(My) Father’s Nakedness

September 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

There is this irregular phrase – so it seems – that we find in the Bible. Although at first it looks like an obvious interpretation to a common expression, there is more than meets the eye in this Biblical account.

Noah and his grandson 

The first place we find the phrase my/his father’s nakedness is with Noah, his sons, and grandson after the flood.

Genesis 9:18-27

18 The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) 19 These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth. 20 Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. 21 When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw his father’s nakedness and told his two brothers outside. 23 But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father’s nakedness. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father’s nakedness. 24 When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, 25 he said, “Cursed be Canaan! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers.” 26 He also said, “Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem! May Canaan be the slave of Shem. 27 May God extend the territory of Japheth; may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may Canaan be his slave.”


Before I am going to decipher the phrase his father’s nakedness, let me first give some clarification about the above scenario.

If we just casually read this piece of Scripture, it may sound like Ham did something terribly wrong and was therefore cursed by his father. Whenever sons are named in the Bible, it is always from the eldest to the youngest (see also Gen 5:32, 6:10, and 10:1). According to verse eighteen Shem was the eldest son of Noah, Ham the middle and Japheth the youngest. Also the middle son’s son was Canaan, the only grandson mentioned in this chapter. Ham had three other sons but is not disclosed until the next chapter of Genesis (see Gen 10:6). The reader may very easily become confused with the storyline here because it says that Ham went in and saw his father’s nakedness (v22), the eldest and youngest sons then covered their father’s nakedness (v23), and when Noah awoke he discovered what the youngest son had done to him (v24) – consequently cursing Canaan (v25) his grandson, which was the son of Ham.


To understand this we have to know some Hebrew figure of speech. The expression the youngest son is a Hebrew idiom and refers to the grandson and in this case Canaan. Henceforth, also the reason why Canaan is the only grandchild mentioned in this chapter. It was therefore Canaan that did something (we don’t know what) to Noah. I have heard some ministers explain how in this passage Ham took advantage of his drunken father and had an homosexual act with him. There is however, no ground for such a conclusion, neither for the belief that black people are under a curse of slavery (servanthood) because of this occurrence. The word Ham does mean hot and has been translated black, hot or dark, man with a dark skin, and coloured. There is much to say about Ham but suffice to mention here that Noah cursed Canaan (not Ham) and thus the reason for the Israelites to go conquer and subdue all the Canaanite nations in the Promised Land. Ham appears seventeen times in the Bible and not once a curse on him is found! Christ has become the curse for us (Gal 3:13) and once we have placed our faith in Him, being baptised in water we are free from any curses of the past!


Coming back to the story, we may then conclude that it was Canaan that dit something to Noah. His father Ham went in and took him from Noah’s tent and told his two brothers. They then went into their father’s tent, backward, to cover their father’s nakedness. This in itself seems strange as there is no occurrence anywhere in the Bible, neither an Old Testament law against seeing one’s father naked.


The story here must have some meaning to us otherwise God would not have thought it important enough to include in the Bible.


OT law about the father’s nakedness

Under the Law of Moses we have again this particular phrase. This time however, the consequences of seeing or uncovering your father’s nakedness is punishable with death. In the book of Leviticus the phrase we are dealing with was perfectly clarified so that everyone understood both the commandment and the repercussion when disobeyed.

Leviticus 18:7-8 (KJV)

The nakedness of thy father, or the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness. The nakedness of thy father’s wife shalt thou not uncover: it is thy father’s nakedness.

The word uncover means, to bare, to strip, to expose ,to make naked,  to shame, and to uncover the nakedness of which implies sexual relations.

The NIV translate the passage as follows

‘Do not dishonor your father by having sexual relations with your mother. She is your mother; do not have relations with her. Do not have sexual relations with your father’s wife; that would dishonor your father.

According to the meaning of the word uncover, the nakedness of your father is not the nudity of the father, whether seen or not by the sons, but the sexual act of a father’s son with his mother or another wife of his father – a second wife or a stepmother. This is clearly explained in another verse in the book of Leviticus.


