Sept. 22, 1996
v.19 The Scripture insists upon the unity of mankind, the descendants of the same
parents, the creatures of the one God. The prophets would later deal with the whole world
in their prophecies both of judgment and salvation.
v.21 Noah's drunkenness is not the focus of this history, but it well illustrates the
sin and the kinds of consequences that come from it.
v.22 There has long been uncertainty regarding the precise nature of Ham's sinful act.
Was it simply a profound disrespect for his father, whom he should have covered up,
certainly never gossiping of his father's disgrace to his brothers; or, as others have
thought, Noah's violent reaction suggests that "saw his father's nakedness" must
be a euphemism for some darker sin. Drunkenness and sexual sin go together often enough in
the Bible, but, all in all, it seems enough to stick with the plain words of the Bible, a
disrespect that was revealed both in a voyeurism on Ham's part and his delight in speaking
of it afterward to the insult of his father's name. v. 23 suggests this meaning in that it
shows the behavior that Ham should have displayed. We struggle to feel the force of that
disrespect because we do not feel, as did the ancients, the terrible and wonderful
sanctity that attached to the duty of children to respect their parents. We need a strong
dose of that medicine today!
v.25 These are the only recorded words of Noah! The curse falls on Canaan, Ham's son.
For his breach of the honor and obligation of the family, his family will
suffer. A principle that is to be demonstrated everywhere in the Bible. On the other hand,
the curse is not said to fall on the Hamitic peoples in general, but this one family line
of that group of peoples descending from Ham. The subjugation of Canaan and its peoples
later to Israel is the primary outworking of that curse. In the same way, the blessings
pronounced on Shem and Japheth primarily devolve on their descendants not themselves.
v.26 Of the three oracles, only that concerning Shem uses the personal name of God,
"Yahweh." The significance of that will begin to appear in 12:1. Interestingly,
this oracle blesses the God of Shem and not, as we might expect, Shem himself.
v.27 Is the fulfillment of this promise, "may Japheth live in the tents of
Shem," finally fulfilled in the ingathering of the Gentiles in the NT?
There is an historical phenomenon in Holy Scripture that is of immense importance and
we have an instance of it here in Gen. 9. Perhaps you have noticed this phenomenon
yourself in your reading of Holy Scripture. It is one of the grandest demonstrations that
the God who wrote this book is also the God who controls human history, so that he can
reveal the same truth in one medium as in the other and he can confirm and demonstrate the
truth he has revealed in his Word in the events of human life.
I am speaking of the fact that after every major development in the history of the
covenant of grace, the covenant of friendship and family love that God has made with his
chosen people, there is shortly, if not immediately, thereafter a profound violation of
that covenant on man's part. God no sooner takes men into loving fellowship and friendship
with himself than they spit in his face.
Human history began with God taking Adam into covenant with himself, granting him great
blessings, the most satisfying and honored place in the kingdom of God on earth, and
granting him the greatest gift, a woman with whom to share the pleasure of his knowledge
of God. And what did Adam do with that kindness, that generosity, that prospect of such
rich and fruitful life lying ahead of himself and his bride? He trampled it under his feet
and threw it away.
And now we have the same thing over again in the history of Noah, even Noah a righteous
man who walked with God. No sooner had God made his covenant with Noah, no sooner had God
stooped down to show Noah his great compassion and endless love for unworthy and sinful
human beings, no sooner had God treated Noah in the kindest and most generous way, than
Noah took God's good gifts and threw them back in God's face. He got drunk and in that
stupor and that inhuman and unmanly lack of self-control and self-possession, he couldn't
even keep himself covered and became a snare and an opportunity to his own wicked son.
But this is only the beginning of a series of such stunning betrayals of God's goodness
to his people. He would later make a covenant with Abraham and promise that man, who had
grown up nothing more than a pagan idolater in Ur, to give him and his barren wife a son,
to make of him a great nation, to bless the entire world through him and to bring forth
from his descendants the Redeemer of the world. God's gracious words were hardly uttered
before Abraham was in Egypt, a coward hiding behind his wife's skirts, risking her virtue
and God's promise, trampling on the honor of God in a mad dash to save his own skin.
