Covering One Another’s Shame

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Cornelis Cort (Netherlandish, 1533-1578), The mocking of Noah

20Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father naked and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked.

24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend Japheth’s territory;  may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be the slave of Japheth.”

There are two kinds of sin revealed in this passage. One is more obvious than the other, but the one that’s less obvious is far more damaging.

The sin of Ham was that he made sport of Noah’s shameful predicament by telling his brothers Shem and Japheth about it instead of simply covering him up and never mentioning it. When his brothers were invited to witness their father’s shame, they did the honorable thing by refusing to look upon his nakedness. Instead, they walked in backwards with a garment and covered up his nakedness.

Notice, however, that when Noah woke up, Shem and Japheth made sure he knew what Ham had done, and also that they did something far different. What they did for Noah they didn’t do for Ham. And in the process of exposing their brother, they exposed Noah’s shame anyway. The only reason they would have done this was to curry favor from Noah. And indeed, Noah responded in the expected way. He cursed Ham and blessed Shem and Japheth.

All three brothers exposed their father’s shame. While Ham did it for sport, Shem and Japheth did so cunningly, by attaching it to their brother’s folly to gain personal advantage in a power play. Ham’s actions were foolish and immature, but Shem and Japheth’s were manipulative, deceptive, and relationally destructive. There were no heroes, no good guys, in this story.

If I were to catalogue all of my actions, I could produce countless examples of times I have been guilty of the sin of Ham or guilty of the sin of Shem and Japheth. And sadly, I think the number of times I’ve committed these infractions increased a thousandfold once I began using social media platforms for various moral crusades. How often I could have chosen to cover someone’s shame and pray for their “sobriety” instead of making sport of their folly. How often I have deceptively used the folly of others to increase my personal standing before men and women whose favor I wanted to curry. How deceptive the heart is!

Whether it’s through gossip or showcasing/calling out, we’re often in danger of committing one of these sins. The temptations are all around us and are even built in to many of the ways we do good. So today, I’m praying all the more earnestly, “Lead me not into temptation, but deliver me from evil.”


Categories: Spiritual Formation, Uncategorized

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2 replies

  1. Man, Judy. You hit it on the head. doing rightly for the wrong reasons, for appearance sake, is not good at all.

  2. Judy, this is so piercing and humbling, in the best kind of way. Thank you!

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