Leviticus 20:11 (AMP)

And the man who lies carnally with his father’s wife has uncovered his father’s nakedness; both of the guilty ones shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon their own heads.


Therefore, what Canaan did in Noah’s tent while Noah was drunk, was the sexual act with Noah’s wife. Ham the father of Canaan came in the tent and saw what his son did (and probably removed him) and then told Shem and Japheth. They went in backward and covered their mother with a blanket. When Noah came to his senses he knew (whether told by his wife or his sons is not stated) what his grandson did and then cursed him. Hence the curse on the Canaanites from that day forward. If they have lived under the Law of Moses, both Canaan and Noah’s wife would have been put to death.


Another case of the uncovering of a father’s nakedness.

Genesis 35:21-22

Then Israel journeyed on and spread his tent on the other side of the tower of Edar. When Israel dwelt there, Reuben [his eldest son] went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard about it. Now Jacob’s sons were twelve.

Bilhah was Rachel’s handmaid which her father Laban gave her. (Gen 29:29) Because Rachel was found barren, she decided to give her handmaid to Jacob for a wife. (Gen 30:3-5) So, when Jacob’s eldest son Reuben slept with Bilhah, he slept with his father’s wife. Reuben’s father, Jacob (later named Israel as seen in Gen 35:21) did not do anything about it, so it seems. I’m sure Reuben thought he had gotten away with it but in the end it caught up with him and had a long term affect on his offspring, just like with Canaan.


Genesis 49:1-4

And Jacob called for his sons and said, Gather yourselves together [around me], that I may tell you what shall befall you in the latter or last days. 2Gather yourselves together and hear, you sons of Jacob; and hearken to Israel your father. 3Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the beginning (the firstfruits) of my manly strength and vigor; [your birthright gave you] the preeminence in dignity and the preeminence in power. 4But unstable and boiling over like water, you shall not excel and have the preeminence [of the firstborn], because you went to your father’s bed; you defiled it–he went to my couch!


The Young’s Literal Translation reads verse four as unstable as water, thou art not abundant.


Reuben was due the firstborn’s blessing – the double blessing. It was his birthright. (Deut 21:17) Unfortunately, he forfeited the best portion and only got the crumbs of the blessing. The word excel in verse four has the meaning of the residue or excess, the smaller part which is left over.

To paraphrase verse four it could read; because you are without self-control and discipline and can not be counted on, you shall have the smallest portion of the blessing.

When one studies the tribe of Reuben, you will find it had declined in numbers from the time they came out of Egypt to the time they had to enter the Promised Land. Furthermore, they never entered and settled in Canaan but stayed on the East side of the Jordan. The act of Reuben followed his descendants all the way to the Promised Land. Again, was he living under the Law of Moses, death would have been unavoidable.


In the New Testament

We could easily think that this all was happening in a time where people was not cultivated, somehow still barbaric and that such an act would never occur in the times of Jesus or the Apostles. But, as the Bible so aptly states, the nature of all people is sinful until being made holy by the Holy Spirit.  (Eph 2:3) The expression of that sinful nature may differ according to culture, country or gender. (Gal 5:19-20)

One of the Churches in the NT which flowed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit was located in Corinth. In fact, they operated so freely with the gifts in their meetings that Paul had to write two chapters (1 Cor 12 & 14) on exactly what the gifts are and how to operate with those gifts. It is also in this particular Church that we find the same kind of sexual sins than those of Canaan and Reuben.


1 Cor 5:1 (NIV)

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife.


Canaan received a curse from his father. Reuben inherited the smallest portion of Jacob’s blessing and under the Law of Moses; such a person received the death sentence. Paul did not hand out any of these punishments per se. No, he uses his authority and did something that was not done or said before.


1 Cor 5:3-5 (HCSB)

For though absent in body but present in spirit, I have already decided about him who has done this thing as though I were present. In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, along with my spirit and with the power of our Lord Jesus, turn that one over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the Day of the Lord.


The word Satan means adversary and is used in the Bible for a people, a nation, a person or a spiritual being.

