Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Fulfillment of the So-Called “Curse of Ham”

What does it mean at Christmas?
Genesis 9: 24-27

Even an 8th or 9th grade student can figure some things out and see the fallacy of a long-held argument. This is especially true when the youth has been raised free from the prejudices which spawned the argument.

Such was the case when I was in the 8th or 9th grade. In American History class I learned of the so-called “Curse of Ham.” This was used to argue that God had destined the Negro race to be slaves. It was an interpretation of Genesis 9:24-27. Noah’s youngest son, Ham, had dishonored his father’s decency, so Noah had put a curse on his descendants. Since the Hamitic people of Africa (the Blacks, or Negroes) were from Ham, Southerners argued that all Negroes were cursed by God to be slaves.

Well, I was in a Christian school, and had been taking Bible classes. I looked up the passage and read it for myself. The error of the “Curse of Ham” leaped right off the page. The curse was not on Ham himself, but on his son Canaan. It was Canaan’s descendants who were to be servants to others. They were the ones conquered by Israel in 1400-1395 BC. I concluded that the argument was a misinterpretation of Scripture fueled by racial prejudice and economic self interest.

Decades later, I revisited the Curse of Canaan and saw that it was actually three-fold. Here is the text (from the New American Standard Bible):

24 When Noah awoke from his wine, he knew what his youngest son had done to him.

25 So he said, “Cursed be Canaan; A servant* of servants* He shall be to his brothers.”

26 He also said, “Blessed be the Lord, The God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant*.

27 “May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant*.”

* Note: “Servant” literally means “slave.”

First, Canaan would serve his brothers, meaning his descendants would serve the descendants of the other sons of Ham. Then he would serve Shem. After that, he would serve Japheth. This was literally fulfilled in history before New Testament times. First, the Canaanites were subject to the Egyptians (from Mizraim, son of Ham). Then they were conquered by the Israelites, sons of Shem. Then they were subject to the Greeks, sons of Japheth.

This is also fulfilled in Jesus. It is at Christmas we think of his genealogy, if we ever do. Of course he was a descendant of David and Abraham, but who else was in his line? Let’s see:

Tamar, daughter-in-law of Judah, was a Canaanite. David came from her. So was Rahab of Jericho a Canaanite. Then David’s wife Maacah was a Canaanite princess. Her great great granddaughter, named after her, was the mother of King Abijah and grandmother of King Asa.

Another Canaanite princess, from Sidon, was Jezebel, wife of Ahab, King of Israel. She was the grandmother of King Ahaziah of Judah, from whom all the rest of Judah’s kings came. Both Joseph and Mary were descendants of Zerubbabel, grandson of Jeconiah, the exiled King of Judah. So Jesus was also her descendant. He descended from at least four Canaanites.

What does this mean to us? Two things:

First, Jesus came to be a servant. “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” He was the example of servanthood for us. He said that the greatest among his followers would be the servant of the others. First he served his brothers, the Jews, then he served the whole world.

Second, on the cross Jesus became cursed for us. It was there he bore the curse of our sins, not for ours alone, but the sins of the whole world.

At this season, let’s remember why he came and what he did.

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Mark 9:35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.

Galatians 3:13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.

© 2009, Wesley G. Vaughn

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