Are there certain ethnic groups whose lot is to gain supremacy over other ethnic groups? Are certain ethnic groups destined by God for servitude? Some have found cause for such views in Genesis 9:20-27. In this passage Noah, the new father of all the living, becomes drunk and, lying exposed in his tent, is seen by Ham, the father of Canaan. Shem and Japheth, Noah’s other sons, cover their father. When Noah awakes and learns of this he pronounces a curse on Ham’s son, Canaan, and a blessing on Shem and Japheth.
The curse and blessing are as follows:
“Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”
Several remarks are pertinent to this passage:
1. It is not Ham who is cursed, but Canaan. This is important to the writer of Genesis (Moses) because he is the leader of a people (Israel) who are making their way to Canaan in order to conquer it. Canaan is the territorial name and name of the descendents of Canaan who was cursed.
2. The greatest blessing belongs to Shem (from whom the Israelites are descended).
3. In the following chapter it is clear that some of Ham’s descendents become rulers of other nations (Nimrod, in particular, was instrumental in the founding of Babylon and Assyria, two later super-powers that conquered Israel and the Canaanite nations around her).
4. Subsequent history shows how the curse was fulfilled. The Canaanites were in subjection at various times to the descendents of Shem, Japheth, and even Ham. At other times, however, God used them to bring Israel into subjection as discipline for their waywardness.
5. For anyone to use this passage as the basis for showing racial disdain or superiority is a complete misapplication of God’s Word. If it shows the superiority or supremacy of any ethnic group, it is the Semitic people (Israel, Arabians, Iranians, etc.).
But in fact, there is no superior or inferior race. All the nations of the earth are equally rebellious and unrighteous before God (Romans 3:9-18). All the nations of the earth will see the salvation of God (Isaiah 52:10-15) and a multitude from every nation will worship the Lamb of God for His salvation (Revelation 7:9,10).
The church is to be specially aware of this. We are not to accept the world’s distinctions as to inferior/superior. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).