The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth, (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.” – Genesis 9:18-21
(You may read the entire section here: Gateway Bible.)
This section darkly contrasts to the previous section of God’s grace and colorful rainbow. It’s sad to find Noah—the great hero of faith—in this scenario. But perhaps this scene is included in Scripture as a reminder that even godly people can fall to sin and its disastrous consequences.
The word translated uncovered in this text means “to be disgracefully exposed.” Ham makes no attempt to preserve his Dad’s dignity when seeing him like this. In fact, some scholars say the verb used to describe Ham seeing Noah portrays a nasty punch: “He gazed with satisfaction”.
Unlike Ham’s bold delight in gloating over Noah’s shame, his brothers Shem and Japheth honor their Dad by walking in backwards and covering him. In doing so, they win Noah’s approval and God’s blessing (9:23). Japheth is blessed with an extended territory and a large number of descendants (9:26-27) for protecting Noah. Japheth would also find protection in Shem’s tents.
But not Ham.
When Noah learns of Ham’s actions, he curses Canaan (Ham’s son): “The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers” (vs. 25). The NIV Life Application Study Bible notes: “This verse has been wrongfully used to support racial prejudice and slavery. Noah’s curse, however, wasn’t directed toward any particular race, but rather at the Canaanite nation—a nation God knew would become wicked.”
Verse 18, which speaks of Ham as Canaan’s father, was especially relevant to Moses’ original audience regarding Ham’s descendants. For it set the stage for the Israelite story under Moses’ leadership. The book of Joshua shows the fulfillment of this curse when the Israelites finally enter the promised land and drive out the Canaanites.
The end of chapter 9 records Noah’s lifetime after the flood, 350 years, and his total lifetime: 950 years.