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Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters

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THERE was an old vagabond, to vice industrious, among the builders of the ark. He had for long been far too withered for anything to be called work; and he got his weekly wages just for sitting over the pots of pitch and keeping the fires burning beneath them. That old man's heart was as black as his hands. It was of him that God had said that it grieved and humbled Him at His heart that He had ever made man. The black asphalt itself was whiteness itself beside that old reprobate's heart and life. Now Ham. Noah's second son, was never away from that deep hollow out of which the preparing pitch boiled and smoked. All day down among the slime-pits, and all night out among the sultry woods-where-ever you heard Ham's loud laugh, be sure that lewd old man was either singing a song there or telling a story. All the time the ark was a-building, and for long before that, Ham had been making himself vile under the old pitch-boiler's instructions and examples. Ham's old instructor and exemplar had gone down quick to hell as soon as the ark was finished and shut in. But, by that time, Ham could walk alone, Dante came upon his old schoolmaster in hell when he was being led through hell on his way to heaven; and so did Ham when he went to his own place. But that was not yet. Ham was not vile enough yet. His day of grace had not come to an end yet. His bed in hell was not all made yet. He had more grey heads to bring down to the grave first. He had to break his old father's heart first. As he will soon now do, if you will wait a moment. Ham had been born out of due time. Ham had not been born and brought up in his true and proper place. Ham should have been born and bred in Sodom and Gomorrah. Not the ark, lifted up above the waters of the flood, but the midnight streets of the cities of the plain were Ham's proper place. The pairs of the unclean beasts that Ham attended to with his brothers were clean and chaste creatures of God compared with Ham. For Ham could neither feed those brute beasts, nor bed them, nor look at them, nor think about them without sin. More than one of those abused beasts will be brought forward at the day of judgment to bear testimony against one of their former masters. From a little boy Noah's second son had been a filthy dreamer. The best and the holiest words his father could speak had an unclean sense to his son. Every vessel in the ark and every instrument held an unclean association for Ham, Within all those steaming walls the onlv truly brute beast was Noah's second son. Sensuality takes a most tremendous revenge on the sensual sinner. What an inexpiable curse is a defiled mind! Well might Bishop Andrewes pray every night of the week for all his life, and that too, with sweat and tears, that his transgressions might not be retained upon him as his punishment. It would be ill to imagine a worse punishment than an imagination steeped in sin. 'O!' cries Dr. Newman, 'the inconceivable evil of sensuality!' 'If you once begin to think about forbidden things, says Cicero, 'you will never be able to think about anything else.'

It is not in as many words in Moses, but I have read it elsewhere, that there was a woman who clung to the door of the ark which was in the side thereof; and the woman cried and prayed. Ham! she cried. Ham, my husband! she cried. Ham, my destroyer! Preacher of righteousness! she cried, open thy door! Where is thy God? Open thy door and I will believe. Throw out thy son Ham to me, and I will take him to hell in my arms! Is there a woman within these walls, or are they all she-wolves? and she dashed her head against the shut door. Mother of Ham! Wife of Ham! Sisters of Ham! she cried. My mother's blood is on his skirts. My own blood is on his hands! Cursed be Ham! And the ark shook under her words and her blows. And Ham, Noah's second son, listened in the darkness and through the seams of pitch. And then he kneeled in prayer and in thanksgiving, and he blessed the God of his fathers that she had gone down, and that the waters still prevailed.

Why do the sons of our preachers of righteousness so often go wrong? you will often hear it asked. I do not know that they do. But, even if they did, I would not wonder. Familiarity, and near neighbourhood, to some orders of mind, naturally breed contempt. And then, our preachers are so busy. Composing so many sermons; holding together, by hook or by crook, so many straggling congregations; fighting, now this battle and now that in church and in state; and worst of all, with all that, sitting down to write a book. As good almost kill a man as kill a good book, said a great man, who was much better at making a good book than he was at bringing up a good child. But what a bitter mockery it must be, especially to a minister, to hear his books called good on every hand and bought by the thousand, and then, soon after, to see his sons and his daughters neglected, grown up, and gone astray! To me there is one specially awful word in Bishop Andrewes' Devotions. Words like that word always make me hide my Andrewes out of sight. 'What a strange person Keble is! There is Law's Serious Call-instead of leaving it about to do people good, I see he reads it, and puts it out of the way, hiding it in a drawer.' The word I refer to may not make you hide your Andrewes out of sight. Words differ and grow awful or otherwise as the people differ who employ them. 'I have neglected Thee, O God!' That, to me, is the awful word. We speak of parents neglecting their children. But we, your ministers, above all other men, neglect God, and that in nothing more than in the way we neglect our children. After the clean beasts and the beasts tlmt are not clean shall have witnessed against Ham, and before Ham is taken away, he will be taken and questioned and made to tell how busy his father was, day and night, all these years, preaching righteousness and building the ark. Everybody all around knew what went on among the slime-pits by day and among the warm woods by night,-everybody but the preacher of righteousness. Ham will tell-you will all hear him telling-how his father worked, in season and out of season, at the work of God. Concerning Noah standing on His right hand the angry Judge will interrogate Ham standing on His left hand. Did My servant here, thy father, ever restrain thee from making thyself vile? Did he, or did he not? Speak to Me the truth. And Ham will swear to it, and will say before the great white throne this: My father is innocent of me, Ham will say. My father never knew me. My vileness is all my own. No man ever had a father like my father. O Noah, my father, my father! Ham will cry.

