Noah the Drunken Farmer

So, there is this strange story about Noah that follows the flood narrative. If you have ever come across it, I am almost certain that you have wondered about its awkward presence in the story of this righteous man. If you have not read it, here you go. “Noah began to be a man of the soil, and he planted a vineyard. He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent” (Gen 9:20-21). The story goes on to describe how his boys found him naked in his tent.

This is quite the transition in the story of Noah. From the righteous ark builder to a drunken farmer. Why does God give us this story? What should we take from it? I believe there are a few important things that this story highlights. I for one, am very grateful for this narrative and others like it.

It was, is, and will always be about grace


The flood was a creation reversal. It returned the earth to its primordial state. When the water subsided it was like starting all over again. Noah and his family were the only human beings on the planet. There presence on that new earth was the result of nothing they had done. It was by grace alone that God chose, commissioned, and rescued Noah (Gen 6:9). His righteousness stood out among the rest of the human race, but that was the result of God’s favor not the reason for it.
This second Adam was no different than the first. It took him no time to defile the newly cleansed ground. But this was no surprise to God. After the flood, he made a commitment to never curse the earth again. Have you ever read the ground or basis for this covenant? Look at this. “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen  8:21). 
This is an incredible statement. God’s oath of grace that prohibits him from another flood is rooted in our wickedness. He will not punish like this again because we are so evil. This seems like some upside down logic. But this is the rationale of grace. Where sin abounds, grace abounds that much more.
Noah is a sinner. He was a sinner before the flood and he was a sinner after the flood. He was a person in desperate need of God’s saving mercy, just like us. His drunken episode keeps this front and center.
It will take more than a flood


In the flood, God literally wiped out all living things except for the creatures on the ark. It would seem that evil had been wiped off the face of the earth. The world was surely cleansed. As we just mentioned, this is far from the truth. In reality, it will take more than a world-wide flood to remove the sin that clings so desperately to the heart of man. The flood did not fix the problem, it could not. The wickedness that provoked the wrath of God was alive and well in the heart of Noah.
It would take the judging and saving act of the cross and the gift of the Spirit that flows out of that for hearts to change. The new covenant promised new hearts, transformation from within, and the Spirit who would bring all this about. The flood pushes us forward to this gracious work of God.
There are no such thing as heroes


Heroes plural is a misnomer. There is one hero in the biblical storyline. There is room for only one person on the stage of the redemptive drama. Every other character is a supporting actor in the show. God puts the plain truth about biblical characters into Scripture to make this fact plain. This is partly why we get this episode of Noah smashed in his tent. He does it so we can connect with their fallenness and know the same grace they received. He does it so we look past them to the flawless one who won’t ever let us down. Jesus is the only hope for Noah. He is the only hope for us.
 
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7 comments

  1. Noah’s righteousness was the result of God’s favor, not the reason for it. Great point. We are so wrapped up in seeking the favor of others, I think we fail to see that any goodness in us is a result of God’s work, not our own. I was just reading, yesterday, about how even Adam, who would have had to been the most perfect human being that ever lived – physically, mentally and emotionally (along with Eve perhaps, and with the exception of Jesus). Yet he was made from dust. All of his great attributes were an expression of God’s creative work.

    I’ve considered this drunken episode of Noah’s before. I’ve wondered about where the grapes came from. Did Noah have grapes on the ark for food, then saved the seeds for planting. Did God recreate all the seed bearing plants post-flood. Think about Noah’s anticipation, after being on the ark for a year, then cultivating the vines, then waiting on the fermentation process. My guess is that it was hard to stop at 1 ‘glass’ after such a buildup. Incidentally, I did a word search on ‘wine’ and this is the first passage that comes up.

    1. Rob, I’m glad you brought up the two issues you did in your second paragraph. This is the first reference to drunkenness in the Scriptures. It is very intriguing to see it connected to the only righteous man on the earth. Again, it seems to draw attention to the grace of God.

      The second thing you touched upon that intrigues me is what may have been behind Noah’s actions. What do you mean when you say build up? I did wonder what sort of emotions must have followed Noah after the flood. This was an extremely traumatic event. I wonder if he had nightmares. I wonder how he processed the loss of every human being on the earth except his family. It seems very likely that he would have lost close friends and neighbors. I wonder what pushed him to turn to the bottle. You know what I mean?

