Genesis 18-27 tells the story of Noah, his sons and one of his sons Ham being punished through his firstborn, Canaan, to be servants of his brothers forever for Ham seeing the nakedness of Noah’s wife, his mother. If this punishment seems excessive to you, you are not alone; however, it seems there is more to behind this event than initially meets the eye.
The key to understanding why the punishment was so severe is to understand what the scriptures mean by “saw the nakedness of his father” in Genesis 9:22. Leviticus 18:8, Leviticus 18:14, Ezekiel 16:36, Ezekiel 22:10-11, Leviticus 20:18 & Ezekiel 23:9-11 show that a man’s nakedness is the nakedness of wife and more so to uncover the nakedness of a man is the act of having sexual intercourse with his wife.
Ham saw his father’s nakedness which when considered in English today, can be thought of as seeing his naked father, however, in context of the scriptures and using the famous line upon line and precept upon precept found in Isaiah 28:10-13 we see that it is referring to not just seeing his father’s wife, his mother, naked, but even uncovering her nakedness. The act of having sexual intercourse with his mother.
As to why this young man did this, being the youngest son, is not totally clear although it follows the pattern of usurping leadership/power from your father or the leader. This pattern is seen with Reuben sleeping with Bilhah in Genesis 35:22 (The act of Reuben trying to usurp Jacob’s leadership is shown in the post “the coat of many colours” which also shows the transferral of the birthright from Reuben to Joseph) and Absalom sleeping with David’s concubines to demonstrate to Judah that he was now ruling in 2 Samuel 16:21-22.
Ham did an egregious act and thus his punishment was justified. The severity of the punishment also demonstrates the depth of which an act such as adultery or sexual acts outside of marriage is looked down upon in the eyes of the Most High.