Genesis 9:18-21 “The sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, Ham and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These were the three sons of Noah, and from them came the people who were scattered over the earth. Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.”

The end of chapter eight and the first half of chapter nine of the book of Genesis begins with God establishing the wonderful covenant of creation with our planet, with all mankind and every living creature. God said, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease” (Gensis 8:21&2). Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it” (Gen. 9:7). One common reason unbelievers toss out as to why they can’t believe in the living God is the presence of suffering in the world. Here in Genesis chapters eight and nine we are told of God grasping the world in love, being totally faithful in his pledge to bless it, yet around us men are saying, “We don’t see the blessing of God. We just see suffering, poverty, deprivation, famine and disease. So we cannot believe the word of God, and we cannot believe in God.” So the first point I want to make today is this:


Far from our generation being one in which there is an abundance of suffering, humanity is experiencing less suffering than ever before. Let me weary you with some startling statistics (I have to give you many or you will think I am simply plucking one or two good facts from some UN report while all the rest is depressing). The following figures, along with many others, are to be found in Indur Goklany’s new book, The Improving State of the World (published by the Cato Institute). Its main points have been summarised by Allister Heath in an article in the Spectator (2 December, 2006, “It is a wonderful world: richer, healthier, and cleaner than ever”). I am fearful that Christians look around – Christians! – and think that our world, with which our loving Father is in covenant, is getting worse and worse and that this makes them depressed, less confident in the faith and less active in evangelism. The state of the world is not getting worse.

What do we know? The daily food intake in poor countries has remarkably increased in the last 40 years while the population has soared. Food prices have dropped; chronic undernourishment in poor countries has halved, and in wealthy countries, the cost of essential foods has collapsed. There is still a long way to go; but never before in human history have so many people been liberated from extreme poverty so quickly. Seedtime and harvest are not failing; God is keeping his word. There is much less suffering in the world, and much more gospel. 180 years ago 84 per cent of the world’s population lived in absolute poverty; today this is down to 20 per cent. These 180 years have been the time of the missionary expansion of the church, when the biblical gospel has been taken to the nations of the world especially South America, China, Korea and Africa. Godly living, literacy, family life, hatred of corruption, freedom from tyranny, concern for the abandoned child and healthcare for those made in the image of God have had a slow and secret but inevitable impact on those nations where true religion has been allowed to spread.

To see how far we have come, consider that anyone born in Britain during the Middle Ages would have been exceptional to have lived to see his 30th birthday. The average person could expect to have lived only to the age of 22, before succumbing to disease, injury or famine. By 1800, with the Bible translated into English, and the gospel preached through the land, and the fruit of the Evangelical Revival seen in a million homes and ten thousand congregations, and the work of the Christian Clapham Sect humanising the lot of the prisoner and the child and the workman, life expectancy in Britain had climbed to 36 years, then the highest ever seen – but less than the life expectancy enjoyed today in even the most war-torn and deprived countries. By the 1950s the average Briton could expect to live to the age of 69; today this has increased to almost 78 years. This is largely because of an earlier grace in the land. Christianity had laid a foundation for this in its commitment to holistic care of young and old as the fruit of God’s salvation.

Life expectancy in poorer countries has improved even faster. In China since the 1950s – when the gospel began to make a mark on that vast country – life expectancy has surged from 41 years to 71 years today; in India it is up from 39 years to 63 years, almost doubling the average lifespan of 2 billion people. In 1900 average life expectancy around the world was a mere 31 years; today it is 67 years and rising. The last century was the time for the greatest spread of Christianity in the developing world – while in Europe the faith has declined which has created so many unsolvable problems. European governments of every party tear their hair in their impotence and will continue to do so while humanism reigns.

Just as remarkably, the gap between poor and rich countries has been shrinking fast. By the early 1950s a child born in a wealthy country such as Britain could expect to live 25 years longer than a child born in a poor country such as Algeria; today where you live matters far less. The gap has closed to 12.2 years, thanks to diffusion and transfer of public health practices and medical advances pioneered in the West – which ultimately had their origin in a Christian view of all men and women being made in the image of God.

