Why did Noah's nakedness lead to Ham's curse?

Question
Why did Ham seeing his father's nakedness cause such a detrimental curse to be pronounced upon him (Gen. 9:20-25)?
Answer
Before more directly answering your question, I will briefly discuss nakedness in the Bible.

At creation, Adam and Eve lived in a natural state without clothing (Gen. 2:25), and nakedness represented a state of innocence. However, after the fall of all mankind in Adam (Gen. 3:1-7; Rom. 5:12-19), nakedness was recognized as a source of shame (Gen. 3:7, 10-11). It was considered so vile that immediately God himself provided covering for the first couple (Gen. 3:21). Subsequently, modest apparel has been emphasized in Scripture as well (cf.1 Tim. 2:9-10; 1 Pet 3:3-4).

Since the Fall, uncovering nakedness has been associated with some kind of sexual sin or dishonor. It is referred to numerous times in Scripture, and God made laws regarding nakedness.

Leviticus 18:6: None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the Lord.

Leviticus 18:8: You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness.

Leviticus 18:17: You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, and you shall not take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter to uncover her nakedness; they are relatives; it is depravity.

Leviticus 18:19: You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.

Deuteronomy 22:30: A man shall not take his father's wife, so that he does not uncover his father's nakedness.

Deuteronomy 27:20: Cursed be anyone who lies with his father's wife, because he has uncovered his father's nakedness.' And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'

Ezekiel 22:10: In you men uncover their fathers' nakedness; in you they violate women who are unclean in their menstrual impurity.

Our bodies belong to the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13; cf. Rom. 12:1), and the uncovering of nakedness is only permissible within the intimate confines of marriage relationship (cf. 1 Cor. 7:1-5). Violators are punished, and we have Absalom as an example. He went into his father David's concubines and had sex with them, thus uncovering his father's nakedness (2 Sam. 16:22). This was hideous conduct (cf. Deut. 27:20) and the sin was great before God and all Israel. Absalom later died a violent death (2 Sam. 18:1-33).

Now, with this background, back to the question of Noah and Ham. Noah was the head of the covenant of the newly re-created world. However, after the flood he planted a vineyard and became drunk on it's wine (Gen. 9:20-21). His son Ham entered his tent and saw his father's nakedness (Gen. 9:22). Ham, like Absalom, made this public knowledge when he told his brothers (Gen. 9:22; cf. 2 Sam. 16:22). We are not sure of the exact nature of Ham's sin: Did he mock Noah's nakedness? Did he violate his father in some sexual manner? Whatever the case, when Noah discovered what Ham had done, he cursed him (Gen. 9:24-25).

One may question the fact that God gave his law after Ham's sin. God's laws, however, are innate within man, so Ham should have known better (Rom. 1:18-20, 24, 27); the Ten Commandments, though not yet codified, were already in effect. What is very clear, though, is that Ham’s offense was serious enough in God’s eyes to justify such a detrimental curse.

Please see, "What commandment(s) did Adam violate in the Fall?" below.

Related Topics

What commandment(s) did Adam violate in the Fall?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).