Chapter 9 gives us the covenant with God and the invention of slavery.

The Covenant

God blesses Noah and his sons (their wives, however, are apparently chop suey), and repeats his command to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 9:1). Then it gets a bit weird…

“The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every bird of the air, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea” (Gen. 9:2). Just what, exactly, went on in that ark, I wonder?

God tells Noah that he can eat all the animals and all the green plants, but that he’s not allowed to “eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Gen. 9:4). I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean, and my study bible doesn’t clarify it at all. It could either mean that animals need to be drained of their literal blood prior to eating, or that they shouldn’t be eaten while still alive (or, even, that they shouldn’t be killed for the purpose of being eaten).

Incidentally, it seems that this transition from a mostly vegetarian diet to one that includes meat to a greater extent is reflected in Semitic history. According to Matthews, meat was mostly eaten only on festive occasions, and their diet primarily consisted of grains and dairy (Manners & Customs, p.26). At that time, the meat that was eaten had to be killed in sacrifice, rather than simply butchered with the sole purpose of being used as food, with the exception of certain wild animals (Collins, The Hebrew Bible, p.88).

God then goes into some weird talk about lifeblood and reckoning, and “of every man’s brother I will require the life of man” (Gen. 9:5). I don’t really get what this is all about, but it does sound rather gruesome. We get an injunction against murder – “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for God made man in his own image” (Gen. 9:6) – and then God finishes it all off by repeating again that Noah and his sons must “be fruitful and multiply, bring forth abundantly on the earth and multiply in it” (Gen. 9:7). They’ll have to if they want to reach nearly 7 billion people in just over four thousand years!

My study bible points out that the command not to murder is issued to all of Noah’s descendants. In other words, this command (and I suppose this would apply to the “be fruitful and multiply one as well”) is therefore binding on all of humanity.

God then promises that he will never again try to kill every living thing with water (all other methods are still available). To seal the deal, God puts a rainbow in the sky. Why a rainbow? My study bible has this to say: “Ancients imagined the rainbow as God’s weapon (bow) from which the lightnings of his arrows were shot. God places his weapon in the heavens as a sign, or visible token, that his wrath has abated.” So, basically, it’s the godly equivalent of laying down arms.

Noah’s Curse

Drunkenness of Noah by Giovanni Bellini c.1515

Drunkenness of Noah by Giovanni Bellini c.1515

With all that over with, we’re told once again that Noah is the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. This time, we’re also told that Ham has a son named Canaan.

Noah, we’re told, plants a vineyard and then “he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen. 9:21). Yes, that’s right. Noah got smashed and then passed out naked in his tent. But who hasn’t, amiright?

Unfortunately, Ham happens to walk into Noah’s tent and sees him naked. He then goes back outside and tells his brothers. Shem and Japheth take some clothes, walk into the tent backwards with their eyes averted, and cover Noah. It’s bad enough seeing your father passed out with booze and stark naked without the added fact that he’s over 600 years old!

When Noah wakes up, he knows “what his youngest son had done to him” (Gen. 9:24). What was this terrible crime? Walking in on Noah while he’s passed out drunk and naked and then going back outside and telling someone about it. In other words, the crime is not in the act, but rather in the tattling. We had a similar rule when I went to kindergarten.

Noah then feels that an appropriate punishment for his son is to curse Canaan. “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (Gen. 9:25). So once more, just because it bears repeating: Noah gets so drunk that he passes out naked (what on earth was he doing to get naked in the first place?), his son walks in on him by accident and sees his nakedness, tells people, and the appropriate response is to condemn his son’s son to a life of slavery.


Just to close off the chapter, we’re told that Noah lived for a total of 950 years, “and he died” (Gen. 9:29).