(See Numbers 22:22, 32; 1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:22; 1 Kings 11:14, 23, 25; 1 Chron 21:1; Job 1:6-9, 12; Ps 109:6; Zech 3:12; Mark 8:33; Luke 10:18; 22:3; 2 Cor 11:14; etc)

The Scripture here does not say in what form the adversary will appear but what is certain, is that this person’s flesh (physical body) will be destroyed. The word destruction in the Greek has the meaning of ruin, to destroy and to kill. It does sound like an indirect death sentence, which will obviously have an impact on his immediate family – just like with Canaan and Reuben.


Dispensational Truth

Unless we understand the different ages of God, we may get confused with the way each person was punished or with the many different forms of punishment for the same sinful deed. It is not the purpose of this writing to expand on this topic but I have to put all of this in dispensational perspective.

Noah lived in the first 2000 years after the formation of Adam. Reuben lived in the second 2000 years since then. Paul and the Church in Corinth came on the Biblical scene after Jesus’ resurrection – making it the past 2000 years.

In each of these 2000 years God had a different standard for righteousness and displayed a different character trait of Himself to His people.

During the first 2000 years the standard for righteousness was a physical one and God appeared as the Creator (Elohim) God to mankind (Gen 6:9; Gen 2:4). With Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God was the Almighty (El-Shaddai), the Giver and bountiful God. Since Moses until Jesus, God appeared as Jehovah – the One who is in covenant relation to those He has chosen (Ex 6:3; Lev 19:2). The standard for righteousness was the keeping of the 613 laws of Moses.

The last 2000 years God manifested himself through His Son (1 Tim 3:16) and holiness does now come through the baptism with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11) and God has shown Himself as the Most High God (Mark 5:7; Acts 7:48; 16:17).

And because of these different dispensations, God dealt in a unique and distinctive way with His people in each 2000 year time-frame. What applied in the one was not allowed in the next and what was law in the one, became a curse in the following age. (Gal 3:1-3)


NT perspective


As said before, this must have some application to our lives; otherwise we may as well tear those parts of the Bible out and only keep the parts we think apply to your lives.

In every past age the focus has been progressively more towards the spiritual and a personal close father-son relationship with God. At first – after Adam was expelled from the garden of Eden – God was far-of, only showing Himself with outward miraculous acts every now-and-then, until the time came (thousands of years later) where He could manifest Himself in and through Jesus Christ (His son).

Now, in this age, we are not looking to the outward anymore but to the inward. (2 Cor 5:16) It is the inner workings of His Spirit that make us realise that the kingdom of God is in us (Luke 17:21) – it is Christ in us which is our hope of glory and not the outward appearances of God’s glory like in the OT (Col 1:27).

Because of this very reason we now look at the OT with its stories and laws as like unto a shadow. It is not the reality anymore (although it all did happen once) but it only points towards Christ, his life and Spirit and wisdom and power and glory, which must grow and also become ours! (Col 2:17; Heb 8:1-5) Just like a road sign is not the destination but shows the way to it. In like manner, all of the OT is a direction indicator – directing us to Him and then to experiencing His life becoming a certainty in each one of us individually.


Connecting the dots

The Church of Christ, globally as well as every single church on this planet, is His wife – His bride. (Eph 5:23-27; Rev 21:9-10) And we all belong to a church, a called-out group of people. (The word church means called out ones.) It doesn’t matter the size of your Church, anything from 3 to 30 000, it still is the bride of Christ – His wife. His Spirit baptises (immerses) us into this body in order for us to grow up (1 Cor 12:13). We are then taken care of in that body. We are fed the milk of the Word (1 Pet 2:2) and the Bread of Life (John 6:35, 48). God uses the Church (or group of believers) to function like a caring mother, obviously under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. God works through people, His own (broken) called-out-people! And just like a natural mother who tries her best to give her children all her love and care but also has her own brokenness and shortcomings, so every Church has its imperfections. You will not find a perfect Church. And even if there was one, the moment you walk in it becomes imperfect.

Sometimes, because of the Church’s faults we get hurt and feel they have treated us wrong or unjustly. Whether this is so or not, it does not later the fact that it is still Christ’s wife, busy transforming into the very image of her Husband (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 3:18).

