************ Sermon on Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 104 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 4, 2011
Q & A 104
"The Sons of Noah and the Fifth Commandment"
There are two sins in our Scripture reading: Noah got drunk and Ham failed to honor Father Noah. Which sin would the children of Israel view as being more serious? Which sin do you view as being more serious?
When Moses read today's Bible reading to the children of Israel, most of the assembly immediately thought of the fifth commandment: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you" (Ex 20:12). In that culture, in that time, and in that place, honoring one's parents was viewed as a very serious matter – so serious that a disobedient son or daughter was to be taken outside of the camp and stoned to death (Deut 21:18-21).
At the same time, there are others who look at this passage and focus on Noah's drunkenness. They hold up Noah as an example of what happens when alcohol is abused.
I want to spend some time looking at both sins and tie them together in our study of the fifth commandment.
I Noah's Sin
A Remember God's promise after Adam and Eve fell into sin? God promised a Redeemer – a seed of the woman who would crush the serpent's head (Gen 3:15). At first, Eve hoped that Cain was this promised seed (Gen 4:1). But when Cain killed his brother it became clear that Cain also needed saving – from the sin crouching at his door (Gen 4:7).
Shortly after this men began to increase in number on the earth (Gen 6:1). The Lord saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth and His heart was filled with pain (Gen 6:5-6). The earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence (Gen 6:11). As the psalmist observed, there was no one who does good, not even one (Ps 14:3).
However, in the midst of this wicked and evil generation there was a man who found favor in the eyes of the Lord. His name was Noah (Gen 6:8). Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Gen 6:9). In fact, Noah did everything that the Lord commanded him (Gen 6:22; 7:5). Could it be that Noah was the promised seed of the woman who would crush the serpent's head? Was he the Redeemer?
Today's passage confirms that Noah could not be the one to solve the problem of sin. After the flood it is righteous Noah whose transgression is mentioned. Noah becomes drunk on wine and does the kind of foolish acts we associate with drunkards and addicts: he falls into a drunken stupor and strips off his clothes (Gen 6:20-21). Like Adam and Eve, Noah has a fallen nature. Like Adam and Eve, Noah is a sinner. Like Adam and Eve, Noah is subject to Satan's temptations. Despite the cleansing judgment of the flood, every inclination of the thoughts of man's heart was still evil all the time (Gen 6:5).
No, Noah was not the Redeemer. Because no sinful man can save another sinful man. That is the message of the Bible.
(Ps 49:7-8) No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him-- (8) the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough ...The only One Who can save is true God, true man, and truly righteous – namely, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Isn't the story of Noah's drunkenness a sad story? Noah stood strong and tall against the attacks of evil men for hundreds of years. Noah endured the mockery and jeering of the crowds. All this time Noah preached and proclaimed the necessity of repentance without gaining a single convert. Satan was unable to corrupt the family of Noah before the flood, although he had succeeded with all other families. Now, when all seemed to be peace and victory, Noah let down his guard and got drunk and made a fool of himself. I am sure that righteous Noah was not planning to get drunk, but he did anyway.
The story of Noah shows us how even the upright can fall into sin, especially after enduring a trial. We all need to be careful after enduring one temptation that we do not give in to another (1 Cor 10:12). We need to make sure we are not over-confident or careless or neglect the grace of God and thus be surprised into sin.
Do you see how truthful the Bible is about those it calls heroes of faith? All other religions turn their heroes into holy superstars but not the Bible. It lays out the good with the bad, the righteous deeds with the sinful acts. No whitewashing here. No pretense that someone is more than they really are. Scripture does not hesitate to call attention to the failures of even the most saintly of men.
I'm sure you realize that according to some pastors and churches, Noah lost his salvation when he became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. Not so, says the Bible, because Noah had been sealed into one of the eternal covenants of God; although Noah was uncovered physically, he was nevertheless covered with the righteousness of Christ. He was still God's child, and God still had use for him.
B Our Bible reading is the first time "wine" is mentioned in the Bible. But there is no reason to think that Noah discovered "wine." Notice what our Scripture reading says about Noah: "Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard" (Gen 9:20). As I have mentioned more than once, the culture and people before the flood were not cave-dwelling savages. Rather, they were sophisticated enough to dwell in cities, use weapons, care for animals, grow crops, and develop civilization. So, we can safely assume that when Noah left the ark he already knew how to grow grapes and make wine. Furthermore, we can safely assume that Noah knew exactly what would happen if he drank too much wine. It was not a case of Noah being caught by surprise or off-guard by the "juice" he was drinking.
We see God's goodness here, don't we?! The fact that there is wine tells us that Noah and his family are not eking out a miserable, hand-to-mouth existence as they work among thorns and thistles. Rather, they are able to enjoy some of the other things of life.
C Noah's sin was NOT that he drank wine – because the beverage itself is a gift from God (Deut 7:13; Ps 104:14-15; 1 Tim 5:23; Jn 2). But, like many other things, wine can be abused. Dreadful sins arise not from wine as such but from the misuse of wine and other strong drink. Thus, the priests of Israel were ordered not to partake before offering sacrifices – so as not to defile the sacrifices (Lev 10:8-9). And, drinking alcohol to excess is strongly condemned by the Bible.
