Some questions immediately pop into my mind.
- Why is Canaan (Ham's son) cursed instead of Ham, who actually mocked his father Noah?
- Why is Canaan to be the slave of Shem and Japheth?
- Why is Japheth the one who will be blessed with extended territory?
- Why would it be considered a blessing for Japheth to 'live in the tents of Shem' (v.27)? How about just letting him have his own tents? ;) Seriously, though, Noah's words seem rather mysterious.
It may be that part of the severity of Noah's reaction is due to the importance of maintaining his authority in his family. Respect for one's father and mother is so important that God devoted a commandment to it. (Exodus 20:12 ) However, the Ten Commandments aren't given until later. "The authorities that exist have been established by God", says Paul in the New Testament book of Romans Chapter 13 (NIV). Again, this statement of Paul's is made long after the events of Genesis. Yet, the authority Noah exercises in his family is evident. Two main reasons God ordained authorities are 1) so that God can continue to work out His plan for the salvation of mankind and 2) so sinful man can be restrained enough from the effects of sin (his/her own sin or that of others) that he can have some kind of normal life. Anarchy is not really all that attractive a state within which to live or raise a family.
However, some commentators have seen this passage as not merely a response to Ham's irreverence. Some see it as also being prophetic of the nature of the contributions of these three branches (Shem, Ham, Japheth) of Noah's family tree. Seen in this light, it may help to explain the otherwise puzzling things which Noah says. More on this to come.