In a parish I worked in there was an email written from a clergy, there was a clumsily written phrase within it, (it was about which sacks were used in a children’s sports day sack race!) and one individual printed out the email and distributed it to make mischief for their Vicar, fortunately God was good and it didn’t result in the mess and pain that was intended, but yet, it never ceases to amaze me the lengths people will go to hurt, undermine and generally be spiteful to one another.
Why am I telling this story?
Because I believe it explains one of the great mysteries of Genesis, what is the sin of Ham, (of which much ink has been spilled)? It certainly is taken seriously as Noah curses him and his line.
The sin is not that he walked in on his dad naked, that was just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What Ham should have done is he should have respectfully covered up his Father and walked quietly away. That would have been the kind thing to do, a merciful act, protecting his dignity and keeping him from shame and humiliation.
Yet this isn’t what he does not, he shames his Father by going out if his way to let his brothers know that their dad has embarrassed himself, laughing at him, undermining, running him down. Ham is disrespecting their father and going out of his way to make trouble for him, it is an act of disloyalty and underhand and sneaky behaviour.
Often people try and concoct some great hidden sin of Ham -which the text doesn’t seem to support- surely he must have done something really bad to warrant his dad’s wrath? Yet, I believe the text says it all, I think this incident revealed the Ham’s heart and Noah felt betrayed, it shows Ham’s lack of love for his Father Noah.
Scripture says “by your fruit you will know they” -and here Ham’s fruit is a bitter taste, perhaps too it was a political act -maybe he was ambitious- as if Noah the Father was diminished then Ham status would rise? Too many people think they can ascend by knocking someone else lower, that pointing out someone else’s mistakes makes them look better (when normally the reverse is true!) Perhaps simply Ham was someone that just had a cruel streak within him and liked causing mischief?
The sin of Ham is to hurt rather than heal, to escalate rather than bring peace, to stir up conflict or fan the flames of resentment rather than bringing unity and reconciliation.
We often think that it is the “big” sins that cause such damage within our Christian communities such as fraud or sexual immorality, yet it is unkindness, gossip and disloyalty (often like paper cuts) which may not appear huge but slowly over time can cause lasting damage, the pin pricks that sink the ship, the straws the break camels backs, as a culture inch by inch steals away from reflecting Jesus.
Jesus said: “by this all people will know that you are my disciples that you love one another” The apostle Paul says in his letter to the Corinthian Church “If I do not have love I am a resounding cymbal or a clanging gong… If I have not love I am nothing” and John the apostle writes “God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them” yet Ham’s behaviour is choosing the step out of the path of love and it costs him and his line very dearly.
The tragedy of Ham’s sin is that it happens all the time often under the radar, we rate sin according the its sensationalism -how dramatic is it? Rather than by its motivation and intention.
Indeed, we often don’t notice the “wrongness” of Ham’s behaviour because “everyone does it” -it’s not as bad somewhere else- or perhaps there is even a bit of victim shaming “you’re just to sensitive” and yet I believe it the sin of Ham that destroys people and shipwrecks Churches. The sin of Ham I think is more dangerous to mission of God than any multimillion pound attacking campaign by some militant atheist.
Yet we see within this passage a glorious alternative, a picture of a different community, that of Shem and Japheth who refused to be drawn into Ham’s sin. Yet so often sin invites other people to join in with unrighteous behaviour, it brings escalation rather than calm, pain rather than peace, hurt rather than healing, division rather than unity.
The two brothers did what Ham should have done and covered over their fathers shame with their eyes averted, protecting not just their fathers dignity but preserving their relationship with both their father and Almighty God.