The Noah Narrative: The Vineyard


After the inauguration of the Noahic Covenant, the transition of leadership from Noah to his sons comes to the fore. Times of transition can be turbulent, and before Noah’s sons overspread the earth (Gen 9:19), we see the seed plot of the nations in the character traits of Shem, Ham and Japheth. Ham is ominously called “the father of Canaan” (v18) before the vineyard episode commences, and in the middle of his perversity Ham is again called the father of Canaan (v22). Moses adds these editorial comments to show Israel the ancestry and character of their enemy, the Canaanites. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The head of the Canaanite race, Ham, was an immoral soul, which bore full fruit in the Canaanites. Moses is showing how it all began. Canaan had defiled the land by many abominations (Lev 18:27). Just like their father, their sins were in the realm of immorality and nakedness (Lev 18). The prophetic curse and subservience of Canaan (Gen 9:25-27) was about to be fulfilled, and God, through Israel, would drive out the Canaanites (Exo 34:11).

By reading this section, Israel would realise that the Lord was with them and would defeat their enemies. God had put the terror of Israel upon Canaan (Jos 2:9) and the Shemites only needed to obey God’s Word to defeat their foes.

Similarly, every Christian is on the victory side – “we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” (Rom 8:37),1  and we can overcome the world through faith (1Jn 5:4).

The Vineyard and Drunkenness

Noah’s vineyard has thematic links with Eden, as the planting of both mirror each other (see Gen 2:8). Noah drank, just as Adam ate the fruit (3:6), both were naked, and both were shamed. Adam and Noah were heads of the world, but both failed. This is in stark contrast to the Ultimate Head (Eph 1:10), who “shall not fail” (Isa 42:4). When Christ returns, He will drink anew of the fruit of the vine (Mat 26:29), will make for all people a feast of “wines on the lees” (Isa 25:6), and He will fill the earth with millennial joy – in contrast to the shameful episode here.

Noah’s drunkenness shows that “the man in whose person the principle of human government was set up could not govern himself. It is the old familiar story – man tried and found wanting.”2 The dispensation of human government finds failure in man from the outset. God kept His covenant by not sending a flood in response to Noah’s sin – “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psa 103:10).

This narrative, coupled with biblical wisdom, strongly warns the believer against the consumption of alcohol – “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink” (Pro 31:4). “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (20:1).

Noah was a great man, and his intoxication was a temporary fall into sin. In two brief verses the morally neutral act of planting a vineyard cascades into the disaster of drunkenness. Just like David walking on the roof of his house one night, sin can quickly overtake a man. The virtuous reaction of Shem and Japheth epitomises this principle: “Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one” (Gal 6:1); charity covers a multitude of sins (1Pe 4:8).


The word “saw” bookends the brief episode (Gen 9:22-23). “It reads literally ‘their father’s nakedness not they saw’… this forms an even stronger contrast with ‘Ham saw’; and the refusal of the brothers who ‘saw not.’”3 The verses juxtapose each other. Shem and Japheth walked backwards (the word is repeated) in contrast to the arrogant forwardness of Ham. Ham looked with perversity; the brothers refused to look. Ham publicly announced the shame of his father; the brothers covered the shame.

This structure shows that the sin of Ham was gazing with perverse delight upon the shameful exposure of his father and proceeding to gloat about it to the outside world. Nakedness in the Bible is always a shameful thing; the slightest hint of it was to be guarded against (Exo 20:26), and God demanded the highest standards of modesty. In our modern day where we live in the polluted atmosphere of immodesty and nudity, this episode might seem overblown. However, the objective standard of God’s Word shatters our relativistic thinking and has implications for us all.

Men must follow Job and make a covenant with their eyes (Job 31:1). “In view of what studies on the effects of viewing pornography have taught us, it should be no surprise that the root of the depraved Canaanite culture was looking at someone’s nakedness.”4 The Western world is the new Canaan, and we need to pluck out our eyes if necessary (Mat 5:29). Women need to remember that clothing is designed to cover. “Modesty and discretion” (1Ti 2:9 JND) are the hallmarks of godly feminine dress, which avoid the extremes of ostentation and indecency.

Sin causes the enemy to gloat over the downfall of the righteous, as Ham gloried in the shame of his father. Similarly, Israel, through their disobedience, caused the name of God to be blasphemed among the nations (2Sa 12:14; Rom 2:24). The solemn lesson applies to us as well. Our sin and disobedience bring reproach to the name of God, and an onlooking world will ridicule our spiritual impotence.

Since this section sits in the middle of a transition in leadership, we see how Noah’s temporary fall brings out the worst in Ham and the best in his brothers. The entire episode is a power grab of sorts. Ham casts off moral restraint in gazing upon his father’s nakedness and casts off governmental restraint by humiliating his father. To shame one’s father and humiliate the ruler of the world was a heinous sin. The way rulers and fathers are reverenced directly correlate to our view of God – “Thou shalt … honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD” (Lev 19:32). In our rebellious age, males in positions of leadership should be held in high esteem, whether fathers, husbands, elders or governors.

This episode also shows that there is serious responsibility on leaders to maintain godly standards. “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Pro 16:31). The younger should imitate their virtues and avoid their vices. The younger should follow the example of Shem and Japheth in displaying dependable and exemplary character. Ham permanently disqualified himself, while his brothers showed themselves capable leaders.

Curse and Blessing

The curse fell on Canaan, the son of Ham. Ham’s sin had severed the father-son relationship; therefore, the curse was proportional.

Federal headship also comes into play as Canaan became like his father, just like Achan and Haman’s families felt the effects of the sins of their patriarchs. The Lord visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children (Exo 20:5; 34:7).

The curse is not absolute, however, as people like Rahab came into blessing, and the Gibeonites enjoyed service in the house of the Lord (Jos 9:27). In a very literal way, they dwelt in the tents of Shem (Gen 9:26-27).

Similarly, if Israel became like Canaan by indulging in sins of nakedness (Lev 18), they would be cursed.

“Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Shem” (Gen 9:26 JND) shows that Shem enjoyed blessing through a unique union with the Lord. The Lord was uniquely the God of Shem in a way that He was not with others. He received blessing directly from God, and in turn blessed others (v27). The unique union with the Lord and the way that Shem subdues and blesses others combine to show that Noah’s prophecy is Messianic. The seed of the woman becomes the seed of Shem (not Japheth), who will become the seed of Abraham.

The tent of Shem is the place of God’s presence as well. Japheth, the father of the Gentiles, may fill the globe because God enlarges them territorially (v27), but in the Millennium they will look to Israel and Israel’s Messiah for blessing. Gentiles will take hold of the skirts of the Jews to go to the house of the Lord (Zec 8:23) and apply for residency in Israel (Eze 47:22-23).

Noah saw the deluge by faith at the start of his service and concluded his service with these sublime prophetic utterances. He died full of faith and full of years. May we follow his example.

1 Bible quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.

2 William Kelly, Lectures on the Pentateuch – Genesis.

3 Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, Vol. 1A, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 418.

4 Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on Genesis, accessed at:, 2023, 173.