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“Then Noah drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside” (Genesis 9:20, 21).
This is the first mention of drunkenness in the Bible. We don’t even know how Noah knew how to turn grapes into wine, but somehow he managed. And then he managed to pass out and make a fool of himself.
Has anyone ever said, “I’m so glad I drank till I was unconscious?” I’m pretty sure no one. Ever. This just demonstrates the truth of Proverbs 20:1 and 23:29-33: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise …. Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has contentions? Who has complaints? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who linger long at the wine, those who go in search of mixed wine. Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it swirls around smoothly; at the last it bites like a serpent, and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart will utter perverse things.”
Drunkenness was Noah’s sin in this passage. But Ham’s was disloyalty, a lack of discretion, and a love for gossip and mocking that went beyond his love for his father. And I think the key word there is “love.” At a time when Noah’s sin had left him vulnerable, Ham had no compassion or love for his father. But his brothers did. We read that they took a garment, put it on their shoulders between them, and walked backward into the tent so they could cover their father without looking at his nakedness.
“Love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
I want to be like Shem and Japheth. But I’m ashamed to say that I often find myself acting like Ham. I saw the ugliness in myself recently when some gossip came my way. It concerned a man I knew a long time ago who had been dishonest in his business dealings for all the years since. He’d been caught in some lies early on, but that just led to more lies. That led to what can only be described as a fascination with forging — of documents for his business and even seemingly insignificant things, like tickets to amusement centers. It seemed a badge of honor to him to be able to pull one over on someone else. At one point, he used a lie he told about us to elevate himself somewhere else. The lie was believed; the promotion was given, and he went on to create trouble there like he had with us.
And then a few weeks ago the news came to me that this man been caught embezzling tens of thousands of dollars at his current job, and was, in fact, in jail.
And do you know what I did? I said, “I knew it would come to this.” And then I let myself savor the delicious taste of vindication. I thought about it all morning, and told my husband, “We saw this coming.” I brought it up again later that afternoon, wondering out loud how much time he would serve, or if he’d find a way out of his mess, or if he would ever learn.
In the midst of my musing, I drove into Everett to go to Trader Joe’s. Tired of talk radio, I popped in a CD of Scripture Songs sung by my friend, Sherri Youngward. I adore Sherri’s music, especially her two CDS of Scripture songs. Every word is truth, and she sings so gently and worshipfully that the words have a way of slipping past all your ugly judgments and nesting where they belong, in the heart that claims to belong to Christ.
There I was, driving south on I-5, and singing along with Sherri.
If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels
But do not have love
I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal
If I have the gift of prophecy
And know all mysteries and all knowledge
And if I have all faith so as to remove mountains
But do not have love
I am nothing
And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor
And if I surrender my body to be burned
But do not have love
it profits me nothing
Love is patient, love is kind
And is not jealous; love does not brag
And is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly
It does not seek its own, is not provoked
Does not take into account a wrong suffered
Does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
But rejoices with the truth;
Bears all things, believes all things,
Hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
Love … does not rejoice in unrighteousness.
The second the word “unrighteousness” died away on my tongue, the Holy Spirit had His way with my heart. First came the shame of my ugly behavior, then the conviction of the million miles that separate my nature and God’s, and then the confession of what I had done, and thought, and delighted in. And with the confession came the washing that He always has at the ready … and the new-every-day mercies He holds out, with the promise of another chance to do it better.
Lord, teach me how to be a backward-walking, garment-bringing, nakedness-covering lover like You are.