All this time, as Ham will witness, Noah knew nothing of all that we know now. Noah was as innocent of the knowledge of his second son's past life as he still is of what will come to light at the last day. And thus it was that, as soon as the preacher of righteousness stepped out of the ark, he did exactly what we could have told you he would do. Noah went forth, and his sons and his wife, and his sons wives with him. And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord, and the Lord smelled a sweet savour, and said, While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. And now, with all that has passed, what a Noah you will surely see! Come, all you fathers who have come through trouble, and you will see here how you are to walk with a perfect heart before your house at home. What a father Noah will be, and what a husband, and what a husbandman! If we had come through a hundredth part of Noah's terrible experience; and then had found a hundredth part of Noah's grace at God's hand: we, too, would have said, As for me and my house, we shall walk with a perfect heart and shall serve the Lord. And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish My covenant with you, and with your seed after you. And the bow shall be in the cloud, and I will look upon it that I may remember My everlasting covenant. And the sons of Noah that went forth of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth; and Ham is the father of Canaan.

In his beautiful sermon on 'The World's Benefactors,' Dr Newman asks, 'Who, for example, was the first cultivator of corn? Who first tamed and domesticated the animals whose strength we use and whom we make our food? Or who first discovered the medicinal herbs which, from the earliest times, have been our resource against disease? If it was mortal man who first looked through the animal and vegetable worlds, and discriminated between the useful and the worthless, his name is unknown to the millions whom he has benefited.' Only, Noah's name is quite well known to the millions he has benefited; as, also, to the millions he has cursed and destroyed. Corn and wine, the Bible always says. The first farmer who sowed, and reaped, and threshed, and ground, and baked corn, we do not know his name. But we have Noah's name now open before us; it was he who first planted a vineyard and manufactured its grapes into intoxicating drink. Millions every day bless the day he did it, and pledge his name for doing it; while other millions curse the day. And which of these cries goes up best before God another day will declare. Only, if you would read and remember your Bible before you eat and drink, you would know better how to eat and how to drink so as to do all to the glory of God, and against that day. And it is surely significant, with an immense and an eloquent significance, that the Bible tells us that the first vine-dresser at his first vintage was found in a state such as Ham and Shem and Japheth found their father. It would be at the time of harvest and ingathering. Or, perhaps, it was a birthday feast-the birthday feast of his first son, or it might be of his second son. Or, to make another guess where we do not know, perhaps it was the anniversary of the laying of the keel of the ark; or of the shutting-to of the door of the ark; or of the day when the tops of the mountains were seen; or of the day when the dove came into the window of the ark with an olive-leaf in her mouth plucked off. It was certainly some such glad and exalted day as one of these. Come, my sons, said the old saint over his wine; come, let us eat and drink today and be merry. The fathers are full of far-fetched explanations and apologies for Noah. One will have it that, admitting the drunkenness, still Noah was all the time innocent; it was the unusually strong wine that did it. It was the too-heady wine that was alone to blame. Another will have it that Noah did not know this new drink he had stumbled on from milk. And yet another, that the whole history is a mysticism, and that the preacher of righteousness was only drunk in a figure. But the Bible does not mince matters; nor does it waste words even on Noah. In the Bible the 'saints are lowered that the world may rise.'

