Genesis 9:25

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And he said, Cursed be Canaan; A servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. (ASV)


That seems rather extreme and unjust, punishing Ham's son Canaan and his descendants with perpetual slavery for whatever it was that Ham did to Noah when Noah got drunk and accidentally exposed himself.


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The imperfect verb form of yihyeh ("he will be") rather than the jussive (wihi: "may he be") may imply prediction rather than malediction in the immediate context. "Cursed" in the Pentateuch is frequently used, as here, in reverse parallelism with "blessed," to contradistinguish negative from salutary consequences. The two trajectories represent two basic orientations of individuals before God: a will to shamelessness before God, and a will to cover shame. The former leads in scripture to self-curse; the latter to divine blessing. The two basic orientations of Noah's three sons are both proverbial and perennially recurrent throughout the Bible. The biblical narrative hence takes them as paradigmatic for what was to come. It was for their own shamelessness rather than for the shamelessness of their ancestor that judgment of the Canaanites was withheld for centuries until their own iniquity was "made full" (Gen 15:16). The depths of their iniquity was amply attested by what was found at Ras Shamra (cf. my comments at Deuteronomy 7:2).


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