Therefore to summarise; although we are members of the church, the church as a whole (with all the members) functions also as a mother to each individual. And the bible says that the husband and wife is one flesh – the husbands body belong to the wife and vice versa (Gen 2:24, Matt 19:5, 1 Cor 6:16-17, Eph 5:31, 1 Cor 7:3-4).


Conclusion and application

Uncovering our father’s nakedness would be when we go and speak against the people who are the wife (bride) of Christ. He is also our Father (Is 9:6). The very people who have looked after you, fed you and made sure you are cared for, are now being put to shame and every imperfection and shortcoming is exposed to others. This may be because you have been hurt, misunderstood or rejected.  It still makes no difference in their relation to Christ Jesus.

Many Christians live with this illusion that belonging to a church (group of believers) they will only get acceptance and unconditional love. Yes, this is the spiritual maturity we all want to achieve. But the reality is still far from that.

In any group of called-out-ones (church), there will be some individuals who have grown to a more spiritual and Christ-like state of being, but there are also numerous others who are still struggling with their own brokenness, trauma, grief and touchiness.


  • The consequences of this deed will have a direct impact on your spiritual growth. As in the case of Canaan, you will not be a physical servant, but you will always stay under tutors and governors and never grow unto Sonship (Gal 4:1-6). They stand out from the rest when they open their mouths. They talk of what their previous Church(es) has done to them and how wrong these people are. How God will surely judge that Church for what they did and they feel it is their duty to warn others of the “sins” in that Church. These “Canaanites” group together and build high walls (in their hearts) in order to keep others out. They focus on right-and-wrong together with sin-and-judgment.

Those who have grown unto Sonship understand people’s brokenness. They are quick to show grace and know it is the Spirit’s work to convict people through their own consciences (John 8:1-11).


  • As with Reuben they will not inherit the fullness of Christ but they will stay in the wilderness, living from miracles instead of the overflow of God’s blessings. They constantly have to believe for a miracle, a breakthrough of some sorts to live through their wildernesses. It just seems to them that they always have to trust for another blessing – a healing blessing then a financial blessing then a marriage blessing etc.

These people can not grasp that in Christ is everything they need and in that relationship with Him, all will be supplied (Col 1:19, Col 2:9-10).


  • On a more serious note, uncovering your father’s nakedness (exposing your fathers wife), was punishable with death under the Law of Moses. By putting to shame your current church or your previous church, spiritual death is inevitable. This has nothing to do with heaven or hell but with the life of Christ flowing through your being. If the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead, flow through you, it will bring life to your whole being! (Rom 8:11) Spiritual death means the absence of that Life of Christ in you – that abundant, overflowing life is not a reality to such a person (John 10:10). And if there is no life, there is no (inner) healing. By seeking sympathy (and healing) from others while putting the very people in a bad light who have cared for you, is counterproductive.


  • The Apostle Paul gave such a person over to the Adversary (Satan) (1 Cor 5:5). As written above, there are many things which may be an adversary to us. Things like ill-health, dis-ease, poverty, friends, your employer, family, circumstances, etc.

Peter was an adversary to Jesus at one stage (Matt 16:23) and Hadad the Edomite was an adversary to Solomon when he strayed from the Lord (1 Kings 11:14. When Solomon served God with all his heart, God kept the adversary from him (1 Kings 5:4).

Life can be a struggle when it feels like one is always up to an adverse situation. Life can also be a flow where God orders our every step and we experience His inner rest and peace (Ps 37:23).


I can sense (in the spirit) that someone needs to repent. I had to! This uncovering of your father’s nakedness – the putting to shame of your Father’s wife is more serious than you may think.

Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life…  Gal 6:7-8 Message Bible


May we all grow up to that place of Sonship, inheriting everything He has for us.

May we come to the place of abundant living, in every area of our lives.

May we experience the Life of Christ, flowing through our beings.

May we stay in the flow of the river that runs from the throne of God.

About Edgar Phillips
Husband, Dad, Ordained Minister and Missionary who loves God, Pastoral & Functional Therapist, Imago Professional Facilitator, EFT practitioner.

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