The Problem with the World

Noah’s failure prepares us to savour Christ’s victory.

Chris Hutchison on January 1, 2023
The Problem with the World
January 1, 2023

The Problem with the World

Passage: Genesis 9:18-10:32
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Over the holidays I watched a movie about Operation Market Garden, the failed Allied plan in 1944 to capture a series of key bridges in the Netherlands which they hoped would bring WWII to a swift end. I enjoy older war movies but this one was particularly meaningful to me because my grandparents were living just an hour’s drive from where the movie took place, and the events directly impacted them.

Just like any other war movie, as I watched this one I found myself rooting for the good guys. I really, really wanted the allies to succeed and put the Nazis on the run and end the way by Christmas like everybody hoped would happen. But from the beginning of the movie, I know that this wouldn’t happen.

Like I said, the movie is about the failed Allied plan. From the beginning, I knew that things fell apart and the war wouldn’t be over by Christmas. I knew that one of the results of this failed operation was a winter of famine in the Netherlands in which over 20,000 Dutch people starved to death.

And so my experience watching this movie—wishing for the best, but knowing that the worst was coming—was not unlike the experience of reading through these last few chapters of Genesis. Back in Genesis 5:28-29 we read that “When Lamech had lived 182 years, he fathered a son and called his name Noah, saying, ‘Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work and from the painful toil of our hands.’” And don’t we want to say “Yes! Please! Let Noah be the one to fix things. Ten generations of pain, and that’s it. Noah is the hoped-for saviour.” We want that to be true, even though we know it won’t be.

And then we read about the flood. We read about God undoing and then renewing His creation, with Noah emerging from the ark like a new Adam. It’s a fresh start. A new beginning. A righteous man and his family starting fresh on a world that’s been scrubbed clean from wickedness. They’ve learned some lessons, and this time, things are going to be different, right?

We want that to be true, even though we know it won’t be. “The Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth’” (Genesis 8:21). God tells us that the flood didn’t change anything in the basic situation at the literal heart of humanity.

And our passage today is where we see the other shoe drop, so to speak. Just like the fall in the garden in Genesis 3, so these verses in Genesis 9 show us the painful end to that fresh new world after the flood. Reading through these verses is like that movie I told you about as we watch the train wreck that we always knew was coming—though we wished it wouldn’t—unfold before our eyes.

But there’s more than meets the eye here. As we watch Noah and his family crumble before our eyes, we learn some powerful truths about ourselves. And we learn some powerful truths about the saviour whom the Lord was deliberately preparing us for. The disappointment in this passage is on purpose and does something important for us which we really don’t want to miss.

A. Noah’s Three Sons (9:18-19)

So let’s walk through this passage step by step. Step one is in verses 18-19, where we are introduced afresh to Noah’s sons in a solemn and formal way. Verse 18 gives us their names, verse 19 repeats that these are his sons and that from them the whole earth was repopulated.

We don’t know a lot about these men. We can assume that up until this point they shared their father’s righteousness and faith, otherwise they would have been judged in the flood. But there’s an ominous note tucked into the end of verse 18. “Ham was the father of Canaan.” Canaan was the father of the Canaanites, the worst enemies of Israel.

That little note strikes an ominous note into this story, and preps us for some of the bad news that we know is coming.

B. Noah’s Foolish Failure (9:20-21)

But first, we turn to our second step in verses 20-21 where we see Noah’s foolish failure. And we’re going to look at three aspects of his foolish failure here.

1. Too Much of a Good Thing

The first has to do with too much of a good thing. Notice how verse 19 starts off innocently enough—“Noah began to be a man of the soil.” Just like Adam, he worked the ground. And he was fruitful. He planted a vineyard.

There’s some suggestion here in the original language that Noah may have been the first person to figure out grape-growing and wine-making. The ESV text has a note showing that verse 20 could be translated “Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.”

So far so good. And even when we get into verse 21, it’s so far so good. “He drank of the wine.” So far, nothing wrong has happened. The Bible is consistent in its message that the ability to grow things from the ground is a gift from God, and this even includes wine.

Psalm 104, a great creation Psalm, says “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth and wine to gladden the heart of man” (Psalm 104:14–15).

But we also know from other places in Scripture that wine was a dangerous blessing. It’s very easy to cross the line and drink too much, and that’s why, for example, Proverbs is full of warnings about wine. It’s why people like Timothy stayed away from it entirely.

But for the sake of Genesis 9, I think it’s important that we identify the problem where it lay. The problem was not in Noah planting a vineyard or making wine or drinking that wine. The problem was when Noah didn’t stop, and he drank too much and, as verse 21 goes on to say, “became drunk.” Too much of a good thing became a very bad thing.