People claim that pollution, urbanisation and modernity have made life more dangerous. In truth, before industrialisation, at least 200 out of every 1,000 children died before reaching their first birthday. Infant mortality globally is now down to 57 out of every 1,000, thanks to huge strides made in nutrition, hygiene and medical care in the developing world. Children are not only much more likely to survive infancy; they are also far more likely to spend their childhood in school. Child labour, while still all too prevalent, has been in steady decline for years. In 1960 a quarter of all children aged ten to 14 were in work, a share which has fallen to a tenth today. Partly as a result, the global illiteracy rate has declined from 46 per cent in 1970 to about 18 per cent today.

There is mounting evidence that as countries become richer they eventually also become greener, cleaner and healthier. Because one acre of agricultural land produces so much more food today than it did even a decade ago, Western countries have been able to cut back on the amount of space devoted to agriculture. Forests are growing again, replacing fields.

If the present rate of improvement continues we could soon be living in a world where hunger and malnutrition have been virtually banished; where malaria, TB, and other infectious and parasitic diseases are distant memories. Even in sub-Saharan Africa infant mortality could be as low as it is today in Wales, and life expectancies as high.

But the European attitude to the world cannot handle these encouragements. With the decline of Christianity in our continent hope has also declined. Cynicism reigns. So I must declare these facts as evidences that where the gospel is not resisted the fruit of the covenant God has made with the world is also evident. I am saying that our victories over famine and extreme poverty and ecological neglect during the past two centuries are ultimately earthed in the influence the Christian faith has had and is having.


So here is the striking contrast we have before us. There is the vast cosmic picture of God’s concern with all mankind and every living thing. How he blesses and encourages the population of a world he loves. He never afflicts willingly; chastisement is his strange work. The living God is a Loving Lord of cosmic care and kindness, and yet he is deeply involved in the daily behaviour of every man and woman. He gives the ten commandments to this world, his prescription for acceptable living; his standard for ultimate judgment. He hears the cry of abused women and children, the scream of the animal in pain. Our suffering really gets through to him. When we fall into sin he knows.

So the background against which the fall of Noah is described is one of God working in the world and blessing. God assuring mankind that he had established his covenant with this planet, with mankind and all living things. God even making the rainbow arch his mercy sign to a sinning world. It is God’s pledge that he will always be seeing it and never forgetting his promise to bless the fallen world; seedtime and harvest are never going to cease. So Noah and his sons have been given every encouragement to obey God’s command to be fruitful, to increase in number and multiply on the blessed earth.

Yet the God who promises is also the Lord who warns us all of the consequences of sinning. The Lord who blesses is also the God who reminds men and women that we live in a fallen world where sin is a threatening force. “You’d better watch out!” Not one of you dare be off guard as far as sin is concerned; you cannot plead, “Well, the earth is in covenant with the Lord and so blessings are going to come whatever . . .” God had warned Noah’s generation not to take his sovereign love for granted. Speaking to Cain in Genesis 4:7 God said to him, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.” God does what he pleases amongst the armies of heaven and the inhabitants of the earth, but sin is crouching at the door. God is the sovereign protector of his people, but sin is crouching at their doors. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, but still sin is crouching at our door. There are seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, but sin is crouching at the door. He brought me into his banqueting house and his banner over me was love, but sin is crouching at my door. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ, but sin is still crouching at our door; it desires to have you and you must master it.

