Genesis 9:20-27 - How is This Account of Canaan, Ham and Noah to be Understood?
This account records the occasion of Noah becoming drunk and the result of some obscure events involving his sons that took place during the state of Noah's inebriation. While the Bible doesn't say why Noah got drunk, it also doesn't say that this was a habitual or regular occurrence. In any case, whether Noah got drunk because drinking is a pleasant experience or over-indulgence in pleasure is a part of our imperfect nature, or for some other reason, there was no specific law against drunkenness at that time and so he violated no law apart from that of common sense. (Further information concerning alcohol can be found in the Alcohol Category.)
The record of this incident is very brief and likely leaves out details that would be illuminating. Many Bible scholars believe that Canaan was involved in some way not specifically mentioned. The account shows that when Noah awoke he "came to know what his youngest son had done to him". Rotherham's translation has a footnote on "youngest son", which reads: "Undoubtedly Canaan, and not Ham: Shem and Japheth, for their piety, are blessed; Canaan, for some unnamed baseness, is cursed; Ham, for his neglect, is neglected."
Jewish religious authorities take a similar view. The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by J. H. Hertz, comments: "This vague narrative refers to some abominable deed in which Canaan seems to have been implicated. . . . Instead of showing filial respect and covering his father, Ham deemed the occasion food for laughter, and mockingly repeated the incident to his brothers." After noting that the Hebrew word translated "son" in verse 24 may also mean "grandson", this source states: "The reference is evidently to Canaan." The Soncino Chumash, edited by A. Cohen, points out that some believe Canaan "indulged a perverted lust upon him", and that the expression "youngest son" refers to Canaan, who was the youngest son of Ham. That some abuse or perversion or base lust, rather than a mere exposure of nakedness, may have been embraced by the words "saw the nakedness of his father" is apparent when it is remembered that incest or other sexual sins are meant when the Bible speaks of uncovering one's nakedness or seeing one's nakedness.—Lev. 18:6-19; 20:17.
Therefore, it seems that Canaan may very likely have been guilty of some abuse or perversion against the person of his grandfather Noah, and that Ham witnessed this without interfering. Instead he spread the story of the shaming of his father. Shem and Japheth acted to cover this shame. So they were blessed, the likely perpetrator Canaan was cursed, and the guilty bystander and tale-bearer Ham was personally ignored yet suffered through the shame brought upon his offspring. Such is the reasonable view taken by many careful Bible scholars, though the greatly abbreviated record as it has come down to us in the Bible does not supply all the details. God does not need to justify to us his dealings with such situations by giving all the details, which in this case might clarify Canaan's role in the matter. The important point is supplied, namely, that Jehovah caused Noah to utter the prophecy and Jehovah brought about its fulfillment. (See the 8/1/53 Watchtower. Also see the Canaan Category.)
Was Black Skin Color Really the Result of a Divine Curse Placed Upon Canaan?
Some so-called Christians claim that black skin color is the result of a divine curse placed upon Canaan and his descendants, consigning them to a position of servitude. But this cannot be correct in many ways. The black race descended not from Canaan but from Cush and possibly Put. And no curse was placed upon either of them. (Genesis 9:24, 25; 10:6) Additionally, Canaan was not black skinned, nor were his descendants who settled in the land that became known as Palestine. (Gen. 10:15-19). (For more, see: Where Do the Different Races Come From?; Search For Bible Truths)
The Canaanites were, in time, subjugated by the Israelites, descendants of Shem, and later by Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome, descendants of Japheth. This subjugation of the Canaanites fulfilled the prophetic curse on their ancestor Canaan. The curse thus had nothing to do with the black race.