(Prov 23:20,29-32) Do not join those who drink too much wine ... (29) Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? (30) Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. (31) Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! (32) In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper.For a moment, at least, Noah sinned by loving wine more than the God Who gives wine.
D Let me tie in drunkenness to the fifth commandment. The Catechism extends the fifth commandment to "all those in authority over me." As you know, there are parents who smile and laugh and are tolerant about drunk teenagers, who allow what is called "canal running," who say it is "Okay" to get wild once in a while. Not only are kids misusing alcohol but they are also breaking the intent of the fifth commandment – and their parents are tolerant of this.
Let me say this loud and clear: parents who do not respect authority cannot expect their children to honor them. Parents who rebel against government laws and regulations, who heap abuse upon pastors and elders, who fail to support the teachers at school should not be surprised when their kids grow up having no respect for them.
Those who observe the fifth commandment, honor not only parents but all those in authority over them. How we treat our leaders reveals what we think of our Father in heaven, since He ordains them all (Rom 13:1-7).
II Ham's Sin
A This brings us to the sin of Ham. Noah had gotten drunk. And, in the heat of the moment, threw off his clothes and laid uncovered in his tent. Along came Ham and saw his father's nakedness. But Ham did more than see his father. The word "saw" in this instance implies that Ham "gazed at" his father. It was a long look. Evidently, Ham found some satisfaction in seeing his father as drunk as a skunk.
Ham then compounded his sin. Thinking that his brothers would share in his satisfaction, Ham told them the unsavory news of Father Noah being drunk and lying naked in the tent. Literally, the text means "he told his brothers with delight." Ham relished the opportunity to gossip and talk about Father Noah.
B Shem and Japheth, however, reacted quite differently than did Ham. They did rush to Noah's tent, but not to rejoice in Noah's weakness and shame. Instead, they refused to even look at their father. Doing what they could to help Noah, they covered him with a garment.
Notice, then, what Shem and Japheth did. They dealt with Noah's sin and shame by covering it. And, at the same time, they honored their father by not looking at him and not talking about it.
C Now, who obeyed the fifth commandment: Ham OR Shem and Japheth? This question is not hard to answer. Shem and Japheth showed respect to and for their father. But do you know what Ham did? Ham did not honor Father Noah. In fact, Ham dishonored Father Noah. Two times he dishonored Father Noah. He looked upon his drunken father with satisfaction and he told others about this.
Ham's actions revealed a heart of rebellion and unbelief – not only against his father but also against his father's God. Similarly, the actions of Shem and Japheth testify to their respect for their father and their own reverential faith in the Lord.
Isn't there a lesson here for us? I know there are members who have parents or grandparents who embarrass and shame them with their behavior and antics and talk. Do we honor these parents by talking about them to others? Of course not! Do we honor these parents by pretending nothing has happened? Of course not! We need to deal with the sin and the shame but in a way that still shows honor.
I am sure we all recognize that we all fail as sons and daughters. And, we all fail as parents too. There is only one Father Who always deserves honor and only one Son Who always gives honor. I am talking, of course, about God the Father and Christ Jesus the Son.
III Noah's Prophecy
A When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he made the great three-part prophetic declaration of verses 25-27. We know, of course, that Noah spoke in the Spirit, prophesying as the Spirit gave utterance.
Does any of this sound familiar? There is a fall. Then there is a three-part prophetic utterance. Doesn't this sound the same as with Adam and Eve? First, there was the fall into sin. Then, there was God's prophetic utterance to the serpent, to the woman, and to the man.
B Noah's prophetic words were first directed towards Ham. When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said, "Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers" (Gen 9:24-25).
Did you notice the strange thing said by Noah? Ham sinned but Noah cursed Canaan. Ham dishonored Noah but Noah cursed Ham's son, Canaan. Ham sinned against Noah but Noah cursed someone in the next generation.
Why did Noah curse Canaan rather than Ham? Because the curse is not on Ham but on Ham's descendants. Who are those descendants? The descendants of Canaan include the peoples who lived in Palestine (cf Gen 10:15-20). These people were uniformly wicked and impure. By Abraham's day the sin of the people had almost already reached its full measure (Gen 15:16; cf Gen 19:5; Lev 18 & 20; Deut 12:31). By the time the children of Israel entered into Canaan, the sin had reached its full measure and the Israelites were commanded to wipe them out.
C After this, Noah put a blessing on Shem or on Shem's God: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem" (Gen 9:26). Then, there is a prophecy about Japheth and his family: "May God extend the territory of Japheth ..." (Gen 9:27).
The words and their exact meaning are confusing to us. But the children of Israel knew exactly what they came down to. Let's go back to the fifth commandment. As the Apostle Paul notes, it is the first commandment with a promise: "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you" (Ex 20:12; cf Eph 6:2).
The children of Israel has just heard the Ten Commandments before Mount Sinai. They have heard what God has said about honoring your father and your mother. They have heard the promise. And, they realize that Noah's sons are living proof that these are more than just words. Noah's sons are living proof that those who honor dad and mom get to enjoy life while those who dishonor parents and all authority come under God's curse.
Don't forget that the Ten Commandments are God's words to saved people. They are God's words to those born again by the blood and Spirit of Christ. They are God's words to those who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.
How, then, should these people live? Simple really. God's will for me in the fifth commandment is that I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me.
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