So it was with Noah; he had been saved from destruction; he had been encouraged by hearing the voice of God making great covenantal promises to him and his family; he marveled at a glorious rainbow in the sky and God told him he too would be looking at it and remembering to keep blessing old Noah and mankind. You would think that after hearing such words and seeing such glory – after this unimaginably ego-reinforcing experience – Noah would never sin again. He was a righteous man before the Flood; he walked with God; his life was blameless in the eyes of the world. He was now an old man and you’d also expect there’d be some natural decline and antipathy to the sins of the flesh. How doubly pathetic it is to discover an old man who is an adulterer, or a drunkard, or a violent man. Have the passing of the years taught such men nothing? Who would expect the life of Noah to contain our text, but aren’t such incidents recorded of many notable Christians in the Bible? Adam rebels from a close and blameless walk with God to defy the Lord and plunge us all into sin. Cain was his firstborn son, raised with the stories of his parents’ life before the fall of man sounding in his ears – “God brought her to me and I first saw your mother and she was so beautiful. Words cannot describe her . . .” – and yet Cain went on to murder his own brother. Abraham told lies on two occasions about his wife being his sister. He put Sarah in terrible jeopardy. Eli is weak about rebuking his sons for their filthy lives. King David behaves in an unbelievably cruel and mean way. Elijah goes straight from victory over the prophets of Baal to sinful despair. Jonah sees a mighty reformation in Nineveh but wickedly sulks that God has spared sinners from his wrath. Peter warms his hands by a fire one night and denies his Lord three times. There are all those examples in the Bible that we need the warning which God gave to the world before the Flood, that sin is crouching at your door – the door of the most holy man of God, the most blessed and useful men and women in the church – sin is like a crouching lion, desiring to ravage you and eat you up and spit you out in little pieces. It will be waiting at the door of the church today as you leave. Take heed you who stand lest you fall!

Then let me ask you this question; where did sin strike Noah? It struck him down where he was strong. Not in music – harps and lutes, nor in books, nor in wealth, nor in any artistic or aesthetic sense he might have possessed, nor in house building. Such things were all totally peripheral in Noah’s life, but he was a man of the soil; he knew how to plough and plant and prune and grow crops. He could turn a hilly field into a vineyard; he knew the best time to fertilize the soil and what were the best components to use. He had green fingers and he could sow and water and produce a great harvest, but it was there that that sin got him – where he was strong. He gathered his cartloads of grapes and transported them to the winepress, crushing and purifying them. He poured the liquid into the vats and let them age at the right temperature for just the right time. This is what he knew about, the art of being a vintner. It was there that Noah was strong; he could make the best wine in the world, but that is where sin had him. “When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.”

One man is strong in his grasp of theology, and that is where sin gets him, giving him an itch to be a ‘pioneer’ theologically, and so he drifts from revealed truth and goes into new perspectives. Another man is interested only in revivals and after some years he is either living in the past or in the future. He is useless for the present; in his judgment it all lacks the Spirit. You never find him praying in a church prayer meeting – “the Spirit isn’t there,” he says. He actually thinks he can tell – what a delusion. Another man prides himself in his elevated sense of beauty, and so he gets disdainful of preaching which is about the Blood and the Book and the Blessed Hope. For him the worst possible sin is to be a Philistine, and so his obedience to the truth and hunger for holiness and fellowship with the people of God under the Word is fearfully compromised – all in the name of aesthetics. Another man lives for his family; that’s great, but if his wife or children start to grumble about the church off he goes with them to a congregation which instead of being focused on God and his word it is focused on kids. We think we can take our strengths for granted, but often it is where they are strong that they fall, again and again. Paul’s learning made him a proud Pharisee; Peter’s strength of feeling made him slash off the ear of Malcus; David’s powerful longings made him an adulterer; Pilate’s wish for a quiet life made him hand over Jesus to be crucified. Their strengths betrayed them.

Many children’s books and toys show noble, faithful Noah under the rainbow after the Flood, but they don’t, for obvious reasons, picture the naked old man passed out in the tent, but the Bible tells us that it actually happened to this greatly blessed figure. Fallenness is all part of life under the rainbow. Fallenness is why we need the rainbow. It reminds us that even the best of people are sinful. There is no one who does good, not even one. It shows that if earth’s future depended on Caesar living up to his responsibilities, Caesar and his nation would be lost. How will men control the world’s climate if they can’t even control their own desires? How will they save the planet if they can’t save their souls? How can they handle the problems of 6,000 million people if they can’t even handle their own strengths? Thank God that he controls the world and its destiny. He does this even when his chief representative in the world is dead drunk.


