The Silent Type
“When Noah awoke from his wine and found out what his youngest son had done to him, he said…” – Genesis 9:24
At the end of a communal 36-hour silent retreat, it felt a little odd to ask for coffee. Being quiet for so long made words feel weightier. I felt as though if I was going to make the effort to say something then it had better be something worth saying. I needed to share wisdom or ask an insightful question. Instead, I asked for a mug.
The story of Noah covers nearly four chapters in the Bible. Yet throughout those nearly 100 verses Noah only speaks one time. In the epilogue to the flood narrative, Noah feels honored by two of his sons and disgraced by his youngest son named “Ham”. In response to their actions Noah utters his only lines in scripture:
“Cursed be [Ham’s descendants]! The lowest of slaves will he be to his brothers…may Japheth live in the tents of Shem, and may [Ham’s descendants] be the slaves of Japheth.”
With his only words in scripture Noah blesses and curses and it is the curse that has stuck.
The curse pronounced upon Ham’s descendants has been applied to various people groups over the centuries as justification for oppression. Often, those forced under the curse of Ham have been of darker skin tone. David Goldenberg, a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania believes a misreading of ancient Hebrew has led to the mistaken belief that the Hebrew word “Ham” means “dark” or “black”. By the 19th century in the US, the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians.
Proverbs 18 tells us that, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” We know this truth from firsthand experience.
The book of Genesis tells the story of creation. It speaks of ex nihilo, the creation of something out of nothing. Or perhaps a more precise way of thinking of it, is to say that from silence come words of life.
Take time to consider what words of life you will listen for. Who speaks life into your soul? Who will you speak to with words of life today? Think of all the blessings you could create.