Now, who of all Noah's household should happen to come in at that evil moment but Ham; and he, too, flown with insolence and with his father's wine. But, blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and God from that hour shall surely enlarge Japheth. How, still, it humbles and chastens such sons as Noah's first and third sons to see their parents' imperfections-their father's faults at table, and their mother's follies everywhere. Shem's and Japheth's respect and reverence all remained. Their love for their father and their honour for him were not any less, but were much more, after the noble and beautiful service they did him that day. Only, ever after that terrible day, with what watchfulness did those two brothers go out and come in! With what wistfulness did they look at their father as he ate and drank! With what solicitude, and with what prayer, and not for their father only, did Shem and Japheth lie down at night and rise up in the morning! It brought Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth back again to Moses' mind when he received and read and transcribed the Fifth Commandment on Mount Sinai: Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

It is easy for those who are standing on the shore to shout their counsels to those who are sinking in the sea. It is easy for those who are in cold blood to tell a man in hot blood how he should behave himself. And it is easy for us sitting here, with all our passions at our heel for the moment, to moralise over the preacher of righteousness when he awoke from his wine. At the same time, it is only by laying such sudden and ungovernable outbursts as his was to heart that we shall ever learn how to hold ourselves in when we are mad with anger at our children. I have more understanding, says the psalmist, than all my teachers; for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts. Now, if David's hot anger against Absalom or Solomon had come upon him when he was in that mind, and had he remembered ancient Noah and his wakening from his wine, what would David have done? With the Holy Spirit not taken away from him, David would have recollected his former falls, and lie would have retreated hack upon his own fifty-first psalm. He would have taken Absalom, whom he so much loved, and the angry father and the exasperating son would have kneeled down together, and then David would have said, with weeping, Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity. Purge me with hyssop. Then will I teach transgressors Thy way! And Ham himself would have fallen on his father's neck, and would have said, I am not worthy to be called thy son! Fathers and mothers, when our children are overtaken again in a fault, instead of cursing them and striking at them, and casting them out of doors as Noah did, let us say to ourselves that we have only begotten our children in our own image. Let us then, for that is the hest time to do it-let us take them, and go with them, and beseech God to melt them, and change them, and alter them, and make them not our sons and daughters any more, but His own. And see if He will not do it. See if He will not deliver them over again to us with these words, Take them and bring them up for Me, and I will give thee thy wages. 'If a father is intemperate,' says William Law, 'if he swears and converses foolishly with his friends, let him not wonder that his children cannot be made virtuous. For there is nothing that teaches to any purpose but our ordinary temper, our common life and conversation; and almost all people will be such as those amongst whom they were born and bred. If a father would pray every day to God to inspire his children with true piety, great humility, and strict temperance, what could be more likely to make the father himself become exemplary in these virtues? How naturally would he grow ashamed of wanting such virtues as he thought necessary for his children.'

Now, all we here are the sons and daughters of one or other of Noah's three sons. By those three men were all the nations of the earth divided after the flood. And we are the sons of Ham, if we are his sons, by this.-When every imagination of our heart is defiled. When we are in lewd company. When we have enjoyment over an unclean song, an unclean story, or an unclean newspaper report. When we steal a lewd book and take it to our room with us at night. When we hide away an impure picture in our drawer, where Keble hid the Serious Call. When we report our neighbour's shame. When we tell our companion not to repeat it; but when we would burst if we did not repeat it. When we rush to pen and ink to advertise abroad some fall or some fault of our brother. When we feel that we have lost something when his fault is explained, or palliated, or covered and forgotten, and when he is set on his feet again. Ham's sons and daughters have not all black hands and black faces. Many of them have their hands and their faces as white as a life of cosmetics and idleness can whiten them. While, all the time, Ham holds their black hearts. My brethren, let us henceforth begin to be the sons and daughters of Shem and Japheth. Let us refuse to look at, or to be told about, anything that exposes, not our own father or son or brother only, but all other men's fathers, and mothers, and sons, and brothers. Let us keep our eyes shut to the sight of it, and our ears shut to the sound of it. Let us insist on looking on the best, the most blameless, and the most serviceable side of our neighbour. Let us think of Noah as a preacher of righteousness; as the builder of the ark; as elected, protected, and delivered by God; and as, with all his falls, all the time in God's sure covenant of peace, and under God's rainbow and God's oath. And when he is overtaken in a fault, ye that are spiritual restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, lest thou also be tempted. Some one has called the Apostle Paul the first perfect Christian gentleman. I shall always after this think of Shem and Japheth as Paul's Old Testament forerunners in that excellent, beautiful, and noble character.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Ham'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wbc/​h/ham.html. 1901.
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