Genesis 9:24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed by the LORD my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 27 God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his slave.” 28 After the flood Noah lived three hundred and fifty years. 29 All the days of Noah were nine hundred and fifty years; and he died.
“When Noah awoke from his wine…” Many a drunk and alcoholic awakens from his alcohol induced stupor to discover to his/her shame and horror all manners of sin, evil, destruction and loss that he/she has caused or suffered. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler; and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1). The effects of drunkenness are well attested in the ancient world and in the Bible: “Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine, those who go to try mixed wine. Do not look at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like an adder. Your eyes will see strange things, and your mind utter perverse things. You will be like one who lies down in the midst of the sea, like one who lies on the top of a mast. ‘They struck me,’ you will say, ‘but I was not hurt; they beat me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake? I will seek another drink’” (Proverbs 23:29-35).
“…knew what his youngest son had done to him…” Noah has been violated in an awful way. He knows it – can feel it. No one tells him about it. He knew immediately upon waking from his drunken stupor that he had been violated not just viewed. Noah may have been drunk, but Ham was sober when he violated his father. While drunkenness is not an acceptable excuse for sinning, sin intentionally committed by a person in their right mind is a much more offensive fault. Additionally he commits the heinous act upon a person who is unconscious. Can it get worse than that? Yes, the person was his own father.
“Cursed be Canaan…” Ancient curses were never understood as mere words, but are always active and have a powerful (negative) effect on the cursed.
For the first time in Genesis, Noah, God’s righteous one, speaks, and his first words are a curse! He curses his grandson, in what seems to be an egregiously unfair act. It is possible the Noah’s curse on his grandson stems from the fact that when Noah sobers up and can feel what his son Ham did to him, he curses Ham’s son, Canaan, so that Ham can know what Noah feels – what it is like to have a son who is wicked and cursed. Even the Patristic writers recognized Noah’s curse as being patently unjust. As mentioned in the comments on Genesis 9:1, Noah perhaps felt he could not curse Ham because Ham had been blessed by God. But so outraged was Noah that he strikes angrily at Ham by cursing Ham’s son. Many a parent would rather be the one blamed and cursed for a fault than to let that curse/punishment fall on their child. Ham listens to his own son being cursed for what he himself had done. Would this not have sickened and crushed him? He may have thought it clever and funny to “expose” his father’s failure and drunkenness; now, the table is suddenly turned and his own failure as son is exposed to the detriment of his own child. He must have felt severely punished by such a curse so unfairly falling on his own son. Canaan is unfairly cursed and handicapped due to no fault of his own. Canaan truly suffers for the sin of his father. Chrysostom thinks Ham would have felt more punished by having the curse fall on his son rather than falling on himself. Ham is given no opportunity to repent or seek forgiveness. What horror he must have felt when he realized his child was doomed to servility and slavery.
Chrysostom writes, “…consider the grave evil sin is… behold the man sharing the same birth pangs as his brothers, born of the same womb, yet made their slave by the onset of sin, robbed of his freedom and brought into subjection—hence the origin of his subsequent condition of servitude. Before this, you see, there was not such indulgence, people being pampered in this way and needing others to minister to their needs; rather, each one looked to his own needs, there being great equality of esteem and complete absence of discrimination. When sin entered the scene, on the contrary, it impaired freedom, destroyed the worth inherent in nature and introduced servitude so as to provide constant instruction and reminder to the human race to shun the servitude of sin while returning to the freedom of virtue.” Slavery and discrimination are not part of the natural order of God’s world. Humans were not created to be servants of other humans but all were created equal – to be helpers to one another not servants and slaves to others. It is interesting that Chrysostom even mentions equality and that he declares servitude is the result of sin and not what God intended for those created in His image and likeness. Social class would thus also be a result of sin and belongs to the fallen world, not to the natural order. One might conjecture: did Chrysostom also did not think women were originally created to be servants of men either? The Fall has corrupted every human relationship.
Power and control over others is a result of sin, not a normal part of God’s order for humanity. Still, God will not allow the humans to suffer something that He is not willing to take on Himself. God’s Son also takes on the role of servant when He comes into the world. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5). The incarnate God, Jesus Christ, becomes a servant in order to save us. He also models for us the way of life which is the way of God’s love. “When (Jesus) had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15). “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Human slavery and servitude is the result of the Fall. God however, will use servitude to accomplish the salvation of the human race just as He uses death, another result of the Fall.