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.

Forgiveness and Cleansing

I recently read a book by Brenda Colijn titled Images of Salvation in the New Testament. The author argued that God’s saving work in Christ was so expansive that it required the utilization of many different images in the New Testament to help us begin to grasp it. She further argued that the images overlap and all shed fresh light on the work of God in Christ. We see this type of overlap with the themes of cleansing and forgiveness.

Take for example the classic text, 1 John 1:9. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The juxtaposition of forgiveness and cleansing is unmistakeable in this passage. To be forgiven of sins is to be cleansed from all unrighteousness. Forgiveness is cleansing and cleansing is forgiveness here in 1 John. When God cancels out unrighteousness and wipes it clean that individual has experienced the grace of forgiveness.

Hebrew 9:22 points us in a similar direction. It states, “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Purification and forgiveness overlap in this passage. The writer of Hebrews is tapping  into the OT theme of purification. The entire sacrificial system pulls together the themes of purification and forgiveness of sin. Isaiah 1:8 captures this blending of themes well:  “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

There are a few important implications that follow from these truths. First, both forgiveness and cleansing have a definitive element to them. At conversion, forgiveness and cleansing happen once for all. This means we always stand clean before God. Second, both forgiveness and cleansing have an ongoing element to them. We stand in need of forgiveness and cleansing every day. This is the reason behind the call to daily repentance.  Both of these together create a tension in which we constantly live—clean and yet in need of cleansing. Third, cleanliness and purity do not come from our actions. They come as a gift of grace in the form of forgiveness. Before we are called to be clean we are called to be cleansed. God’s work of purification always precedes any pursuit of purity.