The Quest for the Promised Land: Part 1

The question I will address tonight is why does God promise to give Abraham and his descendants the Promised Land? This question ties together with another question, why is there this never-ending quest for the Promised Land?

To examine the first question, we have to start by looking at who occupies the Promised Land. It is known as the land of Canaan. Who are the Canaanites? Where did they come from? Who was Canaan? We have to look back to Genesis 9:18 where Noah’s three sons are mentioned for the first time after getting out of the ark: “The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Ham was the father of Canaan.”

A few verses later it says, “Noah was the first tiller of the soil. He planted a vineyard; and he drank of the wine, and became drunk, and lay uncovered in his tent” (9:20-21) The sense of the Hebrew word translated “uncovered” means one’s private parts are exposed. The passage continues with the second mention of Canaan: “And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside” (9:22).

What is the big deal? Noah gets so angry with Ham for seeing his nakedness that he proclaims: “Cursed be Canaan; a slave of slaves shall he be to his brothers” (9:25). Noah curses his grandson! Whoa! Either Noah is some ultra-sensitive wacko who is both extremely insecure about his own son seeing him naked and highly vindictive to the merely guilty-by-association, or there is something going on which is more than meets the eye. Let’s see what it was that Ham saw.

Our clues lie in Leviticus 18. This chapter opens up with God warning the Israelites not to do what the Canaanites do: “you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes” (Lev 18:3). “Ok, ok,” we could respond to God, “we won’t do what they do in Canaan. We will follow you, O Lord.” We would be wondering, “What exactly do they do in Canaan?”

God continues: “None of you shall approach any one near of kin to him to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife; it is your father’s nakedness” (18:6-8). Seeing one’s nakedness is to have sexual relations with them. When Ham sees his father’s nakedness, that is an idiom saying that he had sexual relations with his mother.

Ham sinned with his mother when she was not protected by her drunken husband, but why is Canaan cursed? Why isn’t Ham cursed? Canaan was the fruit of the union of Ham with his mother. The Canaanites’ religion was based in cult prostitution and incest; it was an incestuous fertility cult. A people celebrates their beginning and origin, so the Canaanites celebrated their incestuous coming-into-being in their worship. This is why God warned the Israelites before they entered into this land.

Why would Ham do that? It was an attempt to take control of the family and lay claim to a double portion of the inheritance. Normally, that automatically goes to the first-born son. Shem was the first-born, and Ham wanted what was due Shem. The mentality seems to be: whoever is sleeping with the mother of the household is the head of the family.

Absalom did a very similar thing to his father, David. David had many sons, and Absalom wanted to be his successor instead of any of his brothers. “Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, ‘Give your counsel; what shall we do?’ Ahithophel said to Absalom, ‘Go in to your father’s concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened.’ So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel” (2 Sam.16:20-22).

Another one of David’s sons, Adonijah, tries to take over as the next king. His plan does not work and Solomon is anointed as the new king. A little later, Adonijah asks his brother Solomon, the new king, to give him one of David’s wives, and Solomon responds: “And why do you ask Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him the kingdom also; for he is my elder brother, and on his side are Abiathar the priest and Joab the son of Zeruiah” (1 Kgs 2:22). If Adonijah has as wife one of his father’s wives, he could try again to take the kingship.

Earlier, Jacob’s first-born son, Reuben, does the very same thing, going into Bilhah, one of his father’s concubines (Gen 35:22) Although Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn, the son of Leah, his first wife, Jacob did not fully consider Reuben the first-born. Jacob was tricked on his wedding night by his father-in-law; he thought he was marrying the love of his life, Rachel, but Leah was given him instead. He loved Rachel, so he ended up marrying both. The two women had a baby competition, and to try to get ahead, they use their maids to have more children. Jacob had his twelve sons through four women.

The inheritance was going to go to Joseph since Jacob considered him to be his first-born, being the first child of the one he considered his real wife, Rachel. Bilhah was the maid of Rachel by whom Jacob had two sons. So Reuben tried to take what he considered rightfully his (the inheritance) by sleeping with the mother of the competition. Before Jacob dies, he blesses his sons; to Reuben he says: “Reuben, you are my first-born, my might, and the first fruits of my strength, pre-eminent in pride and pre-eminent in power. Unstable as water, you shall not have pre-eminence because you went up to your father’s bed; then you defiled it—you went up to my couch!” (49:3-4)

Canaan is the result of Ham’s attempt to take over control of the family. It is his descendants who live in the Promised Land. I will have to continue the explanation tomorrow.

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