the sins of the fathers upon their reprobate children; since, of necessity, all those whom God has deprived of his Spirit are subject to his wrath. But it is surprising that Noah should curse his grandson; and should pass his son Ham, the author of the crime, over in silence. The Jews imagine that the reason of this was to be traced to the special favor of God; and that since the Lord had bestowed on Ham so great an honor,299299     Namely, that of having preserved him in the ark. — Ed. the curse was transferred from him to his son. But the conjecture is futile. Certainly, to my mind, there is no doubt that the punishment was carried forward even to his posterity in order that the severity of it might be the more apparent; as if the Lord had openly proclaimed that the punishment of one man would not satisfy him but that he would attach the curse also to the posterity of the offender, so that it should extend through successive ages. In the meantime, Ham himself is so far from being exempt, that God, by involving his son with him, aggravates his own condemnation.

Another question is also proposed; namely, why among the many sons of Ham, God chooses one to be smitten? But let not our curiosity here indulge itself too freely; let us remember that the judgments of God are, not in vain, called “a great deep,” and that it would be a degrading thing for God, before whose tribunal we all must one day stand, to be subjected to our judgments, or rather to our foolish temerity. He chooses whom he sees good, that he may show forth in them an example of his grace and kindness; others he appoints to a different end, that they may be proofs of his anger and severity. Here, although the minds of men are blinded, let every one of us, conscious of his own infirmity, learn rather to ascribe praise to God’s justice, than plunge, with insane audacity, into the profound abyss. While God held the whole seed of Ham as obnoxious to the curse, he mentions the Canaanites by name, as those whom he would curse above all others. And hence we infer that this judgment proceeded from God, because it was proved by the event itself. What would certainly be the condition of the Canaanites, Noah could not know by human means. Wherefore in things obscure and hidden, the Spirit directed his tongue.

Another difficulty still remains: for since the Scripture teaches that God avenges the sins of men on the third and fourth generation, it seems to assign this limit to the wrath of God; but the vengeance of which mention is now made extends itself to the tenth generation. I answer, that these words of Scripture are not intended to prescribe a law to God, which he may not so far set aside, as to be at liberty to punish sins beyond four generations. The thing to be here observed is, the comparison instituted between punishment and grace; by which we are taught, that God, while he is a just avenger of crimes, is still more inclined to mercy. In the meantime, let his liberty remain unquestioned, to extend his vengeance as far as he pleases.

A servant of servants shall he be. This Hebraism signifies that Canaan shall be the last, even among servants: as if it had been said, ‘Not only shall his condition be servile, but worse than that of common servitude.’300300     Vide Ainsworth in loco, Bishop Newton’s Dissertation i. Yet the thunder of this severe and dreadful prophecy seems weak and illusory, since the Canaanites excelled in strength and in riches, and were possessed of extensive dominion. Where then is this servitude? In the first place, I answer, that though God, in threatening men, does not immediately execute what he denounces, yet his threats are never weak and ineffectual. Secondly, that the judgments of God are not always exhibited before our eyes, nor apprehended by our carnal reason. The Canaanites, having shaken off the yoke of servitude, which was divinely imposed upon them, even proceeded to grasp at empire for themselves. But although they triumph for a time, yet in the sight of God their condition is not deemed free. Just as when the faithful are iniquitously oppressed, and tyrannically harassed by the wicked, their spiritual liberty is still not extinct in the sight of God. It behaves us then to be content with this proof of the divine judgment, that God promised the dominion of the land of Canaan to his servant Abraham, and at length devoted the Canaanites to destruction. But because the Pope so earnestly maintains that he sometimes utters prophecies, — as did even Caiaphas, (John 11:51,) — lest we should seem to refuse him everything, I do not deny that the title with which he adorns himself was dictated by the Spirit of God, ‘Let him be a servant of servants,’ in the same sense that Canaan was.

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