You know how it is? You read something in the Bible, read it stacks of times, know it all your life. And then suddenly, there you are at a marvelously advanced age, read it one more time and bingo! You suddenly see what it’s saying and its application in real life.
Well that happened to me today.
My readings for personal devotion this last little while have been travelling through the book of Genesis. This morning in the bath (acts as a kind of Thinking Centre for me) I was mulling over some of what I’d read.
In our house we have a lot of people and one main bathroom, so in the mornings it’s helpful for the others to be able to get in and clean their teeth or whatever they need to do. Not being someone with issues about nudity I therefore generally leave the bathroom door open when I’m in the bath.
And I was thinking about the story in Genesis 9 about Noah and his youngest son Ham. I guess if a Jew* calls his son Ham in the first place there’s bound to be trouble, isn’t there?
So Noah plants a vineyard, makes a load of wine, imbibes a generous amount and gets blind drunk, staggers into his tent and passes out cold. Not being in a fit state to pay attention to his dignity, he is blissfully unaware that the skirts of his robes are all over the place, leaving his crown jewels exposed for anyone who comes along to see. Which Ham does. And then rushes out to tell his brothers Shem and Japheth. This is the equivalent of Ham snapping a photo on his i-phone to post on Facebook for a laugh.
His brothers see the situation differently. They take the dignity of their father seriously. So they don’t see exposed what should not be, they walk into the tent with their faces turned aside and a coat laid between them on their shoulders to shield Noah from their view. They lay the coat upon him, and leave him safe and sound in the tent until such time as he has slept off his drunken stupor and wakes up with a crashing headache and a mouth like a stream bed in the dry season.
The next bit is what I sat in the bath turning over in my mind – in Genesis 9.24, that talks about “When Noah woke up and found out what his youngest son had done to him”.
So Shem and Japheth obviously made known to Noah exactly what had happened – no sniggering behind his back.
And Noah is livid; he curses Ham and blesses Shem and Japeth.
And in the bath, I thought – you know, that is seriously unreasonable. Why is Noah angry with Ham? Surely he brought it on himself. Surely this is Noah’s problem, not Ham’s. What does he mean, “what his youngest son had done to him”? If you don’t want bad things to happen to you, take responsibility – don’t get drunk. If Noah had been sober there’d have been no indignity to behold, and whose fault is that?
So I took the passage into my prayers – always a good idea if you want to actually get anywhere useful with the Bible – and what came to my mind when I did that was, “Brock Turner.”
And suddenly I understood.
This story is about not taking advantage of each other, even (or maybe especially) when we are vulnerable or stupid or blind drunk.
This is about taking seriously the dignity of the other members of our human family – watching out for them, having their backs.
This is the biblical text to have in mind when we think about rape culture.
No matter what the victim was wearing (Noah didn’t bother with underwear apparently), no matter if the victim is drunk, you look out for each other.
No voyeurism, no laughing and calling others to come and look, no pics on Facebook, no taking advantage.
Made me see the passage in a totally different light.
* Please don’t write to me explaining that Noah was before the establishment of Judaism. I know. It’s a joke.