2. The Battle After the Battle

The second observation we want to make here starts with asking the question, “How did this happen? How did a godly, blameless man like Noah, whom we’ve heard nothing but good about, get himself into this spot?” And I think that if we think about it, it’s not too hard to see that after the stress of being on the ark all those months, and the joy of a fresh start, the knowledge that you and your family are alone on this earth, and the blessing of a good crop of grapes, it would be easy for Noah to cut loose a little bit and relax his standards and not know when to stop.

Isn’t it true that it’s often after our greatest victories that we let our guard down and can call prey to our biggest temptations? Wasn’t it after David was established secure in Jerusalem that he fell for Bathsheba? Wasn’t it after Elijah’s victory on Mount Carmel that he totally fell apart?

Nancy Wolgemuth has referred to this phenomenon as “the battle after the battle.” It’s a pattern we need to recognize. It is after our greatest moments that we most need to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.”

3. Drunkenness and Vulnerability

The third point we want to see here is how drunkenness leads to sexual vulnerability. Here is righteous Noah, drunk silly, lying naked in his tent, just ready for something embarrassing to happen to him. And sure enough, something terribly embarrassing does happen to him.

The next person in the Bible who we see getting drunk is Lot and sure enough he gets taken advantage of in an even worse way. Many passages in the Bible connect drunkenness to indecency and sexual vulnerability. And so one of the lessons to be learned from this is don’t get drunk. Don’t put yourself in that spot where you’re helpless for other people can take advantage of you.

Now by saying that, we’re not excusing those people who take advantage of them. Ham mocks his father and Ham got dealt with. But wouldn’t it have been better for Noah to not put himself in that spot in the first place?

We need to think about this because this whole issue has actually been a big deal in our culture over the last few years. It’s connected to the “#metoo” movement and the drinking culture among 20 and 30 somethings.

I’m sure you’ve heard the news stories about the young women going to parties or bars and drinking way too much and then getting taken advantage of by some guy.

And the way our culture talks about this, when that happens, it’s only ever the guy’s fault. The message from our culture to young women is that they have the right to drink however much they want, act however they want, dress however they want, go home with whoever they want, but if anything bad happens to them, it’s only ever the other person’s fault.

Now let’s be clear: it is evil for a man to take advantage of a woman any time, especially when she’s intoxicated and vulnerable. There is no excuse for that.

But shouldn’t a wise young woman consider that people who do that kind of thing are out there? And that they will probably be drawn to environments like parties and bars where they can easily find intoxicated women to take advantage of? And so shouldn’t a wise young woman take steps to avoid putting herself in that vulnerable situation?

This is just common sense, right? I remember this clicking for me a few years ago when I saw a sign in the Wal-Mart parking lot that said something like “We’re not responsible for the loss of valuables from your vehicle. Please lock your doors.” Wal-Mart knows that there are bad people in this world who like to steal from cars in parking lots. They are not excusing those people, but they are out there, and so you should lock your doors. It’s just common sense.

Meanwhile, our culture is basically teaching young women to open all four doors wide, and leave their purse and phone right there on the front seat, and then act all shocked get back to their car and find their stuff is missing.

It’s crazy. It’s one more example of how our culture has lost its mind. And it’s a part of a bigger idea in our culture that people should be able to do whatever we want without any consequences.

Those of you who work with young people know how difficult it can be to help them grasp the idea of consequences. You can warn them about the consequences and give them multiple opportunities to avoid the consequences, but when you finally bring the consequences, it’s far too common to see them fall apart and play the victim and act like you’re the big bad wolf.

And this is because they’ve been trained through school and media to think that they can avoid consequences. And this idea gets carried into adulthood. This whole idea is why abortion is so important to people. People don’t care that they are killing babies. They are willing to sacrifice another human life if that means that they get to do whatever they want without any consequences.

And all of this this comes from an even more basic idea, which is that everybody wants to pretend that God don’t exist. We wan to be our own little gods, and we hate consequences because they burst that illusion. Consequences are a painful reminder that we’re not in control, and that we’re living in someone else’s world. And people don’t like that. And so they’ll kill—literally—to get rid of those consequences if they can.

All of this insanity in our culture is just a modern version of Eve’s attempt to eat the fruit and be like God.

But a wise person who knows that they aren’t God will look at Noah’s story and learn an important lesson. If drinking too much makes us sexually vulnerable, then we shouldn’t drink too much. It’s as simple as that.

C. Ham’s Shameful Betrayal (v. 22)

Now none of this excuses what Ham did to his father, which we see in verse 22: “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside” (Genesis 9:22). Ham sees his father and tells his brothers outside.

When Adam and Eve first fell into sin, the first thing they noticed was their nakedness. And they were ashamed. And that shame still persists after the flood. One of the functions of this story is to show us that the flood did not reverse the fall. Unchosen public nakedness still carried with it a shame as a result of sin.

