The Black races in Scripture

The use that has been made of the passage in Genesis 9:20-27 to support political apartheid may have left in some minds the idea that Scripture teaches in some way what is usually called racism. There is no real truth in this and all the evidence is in the other direction. The reasons for saying this are as follows:-

Ham the Son of Noah (Genesis 9:20-27)

In this passage Ham (which means black) the Son of Noah was condemned by his Father for his conduct when he found his Father exposed in his tent. His other Sons behaved commendably. However, Noah cursed Canaan, Ham's Son, not Ham himself (perhaps Canaan was involved in what Ham did), and there is no reason to believe that Canaan was black. It is clear from Genesis 10:15-20 that Canaan was the Father of the nations that Israel drove out of the land of Canaan when they entered the land under Joshua and there is no reason to believe that they were black. Palestine is very often called Canaan in Scripture.

The black races emerged from what appears to have been the eldest son of Ham: Cush. Though Cush's Son Nimrod settled in the land of Shinar, some at least of Cush's descendants settled somewhere in what is now the Sudan / Ethiopia area which is peopled by black races. Individual Ethiopians or Cushites are always spoken well of in Scripture or the references are at any rate morally neutral as we shall see. The other Sons of Ham, Mizraim and Phut, do not appear to have been black. These Sons gave their names to Egypt and Lybia and indeed Egypt is sometimes called the land of Ham. In general it appears that the three Sons of Noah spread out in such a way that Europe was peopled by the Sons of Japheth, Africa by the Sons of Ham and Asia by the Shemites, though of course there was a good deal of movement from one area to another, which, incidentally, shows that the Scriptural statements regarding the peopling of the earth were not part of an artificially contrived system.

Moses' Ethiopian Wife (Numbers 12)

In this chapter we are told that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had taken; for he had taken a Cushite as wife. Why they objected to Moses taking a Cushite as wife is not made clear. Was it because they thought he should have taken an Israelite or was it because they objected to her black skin ? Either way they appear to have had some racial prejudice against her. She must have attached herself to the people of God and become one of them for her to have been available for marriage in Israel. Both Rahab and Ruth were strangers who married Israelitish husbands so what Moses did became acceptable practice (see the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1). God did not approve of the strictures of Miriam and Aaron and showed his displeasure by smiting Miriam with leprosy so that she was shut out of the camp for seven days. This passage at least gives no support to anyone thinking that Scripture supports a colour bar.

The Ethiopian Messenger (2 Samuel 18:19-23)

In this chapter we have an Ethiopian man, who was a message carrier. He was working for Joab who was on the side of king David. He was therefore on the right side, not on the side of the usurper, Absalom. From the detail of the narrative we can gather that he carried out his errand to report the defeat of Absalom to David. There may be something in the fact that black East Africans often seem to have an aptitude for track events and that may have something to do with the Ethiopian being used as a runner. However, we do find in the narrative that Ahimaaz also ran and outstripped the Ethiopian. Perhaps this was because he had greater motivation, though from the comment of the watchman there was something special about his running which singled him out from other runners: " The watchman said, I see the running of the foremost like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok " (2 Samuel 18:27). Nevertheless, however we understand the passage it is quite clear that the Ethiopian was a trusted servant and not someone despised, even if he did not quite have the status of Ahimaaz.

Ebedmelech (Jeremiah 38:7-13)

Here we have Ebed-melech the Ethiopian spoken of, a servant of king Zedekiah, who was instrumental in getting Jeremiah taken up out of the dungeon into which he had been put by his enemies. Scripture thus shows him in a very favourable light. Further, he received a good and comforting word from Jehovah for himself as detailed in chapter 39:15-18. Elsewhere we are told that God loves the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:18), certainly those that have put their confidence in him as this Ethiopian did (Jeremiah 39:18) and also Ruth (Ruth 2:12).

Song of Songs

This song, apparently written by Solomon for his Egyptian bride (1 Kings 3:1), shows that his love was black. We have in chapter 1:5/6 the words: " I am black, but comely, daughters of Jerusalem, As the tents of Kedar, As the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because I am black; Because the sun hath looked upon me. My mother's children were angry with me: They made me keeper of the vineyards; Mine own vineyard have I not kept ". Perhaps the meaning of the words: " Look not upon me, because I am black; Because the sun hath looked upon me ", is: " Look not [down] upon me, because I am black; Because the sun