Genesis 9:18 The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan. 19 These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole earth was peopled. 20 Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; 21 and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it upon 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.
Shem, son of Noah, holds special honor in both the biblical tradition and in the Orthodox sacramental tradition. In the Wedding Service of the Crowning, we invoke this blessing on the wedding couple: “Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Enoch, Shem, Elijah.” Shem is remembered between the two men of the Old Testament who were taken by God and whose deaths are not recorded in the Scriptures. God’s remembering His saints is the same as His blessing them and safely protecting them from harm and evil. Somewhat unexpectedly the survivors of the flood are invoked several times in the Sacrament of Marriage. In the Wedding service we want God to bless the wedding couple and to see their righteousness as He saw the righteousness of Enoch, Shem and Elijah. Both Noah and Shem, two men who found refuge in the ark from the cataclysmic flood which destroyed the world, are both invoked in the prayers of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The story of the flood is used in the Orthodox Church to invoke blessings on newlyweds. A good trivia question: In which sacrament of the Orthodox Church are the people on Noah’s ark remembered? I wonder how many would guess that Noah and flood are so connected to the sacrament of marriage. What does it say about our understanding of life for newlyweds in this world?
“Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard …“ Genesis 4:2 told us that Cain was a tiller of the ground, so in what sense is Noah the first tiller of the soil? The story has him being the first to have a vineyard, and some think the story only implies that he was the first husbandman. We had not yet been told that humans ate grapes, but apparently they have already learned the art of fermenting the grapes. This is also the first mention of wine and of drunkenness. Prior to this the only wickedness detailed by Genesis was violence. Though no mention of wine occurred before this reference, obviously Noah acted with intention in planting a vineyard – he somehow knew the product he wanted to produce. (Chrysostom excuses Noah thinking Noah was [pleasantly] surprised by the drink he could produce from grapes. St. John assumes Noah was depressed as every where he looked there would have been the dead carcasses of humans and animals left by the flood). The text has so far not spoken about or against alcohol nor alcohol abuse (drunkenness). God has not warned the humans of the potential dangers of alcohol abuse just as He had not warned Eve and Adam about the dangers of talking to the serpent. Does God think experimenting, discovery, learning by experience, and mastering desire are valuable for His free willed humans? Has God continued to assume the humans would practice self control? The Bible is circumspect in detailing what happened here but certainly implies that Ham in seeing his drunken father naked perhaps saw something lewd but more likely engaged in a lewd act far beyond voyeurism. Noah upon waking from his drunken stupor immediately knew what his son “had done to him” (:24). Noah wouldn’t have known if Ham had only looked – he felt or could see that something had been done to him. The text modestly avoids detailing what may have been an incestuous and homosexual act.
“he drank of the wine, and became drunk…” According to Psalm 104:14, God gave “wine to gladden the heart of man.” Wine is meant to serve a good purpose, but like the rest of creation it is subject to abuse by fallen humanity.
Chrysostom remarks that after the flood things were totally different for Noah – he is introduced to a carnivorous diet, and discovers wine as a new drink. Chrysostom goes on to say that wine was the first medicine invented by humans – it helped reduce the pain which Noah felt by realizing his world had been destroyed by the flood.