Now Ham sees his father in this shameful spot and instead of honouring him by covering him up, goes outside to tell his brothers. It’s not hard to imagine him snickering or laughing. “Hey, have you seen dad?” Rather than protecting his father’s reputation, he acts like so many on social media these days by broadcasting Noah’s failures for other people to enjoy.

We should also remember that, in the ancient world, honouring your parents was basically the highest virtue. That’s why Jesus telling people to love him more than their parents was so radical (Matthew 10:37). For Ham to bring shame upon his father in front of his brothers was a really, really big deal, which is why Noah reacts so strongly when he finds out what happened.

D. Shem & Japheth’s honourable Act (v. 23)

But before we get there, we see Shem & Japheth’s honourable act in verse 23. Basically they do the reverse of Ham. Look at how the text is written: they took a garment, laid it on their shoulders, walked backwards, and covered their father. And in case we missed it, it tells us “their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness” (v. 23). Instead of seeing and shaming they cover Noah in an act of deliberate respect.

E. Noah’s Painful Curse (vv. 24-27)

And eventually Noah woke up, and somehow he found out what Ham had done to him. And verse 25 opens with these words: “he said.”

Let’s stop for a moment and notice that these are the first recorded words of Noah in this whole account. Isn’t that something? This is the first time Genesis records Noah speaking.

And his first recorded words are “Cursed be Canaan.” This man, whom his father hoped would bring relief from the curse, speaks words of curse upon his grandson.

“Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’” (Genesis 9:25).

Ham was Noah’s youngest son, and he tried to humiliate his father in front of his brothers. Now, Ham is humiliated in front of his brothers on account of Canaan, his youngest son according to 10:6.

This curse is amplified by a blessing on Shem and Japheth in verses 26 and 27, and yet even in that blessing, “let Canaan be his servant” is repeated twice. It’s hard to miss the point here that Canaan is being cursed.

This might seem like a strange idea to us—that a curse would fall on a son for what a father did. But this was not strange to them.

First of all, for a son to be cursed was a curse for the father, because a father would want nothing more than for his children to be blessed and prosperous. When a son was blessed, that brought honour upon the father’s name. If a son was cursed, that brought shame to a father.

Second, the ancients understood that the sins of the fathers were visited upon their children. Now when we hear that we might think of innocent children being punished for their father’s sins. But more often we should think about children walking in the ways of their fathers and so sharing in their father’s punishment.

And that’s really the bigger idea here. Canaan and his offspring are cursed because he is going to walk in the shameful behaviour of his father. And we know that the Canaanites were known for their shameful sexual perversion, which is why God used Israel, who descended from Shem, to destroy them out of the land. And here we see the line of that shameful sin being traced all the way back to Peeping Ham and his shameful treatment of Noah.

It’s hard for us to know for sure if Noah’s words here should be taken as a prophecy or as a wish or as a prayer, but there’s no doubt that these words point to the future conflicts between Israel and the perverse Canaanites.

Now we also need to remember that these family lines and family sin patterns and family judgements were never absolute. Each individual had responsibility for whether they walked in the sins of their fathers or not. Individual Canaanites like Rahab could repent and be saved from judgement, just like the Israelites could act like the Canaanites and be judged with them.

Which is why it’s totally wrong to refer to the conquest of Canaan as a genocide. This was about behaviour, not ethnicity.

None of this was ultimately about who you were born from, but rather who you acted like. Despite the exceptions, in general children tended to act like their fathers and so share in their father’s fate. And that’s the big idea behind Noah’s painful curse on the youngest son of his youngest son in these verses.

F. Noah’s Anticlimactic Death (vv. 28-29)

And with that, we get to the sixth step in our passage where Noah’s story comes to an end. Like Adam, he had a short stretch on a new earth that very quickly fell into sin and curse. And all we read next is that “After the flood Noah lived 350 years. All the days of Noah were 950 years, and he died” (Genesis 9:28–29).

That’s it. That’s how Noah’s story ends. This man of hope, this man of second chances, just… dies.

G. Noah’s Broken Legacy (10:1-32)

And he left behind him a broken legacy, which we’ll see as we briefly look at chapter 10. Often called the table of nations, this chapter unfolds the peoples and tribes of the earth who descended from Noah’s three sons.

I encourage you to read through this chapter in it’s entirety and see how many names you recognize. Verses 2-5 recount the sons of Japheth, and it’s hard to miss Magog in there, a name that represents a great future enemy of the people of God.

The most space is given to the sons of Ham from verse 6 down to verse 20. And this section is basically a who’s who of the future enemies of God’s people. Just look at Ham’s sons in verse 6: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.

Verses 8-12 tell us about Cush’s son Nimrod, a mighty man who founded Babel in the land of Shinar. That’s where Babylon came from. Verse 11 tells us how he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, another great enemy of God’s people throughout the ages. Verse 13 tells us about Egypt and the Philistines.