The same thing happened again when God made his covenant with the nation and people of
Israel at Mt. Sinai. God had not only made a covenant with that miserable and benighted
people, under the boot of their oppressors in Egypt, but had brought them out of Egypt and
bondage on eagles' wings. And what was the result of that great redemption? Why Moses
wasn't even down from the mountain where he was receiving the details of that covenant
before Israel was cavorting with a golden calf and displaying an almost complete
disinterest in the God whose glory and majesty were being displayed before her very eyes
in the thunder and lightning and smoke that encircled Mt. Sinai.
And what of the covenant God made with David and his house, promising Israel's second
king that the King of Kings would come from his lineage and that the name of David, which
otherwise no one would ever have known -- it has only recently appeared for the first time
in archaeological records of the ancient world -- would instead sound forever in the
hallowed halls of the kingdom of God. Well might we suppose that following a promise like
that, following mercy so great as that, in contemplation of an honor great as that, David
would have been a man who, for the rest of his days, would have walked on ice, so careful
neither to offend against the will of his God or do anything that might, in any way,
betray the grace that had been shown him. But, you and I know that, as a matter of fact,
the promise had barely been delivered to him before David was embroiled in the most sordid
soap opera, behaving like any other cheap oriental despot, stealing another man's wife and
murdering her husband -- the better man -- to cover his shameful crime.
And still we are not done. In the Upper Room that fateful and wonderful night, the
covenant of grace was renewed once more, its meaning and its nature and its glory made
still more clear. It was given a new sign, the passover was transformed into the Lord's
Supper. With the prospect of his cruelest of all deaths lying before them all, that night
the Lord Christ renewed his friendship with his people, the twelve disciples representing
the entire church, promised them his Holy Spirit, the forgiveness of sins, and a room in
his father's heavenly mansion, all to be theirs because he gave his life a ransom for
them. And what was the end of that evening? I will tell you. It was one disciple betraying
him to his enemies, all the rest running for their lives at his arrest, except Peter who
followed his master only to betray him publicly. "If you confess me before men, I
will confess you before my father in heaven, but if you will not confess me before
And these are not all the instances of God's gracious condescension to make friends of
his people being answered with indifference, rebellion, or scorn. But time fails me to
Now, what is the meaning of all of that dismal history? Can it be anything other than
this: to demonstrate to us, to confirm what the Scripture in any case always teaches us,
that salvation is of the Lord, that we are no more able to carry it on once it has begun
than we were able to begin it in the first place. That from beginning to end, our
relationship with the living God depends upon his faithfulness to us and not ours to him,
his love for us and not ours for him, his fidelity to his promise, not ours
It is a principle so central and so important both to any true understanding of our
faith and life and to any true experience of fellowship with God that it is no
surprise that the Scripture should teach it to us in so many different ways.
We are taught the same thing, of course, in the Bible's repeated teaching and
illustration of the fact that even once we become Christians our lives are virtually as
full of sin as they can be, and what sins may be left behind are only replaced by others,
often worse: sins against the light and in defiance of the goodness of our God, sins of
ingratitude to God, of indifference to our Redeemer, sins committed against the living
presence of the Holy Spirit within us.
You know that I believe in real righteousness and real obedience. I often preach it to
you because the Bible teaches it so plainly. I believe that Christians are called to obey
God and to live to his glory and that they are equipped by the Spirit of God to do so and
that all Christians, real Christians, who have the new birth and the Spirit of God upon
them, will indeed, to some degree, live a holy life. There is such a thing as real
holiness and a real difference between those who follow Christ in the world and those who
If we were speaking of that this morning, we could speak at length of the reality of
that difference and of real righteousness of life.
