Who was Ham in the Bible?

Ham was the youngest of Noah's three sons, his older brothers being Shem and Japheth. Ham, his wife, and the rest of Noah's family were rescued from the flood and went on to repopulate the earth. Ham's four sons—Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan—went on to father people groups that included the Canaanites (such as Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Hittites, Jebusites, and Philistines), Cushites, Babylonians, and Egyptians (Genesis 10:6–20). Nimrod was an early descendant of Ham and was known for constructing the notorious cities of Nineveh and Babylon with its infamous Tower of Babel. It seems Ham set a poor example for his descendants.

After the flood, God defined His relationship with the earth and everyone on it and outlined these humans' responsibility on the earth. First, God promised to never again destroy the earth by flood (Genesis 8:21–22; 9:11). He gave instructions for Noah and his sons, including Ham, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). He then gave them animals as food (Genesis 9:3) and warned them against taking human life (Genesis 9:5–6) before reiterating His command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:7) and repeating His promise to never again flood the earth (Genesis 9:9–11). In other words, God said He would preserve the earth, the humans were to repopulate it, and there were only certain instances to take life. It was humans' job to spread life while God continued to preserve life on earth.

Noah set about planting a vineyard to provide for this growing population (Genesis 9:20). However, he ended up drunk and naked inside his tent (Genesis 9:21). Ham saw his father in this dishonorable state, but rather than help his father, he compounded the shame by telling his two older brothers (Genesis 9:22). Some scholars posit that Ham actually castrated or raped Noah while he was in the tent, but that is not evidenced in the text of the Bible. Shem and Japheth quickly spread a cloak between the two of them, walked into Noah's tent backwards with their faces turned away, and covered their father's nakedness with the cloak (Genesis 9:23). These older brothers covered their father's shame and restored his honor. When Noah awoke, he realized what each of his sons had done and pronounced a curse over Ham's son Canaan and then pronounced blessings over Shem and Japheth (Genesis 9:24–27).

The curse was that Ham's descendants be "a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers" (Genesis 9:25). It is important to note that this curse was uttered by Noah and not pronounced by God Himself, who had pronounced curses in the garden of Eden after Adam and Eve's sin (Genesis 3:14–19). Thus, there is no evidence that Noah's curse came true. Rather, servitude and slavery have long been a part of human existence with Shem's descendants (Israelites) enslaved by Ham's descendants (Egyptians) and the reverse (Israelites (Shem) ruling over Philistines (Ham)). Rather than being an excuse to abuse other people, the story of Noah's three sons should be a reminder that all humans are part of one family, each in need of God's saving grace.

Due to the wickedness of mankind, God destroyed the earth by flood. He rescued Noah and his family because "Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD… Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God" (Genesis 6:8–9). While Noah's righteousness was enough to save him and his family from the flood, it was not enough to overcome the power of sin in his life or the lives of his sons, as is evidenced by the drunken nakedness debacle. The fact that Ham's descendants went on to build the Tower of Babel saying, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11:4) shows that their hearts were in rebellion to God's command to fill the earth.

The Bible states that every human heart harbors rebellion to God. "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one" (Romans 3:10–12). For this reason, God sent His holy and perfect Son to live a completely righteous life and offer it as a sacrifice on behalf of all who would believe (Hebrews 10:14). Just as Shem and Japheth covered their father's shame, so too can Jesus Christ's blood cover our sin and shame (Hebrews 9:14). This redemption is offered not just to Shem and Japheth's descendants, but to all people. In fact, the lineage of Christ includes one of Ham's descendants, the Canaanite woman Rahab (Matthew 1:5). What a blessing that any person can know God's saving grace!

Related Truth:

Who was Noah in the Bible?

Who was Nimrod in the Bible?

What is the biblical account of Shem, Ham, and Japheth?

What is the Table of Nations in Genesis 10?

What was the effect of the fall on humanity? How did the fall affect our world?

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Truth about People in the Bible

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