And God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant which I have established between Me and all flesh that is on the earth.”
Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.
And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.
So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said:
“Cursed be Canaan;
A servant of servants
He shall be to his brethren.” (Genesis 9:17-25)
God judged the world for its wickedness by sending the Great Flood. Afterwards, the world was just as wicked as ever. Nevertheless, God made a new contract with the remnants of humanity, with Noah and his family, and with all the animals: that the world would never again suffer as it had and the rainbow would be proof of that: God’s signature on the contract.
How wicked was the post-flood world? Noah soon planted a vineyard and drank too much. Ham saw the nakedness of his father and told his brothers about it. Shem and Ham covered their father’s nakedness. Noah found out what Ham had done to him and he cursed one of Ham’s sons: Canaan.
Why did Noah curse Canaan? Why didn’t he curse Ham?
The phrase “saw the nakedness of his father” is a Hebrew idiom. It doesn’t mean that Ham saw his father naked. “His nakedness” is a reference to his wife. It means that Ham slept with Noah’s wife. Canaan is the result of Ham’s affair: an illegitimate child born of incest and the betrayal of a father by his own son. The phrase “to see” or to “uncover” the nakedness of a man is an idiom used to express having sexual intercourse with that man’s wife (see Leviticus 18:7-8, 20:20-21 for example).