Is Noah the Reason Canaan is the Promised Land?


G-d promises the land of Canaan to Avraham. But why this specific land as opposed to any other? Does G-d have a reason, or is Canaan just a random dart thrown onto a map?

I think the Torah actually gives us a reason — but much earlier in the text than we might think at first. We find it immediately after the Flood: Noah becomes drunk, and one of his sons, Ham, violates his father. The other two sons cover their father, and Noah, once recovered, does not hold back:

[Noah] said, “Cursed be Canaan [Ham’s son]; The lowest of slaves Shall he be to his brothers.” And he said, “Blessed be the LORD, The God of Shem; Let Canaan be a slave to them. May God enlarge Japheth, And let him dwell in the tents of Shem; And let Canaan be a slave to them.”

Avraham was Shem’s descendant. So promising the land of Canaan to Avraham may have been simply because of Noah’s curse?!

The simplicity has its own layers of further simplicity: Noah’s curse of Canaan was because Canaan’s father violated Noah. And Canaan is also the land of sexual violence and deviancy:

You shall not copy the practices of … the land of Canaan to which I am taking you … None of you shall come near anyone of his own flesh to uncover nakedness: I am the LORD. Your father’s nakedness, and the nakedness of your mother, you shall not uncover.

Canaan the nation is described as acting just as its ancestor, Ham, had done.

So when G-d talks to Avraham out of the blue, maybe the choice of the land of Canaan is no accident or coincidence. G-d is instead fulfilling Noah’s blessing of Shem (Avraham’s ancestor) to enslave and destroy the sexual deviancy of Shem’s brother Ham (and his son Canaan, in turn). Avraham’s descendants are to bring that blessing and curse to fruition.

The rest of the Torah can be seen in this light, including and especially all the laws regarding relationships and the criticality of sexual morality.


There is meaning in the names of Noah’s sons, too:

Ham in the Torah means “heat” and “father-in-law” – it refers to the inexorable and impersonal power of the sun’s rays (both after Avraham’s circumcision and the force that melted away the manna when the sun rose), as well as the disproportionate power of a father-in-law (Yehudah, who rules Tamar’s life, is called Tamar’s “Ham.” That the story of Tamar uses “Ham” to describe her father-in-law suggests that Tamar is similarly railing against Yehudah’s abuse of his power.)  So it is no surprise that the father of the man who rapes Dina is named Hamor, containing the same name as his ancestor, Ham. Using power for sexual ends is natural for any powerful person.

Yafeth is connected to the word for “attractive,” something or someone that is desired because of its beauty: Sarah, Rachel, Joseph, a beautiful war captive, and, with no credit to Pharoah’s sexual preferences, the cows in Pharoah’s dream.

And Shem means “name,” and it refers to status or influence or honor.

Together, Noah’s sons represent the three things men crave above all else: power, beauty, and status. Of these, the last, Shem, is the least physical or tangible. Shem represents the realm of ideas and influence, where Avraham’s descendants hold the most sway.

By condemning power, Ham incarnate, Noah teaches that the world of words and ideas should be more important than those who stand for the raw exercise of power.

It seems that G-d agrees.

P.S. There is reciprocity between when Avraham feeds the angels: [Avraham] was sitting at the entrance of the tent as the day grew hot (ham) and the fact that when the people are fed angel food, manna, ham is also invoked: So they gathered it every morning, each as much as he needed to eat; for when the sun grew hot (ham), it would melt. It seems like an odd, but clear connection of some kind. What do the parallel elements of these two stories mean?

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There are 3 comments.

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  1. Caryn Thatcher

    Very interesting parallels.  Nicely done.  I do think there’s a chicken/egg issue, though.  Did Canaan end up in that specific geographical location because it was later to be given to Abraham and his descendants?  It’s tiny, but nonetheless prime real estate being at the crossroads of three continents.  All the more opportunity for Abraham (and progeny) to meet and have the opportunity to be the foretold blessing to all mankind.  Nice.

    • #1
  2. Spin Coolidge

    There is always method to the Father’s “madness”.  It’s an interesting thought, for sure!

    • #2
  3. ToryWarWriter 🏴 Suspended

     Noah Rothman sure gets around doesnt he.  

    • #3
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