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The First Vineyard, and the First Drunk

Genesis 9:20-21 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. When he drank some of its wine, he became drunk and lay uncovered inside his tent.

Our human nature, though knowing what is good, is capable and culpable to abuse, overindulge, be careless, selfish, and irresponsible with the good that we can enjoy, turning it to something bad for us. Ice Cream is good, but too much ice cream can be detrimental to our health. Socializing is good, but too much of it also results in avoidable anxiety. Money is good, but the love of money leads to all forms of greed and evil.

In Genesis 9:20-21, we have the first record of two things: the first record of planting a vineyard (karem), and the first record of drunkenness. It is interesting to find this story immediately after the wonderful story of the ark, the covenant God made with Noah, and a list of the sons of Noah. Many would argue that these verses were simply a prelude to the entire story which focused on the wrong action of Ham and the right actions of Shem and Japheth (see vs 22-27). This Genesis story is seen by some as the justification of the plight of Ham who later fathers the Canaanites.

I believe it is more a parallel to the earlier fall of man. Consumption of food, the problem of nakedness, and cursing are once again found in this story of a new restart of mankind. What seems to be strangely absent is Noah taking personal responsibility for his actions. In his drunkenness which lead to his nakedness, at no point in the story does Noah address his shame with repentance. After the whole ordeal, Noah's vineyards are left uncursed. Instead, it was Ham who was cursed. Ham could have done something to help cover his father when his father was in a vulnerable state. Instead, he decided to simply share the news with his brothers, without helping in the final covering of his father. Still, this does not absolve Noah's overindulgence of the fruit of the vine. Noah was repeating the same pattern of blame that was evident in the garden of Eden. Both father and son were not being responsible with their actions. Sometimes we are like Noah, where it is easier to blame others than the root cause of our issues. It's like the student being angry at the teacher who caught him cheating. Adam and Eve did the same thing, passing the blame all the way to the snake (and to God in a way). Try to remember the last time you blamed someone else. If you really searched deep in your heart, did you also take time to apologize for your portion of responsibility?

Noah's cursing of Ham and his descendants to slavery (lowest of slaves) was done when he was sober, not when he was drunk. What a terrible thought, as such an offense could have been proportionately addressed. Genesis 7:1 shows us that Noah was found righteous in his generation, and yet here he was pronouncing generational curses on his own son. This does point truly to human depravity - without God's finished work of sanctifying us in the cross, our human righteousness will have its moments just like Noah. We will be imperfect.

I remember the time when I have just acquired the local preacher license under the Methodist Church in Singapore. I had also undertaken a promise to abstain from the consumption of alcohol so long as I held on to the preacher's license. I was still studying in seminary when I had received my preaching license. However, mistakenly, I forgot that I was in charge of bringing the drinks to one of the graduating seminarian's farewell party, which happened to be the day after receiving the license! So, seeking not to break my promise just a day after getting the license, instead of getting red wine, I went to get some tropical coconut juice for the party. Everyone laughed, except, of course, for my fellow graduating seminarian, who perhaps was waiting for me to bring a good merlot. I remember his gentle scolding to me after a lengthy lecture, "God is against drunkenness, not drinking!"

"God is against drunkenness, not drinking!" - Brury Zhang

Indeed, we must remember that God has a design for living a good life. Let us also seek how to live a good life with a conscious discipline against excess. Give our body the rhythm and rest to enjoy life as God has intended. Now of course, some may ask what is God's design of a good life? That is a very good question to ask! Well, this blog post alone won't be able to answer this fully, but I encourage you to read the Bible and be part of a group which sincerely seeks the answer to that question.

There are a few lessons we can pickup from today's reflection. The first, we must take responsibility for our actions. Blaming others does not solve anything, if not cause more trouble in the generations to come. The second, when we see others in their state of failure, let us always choose to help, and preserve their dignity where we can. If we are unable to help the person alone, we can find help, but we must remain part of the solution. Lastly, too much of a good thing can be the source of our moral failure. God has given us many blessings in this life to enjoy, but if we are not careful, overindulgence can lead to our own destruction. Reflection Questions: 1. Are there bad things we have done which we blame others for? How can we take responsibility for them today?

2. Have we ever walked away from helping someone who was in sin or trouble? How can we do more than just tell others about it and be part of the solution? 3. Is there anything we are overindulging in? How can we pace ourselves to a rhythm and rest to honor God, love others, and truly enjoy life?

Dear God, help me to own up to the wrong I have done and not create patterns of cursing and blame in my life and in my community. Open my eyes to those who are suffering around me, but also strengthen my hands that I may help them fully, and fill up my heart that I may uphold their dignity with Your love. Forgive me LORD if I have overindulged in your good creation. Help me find the right rhythm and rest that I may honor you and live the good life you have planned for me. In Jesus' Name I pray, Amen.

Hungry Chaplain


Kosher Food Challenge Update

After some research, I have decided to visit Singapore's Kosher Shop in 24 Waterloo street! It was a very interesting experience as this was the only grocery shop where the security had to check my identification card. The synagogue in the compound was beautiful and looked nice and well maintained. As I took the lift up to the second floor of the building, I was excited to see what was in the shop.

And yes, most of the products in the shop were written in Hebrew! I was thankful to be able to read some of it from my lessons in seminary, but I'm definitely short on the modern day Hebrew vocabulary!

The store is manned by really friendly staff, one whom I suspected was the residential rabbi. One of the shoppers was on speaker phone with his Jewish friend, who was having a hard time locating some meats. The rabbi, hearing the conversation, gently asked to speak to the person on the speakerphone. "Shalom!" The rabbi spoke in fluent Hebrew, and the person on the other end of the phone could be heard, almost tearfully, happy to hear someone speak to him in his native tongue.

So, I went ahead to get a piece of chicken, some steak, some sausages, kosher salt, some 'kosher' instant noodles, and some snacks. Definitely would want to go back another time to explore also some of the religious items in the store. Perhaps closer to Hannukah. Now as for the Kosher Food Challenge, the plan is to cook one protein each week using a Jewish recipe, with a kosher and non-kosher meat receiving the same treatment, and letting three brothers (the Chang brothers for those who know) decide which tastes better! The results would be posted in future posts! Stay tuned! P.S. If you know any good Jewish recipe for chicken, steak, or sausage, do let me know!

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