But, let us make no mistake. That real righteousness, that real obedience, such
as it may appear in an earnest Christian's life, is so weak in comparison to that
perfection of life to which we are called and to which we will someday attain by the power
of God, is so little to be compared with the true goodness of a human life as God intends
it to be lived -- in thought and attitude, in word and deed --, our obedience at its best
is such a pale shadow of that life our Savior lived when he was in the world -- of the
deepest devotion to God, the purest love to mankind, and the firmest and holiest control
upon all of his desires and passions, especially on his love of himself, that no
right-thinking Christian will ever imagine that his or her obedience or righteousness
has anything finally to do with his or her salvation.
He will never be tempted to think that while God has done his part, he has also done
his. He will never suppose that God's grace got him going, but now he has done the rest,
even done the rest with God's help. She will never imagine that God brought her into the
family, but she has kept her place there by her own faithfulness and obedience. NEVER! Real
Xians know how unfaithful they are!
If ever it should come to pass,
That sheep of Christ might fall away,
My fickle, feeble soul, alas!
Would fall a thousand times a day.
It wasn't Noah's faithfulness that made that covenant stand, nor was it Abraham's, nor
Israel's, nor David's, it was God's and God's alone from beginning to end. And so it is
with the covenant he has made with you and me, if you are in covenant with God this
morning by a living faith in Jesus Christ, his Son.
Even the change that overtakes you because you are a Christian is from him and without
his continued protection of that change, without the on-going work of the Spirit of God
within you, the weight, the drag, the inertia of your own continuing sinfulness would
bring the effect of that new life to a complete stop, to nothing. All you provide, in the
last analysis, throughout this entire process of salvation, from the new birth to heaven,
is the sin from which God's grace and power delivers you and constantly must deliver you.
God's unchanging love for you, his faithfulness and fidelity to the covenant he has made
with you -- why he made it with you no one can say -- is the whole and entire and
complete explanation for your salvation, the beginning of it, the continuation of it, and
its final consummation in heaven.
Or as C.S. Lewis put it: "Though our feelings come and go, his love for us does
not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite
relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to
us, at whatever cost to him." [Mere Christianity, p. 118]
Here is the great message of Noah's fall and that of his son, so soon after God made
his covenant with them. Learn it well. Our trust is in God alone and not in ourselves, in
Christ alone and not in our obedience or faith. Was your faith crucified for you, was your
loyalty to God the ransom price paid for your sin?
But might not someone say, "Well, if that be true; that it is all God and none of
me, if his grace must not only begin the work but continue the work, if he will remain
faithful even though I do not, can I not relax as it were, and leave it all to God.
Indeed, can I not go and sin without fear -- I'm going to sin anyway, if what you say is
true -- why then should I be so worried about how faithfully I live?
But I am not worried that you will be misled by what I have said, by what the Scripture
indeed says far more powerfully and beautifully than I can ever say it. The Bible, of
course, recognizes that logic as superficially persuasive and, in fact, in several places
imagines someone thinking such a thing in order to demonstrate how evil and how foolish
such thinking is. Paul in Romans 6 is the greatest example of that.
But, as I say, I am not worried that you will be misled into taking less interest in
and less care of your loyalty to Christ because you know that the foundation of your
salvation is from first to last his loyalty to you and not yours to him.
Unbelievers who fancy themselves Christians might make an excuse of this, a reason to take
lightly the summons that Christ has issued to all of his followers to obey and serve him. They
might well imagine that they could take the garments of Christ's righteousness and turn
them into a cloak for sin.
They might well think that since every Christian continues to sin so much that
no Christian could ever keep up his end of God's covenant with him unless God should hold
up his end for him, I say he might think that because every Christian sins constantly,
neither our sin or avoiding it is all that important. But, as Rabbi Duncan put it, while
"There's nobody perfect" may be the hypocrite's couch of ease, it is the
believer's bed of thorns.
