Fathers’ Forgiveness Dilemma: What if Noah Forgave Ham?

 

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” (Genesis 9:24–26)

I am a big fan of justice. Really. Every act of wrongdoing must be met by an equal measure of retribution, probably. Without awareness or implementation of justice, the world would go rogue. It is, then, absolutely significant to uphold strict values of justice to keep everyone in check and protect ourselves and others against our offenders’ selfish and ignorant acts. However, in the face of justice, can we also experience and extend forgiveness to others?

Today, let’s talk about fathers and forgiveness. Can a father’s discipline also show love and grace? While it is unjust to bring up spoilt children, these children need to see an image of a father who chastises them with love. As the Scripture states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov 22:6). Children make some mistakes because they don’t know the right way. Some of these mistakes can be catastrophic, especially if they disonor a family name. Given how fathers are protective of their family names, some dissociate themselves from their children, even disowning them. There is a similar story in the Bible.

I have read the book of Genesis multiple times, but my recent read took a different turn. I sought to know what happened to several generations mentioned in the early chapters of the book. Well, given the significance of Noah’s story and God’s redemptive power, I wanted to know what happened to his children after the flood. I don’t know about you, but I like creating connections between Biblical characters — paying closer attention to the repetition of names and genealogies. It is easy to see Noah as Abraham’s ancestor and see how God preserves the seed — and you’d probably never worry about what happened to other siblings.

But it is also necessary to see some shortcomings and how they affected generations. One such shortcoming was Noah’s patriarchal pronouncement on one of his sons, Ham, a curse that marked him for eternal servitude to his brothers, Shem and Japheth.

So, what happened that so angered Noah that he chose unforgiveness instead of maybe reprimanding Ham and admonishing him never to repeat the mistake again?

Here is how the story goes. After the flood, Noah got in a celebratory mood. He was in good cheer because God had just spared him and his family. Noah became a prolific farmer, and he had a bumper harvest. He made wine and drank it, lots of it. Unfortunately for him, he uncovered himself, and Ham saw his nakedness. While there are many theories on what Ham did after witnessing the nakedness that drove Noah to the edge, I want to assume that it was so bad that forgiving him would send the wrong message to his children — that it is alright to disrespect their fathers!

Now, I have been thinking about this curse and its unraveling consequences later in Ham’s life. It is highly probable that Ham was alone when seeing his father’s nakedness, but Noah did not care about that. Or, Ham was accompanied by his son, Canaan, in disgracing his father, so the curse wasn’t misplaced, and they both deserved it. Either way, Noah decided to teach them a generational lesson. This decision was the beginning of Ham’s undoing. Later, rogue theologians twisted this story to make Ham an African and justify why the blacks are destined to serve their white counterparts, even enslaving them.

The descendants of Ham never chose this life for themselves. However, they became victims of their father’s sin and grandfather’s unforgiveness. In subsequent chapters of Genesis and multiple parts in the Bible, we see this curse in action. First, when Nimrod decided to mobilize people to build the tower of Babel, God admired the work but did not like what it was doing to the people. He brought confusion, and the project failed miserably. Throughout their generations, Hamitic people became godless and possessed worldly power — but they always lost to their fellow kinsmen. The land of Israel was originally assigned to Ham’s son, Canaan, and for centuries it was under the control of Egyptians. Part of God’s promise to Abraham, a descendant of Shem, was to give him Canaan, meaning that he would displace them from their land. Centuries later, Israelites entered Canaan’s “Promised Land,” pushing its inhabitants out and enslaving others (1 Kings 9:20–21). While Shem and Japheth’s descendants flourished, Ham’s children encountered one failure after another.

Reframing the Narrative

Imagine if, in response to Ham’s disrespectful act, Noah had chosen forgiveness rather than cursing his grandson. This alternative path would have led to a vastly different outcome for both individuals involved and their subsequent generations. I cannot help but imagine how the world would have been if Noah had been compassionate, and instead of cursing his grandson, he chose an open dialogue, allowing him and Ham to address underlying issues and mend their strained relationship.

I mean, come on, Noah had just been a recipient of God’s mercy by saving him while He destroyed the entire world with floodwaters. Was the offense to him worse than what people had done to God? As a recipient of God’s mercy, he could have paid it forward by forgiving his son.

Fathers have a significant role in shaping what their children become. In this generation, we see most fathers refusing to forgive their sons and setting them up for future trouble. While it is the duty of the sons to honor their fathers, these fathers also have to not provoke their children to anger (sin and disobedience). I keep wondering whether it was possible that Ham did not know whatever he did was wrong or what he should have done after finding his father naked. Could Noah have spent much time with his elder sons, Shem and Japheth, instilling morals in them but neglecting the same teachings to his youngest? His elder brothers knew exactly what to do in such situations, so when they heard Noah was naked, they rushed to cover him.

In his book, The Identity Project, Kevin Tindi states, “Fathers make mistakes, sons make decisions.” This quote encapsulates the essence of personal agency within the context of family relationships. Fathers, like all humans, are fallible and prone to making errors. They may unintentionally hurt or disappoint their children through their actions or choices. However, children have their own agency and can make decisions regarding their response to their father’s mistakes. Sons who fail to make the right decisions in response to their father’s mistake keep the vicious cycle of mistakes going — spanning across generations. Noah made a mistake by drinking too much wine and exposing himself, but Ham’s decision of dishonor affected his entire bloodline.

Fathers must learn to create time for open dialogues with their children. There are many fatherless children today whose fathers are still alive. Familial alienation is more prevalent today than ever because fathers have refused to become the bigger persons in their relationship with their children. Cursing or setting up your bloodline for a curse is detestable. Human fatherhood is set to reflect our heavenly father. Fathers need to discipline, but also, they must protect their children’s generations by showing mercy and grace! Fathers must learn to forgive their children!

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Order a copy of my book on Forgiveness: Love and Grace Unchained here.

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