As the story continues from Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden, Genesis shows that sin continues to increase as the human population does. Chapter 4 shows one of their sons murdering another. We see that later descendants murder and brag about it (Gen 4:23–24). We see that death continues, as the deaths of Adam and his descendants are recorded in chapter 5. The Noah story begins with several statements about how the earth was full of corruption and violence (for example, Genesis 6:11–13).
The sin that began as a seemingly simple act of eating a forbidden fruit grew and grew in the hearts of men and women who continually decided to define for themselves what was right and wrong. This abandonment of trust in God’s way and the lifestyle of following one’s own desires brought the earth to the point that God could not tolerate it any longer because his creation was presumably destroying itself. In God’s perfect (yet often confusing) way, the solution here was to cleanse the earth with water and begin again through the family of Noah, who is presented as the only righteous person left (Gen 6:8–9).
To summarize the bulk of the story, the Lord tells Noah to build an ark (boat) to certain specifications (Gen 6:14–16) and to bring his family, and two of every type of animal, male and female (seven pairs for “clean” animals and birds; Gen 7:2–3). The Lord sends torrential rains all over the earth, which, combined with the waters of the deep opening up, flood the entire earth, killing every living thing, aside from sea creatures (Gen 7:20–23). After close to a year on the ark, the waters finally recede enough for Noah and his family to emerge.
At this point, the Lord essentially gives Noah and his family the same commission that he gave to Adam and Eve: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:1b; compare vv. 1–7 to Gen 1:28–30). The main difference between these two passages is that Adam and Eve were given only plants to eat, but Noah and his family are now given permission to eat animals, as well as the declaration that the animals will live in fear of humans. One important part of this addition is that the Lord prohibits eating animals with their “blood,” for blood is the life of a thing and is sacred. This sacredness is highlighted even further when the Lord says that any creature that sheds the blood of a person will be punished, for the blood of a person is linked to his or her bearing God’s image. This whole section (Gen 9:1–7) highlights that God is starting anew with creation, making Noah and his wife the new Adam and Eve.
However, we soon see that sin was not done away with. As Noah and his family begin to settle into this new earth, we see a strange scene in which Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, and then gets drunk and naked in his tent. One of his sons, Ham, then goes into his tent and sees his father lying drunk and naked, and then goes to tell his brothers about it, an action which brings a curse upon his family (Gen 9:25). While it’s hard to be certain what is going on here, it seems that this is reminding the reader of the sin and shame that have resulted from the Fall and continue in all of humanity. Adam and Eve were originally naked and not ashamed (Gen 1:25), but after they sinned, became instantly aware of the shame that nakedness carries (Gen 3:7, 10). Here, Noah’s drunkenness leads to his exposure of nakedness and shame to his son, who likely mocks him for it. As Noah receives shame from his son Ham, so Ham will receive shame from his son Canaan through the curse pronounced upon him.
In this strange scene, as well as in the chapter to follow, we see that even in the new life coming after the flood, sin is still in the hearts of people. Noah’s and Ham’s failures are highlighted here; in chapter 11, a whole civilization fails to spread out and fill the earth, but rather come together trying to reach into heaven (translation, take up their place as gods instead of the Lord). Each day, humans are faced with the choice to trust that God knows best and obey him in faith, or to seek to be like God, as Adam and Eve did. Even today, we are faced with these choices. Thankfully, we have Jesus to look to as our perfect Savior even when we fail, and the promise of the Spirit dwelling within us to give us strength to obey.