The first one to make wine and get drunk, according to the Bible, is the venerable patriarch Noah. The name “Noah” means rest. His parents gave him this name hoping that, “He will comfort us in the labour and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed” (Genesis 5:29). Today many might think that by inventing the art of wine making Noah did substantially contribute to give the humankind the much needed rest from their physical and mental sorrows and sufferings.
Charles Darwin is credited with the saying, “An American monkey, after getting drunk on brandy, would never touch it again, and thus is much wiser than most men.” How did Noah go about after his first booze? Did he cherish it or chase it away from his life? We do not know. But we do know that many of his progeny today never rest from drinking and get drunk.
Noah was a righteous man, characterized by absolute obedience to the directives of God. If so, how come he got entangled with drinking? How come the one who was instrumental to the conservation of the human race and the entire creation from the flood also became the root cause of its further ruin? Can he evade from the responsibility of causing a severe harm on the human race? In fact, the Jewish rabbis and some of the Christian church fathers never accuse Noah of anything wrong. In their view Noah never knew the intoxicating power of the fermented grape juice when he started drinking it. As the bible tells it, Noah is the first one to taste wine and as such he is supposedly unaware of its after effects.
“A man’s true character comes out when he is drunk,” notes Charlie Chaplin. Noah’s lying naked in the story also teaches that we tend to expose more of ourselves after drinking. It is not uncommon that people give vent to their inner feelings and sentiments once they are drunk. However, in the biblical story of Noah’s drunkenness, the real culprit is not Noah, but his son Ham. He saw Noah’s nudity and told his brothers about it. When later Noah came to know about it, he cursed Canaan, son of Ham.
Is it a grave sin to see the nudity of one’s father? The gravity of the curse uttered by Noah make some think that more was involved than just seeing the nakedness of Noah. So, some believe that the sin of Ham was that he committed sodomy with his father. Others think that “seeing the nudity of the father” is an expression for sexual union with his wife, suggesting Ham’s incest with his mother.
The above explanations presuppose that looking at the nudity of one’s father is not a serious thing. But, the extreme precaution taken by the brothers of Ham not to see the shame of their father indicates that it was indeed a serious sin. Not only did Ham see the nudity of his father but also did he disgrace his father in the family by telling it to his brothers. Gravity of Ham’s sin is to be understood in the context of Exodus 21:17 where it is stated that, “And he who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death.” If any maltreatment of the parents and cursing them evoked a death penalty, then Ham’s disgracing his father was grave enough to bring a curse.
It is interesting to note that for the sin of Ham, it was his son Canaan who was punished. In fact, the curse of Canaan was in a way a curse on his father Shem too. What greater torment for a father than to have an accursed son? Canaan was cursed to be the slave of his brothers. Thus, Ham’s disrespect to his father ruined the status and honour of his own son in the family. Instead of a brotherly bond there set in a master slave relationship among the brothers. The story thus indicates that a common bond can exist among the siblings only when they whole-heartedly respect their parents.
The very first story of the bible about drinking is thus mixed with shame, parental disrespect, gossip, family discord and curse.