      1. Yeah, I hadn’t even considered the mental and emotion fallout from such an epic, cataclysmic event like the flood. Talk about PTSD! By buildup, I was only referring to the amount of time required for making wine. We can go down to the local store and get a bottle of wine in 5 minutes, but Noah would’ve had to wait a couple of years to get this batch of wine.
        But I think your point has merit. Alcohol can be an escape – at first lowering stress and inducing mild euphoria, then the more it’s consumed, it takes control. I’ve thought about this process as it applies to the Holy Spirit. We are told to not be drunk on wine, but instead be filled with the Spirit. It seems to me that Christians in America like to ‘sip’ on the Holy Spirit on Sundays, just get enough to temporarily feel good but not enough to be under His control.

  2. Another interesting point to throw out there in this discussion is Noah’s interesting connection to Adam and the creation story. Anthony Tomasino wrote an article titled “History Repeats Itself: The Fall and Noah’s Drunkenness” (Vetus Testamentum XL 1, 1992). Here is a quote from the article.

    “In both the story of the fall and the story of Noah’s drunkenness, the crisis arose when the hero partook of the fruit of the ground. Yet the crises are not identical—in fact, they are almost mirror images of each another. When Adam and Eve took from the Tree of Knowledge, their eyes were opened, and they knew that they were naked. They immediately attempted to cover themselves. When they heard God approach, they hid themselves in the midst of the trees of the Garden.”

    “When Noah partook of his wine, he lost his senses. He did not hide his nakedness among the trees; he uncovered his nakedness within his tent. He was not even aware when Ham saw his nudity. In a curious reversal of the fall, the ‘forbidden fruit’ did not give him knowledge of his nakedness, but robbed him of it…these parallels show that history truly does repeat itself, albeit with an ironic twist or two. The story of Noah’s drunkenness pro- vides us with both a new ‘fall’, and a new conflict between brothers. Thus, it gives further evidence that world history from the Flood through the Tower of Babel is essentially a replay of the history from creation through the Flood.”

  3. That’s interesting. Regarding Adam and Eve ‘knowing’ they were naked: in what way was is this considered knowledge? What does it mean? They were already naked, but didn’t ‘know’ it? Nothing changed except their understanding that this condition which we were formerly comfortable with is now not comfortable. Gen. 3:7 says their eyes were opened and they ‘realized’ they were naked, in the NIV. The NLT says: their eyes were opened and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. A little different twist. NAS says they ‘knew’ they were naked. Was God preventing this knowledge prior? Or was He only preventing shame before? Unravel this for me Kory!

  4. Yeah thats an interesting question and topic. Here are a couple thoughts and then I would like to hear yours. It seems that Adam and Eve were formed as outward looking creatures. Sin created a shift inward. As Luther framed it, man curved in on himself. With sin comes an exaggerated self-awareness and concern. I believe this is one angle on the narrative.

    One other thought. Graeme Goldsworthy called the fall “a giant leap upward.” In that it was a grasp for divinity. The narrative seems to highlight that their creatureliness becomes a matter of shame only after their sin. Nakedness was natural before and after the fall. The only change seems to be Adam and Eve’s perception. Their rejection of the creaturely nature is being worked out in very natural ways.

    Your thoughts?

    1. First, after re-reading my question, I realize that God was not preventing shame since shame would not exist in a sinless state. So shame, which did not exist before, now does, as a result of sin, the conditional relationship we are all so familiar with – sin/shame.

      And what exactly is shame? Such a human emotion. An animal could have sex with any number of other animals, then kill the animal (such as the black widow), and that’s just life – no shame. The word is believed to derive from a word meaning ‘to cover’, as in hide. Uncovering the act would bring shame. Adam and Eve hid. Shame is also described as being a focus on self, which you mentioned Luther brought out, as distinguished from guilt, which is more related to an action than self.

      Following this line of reasoning, Psychiatrist Judith Lewis Herman concludes that “Shame is an acutely self-conscious state in which the self is ‘split,’ imagining the self in the eyes of the other; by contrast, in guilt the self is unified.” Or, a person who feels guilt thinks ‘I did something bad’, and a person who feels shame thinks ‘I am bad’. There’s so much wrapped up there in how we relate to others as good or bad, but I’m already out on a limb, so back to your question.

      I don’t really understand that final quote from Goldsworthy. Certainly a perfect relationship was broken as a result of sin. Where there was oneness, now there was separation, just as sin always does – separates us from God and each other. And I can see where it introduced new knowledge as a result of a new condition, a condition they were not familiar with before. A bad condition with new bad knowledge. This was, after all, the tree of the knowledge of good AND evil.

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