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Noah to Babel

Genesis 9, 10   

Noah Cursing Ham by Gustav Dore

Noah Cursing Ham by Gustav Dore

The account of Noah’s “nakedness” and the role his sons played in the event is a puzzling one, especially the part in which Noah awakens and pronounces a curse upon Canaan, the son of Ham, who does not even seem to be present at the time. Genesis 9:20-27 reads,   

“And Noah began to be an husbandman, and he planted a vineyard: And he drank of the wine, and was drunken; and he was uncovered within his tent.  And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brethren without.  And Shem and Japheth took a garment, and laid it upon both their shoulders, and went backward, and covered the nakedness of their father; and their faces were backward, and they saw not their father’s nakedness.  And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him.  And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.   

And he said, Blessed be the LordGod of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.  God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.    

Most members of the Church are aware that a priesthood garment, symbolic of the covenants made in the temple, is worn by those who have participated in the endowment ceremony in the temple. This garment is a representation of the coat of skins made by the Lord for Adam and Eve after the Fall (see Genesis 3:21 ; Moses 4:27 ). The idea of a garment made of skins that signified that one had power in the priesthood is found in several ancient writings. Hugh Nibley discussed some of these ancient writings and their implications for the passage in Genesis:   

“Nimrod claimed his kingship on the ground of victory over his enemies [see Genesis 10:8–10 ; Reading 4-21 ]; his priesthood, however, he claimed by virtue of possessing ‘the garment of Adam.’ The Talmud assures us that it was by virtue of owning this garment that Nimrod was able to claim power to rule over the whole earth, and that he sat in his tower while men came and worshiped him. The Apocryphal writers, Jewish and Christian, have a good deal to say about this garment. To quote one of them: ‘the garments of skin which God made for Adam and his wife when they went out of the garden and were given after the death of Adam . . . to Enoch’; hence they passed to Methuselah, and then to Noah, from whom Ham stole them as the people were leaving the ark. Ham’s grandson Nimrod obtained them from his father Cush. As for the legitimate inheritance of this clothing, a very old fragment recently discovered says that Michael ‘disrobed Enoch of his earthly garments, and put on him his angelic clothing,’ taking him into the presence of God. . . .   

“Incidentally the story of the stolen garment as told by the rabbis, including the great Eleazer, calls for an entirely different rendering of the strange story in Genesis from the version in our King James Bible. They seemed to think that the ’erwath of Genesis [9:22] did not mean ‘nakedness’ at all, but should be given its primary root meaning of ‘skin covering.’ Read thus, we are to understand that Ham took the garment of his father while he was sleeping and showed it to his brethren, Shem and Japheth, who took a pattern or copy of it (salmah) or else a woven garment like it (simlah) which they put upon their own shoulders, returning the skin garment to their father. Upon awaking, Noah recognized the priesthood of two sons but cursed the son who tried to rob him of his garment.” ( Lehi in the Desert and the World of Jaredites, pp. 160–62.)   

Therefore, although Ham himself had the right to the priesthood, Canaan, his son, did not. Ham had married Egyptus, a descendant of Cain ( Abraham 1:21–24 ), and so his sons were denied the priesthood.   

The story of Ham and Egyptus is entirely unknown to anyone who is unfamiliar with the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price:   

“Now this king of Egypt was a descendant from the loins of Ham, and was a partaker of the blood of the Canaanites by birth. From this descent sprang all the Egyptians, and thus the blood of the Canaanites was preserved in the land.  The land of Egypt being first discovered by a woman, who was the daughter of Ham, and the daughter of Egyptus, which in the Chaldean signifies Egypt, which signifies that which is forbidden;  When this woman discovered the land it was under water, who afterward settled her sons in it; and thus, from Ham, sprang that race which preserved the curse in the land.   

“Now the first government of Egypt was established by Pharaoh, the eldest son of Egyptus, the daughter of Ham, and it was after the manner of the government of Ham, which was patriarchal.
“Pharaoh, being a righteous man, established his kingdom and judged his people wisely and justly all his days, seeking earnestly to imitate that order established by the fathers in the first generations, in the days of the first patriarchal reign, even in the reign of Adam, and also of Noah, his father, who blessed him with the blessings of the earth, and with the blessings of wisdom, but cursed him as pertaining to the Priesthood.  Now, Pharaoh being of that lineage by which he could not have the right of Priesthood, notwithstanding the Pharaohs would fain claim it from Noah, through Ham, therefore my father was led away by their idolatry;”

The Founding of Babylon

Tower of Babel by Gustav Dore

Tower of Babel by Gustav Dore

Nimrod was a mighty hunter.  The Joseph Smith translation of the Bible says that he was a mighty hunter in the land, whereas Genesis says he was a mighty hunter in the Lord.  His name comes from the Hebrew word marad, which means, “he rebelled.”  The Jerusalem Targum explains, “Nimrod began to be a mighty man in sin, a murderer of innocent men, and a rebel before the Lord.”  Nimrod said to his followers, “Depart from the religion of Shem, and cleave to the institutes of Nimrod.”  The Syriac calls him a warlike giant.  The word . . . tsayid, which we render hunter, signifies prey; and is applied in the scriptures to the hunting of men by persecution, oppression, and tyranny. Hence it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; and by rapine and violence founded that domination which was the first distinguished by the name of a kingdom on the face of the earth.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 1:86.)    