Here I have availed myself again of the thinking of Dr Joel Beeke on this subject from some material he sent to me. The world in which we live glamorizes drunkenness. Many young people, including growing numbers of scantily dressed women – the so-called ladettes – think it’s a cool thing to drink excessively; they measure their enjoyment of an evening by how many pints and shorts they drank, or even by how drunk they had become. Here in Genesis chapter nine we see what drunkenness really is. It is disgusting, it is shameful, it is sinful. It reduces human beings below the level of animals. Here is this elderly man lying unconscious and naked; it is a sad and embarrassing scene.

Today, perhaps more than ever in the history of Wales, we need to address this subject of drunkenness head on because there is so much money flowing about and so few moral restraints. Today one man in five in Wales is classified as a “heavy drinker.” In other words he consumes more than four pints of beer every day of the week. That would be fifteen hundred of the men of our small town. One man in every seven in Aberystwyth has been to see his doctor in the past year to discuss his alcohol intake. That would be a thousand men in Aberystwyth. Isn’t that a colossal problem?

In the Bible, drunkenness is often associated with immorality of one kind or another. In Genesis chapter 19 we read that Lot’s daughters tempted their father to become drunk so that he would commit incest with them. In Galatians chapter 5 drunkenness is associated with fornication and lasciviousness. The Bible strongly warns against overindulgence in alcoholic beverage. Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.” Who are the people getting drunk in the clubs and bars of the town? The Bible says that they are the unwise and the ignorant because the whole enterprise from beginning to end, with all its consequences, is utter folly. Paul, by God the Holy Ghost expressly forbids excessive drinking in Ephesians 5:1: “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” The prophet Jeremiah speaking by the Spirit teaches us that drunkenness is often an indication that God’s judgment has come upon the drinker for his foolishness and waywardness: “This is what the LORD says: I am going to fill with drunkenness all who live in this land, including the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets and all those living in Jerusalem. I will smash them one against the other, fathers and sons alike, declares the LORD. I will allow no pity or mercy or compassion to keep me from destroying them.” (Jeremiah 13:13&14)

Then, too, the consequences of excessive drinking are horrendous. Isaiah in chapter 28 verses seven and eight, says, “And these also stagger from wine and reel from beer: Priests and prophets stagger from beer and are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth” – Saturday nights in Aberystwyth.

Paul tells us in 1 Timothy chapter three that no one is qualified to be an office-bearer who is “given to wine.” Drunkeness not only degrades our humanity; it also destroys our testimony as a Christian believer, and ultimately, if not repented of and forsaken, it will lead us to hell. 1 Corinthians chapter six and verse ten says, “No drunkards shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Aberystwyth may smile indulgently at drunkenness, but God views drunkenness as no laughing matter. Drunkenness is not a weakness; it is a hell-meriting sin against Almighty God. Noah fell into a very serious sin.

Students and teenagers, don’t be taken in by the propaganda of the alcohol trade with the image of the beautiful smart in-crowd laughing and drinking together, discussing ‘real ale’ and making judgments on the relative merits of various wines and spirits. The cool crowd, daily at the bar are in fact the kamikaze squad; they are slowly committing suicide. The alcohol they are now addicted to is having a toxic effect on their liver cells. Their increasing obesity is also causing excessive liver damage. They face a fat, flabby, infertile future, their appearance characterised by greasy skin and thinning hair. If they also smoke tobacco there are other complications and if they are into cannabis there is little hope for them, humanly speaking. So much for the cool group of the college.

