THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM – PART III – SECTION III
NOAH TO ABRAHAM
I. After the Flood, problems start and the good and evil separate out again as Noah's sons show loyalty or disloyalty as the conflict now becomes intergenerational.
A. Noah's sons were named Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Shem means "name" or "renown," and is the word for name used
in chapter 4, verse 26 in saying men "called on the name of the Lord."
See also Gen. 2:11, 13, 19, 20. The reference is usually positive,
although it can refer to trying to gain renown for oneself away from
God. See Gen. 6:4.
B. As they leave the ark, subtle problems arise.
The first problem is that Noah is instructed to leave the ark with his
wife; his sons would follow. But it appears he leaves with his
sons, with his wife behind. There is a subtle ignoring of his
wife in favor of those whom he believes will continue the line.
See Kaas, The Beginning of Wisdom 202.
b. Part of the problem is that he undertakes this venture without consulting God and thus goes astray. He may also have been overwhelmed with the task before him; and, again, not turning to God in prayer, turned to drink, not realizing its power. St. Paul will later note the contrast between drunkenness and delight in prayer. See Eph. 5:18-20.
St. Thomas Aquinas says later that such a mistake reduces, but does
not eliminate the guilt of drunkenness; and the earthly consequences
may still be severe. Summa Theologica II-II, question 150,
Later in Genesis, Lot becomes drunk because of the machinations of his
daughters, has intercourse with them, and the lines of Moab and Ammon,
enemies of Israel, grow from their offspring. See Gen. 19:30-38.
The Jews had particularly harsh punishments for disrespect to parents
or older people. See Duet. 21:21; 2 Kings 2:23-25.
1. Noah strangely curses, not Ham directly, but Canaan, one of his sons and presumably the oldest and perhaps only one yet born. He will be a slave to his "brothers." The term brothers could be any relatives, but verses 26 and 27 make it clear that it is his uncles, Shem and Japheth, and likely their descendants. The Book of Wisdom would describe the Canaanites, who were in the Promised Land before the Chosen People as a "people cursed from the beginning," although one that God wished to lead back to Him. See Wis. 12:11.
It is true that the sins of parents can affect their children, but there
does seem something inappropriate about Noah going out of his way to
make that happen, as well as his own failure to take responsibility.
As is the case throughout the Bible, the heroes are not presented as
- The curse of slavery is an image that sins make us slaves of desire, and therefore, those who dole out desire, which is worse than physical slavery. See John 8:34; Rom. 6:16-17. Thus, Noah's curse, as terrible as it is, serves as a warning to the descendants of Ham (physical and more importantly moral) of the worse consequences of sin.
A. The descendants of each son constitute one of the types of people. The descendants reflect two things.
For the most part, but not entirely, they represent the different language
groups. The descendants of Japheth are Indo-European language
cultures, the descendant s of Ham are the Hamitic language cultures
in northeast Africa and southern Arabia, and the descendants of Shem
are the Semitic language peoples, including the Israelites.
The classifications also represent the relationship to Israel.
Thus, the descendants of Japheth are outside peoples who had not had
many dealings with the Israelites at the time that Genesis was written.
The descendants of Ham include most of the enemies of Israel, including
Egypt, the Hittites and the Canaanites, although there are many others
elsewhere. That is one reason why the Canaanites and the cities
of Babylon and Nineveh are in this category even though they are Semitic.
The descendants of Shem would be the Chosen People and some other people
in Arabia they tended to sympathize with.
1. Cush is another name for Ethiopia, which itself had few dealings with Israel. However, through Nimrod, the quintessential conqueror, Cush becomes an ancestor or Babylon, which conquered the Southern Kingdom in 596-586 B.C., and Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, which destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.
It is curious why these two capitals in the East (modern day Iraq) are
associated with Cush, to the south of Egypt, when these groups are plainly
very different, both culturally and geographically.
One reason might be that, in 723 B.C. Cush very briefly took over Egypt,
and thus was, like Assyria, which was on the offensive at the same time,
considered synonymous with conquering nations, who are in turn represented
by Nimrod. Nimrod becomes thus a figure for all human conquests.
Interestingly, even he has power as a hunter "by the grace of God,"
indicating that all power comes in the end from God even if it is misused
later, as his strength is here.
There are some other descendants of Cush who are not enemies, including
the mysterious Havilah.
Other descendants of Ham include: (1) Canaan, the father of the peoples
in the Promised Land before Israel; (2) Mizraim in Egypt; and (3) Put,
a name for modern day Libya, which was not a particular actor in Israeli
3. Seth's descendants go in two lines from Shem's great-grandson Eber. One line, descending from Peleg proceeds to Abraham and the Chosen People. The other line, descending from Eber's brother Joktan, populates the Arabian Peninsula. Among them is Sheba, whose country' queen would return to consult Solomon, and Ophir, from which Israel apparently obtained gold and festal clothes. See 1 Kings 9:28, 10:1-13; Ps. 45:10.
There is some question abut what the division of the world under Peleg
means. The name Peleg is derived from the Hebrew word nipiega,
meaning "was divided. It may be that there was a division of
the land God had allotted, as would later occur between Abraham and
his nephew Lot in chapter 13.
A. Nimrod's descendants built the tower of Babel truing to unite people under an earthly accomplishment.
According to chapter 10, verse 10, he (or his descendants) established
cities, including Babylon, in the land of Shinar, which appears to be
Later on, Israel would demand a king, in order to be stronger and more
like other nations, lacking trust in God. See 1 Sam. 8:1-9.
God had apparently wanted them eventually to have a king, but not one
who would rule by force, for he was not to have a large army, nor a
large treasury, and was not to marry many wives (who would seal alliances
with foreign nations.) See Duet. 17:14-20. God also warned
that wealth would lead His People into idolatry. See Duet. 8:10-20.
Instead they were to trust in God. Unfortunately the kings of
Israel and Judah did not generally trust in God and, starting during
Solomon's reign, the kingdom (and later kingdoms) went downhill.
The term Babel is a combination of the words for Babylon and balii,
which means "he confused.' The tower may be a mockery of the
ziggurat, the Babylonian and Sumerian temples
1. The ages for having children are now more common, from 29 to 34, but the life spans are again very long, such that all eleven generations from Noah to Abraham are living at the same time.
Long lifespan were also considered very good because they would give
a person longer to develop in virtue and wisdom. The Book of Wisdom
would later say that God allows some people to die young because their
progress in purity, virtue and wisdom had already won the "the crown
of old age" and "fullness of a long career." See Wis. 4:7-14.