Thus, in the same patriarchal age, Melchizedek established a Zion after the pattern of Enoch, the prototype of the true city of God, the freest of all societies, and Nimrod established a Babylon that gave its name to the prototype of the kingdom of Satan, the antithesis of Zion (see Nibley, Lehi in the Desert, pp. 154–64).   

The Tower of Babel   

Remember that Enoch’s city was taken up into heaven before the flood, and the people who lived after the flood would have a record of that.  Nimrod decided to build a tower from which to war with the population of heaven.  If he knew of the City of Enoch, that would make this a more tangible goal.  The project was an example of Nimrod’s unmitigated pride and rebellion.  The Lord destroyed the Tower of Babel.  The Book of Jasher has an interesting comment on the result of the destruction.  It says that 1/3 the people had their language confounded; 1/3 were destroyed; and 1/3 became ape-like.   

The Book of Mormon talks about a group of people who were among those whose language was confounded.  The main body of the Book of Mormonpeoples in the Americas were called the Nephites, and it was they who kept the record.  However, they happened upon the ruins of a previously destroyed people.  A record was left by these people, and it was translated by a Book of Mormon prophet who had the Urim and Thummim, used by seers to translate.  The record was written on 24 metal plates and recorded by the prophet Ether.   

“Jared came forth with his brother and their families, with some others and their families, from the great tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people, and swore in his wrath that they should be scattered upon all the face of the earth; and according to the word of the Lord the people were scattered.   

“And the brother of Jared being a large and mighty man, and a man highly favored of the Lord, Jared, his brother, said unto him: Cry unto the Lord, that he will not confound us that we may not understand our words.  And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon Jared; therefore he did not confound the language of Jared; and Jared and his brother were not confounded.
“Then Jared said unto his brother: Cry again unto the Lord, and it may be that he will turn away his anger from them who are our friends, that he confound not their language.  And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did cry unto the Lord, and the Lord had compassion upon their friends and their families also, that they were not confounded” (Ether 1:34-37).
The Brother of Jared had perfect faith, and he cried unto the Lord on behalf of his family and friends.  Not only was their language preserved, but the Lord led them across the sea to the Americas.  They travelled in odd vessels that were “tight, like unto a dish,” and were driven by fierce winds.  The Brother of Jared feared that these vessels would be dark, and he was afraid to travel in darkness.  The Lord touched 16 clear stones, and they exuded light.  The Brother of Jared had so much faith, that he saw the finger of the Lord as He touched the stones.  The Lord revealed Himself to the Brother of Jared:
“And when he had said these words, behold, the Lord showed himself unto him, and said: Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you.  Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son. In me shall all mankind have life, and that eternally, even they who shall believe on my name; and they shall become my sons and my daughters.
“And never have I showed myself unto man whom I have created, for never has man believed in me as thou hast. Seest thou that ye are created after mine own image? Yea, even all men were created in the beginning after mine own image.  Behold, this body, which ye now behold, is the body of my spirit; and man have I created after the body of my spirit; and even as I appear unto thee to be in the spirit will I appear unto my people in the flesh” (Ether 3:13-16).
This is another instance of a very ancient prophet receiving a witness of Jesus Christ who would come in the meridian of time.  The Brother of Jared had many visions.  The Lord has sealed them up, not to be revealed to men until they are worthy to receive them:
“And it came to pass that the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt not suffer these things which ye have seen and heard to go forth unto the world, until the time cometh that I shall glorify my name in the flesh; wherefore, ye shall treasure up the things which ye have seen and heard, and show it to no man.  And behold, when ye shall come unto me, ye shall write them and shall seal them up, that no one can interpret them; for ye shall write them in a language that they cannot be read.
“And behold, these two stones will I give unto thee, and ye shall seal them up also with the things which ye shall write.  And when the Lord had said these words, he showed unto the brother of Jared all the inhabitants of the earth which had been, and also all that would be; and he withheld them not from his sight, even unto the ends of the earth.  For he had said unto him in times before, that if he would believe in him that he could show unto him all things—it should be shown unto him; therefore the Lord could not withhold anything from him, for he knew that the Lord could show him all things.
“And the Lord said unto him: Write these things and seal them up; and I will show them in mine own due time unto the children of men.  And it came to pass that the Lord commanded him that he should seal up the two stones which he had received, and show them not, until the Lord should show them unto the children of men” (Ether 3:21-28).
The civilization of the Jaredites destroyed itself because of the secret combinations of Cain, passed down from the beginning of time by Satan, himself.
*Parts of this article were adapted from the LDS Institute Old Testament Manual.
Next article: The Eternal Gospel.
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