What does Genesis 9:21 mean?
ESV: He drank of the wine and became drunk and lay uncovered in his tent.
NIV: When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.
NASB: He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.
CSB: He drank some of the wine, became drunk, and uncovered himself inside his tent.
NLT: One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent.
KJV: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.
Verse Commentary:
It is unclear from this verse whether Noah's actions of getting drunk and laying uncovered in his own tent are meant to be understood as sinful in themselves. Scholars hold various opinions on the question. On one hand, drunkenness is specifically condemned in the New Testament and warned against in the Old Testament. On the other hand, Scripture is not explicitly clear on what particular rules God had related to Noah regarding the use of alcohol. The other possible interpretation here is whether Noah participated in some sexual sin, or lewdness, or whether his drunkenness simply made him careless about covering himself from potentially being seen by others.

Wine is often described as one of God's good gifts to Israel. Part of the blessing of wine, in fact, is specifically tied to its effect on a person's mood (Psalm 104:15). God would later command the offering of wine in sacrifices (Numbers 15:5–10) and even encourage the purchase of wine and strong drink (Deuteronomy 14:26) as part of certain celebrations.

However, God's instructions in the Bible also recognize the distraction and danger of alcohol. Later, under the law given by Moses, priests will be forbidden from drinking before their work in the sanctuary (Leviticus 10:9). Those most committed to God, the Nazirites, would vow to abstain from wine and strong drink completely (Numbers 6:3–4). And Scripture will make clear that drinking too much wine is foolish (Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 21:17). The clearest command against actual drunkenness comes from Paul: "Do not get drunk with wine" (Ephesians 5:18).

Noah, in his drunkenness, lays naked in his tent. Following their initial sin, Adam and Eve became aware of their nakedness and covered themselves. God's actions made it clear that it was appropriate for them to cover their nakedness. Noah, drunk, reverses that action here, uncovering himself.

To whatever extent Noah misbehaved while drunk, it certainly doesn't sound like the righteous and blameless Noah we have come to know in previous chapters (Genesis 6:9). This story confirms that we are not meant to see Noah as sinless, or morally perfect, in and of himself.
Verse Context:
Genesis 9:18–29 comes immediately after God has established his promise to never again destroy all life with a flood. This includes a sign: the rainbow. The passage reintroduces Noah's three sons as the fathers of all the people of the earth to come. This passage also states that Ham was the father of Canaan. Next, we're told the embarrassing story of when Noah became drunk and lay naked in his tent. After seeing Noah uncovered, Ham went out and told his brothers about it. When Noah woke up, he cursed the descendants of Ham's son Canaan to be subservient to the descendants of Shem and Japheth.
Chapter Summary:
Chapter 9 describes God's interactions with Noah and his sons following the flood. First, God gives blessings and instructions, including the command to reproduce and fill the earth. Next, God makes a unilateral covenant with humanity and animals never to end all life with a flood again. He offers the rainbow as a sign of this promise. Finally, Noah prophesies about the future of his son's descendants after an awkward episode in which Ham talks to his brothers about seeing Noah passed out drunk and naked.
Chapter Context:
Chapters 6, 7, and 8 describe God's destruction of the world in a massive flood. Now, in Genesis 9, Scripture describes God's dealings with Noah and his sons following the flood. First, God blesses them and gives specific instructions, including the command to fill the earth. Next, God expands on His promise to never again end all life on earth a flood. Finally, Noah curses Ham and blesses Shem and Japheth after Ham tells his brothers about seeing Noah passed out drunk and naked. Chapters 10 and 11 will sketch out the history of mankind from Noah to Abraham.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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