Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Sin of Ham

This comes initially from one of those pointless Facebook debates that I almost got into a few months ago, from which I was delivered at the last moment by remembering that it was not my circus, and they were not my monkeys. A friend of a friend was aghast that I thought Augustine was a true Christian. His rationale was that Augustine held to a number of aberrant doctrines that would certainly have kept him from being approved by any PCA presbytery. In spite of that, I continue to believe that Augustine was a truly converted man.

How, then, do I get from Augustine to the sin of Ham? First, I want my redemptive-historical brothers to know that I am aware of all the “Noah as the new Adam” material in Genesis 9. I am also aware that Christ is the true Noah, who gives us rest from the works of our hands (Gen 5:29). But if that’s all you see in the passage, you need to look closer. The passage is one of those cryptic passages that occur often in the Old Testament. A consulting of any commentary will show a number of different views of what transpired following Noah’s drunkenness. I won’t review them here, simply because I think the sin of Ham is fairly obvious, and that there is a real lesson for us here. Ham’s sin was in his humiliation of his father by calling unnecessary attention to his father’s sin, in fact mocking his father. The contrast in Gen 9:20-24 is between the behavior of Ham and that of his brothers. Unlike Ham, Shem and Japheth covered their father’s nakedness, covering his sin, as it were.

I think there is in this a lesson for us in how we are to treat our fathers; not only our biological fathers, but our fathers in the faith. It is significant that after Genesis 9, Noah’s transgression is never again mentioned. In fact, in the seven subsequent references to Noah in the Bible, one is simply his part in the genealogy of 1 Chronicles (1:4), three refer to the judgment of the flood (Is 54:9; 1 Pet 3:20; 2 Pet 2:5); and three refer to Noah as an example of faith (Ezek 14:14, 20; Heb 11:7). The Bible does not hide Noah’s sin, but neither does it elevate that sin over his faith. David is treated similarly. Yes, his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah is dealt with in 2 Sam 11-12, and the consequences of that sin color the remainder of David’s life. But later references to David emphasize his faith, and he became the standard to which later kings of Israel were compared.

We are faced with two temptations in dealing with our fathers, whether our biological fathers or our fathers in the faith. Particularly regarding our fathers in the faith, the one temptation is hagiography, treating them as if they were perfect and had no sin. The other is to focus in their sin alone, as if those shortcomings defined the man. I've been guilty of both of these, and no doubt those temptations are constant.

But in some quarters, I see a great deal of the attitude of Ham. Our fathers failed in some particular area. Our fathers committed, regularly and often, and apparently without pangs of conscience, sins that seem great and heinous to us. They were insensitive to things that we are exquisitely sensitive to. So we deride them, we mock them, and we hold them up for ridicule. They can be safely ignored, because of their great sins. We can toss Augustine onto the ash heap of history because of his aberrant doctrines. He obviously has nothing to teach us.

As I've gotten older, I think I have developed a greater sympathy for the sins and shortcomings of my fathers in the faith. I hope that I have moved from the sin of Ham to the mercy and kindness of Shem and Japheth. We don’t want to pretend that our fathers had no sin. But we should recall that their sin was not the defining element of their lives. Rather, it is their faith and their godliness, however frail, that still speak to us. I hope that our children, our successors in the faith, will treat us more kindly than we have sometimes treated our predecessors: that they might focus on our faith and not on the sin that will seem so obvious to them, but to which we are, apparently, blind.


Good Stuff said...
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Jay C. said...

Dr. Shaw,
In the address you gave at the 2012 GPTS conference, you said there are now books better than Alfred Edersheim. I'd love to know what they are.