Genesis 9:20-27 is an odd tale. It takes place right after Noah, his family, and the animals exit the ark and disperse as well as after the Lord sets the rainbow in the sky as a sign of His promise. Let’s read it:
Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant.”
In summary, Noah begins to toil the earth to the sweat of his brow, according to the curse of men (Genesis 3:17-19). He then drinks of the wine he toiled and gets drunk. His son Ham sees his nakedness, leaves him, and tells his two brothers, Shem and Japheth, who then use a garment to ensure they don’t see their father’s nakedness and then use it to cover him up. When Noah discovers what happened, he curses Ham’s lineage for looking upon his nakedness and leaving him as such and blesses Shem and Japheth for not looking upon his nakedness and then covering him up.
One of the questions we are to ask ourselves here is, “Why would Noah curse Ham for looking upon his nakedness and not covering him up?” I suppose I could consult a commentary, or several, and give you an answer, but the goal of this Pastoral Thoughts series is meant to be my devotional, pastoral reflections rather than a studious, didactic account.
What immediately came to mind to me as I read this last week was the state of nudity before the Fall of Man. “And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). It wasn’t until after Adam and Eve had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that “they knew that they were naked” and “sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths,” because they were now ashamed of their nakedness (Genesis 3:7).
We have here, then, a reminder of man’s shame in his nakedness. There’s a reason why nobody walks around in their birthday suits (unless you’re part of one of those weird nudist societies). And there’s a reason why you get charged with indecent exposure if you walk around nude in public. Because it’s shameful.
Why is being nude shameful, though? I suppose we could look at it from several angles. Have you ever looked at yourself naked in a mirror and felt ashamed, not liking what you see? That’s me every time, so I get it. Body shaming and body image issues are quite prevalent today. The endless supply of “beauty” magazines certainly don’t help matters either—pictures of the perfect male or female body, especially the “hottest” celebrities who are in great shape, and you know you don’t measure up, and perhaps you never can.
Or maybe you don’t feel shameful when you look upon your naked body in a mirror, whether you exercise or not, and that’s okay! The Lord has blessed you! Still, though, you don’t walk around outside naked. Partly because the law prohibits it, but also because, if you’re being completely honest, it would be extremely embarrassing and—dare I say it?—shameful.
Before the Fall, man had no awareness that he was naked. He simply was. But now that man has eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we now know we’re naked and it shames us for some reason.
More than the reminder of shame itself is the reminder that we attempt to cover up our shame to no avail. When Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves up by sewing fig leaves together and making loincloths, this wasn’t so much an attempt to cover up their nudity so much as it was their poor attempt to cover up their shame, that is, their sin. And, of course, their attempt wasn’t good enough. So, God slaughtered an animal and covered them up Himself (Genesis 3:21). And this wouldn’t be enough either. So, God provided a better Lamb to be slaughtered whose blood covers our shame—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
This is not to say that having a body—even a naked one—is bad, as the ancient heresy of Gnosticism would have you believe. Gnosticism is a complicated ancient heresy, but one of its heretical faults is that it separates the spiritual from the physical because, since we sin in the flesh, this means all things material are evil. But this is far from being biblical. Remember, man was naked before the Fall, and there was no shame. We literally come into this world naked. God gave you a body; therefore, we are meant to have bodies.
I love how Rev. Jonathan Fisk puts it: “You are your body. Your body is how God gave you you. Everything that you are begins and ends with your body. You don’t just inhabit it. You are it… Your soul has never existed without your body. Your body and your soul were created together, in the same moment, when two very special parts of two other people’s bodies came together in order to both physically and spiritually become you. God did this. He spoke you, designed you… If you want to know the real answer to the age-old question Who am I? look in a mirror. You may not like what you see, but what you see is not the problem. What you see is what God made you. No, not the warts and wrinkles, not the results of decayed DNA or the preponderance of gluttony and sloth’s effects. Beneath all that… That body is you, an extremely delicate, particular, powerful gift, both to yourself and to all the others you will ever meet” (Fisk, 61-62; emphases the author’s).
I don’t think I can put it any better than my colleague.
The reason why death is so tragic is because it is the end of the harmonious living between body and soul—what was not designed to be separated becomes separated, hence the tragedy of the Fall. Your body dies and decays and who knows what happens with your soul before the resurrection? All we know is that those who die in Christ Jesus “fall asleep” in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:14). (And exactly what this means isn’t clear either.) At the resurrection, all souls and bodies will come back together. Only those who are in Christ Jesus shall rise to eternal life in body and soul (Revelation 20:4-6) whereas those who rejected and hated the Lord shall be dispatched to eternal torment in body and soul (Revelation 20:7-10).
While our naked bodies may be a reminder of our shame—especially our shame of sin—those who are in Christ Jesus have nothing to be ashamed of. For, remember, God gave you your body; and Christ has not just redeemed your soul but your body as well, who Himself came down in human flesh, died in His flesh, and was bodily risen. When Jesus returns, it’s interesting that we won’t be returning to nudity since the new creation is a not a return to the former pristine state of creation but is, in actuality, something entirely better—that’s why it is the new creation, not the renewed creation. There won’t be nudity not because the shame will still be there, but because we will be eternally clothed in white robes (Revelation 7:9). These white robes represent the perfection placed upon you in your Baptism where you have been clothed in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27).
The body you have now will be the body you have in the new creation, except it will be new, perfect, without fault or blemish. What exactly that will look like, I am excited to see and experience with you at the resurrection.
Theology Terms Used
- Fall of Man: the account in Genesis 3 when mankind rebelled against God by believing the word of the serpent Satan over the Word of God.
- Gnosticism: a prominent heretical movement in the 2nd century Christian church, partly of pre-Christian origin. Gnostic doctrine taught that the world was created and ruled by a lesser divinity, the demiurge, and that Christ was an emissary of the remote supreme divine being, esoteric knowledge (gnosis) of whom enabled the redemption of the human spirit.
- Heresy: a false doctrine that jeopardises your salvation.
- New Creation: the new heavens and new earth that Jesus Christ will usher in at His second coming.
Featured image: Resurrection of the Flesh (c. 1500) by Luca Signorelli based on 1 Corinthians 15:52. Chapel of San Brizio, Duomo, Orvieto. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_resurrection#/media/File:Signorelli_Resurrection.jpg
Fisk, Jonathan. Echo. Unbroken Truth. Worth Repeating. Again. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2018.