The true believer in God and Christ, whose heart is broken by his sin because of the
grief and the dishonor it brings to his heavenly father and the cost it was to his
Redeemer, will never find in God's faithfulness an excuse for his sinning! Love for
God and gratitude for his saving mercy will forever make sin hateful to a Christian and
something which can never be happily indulged. Paul did not deny that he continued
to sin terribly and that he was, for that reason, consuming every day of his Christian
life, enormous quantities of divine love and faithfulness and mercy. He knew he was. But
that fact made him, he tells us, not a self-secure and indifferent consumer of God's daily
gifts, but a wretched man, a bond-slave, hungering to be rid of his sins, though unable in
this life to get clear. It is what made heaven so delicious a prospect for him -- finally,
at last, no longer at the beck and nod of sin! Finally, at last, able to give to God a
life worthy of the grace he had received. But until heaven was reached, love constrained
him to press on for that for which Christ had laid hold of him. So long as he continued a
sinner, at least he would continue, for the sake of the love of God and Christ, an
unwilling and unhappy sinner.
I have been reading these past several weeks of mornings to my sister in St. Louis,
whom, as you may know, is dying of cancer. Each morning on the telephone I read to her
some passage from a Christian classic or some classic sermon to encourage her, to
strengthen her faith, to enliven her hope, to give her a better sight of Christ and
heaven. It has been a wonderful time for us together and I am deeply grateful to the Lord
Friday morning I read to her a sermon of Alexander Whyte from his volume of sermons
taken from the spiritual experience of Thomas Shepard, the Puritan theologian, pastor, and
first president of Harvard. This particular sermon had for its title a sentence from
Shepard's journal, "The thought of my fast-coming death often makes me very
As only Alexander Whyte could do it, the preacher considered the reasons why Christian
people can still fear death and why they are so uncomfortable in the prospect of dying.
And, as you might expect, Whyte found much of that fear in the troubled conscience, sins
that still rose up to bite the soul even at that late date, sins of long ago, sins more
recently committed, sins of commission and of omission. As he puts it in the midst of that
great sermon: "The truth is, it is a wonder that any man among us ever dies in
peace of conscience with so many causes of reproof and remorse crowding round his
And what is the remedy for that? Is it, could it be remembering what righteous works we
have also done while we lived in this world, the obedience we have offered to God, the
service we have rendered to Christ? Never! No Christian conscience could ever be
silenced in that way. There are too many sins and our righteousness is too imperfect to
silence an awakened conscience at the hour of death!
No, the great preacher has another remedy, a far more effective remedy for an
uncomfortable and terrifying deathbed. And that is to remember that from beginning to end
our hope has always been and could be in no one else but a gracious, merciful, faithful
God, whose love for us not ours for him is the whole and entire explanation for our
To make the point, he reminisced about his very first pastoral call when he came to be
the pastor of Free St. George's, where he was to labor almost 50 years. It was to an old
elder. Robert Candlish the great Free Church preacher and theologian had been the pastor
of St. George's before Whyte and they used to say that no one ever had elders like
Candlish had at Free St. George's. Here is Whyte remembering the scene:
"...I see the thing as if it had been yesterday. There lay open on his pillow --
what book do you think? His Bible? No. The Pilgrim's Progress? No. The Saints'
Rest? No. Rutherford's Letters? No. I will tell you what it was, for you would
never guess. It was the Westminster Confession of Faith, and it was open at the
great chapter on Justification. "I am dying on that gospel chapter," he said.
And I had no sooner finished it to him than he fell asleep in Jesus his
righteousness." [p. 133]
And here then is Whyte's own remedy for your uncomfortable prospect of death and your
own fearful deathbed. It is the old, strong, wise remedy that the godly have known from
the beginning of the world -- to turn to the one who will be faithful and true and whose
love cannot fail, no matter how miserably we have failed him, whose covenant stands firm
because he makes it firm for us and hold us in it with all-powerful arms when we
would, every day and a thousand times a day, fall away from it and from him never to
"When your old sins crowd around your deathbed and stare you in the face have
instant recourse to the blood of atonement. And as you [would] lay aqua fortis (the
old name for nitric acid) upon letters of ink to eat them out, so still be dipping the
hands of thy faith in the blood of Christ. This do every moment that is now left thee, and
that so awful handwriting that was recorded against thee [--the record of all your
sins--], when it is sought for it shall no longer be found... As Rutherford sings it: --
I stand upon His merit, I know no safer stand,
Not even where glory dwelleth in Immanuel's Land." [135-136]