Genesis 9:23 Parallel Verses [⇓ See commentary ⇓]

Genesis 9:23, NIV: "But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it across their shoulders; then they walked in backward and covered their father's naked body. Their faces were turned the other way so that they would not see their father naked."

Genesis 9:23, ESV: "Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness."

Genesis 9:23, KJV: "And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father's nakedness."

Genesis 9:23, NASB: "But Shem and Japheth took a garment and laid it on both their shoulders and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were turned away, so that they did not see their father’s nakedness."

Genesis 9:23, NLT: "Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked."

Genesis 9:23, CSB: "Then Shem and Japheth took a cloak and placed it over both their shoulders, and walking backward, they covered their father's nakedness. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father naked."

What does Genesis 9:23 mean? [⇑ See verse text ⇑]

The previous verses describe a scenario involving Noah and his sons without providing more than the barest of details. Even so, this event will have grave implications. Noah got drunk on the wine from his new vineyard (Genesis 9:21). In his drunkenness, he lay naked in his own tent. Noah's son Ham walked in, saw him naked, and went out and told his brothers.

The response of Shem and Japheth reveals how seriously they and their culture took the issue of seeing another's nakedness and honoring one's father. With great care and creativity, they found a way to cover their father without ever looking at him. In this way, they honored Noah greatly.

Did Ham intend to dishonor Noah? The following verse will imply that he did, resulting in Noah's curse on Ham's descendants (Genesis 9:25). Some suggest that Ham's sin was failing to help his father by covering him—instead, Ham went to tell others what he had seen. Others believe that "what He did to [Noah]" (Genesis 9:24) was something more disturbing and personal. The extremely vague nature of the passage, in its own way, supports this idea since ancient literature was famously shy about describing certain shameful acts in any detail. In any case, whatever Ham has done is so offensive, it brings severe consequences.