There’s a fascinating little story tucked into the book of Genesis that I keep coming back to. It follows the incredible story of the flood and grand verses of God’s promises to Noah, who must have been feeling pretty good about his life, his standing with God, and the re-building to come.
There’s farming going on in chapter 9, a successful vineyard, and… wine. Our faith giant Noah has a few too many. Noah doesn’t need tequila to make his clothes fall off… evidently wine will do it. There he is fallen from grace; naked in his tent.
Noah’s son Ham discovers his hammered father sprawled out in the buff and his immediate response is, “Wait ’til I tell the guys!” We’re all familiar with the Hams of the world, gleefully grabbing the phone (or ram’s horn) to pass on today’s humiliation and sin. (It’s okay, Ham- I’m sure you added the Christian, “we should be praying for him” disclaimer at the end. Smooth.)
Shem and Japheth don’t respond as Ham anticipated. They “took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away and they did not see their father’s nakedness.” Genesis 9:23. It brings tears every time I read they went backwards, indicating how far above and beyond they went to cover their father in love.
In our Bible study we were asked to examine which sons we identify with. In non-conformist fashion I made up my own character. I saw myself as a hypothetical bystander that very well may have been on the scene of Drunken Debacle 4000 (B.C.).
I have been the one who heard about Noah and crossed her arms, raised her eyebrows, pursed her lips and said, “That’s too bad. He’s gonna to have consequences for that one.” I wish I stopped there but I go on; “I should probably act a little distant so he really understands the impact of his sin. It probably isn’t enough to remind him of God’s commands. In fact, maybe I can help God by giving my own consequences or at least helping Noah feel God’s consequences a little more.” While I might not spread the news like Ham, I’m unconcerned if it’s spread because he clearly should have considered that before getting himself in that position.
Now before you go thinking I’m hard nosed, I do end with softer phrases. ”If he shows real repentance” (don’t you love how I assume I’ll be able to measure Noah’s heart accurately?) “I’ll welcome him back. Absolutely I believe he’s forgiven… but I wouldn’t want gentleness to be misinterpreted as condoning. He’s probably embarrassed anyway so it’s better if I look the other way.”
I’m not at all unkind the next morning when Noah stumbles out, his stomach too weak for breakfast quail. I don’t mock. I don’t even shake my head with condemnation. I’m understanding as I mumble to the person next to me, “It must’ve been a lot of pressure… living with all those animals on the ark. There’s a lot of expectation on poor old Noah.” I’m sincere. I pray for him. I hope he really does come around and I add the, “it could’ve been any of us, you know” remark at the end.
Noah (all the Noahs in my life) – I’m sorry. I wish I could take back my response. I wish breakfast went differently. I wish I immediately went to you to assure you that you still have a place around the table. I wish I pulled up a rock next to yours and got awkwardness out of the way. I wish I didn’t assume I should wait for time, for evidence that you won’t pull a stunt like that again, for gossip to die down. I wish I said to you, “This sucks. I know you screwed up. But I’m with you. I know God’s still going to do something with this.”
Hear me- I’m not telling Noah what he did was no big deal. (I mean- come on, man! Anyone over 600yrs old should not sprawl out au naturel for the world!) I’m not joining in or challenging him to a drink off. I’m not minimizing the severity of sin. I just know that love covers all wrongs (Proverbs 10:12) and I see an opportunity to put that to practice by having Noah’s back.
When my younger brothers rebelled as teenagers, I was bystander “Eat-your-consequences-and-get-compassion-elsewhere”. I did not understand why my parents gave so many chances. I was glad they chose to not tolerate rebellion in their home and allowed natural consequences, but I didn’t understand why they still were so compassionate, still sought my brothers and worked (in my opinion) way too hard to maintain relationship. Then when my brothers did change, why were my parents so quick to receive their prodigal sons? Shouldn’t they build credibility awhile first? Make them sweat it out for heaven’s sake!
Yes, Jesus gives many chances. Yes, He seeks us. Yes, when we turn our hearts to Him He is immediate in His response, in His restoration, in His redemption of the mess we’ve made of our lives. Yes, even after we turn to Him we have consequences but how did I miss the way He walks with us through consequences and even shows us His gentleness in them? Almost as though He backs into our tent and covers us with Himself?
This is what compels me to Christ and breaks down every wall to make me a puddle of repentant humility and willingness.
He doesn’t respond as Ham, which would certainly cause me to be defensive, humiliated, and either run or curse him (oh, which Noah did! Gen. 9:25 had to feel kinda good). Sorry Ham- nothing about you brings repentance in me.
Jesus doesn’t respond as bystander Shilo, who causes me to feel like I’m out to earn good favor or walk on eggshells to avoid the “I’m screwed up” topic. Sorry Shi- your response makes me evaluate my checklist, not my heart.
Jesus takes the beautiful response of Shem and Japheth and then completes it. He takes on my naked humiliation, covers me with His own blood, and has the power to not only get rid of my sin but completely transform me. My response is complete relief, clarity in what once felt muddled, and unhindered submission. Let me cling to you, Jesus!
What authority have I been acting under in how I treat those returning to Him… or even those who may soon turn to Him?
My brothers were brought back to Christ, in part, because my parents mirrored Christ. It was messy. It aged them. It was hard. But they refused to be bystanders and determined to model Jesus by covering the boys in His love.
Now? If you ever screw up royally or wake up naked in a tent, I recommend you call my youngest brother. He will never tell you what you did was ok. He will never let you off the hook. He will also never make you feel like an idiot and he will never walk away while you’re bleeding.
He will tell you matter of factly, “You’re sh*t faced but God can do awesome things with sh*t faced! I’ve seen it first hand!” He’ll tell you he’s been there. He will speak Scripture over you and encourage you to press on, reminding you how valuable working out your salvation is. He won’t let you go until he’s prayed over you. Not just, “I’ll pray for you” and certainly not, “I’ll tell a bunch of other people so we can pray for you” but Stop. Drop. Pray. You’ll walk away encouraged, covered, closer to Christ, somehow in touch with your depravity yet completely confident in God’s perfection. You can expect that’s not the end of it. My little brother will be writing down Scriptures for you when they come to mind, dreaming up challenging questions to push you, and he’ll be bringing you before the throne.
Thank you- Shems, Japheths and little brothers of my life who cover me and journey alongside of me when I’m the wrinkly old chap passed out in my tent. You lift me up (sometimes literally)and I understand Christ better because of your reflection of Him.
As for bystander Shilo- Ugh. Get that I-have-it-figured-out look off your face. I just wish you’d be more like your brothers when you grow up.