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.
Chrysostom says wine is not in itself evil, but intemperance always leads to sin. He also notes that since Noah was the first to get drunk, drunkenness is reported only after the flood occurred and therefore must not have been one of the sins that led to God destroying the world through the flood. “I mean, voluntary intoxication is really a demon, clouding the intellect more severely than any demon, and robbing its victim of any sense of values…. The drunk, on the other hand, does not deserve excuse, no matter what he does.” Chrysostom has no pity for the drunk who he believes chooses his evil ways. Chrysostom does not have our modern sense of uncontrollable alcoholism but only the person who willingly “surrendered himself to the tyranny of drunkenness.” He does see drunkenness as a tyrant, but drunkenness is still chosen sin. “The fact of sinning is not so harmful as persisting in sin.” Chrysostom was a firm believer in free will and did not hold to ideas of predestination to sin, nor of genetic predetermination toward an illness. He sees humans as making their choices, some of which lead to slavery to sin, but that is the end result of an unwillingness to resist temptation or evil.
“became drunk…” Though Noah is considered righteous by God, this does not mean sinless. Noah commits sin in his drunkenness. Christ alone is said in scripture to be without sin (Hebrews 4:5), and later Christian thinking also attributes sinlessness to the Theotokos. In the Orthodox funeral service the priest says, “there is no one who lives and does not sin, for You (Christ) only are without sin and Your righteousness is to all eternity.” God sees the hearts of each of us and judges our hearts. He works with those who love and fear Him, even if they do on occasion sin against Him. Noah’s moral lapse does not cancel God’s seeing him as righteous. God is realistic in dealing with humans – He knows their hearts are inclined to evil, but He also is able to distinguish between a moral lapse and defiant evil.
“Ham… saw the nakedness of his father.” Ham reveals his true nature – shamelessness. Genesis traces the history of humanity through the relationship of father to son, but it makes comment neither about the role and responsibility of a father nor that of the son. Be that as it may, whatever human wisdom or tradition exists is being handed down through these relationships. Suddenly in the story of Ham, we are confronted with another reality. Cain committed fratricide against Abel. But for the first time since Adam and Eve rebelled against God in Paradise, a son is reported to commit an offense against his father. And the depraved and base offense appears to involve something incestuous and lewd. And whatever it is, Ham is shameless, for he does not try to hide his offense but rather calls his brothers to see as well. And now the brothers for the first time witness their father having been humiliated. The story shows the collapse of natural relationships, the collapse of respect, and the existence of shamelessness, lewdness, as well as wicked sexual abuse. A new kind of evil has been unleashed within humanity. And Shem and Japheth in shock can do nothing more than cover the nakedness of their father. They are shamed and embarrassed for their father’s humiliation. They do not even want to look upon what has happened. And yet they do nothing to their younger brother, but await their father’s sobering up from his drunken stupor to discover what has been done to him. Either in respect for their father’s authority, or lacking the will to deal with the offense, they leave it up to their father to deal with the evil which has occurred. Is it possible that they were in such shock to realize that though God had saved them from the wickedness of the world by means of the ark and the flood, that they witness and realize Ham has now committed the same old sins in the newly purified world? The darkest abuse and violation in a family has occurred. Natural relationships have been destroyed. Two brothers are called in to be voyeuristic witnesses to the indignation and they are so shamed that they will not even look but want to cover it up – and then let their father deal with it.