Consider the horrible parody before you of the Garden of Eden. The Lord planted a garden, and Adam was cool. “Let’s try the forbidden fruit and be like God.” They were soon conscious of their nakedness and were ashamed. Here in the life of Noah we see the pattern of sin repeated. Again, a garden is planted; again, the fruit of the garden is eaten and drunk in a forbidden way; and again, there is sinful nakedness and there is shame. How often does today’s drinking lead to nakedness and shame?

There are two reactions which have been taken historically to this whole problem of excessive drinking. One is total abstinence, and the other is strict moderation. I am aware that Christians generally might be divided in their reactions but those are the only two possible approaches to this matter.

A. The response of total abstinence.

Total abstainers point out several things:

i] First, Scripture warns us severely that drinking alcoholic beverages can easily spin out of control and do untold damage. That is undoubtedly true, and is a powerful argument in itself.

ii] Second, God’s woes are pronounced upon drink and those who indulge in it. Isaiah chapter five and verse twenty-two says, “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks.” But God is referring here to those who drink overmuch wine; God, indeed, hates excessive drinking.

iii] Third, they argue that the Bible supports drinking grape juice, not new wine. But a close study of the Scriptures can hardly support that argument.

iv] Fourth, priests were forbidden to drink alcohol in Leviticus chapter ten and verse nine when they were about to go into the tabernacle. But that was so that they could fully concentrate on God and not be distracted in any way.

v] Fifth, total abstainers argue that abstaining from all alcohol helps us avoid all hindrances in our spiritual race. “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles,” as we read in the opening verse of Hebrews chapter twelve. Drinking certainly can be a hindrance, and if you ever find it so in your life, you are certainly called to relinquish it immediately and altogether.

vi] Finally, an appeal is made to Romans 14, not to offend the weaker brother. In this chapter Paul says, “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling-block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (v. 13). Again, in verse 21, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.” Now that is a strong argument, and it would be unforgivable for a Christian who feels he has liberty in this area to press drink on another Christian who has a tender conscience over those things.

For these reasons and no doubt more, total abstinence can be a valid response to the sin of drunkenness. A Christian may well decide that in view of his own weakness, or because of the social sin which we see around us, or because of his own witness to other Christians and to the world, it is best to abstain altogether. We should have profound respect for that view; it is held by many in this congregation. Spurgeon often signed his letters, “Yours teetotally, C. H. Spurgeon.”

B. The response of strict moderation.

Other Christians believed that while excess is clearly prohibited, the use of alcohol is not in itself a sin. They have advocated the other position of strict moderation. This applies only to alcohol; as far as drugs are concerned the Christian must be a total abstainer because of the unknown dangers of even what are called ‘soft’ drugs. The Scriptures which would be in support of strict moderation in drinking alcohol would be these,

I] first, that wine is represented to us in the Bible as a blessing from God. In Genesis chapter twenty-seven and verse twenty-eight, we read: “May God give you of heaven’s dew and of earth’s richness – an abundance of grain and new wine.”

ii] Second, though the Scriptures thoroughly condemn an excessive use of wine, they often speak of wine as good in itself. Judges chapter nine and verse thirteen says, “But the vine answered,`Should I give up my wine, which cheers both gods and men, to hold sway over the trees?” Psalm one hundred and four and verse thirteen says, “Wine makes glad the heart of man.”

iii] Third, wine is used to prefigure spiritual blessings. Isaiah chapter twenty-five and verse six says, “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.” Strict moderationists ask: Would God employ such figures as these if they were inherently evil?

iv] Fourth, Scripture presents wine in particular as having beneficial properties. Proverbs chapter thirty-one and verse six says, “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.” And Paul says to Timothy, “Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.” (I Tim. 5:23). Some medical studies have shown that a little glass of wine can stimulate the flow of gastric juices and actually help digestion.

v] Finally, strict moderationists say that our Lord Himself drank wine on occasion, in contrast to John the Baptist, who had taken what appears to be a Nazarite vow, a vow that included total abstinence. Jesus says in Luke chapter seven and verses 33 and 34, “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners”’” Again, Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper with wine.

