Noah’s Fall (Genesis 9:20-29)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

After his heroic work on behalf of humanity, Noah falls into a troubling domestic incident. It begins—as so many domestic and workplace tragedies do—with substance abuse, in this case alcohol. (Add alcoholic beverage production to the list of Noah’s innovations; Gen. 9:20.) After becoming drunk, Noah passes out naked in his tent. His son Ham bursts in and sees him in this state, but his other sons—alerted by Ham—circumspectly enter the tent backwards and cover up their father without looking upon him in the raw. Exactly what is so shameful or immoral about this situation is hard for most modern readers to understand, but he and his sons clearly understand it to be a family disaster. When Noah regains consciousness and finds out, his response permanently destroys the family’s tranquility. Noah curses Ham’s descendants via Canaan and makes them slaves to the other two sons’ branches. This sets the stage for thousands of years of enmity, war, and atrocity among Noah’s family.

Noah may be the first person of great stature to come crashing down into disgrace, but he was not the last. Something about greatness seems to make people vulnerable to moral failure—especially, it seems, in our personal and family lives. In an instant, all of us could name a dozen examples on the world stage. The phenomenon is common enough to spawn proverbs, whether biblical—“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18)—or colloquial—“The bigger they come, the harder they fall.”

Noah is undoubtedly one of the great figures of the Bible (Heb. 11:7), so our best response is not to judge Noah but to ask God’s grace for ourselves. If we find ourselves seeking greatness, it's better to seek humility first. If we have become great, it's best to beg God for the grace to escape Noah’s fate. If we have fallen, similarly to Noah, let us confess swiftly and ask those around us to prevent us from turning a fall into a disaster through our self-justifying responses.