Verse 15 and onward tells us about the Canaanite nations that will no doubt sound familiar to many of you—Sidon from which came people like Jezebel, and then the Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, and Hivites, wicked nations who were a temptation and scourge to Israel. Verse 19 first introduces us to Sodom and Gomorrah.

Are you getting the picture? So much junk is coming. So much sin and war and pain and judgement are coming. And all of this from Noah. Righteous Noah.

Verse 21 does introduce us to Shem’s children. It’s from “Shem” that we get the word “Semite,” which is why people who hate the Jews are called “antisemites.” It’s from “Eber” in that same verse that we get the word “Hebrew.” And the following verses go on to introduce many names we’ll encounter later on in the story of the Bible. But even here, we know what’s coming in Israel’s story: disobedience and exile and occupation.

Look at how the chapter finishes up: “These are the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32).

These are the sons of Noah. This is Noah’s broken legacy. This is what happened to the fresh start and the new beginning after the flood.

H. The Problem with the World and Its Solution

But once again, there’s good news in all of this. Last week we saw how the covenant with Noah provided shape to history, establishing a firm basis for the plan of redemption to unfold despite our wickedness.

Today’s passage shows us a little bit about the shape of the saviour that we can expect within that plan of redemption.

Maybe you’re thinking, “What do you mean? What in here has anything to do with a saviour?” And my response is that this has everything to do with the saviour. The whole reason for the flood and the fresh start and the disappointment that followed, the whole purpose for Noah’s failure and broken legacy, is to highlight the real problem with the world and then to show us what kind of a saviour we actually need to come and rescue us.

Let’s start with the problem with the world. The problem with the world is not outside of us. It’s not other people. Have you ever thought that way? Have you ever thought, even without words, that if more people could just be like you, think like you, act like you, a lot of the problems in the world would be fixed?

Or maybe, if your circumstances could just change, then your problems would go away? How many people in our world are hoping that 2023 is just going to magically be different than 2022? As if a “3” instead of a “2” on the calendar is going to give them the magic willpower to finally conquer that bad habit or fix that bad relationship or do that great thing.

Or maybe if we get a new government that will fix everything and everything will be good in the world.

But all of this is a fantasy. The problem with the world is not out there, in other people or other circumstances. G.K. Chesterton understood this when a newspaper asked people to write in what the problem with the world is. And his answer was “me.” Not that he had single-handedly caused every problem in the world, but that the problem with the world lurks inside each of us. The problem with the world is us. It’s our corrupted desires. It’s the fact that the intention of our hearts is evil from our youth (Genesis 8:21).

And that’s what the story of Noah shows us. If God were to take you and plunk you by yourself on a brand-new planet, you’d wreck things just as fast as Noah did. The story of Noah shows us that if God is gong to save us, He needs to do more than just give us just another fresh start. We’ll need more than just a second chance, because we’ll blow every one we get. We don’t need to just learn some lessons. We’ll forget them as soon as Ham did.

We need a saviour. Someone who is more than just another man like Noah. Someone who is more than blameless. Someone whose heart was not evil from youth. Someone who is far more than just another human.

And more than this, we need someone who can actually deal with the wickedness in our own hearts. We need someone to forgive us and atone for our wickedness and make peace between us and God. And we need someone to deal with the root of the problem, giving us spiritual heart surgery and actually changing us from the inside out.

In other words, we need Jesus. The “great high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 10:26). The spotless Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

And by the power of the Spirit, as we see HIs glory in the gospel, we are being “transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Do you see that? Jesus doesn’t just take away the penalty of our sin. He’s actually changing our hearts. He is actually making us new. And this is possible because “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We’re set free from the cycle of Noah and his sons because in Christ, we’re no longer a part of the old creation. We’re already a part of the New Creation, with the eternal life of Heaven living inside of us, making us new from the inside out.

And “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Isn’t that good news as we stand together at the beginning of a New Year?

This is not going to be an easier for us. I don't say that because I'm a prophet and I know exactly what's coming, but simply because we live on planet Earth, and has there ever been a truly easy year since Adam bit the fruit? This will be a year of challenges and surprises. There will be joys we did not expect that there will likely be disappointments we did not see coming.

But is it possible first walk into this unknown with confidence? The answer is yes. The saviour has come and redeemed us, and by his powerful Holy Spirit, He’s using every difficulty to shape us. He’s using every pain to make us less attached to this earth and more eager for eternity. He’s using every hard day to make us treasure Him more than we did before. And He’s using every pain to make us look more like Himself.

If you are in Christ and are walking with Him, then nothing in 2023 will be wasted.

And that’s why we’re going to end this morning by asking the Holy Spirit to come and breathe new life into us as we begin this new year. How we need Him. But how good that we have Him. How good that we’re not stuck back in Noah’s broken legacy. How good it is that we can walk in the newness of life that our perfect Saviour bought for us.