So the strict moderationist would say, “While I am not persuaded of total abstinence, I am persuaded that this matter must be kept under the strictest control and I must never so indulge so as to raise questions about my Christian character and standing. I must be most careful in the use of any alcoholic beverage.” A strict moderationist would not go into a pub and drink at a bar except in the most unusual circumstances because of the atmosphere of a love of the world and all the things of the world which you find in the evenings in public houses.

Both sides obviously have some good points and must respect each other. The abstainers should not say of the moderationist that he is compromising and is too liberal; and the moderationist should not say that the abstainer is too strict. There must be some toleration of both views when Scripture does not definitively legislate on this issue. Ultimately, one of these two positions is a matter of individual conscience and we must settle on our view in the presence of God, considering all factors involved, and always remembering that if we do take the strict moderationist view, that we don’t drop the idea of “strictness” in our practice. We must never drink several glasses of alcoholic beverages so as to become lightheaded; and we must always be opposed to drinking in an atmosphere of worldliness, mixing with the ungodly. Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scornful. We always need to remember that the eyes of God are upon us and the eyes of the world are upon us. Remember, too, from Noah’s case, that the best of men can easily fall. And therefore whatever we do, we must avoid and flee from sin. That is of paramount importance, avoiding sin. May I ask you students and older people are you doing this? Are you avoiding alcohol altogether or only consuming it in a way and a setting that fits the position of strict moderationists? I have tried to deal with this as fairly as possible today but in some things we offend all. I have tried to reason from the Scriptures themselves.


Shouldn’t we all feel sorry for Noah? We are not told that he became a drunkard; we are told that there was an occasion in his life when he got drunk. Can’t we all identify ourselves with him? Haven’t there been public sins in our lives for which we feel ashamed? Haven’t many of us done worse things than getting drunk once? Surely this was a bitter experience for Noah, and the tragedy was that he had fallen into sin after doing so very well; by grace he had lived such an exemplary life for all those years of witnessing, building, preaching – yes, setting an example of righteousness to the whole world. He was known as a righteous man. He had experienced the mercy of God and had kept the faith all that time in the ark and steadied his family, urging them to trust God. He had come out of the ark and built an altar that pleased the Lord, and the Lord gave him a marvelous promise and entered into an amazing covenant of grace and preservation with him. After Noah had passed through all these great crises and experiences following God fully and triumphantly, he then fails and falls into shameful sin.

Matthew Henry summarizes the tragedy and the irony of it. He says, “Noah lived soberly when he was surrounded by drunkenness, but he became drunken when he was surrounded by sobriety.” It was only him and his family on the earth. He was not in a position now of great temptation, but Noah dropped his guard. The whole fall takes him almost by surprise. It wasn’t so much a wilful sin, as it was, as Scripture puts it, being “overtaken in a fault.”

What a lesson there is in this for all of us. Scripture warns us, “Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall.” One of the most dangerous times in our spiritual lives is just after we have done something for God; just after we have received a blessing; when there has been a particularly powerful word from God in a Sunday service; just after the Lord has been near to us and we have witnessed for him – then we are prone to relax, and our guard is down. We stop watching, and the devil is waiting for his opportunity. Many of us know to our bitter experience how you can fall from the height of blessing to the depth of sin in a moment.

Sin is like that. Sometimes it is like a snowball going down a mountain. You start pushing it as a little snowball, and it gathers speed and size. We start out with a little thing, but it becomes a large mess. Sin is like that. We all recognize some decline in standards especially with Christians drinking. We can desensitivize our consciences so gradually, that we are actually surprised when . . . suddenly . . .we fall. Perhaps it was not so suddenly. What about you? Let me warn you to turn back! Don’t trust yourself! Go to the cross of Jesus Christ and find strength from this One who resisted sin to the shedding of his blood. You have to battle against sin with similar intensity. It is not easy to be a follower of Christ, but it is rewarding and blessed.

December 10th 2006 GEOFF THOMAS