Questions From Readers
● Why did Noah curse Canaan when Ham was the offender?—E. M., England.
The occasion of this curse is described at Genesis 9:20-27 (Ro): “And Noah began to be a husbandman, so he planted a vineyard; and drank of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself in the midst of his tent. And Ham the father of Canaan saw his father’s shame, and told his two brethren outside. And Shem and Japheth took a mantle and put it on the shoulder of them both and went backwards, and covered the shame of their father, but their faces were backwards, and the shame of their father saw they not. And Noah awoke from his wine, and came to know what his youngest son had done to him. And he said, Accursed be Canaan, a servant of servants shall he be to his brethren! And he said, Blessed be Yahweh, God of Shem, and let Canaan be their servant: God give extension to Japheth, but make his habitation in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be their servant.”
The record of this incident is very brief and likely leaves out details that would be illuminating. Many Bible scholars believe that Canaan was involved in some way not specifically mentioned. The account shows that when Noah awoke he “came to know what his youngest son had done to him”. Rotherham’s translation has a footnote on “youngest son”, which reads: “Undoubtedly Canaan, and not Ham: Shem and Japheth, for their piety, are blessed; Canaan, for some unnamed baseness, is cursed; Ham, for his neglect, is neglected.”
Jewish religious authorities take a similar view. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by J. H. Hertz, comments: “This vague narrative refers to some abominable deed in which Canaan seems to have been implicated. . . . Instead of showing filial respect and covering his father, Ham deemed the occasion food for laughter, and mockingly repeated the incident to his brothers.” After noting that the Hebrew word translated “son” in Ge 9 verse 24 may also mean “grandson”, this source states: “The reference is evidently to Canaan.” The Soncino Chumash, edited by A. Cohen, points out that some believe Canaan “indulged a perverted lust upon him”, and that the expression “youngest son” refers to Canaan, who was the youngest son of Ham. That some abuse or perversion or base lust, rather than a mere exposure of nakedness, may have been embraced by the words “saw the nakedness of his father” is apparent when it is remembered that incest or other sexual sins are meant when the Bible speaks of uncovering one’s nakedness or seeing one’s nakedness.—Lev. 18:6-19; 20:17.
In fulfillment of Noah’s pronouncement, Shem was blessed by becoming “the ancestor of all the Hebrews”, the chosen people of Jehovah and from whom the Messiah came. (Gen. 10:21, AT) On the other hand, in fulfillment of the curse the descendants of Canaan that were not destroyed when Israel entered the Promised land were put under servitude to the descendants of Shem. As Joshua said to some of these spared Canaanites: “Now therefore ye are cursed, and there shall none of you be freed from being bondmen, and hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” And of other spared Canaanites it is written: “Upon those did Solomon levy a tribute of bondservice unto this day.” (Josh. 9:23; 1 Ki. 9:21) The Canaanites were not wronged, but rightly deserved their treatment. They were idolaters, they indulged in shameful and abominable vice, they went beyond other nations in practicing human sacrifice. God doomed them to extermination not only as punishment for their wickedness, but also to prevent their seducing his covenant people. He used the Israelites as executioners, and those Canaanites not exterminated or driven out were put under bondage, in fulfillment of the prophetic curse uttered by Noah. Incidentally, when some try to say this curse caused some men to be black-skinned they show ignorance of the Bible record, for colored peoples did not descend from the cursed Canaan.
Hence it seems that Canaan may very likely have been guilty of some abuse or perversion against the person of his grandfather Noah, and that Ham witnessed this without interfering. Instead he spread the story of the shaming of his father. Shem and Japheth acted to cover this shame. So they were blessed, the likely perpetrator Canaan was cursed, and the guilty bystander and tale-bearer Ham was personally ignored yet suffered through the shame brought upon his offspring. Such is the reasonable view taken by many careful Bible scholars, though the greatly abbreviated record as it has come down to us in the Bible does not supply all the details. God does not need to justify to us his dealings with such situations by giving all the details, which in this case might clarify Canaan’s role in the matter. The important point is supplied, namely, that Jehovah caused Noah to utter the prophecy and Jehovah brought about its fulfillment.
● Where do we find the command to “hate thine enemy”, as expressed at Matthew 5:43?—A. H., England.
It was in the sermon on the mount that Jesus stated: “You heard that it was said: ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those persecuting you; that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.”—Matt. 5:43-45, NW.
Jesus said the Jews had heard, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” but he did not say they had heard all that from the Law of Moses. The first part, about loving your neighbor, was a part of the Law. (Lev. 19:18) But the second part, about hating your enemy, was not. It really was contrary to the Law, which said: “If you chance upon your enemy’s ox or ass going astray, you must be sure to take it home to him. If you see the ass of one who hates you lying prostrate under its load, you must refrain from deserting him; you must be sure to help him get it up.” (Ex. 23:4, 5, AT) The Hebrew Scriptures forbade any feeling of malicious joy when an enemy met with disaster, and even commanded that he be assisted when in trouble: “If your enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink.”—Job 31:29; Prov. 24:17; 25:21, AT.
The part about hating your enemy was something added by the teachers of tradition, and it was this addition that made void God’s Word that Jesus condemned. Since they were told to love their neighbors, the Jewish teachers inferred that in contrast they were to hate their enemies. To them “friend” or “neighbor” meant one of the Jewish race, and all others they considered natural enemies. To rout this false idea from one of the learned scribes or lawyers of his day Jesus used an illustration. He told of a man that had been robbed, stripped, beaten and left half-dead. Both a Jewish priest and a Levite by-passed this sufferer, but a despised Samaritan came along, felt pity, tended to his wounds, and took him to an inn and paid for his further care. This non-Jewish Samaritan was then identified as the real neighbor of the injured man, and not the Jewish priest and Levite. (Luke 10:25-37, NW) But in view of the traditional understanding of “neighbor” as being limited to a fellow Jew and in view of their known hatred and enmity relative to Gentiles, it is not difficult to see why they were led to add “and hate your enemy” to the divine law “You must love your neighbor”.
So Jesus corrected them and showed that they were to love not only their neighbors but also their enemies. The word “love” (Greek, agape) here used means a moral or social love, a love based on the deliberate assent of the will as a matter of principle, duty and propriety. It is a matter of doing what is right, as reasoned from the head, rather than the love (Greek, philéo) that means a sentimental, personal attachment and affection, as is usually thought of as coming from the heart. As a matter of following right principles we will show this moral love to all men, even to those who may persecute us personally. We will allow no personal enmities to make us abandon love or conduct based on right principles, but will follow such with all men. We will even pray that those who persecute us in ignorance may have their eyes opened to see the truth concerning Jehovah’s new world.
But we will not pray for those Jehovah has condemned, those he has passed final judgment against. To do so would be a violation of Jehovah’s commands. (Jer. 7:16; 11:14) To love those who are confirmed enemies of Jehovah would displease God: “Shouldest thou help the wicked, and love them that hate Jehovah? for this thing wrath is upon thee from before Jehovah.” (2 Chron. 19:2, AS) Not those who may be our enemies for personal reasons, but those who have demonstrated their willful hatred of God we hate and count as our enemies because they are God’s enemies: “Do not I hate them, O Jehovah, that hate thee? And am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: they are become mine enemies.” (Ps. 15:4; 139:21, 22, AS) But in all cases we “return evil for evil to no one” and leave all vengeance to Jehovah.—Deut. 32:35; Rom. 12:17, 19, NW.