When Noah was drunk, Ham did something to Noah. Something that was wrong. And whatever that something was, when Noah awoke, he cursed Ham's son:
When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him. So he said,This passage probably causes numerous questions to come to mind. However, I want you to first focus on this question: Did Noah have the power to control the future?
"Cursed be Canaan;
servant of servants
He shall be to his brothers."
The answer is probably what you think it is: No. Noah definitely did not have the power to control the future. No mere human has the power to determine the future of countless generations by speaking a few words.
Noah's curse, then, should be seen as a type of prophecy. Noah was not determining what would happen hundreds of years down the road; he was just prophesying (through God's grace) what would happen because of Ham's actions.
Which brings us to the next point: We know that Noah was prophesying, but what does his prophetic curse mean?
This question can best be answered by looking to Abraham. Nearly one thousand years after Noah uttered his curse, God made a covenant with Abraham. Part of the covenant was that Abraham's descendants would receive the Promised Land. The only "problem" with this covenant at the time was that the Canaanites- descendants of Canaan- were already living in the Promised Land (Genesis 17:8).
The Canaanites were a thriving culture for many generations after God's covenant with Abraham. It was not until about 500 years later that the Israelites, under the command of Joshua, conquered the Canaanites. Yet even then, they did not conquer them completely:
It came about when the sons of Israel became strong, they put the Canaanites to forced labor, but they did not drive them out completely. (Joshua 17:13)This could be a fulfillment, or at least a partial fulfillment of Noah's curse. Some, however, see a more broad fulfillment of the curse. The argument goes something like this: throughout history, the descendants of Canaan have generally been in positions of servitude. Perhaps this is a good argument, or perhaps not. Either way, Noah's curse on Canaan should never be used as a justification to mistreat Africans as people of "Ham's descent" (as was done in the past by some slave masters in the American South).
It is important to keep in mind what Paul wrote to the Galatians:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)Ancestry no longer matters for those who are in Christ Jesus. No Christian should ever look down on another man because of his "race" (note that every human can find Adam and Noah in his family tree, for more info see Genesis 9:18-19).
You probably still have one lingering objection to Noah's curse. You might be wondering how it is possible for an entire line of unborn descendants to be cursed on the basis of a decision made by one of their ancestors. In the second part of this series, I intend to address this objection.
The Blessing On Shem And Japheth - Genesis 9:26-27
Ham's Evil Act Against Noah - Genesis 9:22-24
Noah's Fall - Genesis 9:20-21
Why You Are Related To Noah - Genesis 9:18-19