Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 026. A Giver of Blessing and of Cursing

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Greater Men and Women of the Bible by James Hastings: 026. A Giver of Blessing and of Cursing

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A Giver of Blessing and of Cursing

And Noah awoke from his sleep, and knew what his youngest 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, the God of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant. God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be his servant.- Gen_9:24-27.

1. The sin of Noah became the occasion of the blessing upon Shem and Japheth; but also, alas, of the cursing of Ham. For Noah's sin brought to light the character of his three sons-the coarse irreverence of Ham, the dignified delicacy and honour of Shem and Japheth. The bearing of men towards the sins of others is always a touchstone of character. The full exposure of sin where good is expected to come of the exposure and when it is done with sorrow and with shame is one thing, and the exposure of sin to create a laugh and merely to amuse is another. They are the true descendants of Ham, whether their faces be black or white, and whether they go with no clothes or with clothes that are the product of much thought and anxiety, who find pleasure in the mere contemplation of deeds of shame-in real life, on the boards of the theatre, in daily journals, or in works of fiction. Extremes meet, and the savage grossness of Ham is found in many who count themselves the last and finest product of culture. It is found also in the harder and narrower set of modern investigators who glory in exposing the scientific weakness of our forefathers, and make a jest of the mistakes of men to whom they owe much of their freedom, and whose shoe latchet they are not worthy to tie, so far as the deeper moral qualities go.

2. Deeply moved by what had occurred, and discerning from it the characters of his sons, Noah in an elevated, impassioned strain, pronounces upon them a curse and a blessing. It was an ancient belief that a father's curse or blessing was not merely the expression of an earnestly felt hope or wish, but that it exerted a real power in determining a child's future; and hence the existing later condition of a tribe or people is often in the Old Testament referred to the words supposed to have been pronounced by a patriarchal ancestor upon its progenitor.

We may call the words addressed by Noah to his three sons a prophetical interpretation of history. Canaan, Shem, and Japheth are not individuals; they are personifications, representing the nationalities of which they were the reputed ancestors, and reflecting their respective characters. “The curse of Canaan is the curse pronounced against Israel's greatest foe and constant source of moral temptation; the shamelessness of Ham reflects the impression produced by the sensuality of the Canaanite upon the minds of the worshippers of Jehovah.” And the curse takes the form of political subjection, which is the natural penalty of long-continued moral degradation, and of physical enervation, which inevitably accompanies it. The purer religion possessed by the Hebrews is the thought determining the blessing of Shem. The width of territory and expansiveness characteristic of the Japhethites explains the terms used of Japheth. Thus, taken as a whole, the blessing defines in outline the position and historical significance of the three great ethnical groups, which were referred to Noah as their ancestor. It contrasts their differing characters; and holds out to each correspondingly different prospects for the future. It thus interprets the history “prophetically,” i.e. not predictively, but eliciting from it the providential purposes of which it is the expression.1 [Note: S. R. Driver.]

The fortunes of the peoples descended from Noah are determined in accordance with their deeds. These deeds, if also influenced by external relations, correspond with certain peculiarities and fundamental tendencies of their character, which can be traced back to their beginnings. A similar way of regarding such matters, deeper than the ordinary, prevails throughout in the Old Testament. As, e.g., in the child Jacob, the nature of the future man shows itself, and in him again that of the future people of Israel, so it is also with other peoples. The beginnings are decisive, and for the character of these beginnings actions apparently indifferent are often very significant tokens. So, then, the miserable condition into which the peoples of the Canaanitish race had already sunk by the time of our author, was also nothing accidental. It was the necessary consequence and the merited recompense of the moral perversity-especially of the want of chastity in their home life, the licentiousness in sexual matters, and the shameless customs which clung to them from early times-which can be traced back to their very beginnings, and show themselves also among other members of the Hamitic group of nations. Ruined by their vices, they early fell a prey to peoples morally more healthy, above all to the Israelites, and the remnants of them which are left will sink deeper and deeper into servitude; whereas victory will be the final portion of those peoples in whom the true faith of God flourishes, and who allow themselves to be led by His discipline. These thoughts, which history had already made plain, and which the course of the following centuries confirmed, are here shortly and sharply comprised in a few words of curse and of blessing, which the ancestor of these peoples pronounced over his three sons, on the occasion of a domestic occurrence. They are intended to inform us, at the entrance into the wide domain of the history of the peoples, regarding their character and future, and indelibly to impress upon our minds the lessons which lie in the history of the nations. But the curse and blessing of a father have power and effect, especially those of a man of God, as Noah was.1 [Note: A. Dillmann, Genesis, i. 303.]

My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsels and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. For the last half-mile or so we walked on together in almost unbroken silence,-my father, as was often his custom, carrying hat in hand, while his long, flowing yellow hair (then yellow, but in later years white as snow) streamed like a girl's down his shoulders. His lips kept moving in silent prayers for me, and his tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain. We halted on reaching the appointed parting-place; he grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly and affectionately said,-“God bless you, my son! Your father's God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!” Unable to say more, his lips kept moving in silent prayer; in tears we embraced, and parted. I ran off as fast as I could, and, when about to turn a corner in the road where he would lose sight of me, I looked back and saw him still standing with head uncovered where I had left him.1 [Note: John G. Paton: An Autobiography, i. 40.]