The post-flood reset of the Earth, as I discussed before, is heavy on allusions to the first time God created humans. This time, God seems to give humans more responsibility for their own actions, though he does impart a few rules. I’m imagining God like the parent of a reluctant teenager: “Okay, this is Earth 2.0, and I’m not starting over again. I’ll still intervene, but you all have to step up and take more responsibility around here.” We’ll see how well that works out.
After the flood, in a classic example of symbolism, God also sets a bow (read: rainbow) in the sky as a symbol of his promise. His repetition throughout the chapter (almost to a fault) of “I establish my covenant with you” and “token of the covenant” emphasizes how serious he is about his promise that, after the rain has fallen, it will never happen again.
So then God goes back to his old speeches. By now the allusions to the past have become cyclical: “Be fruitful, and multiply,” God tells Noah and his family once again, this time to “replenish” the Earth (9:1). Also, God once again gives humanity dominion over plants and animals, giving them free reign to eat what they choose (9:2-3).
Well, almost everything. In our first example of religious dietary restrictions, he forbids humans to eat “flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof” (9:4). Although this was somewhat confusing to me at first, it essentially means that one cannot eat food made of (or including) animal blood. This is just fine with me: I’ve never had an urge to try blood sausage.
Despite the seemingly arbitrary rule on not eating blood, God’s language suggests humans are and should become more in the image of God. For one, God once again gives humanity dominion over plants and animals, but he also says animals will have “fear of you” and “dread of you” (9:2). “Fear” and “dread,” such strong diction, evokes the same fear that humans have of God. So God rules over humans, but humans are as gods to all other living creatures.
But that’s not a completely new theme. What seems to me the most drastic departure from God’s earlier decrees comes in verse 6:
Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man.
This is completely different from pre-flood God. After killing his brother, Cain is cursed forever, but God promises worse for anyone who tries to kill Cain. Now, God is no less than giving full permission for humans to engage in capital punishment. Not only is God giving humans more responsibility for their own actions, he’s giving them more responsibility for other people’s actions as well.
After some time, we get to see the first test of this new policy. One day, Noah (remember, God’s favorite who can apparently do no wrong) became drunk and was “uncovered within his tent” (9:21). There aren’t a lot of good competitors, but that has to be my favorite line: it encapsulates the downfall of God’s chosen in just one sentence. Bam.
Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without. (9:22)
Now, I’ll be the first to say that it’s completely embarrassing to walk in on one’s parent when they’re naked. But, just when a bit of context would be important, we get none. Was it accidental? Why did Ham tell his brothers about Noah’s nakedness instead of just slowly backing out the door (which is what I would have done)?
Because of Shem and Japheth’s reaction to this – covering their father in a highly intricate manner so as to avoid seeing their his nakedness – one can assume that seeing his father’s nakedness was the real crime, alluding to Adam and Eve’s realization in the Garden after eating the forbidden fruit.
But Noah could easily be just as embarrassed that his son had to go tell everyone that Noah, God’s favorite, acted in such a way. His crime & punishment are symbolically linked: just as Noah became drunk off the own wine of his vineyard, he is similarly betrayed by one of his sons. So this combination of factors would sting especially deep.
Whether or not Noah truly was at fault – he was the one who was drunk and naked, after all – doesn’t seem to matter, for he curses Ham’s son Canaan to be a “servant of servants…unto his brethren” (9:25). Some may find it odd that Ham’s son was punished instead of Ham himself, but I interpreted that as a continuation of a major theme: that heritage is critically important in determining status, culture, and other important characteristics. (In other words, you’re suffering because way back when your ancestor pissed off someone important.) For better or for worse, your actions reflect onto your progeny.
What I find most fascinating about the end of this chapter is the lack of response from God. But again, Noah is free to curse Canaan, because God gave him (and his fellow man) the power to do so as per the post-flood doctrine. The lack of detail about God’s reaction could be interpreted as a parallel to God’s new ‘backseat’ approach. But I still find myself wondering what God thinks of all this. Would he have cursed Canaan, too?
Honestly, guys, God is the most interesting character in this book so far. He’s had a ton of character development already, and we’re only 1% of the way through the book.