According to Genesis 9:20–21, at some point after the flood, Noah planted a vineyard, produced wine, and became drunk. Not only did he become drunk, but he was naked inside his tent. What followed was the sin of Ham (and possibly Canaan). This is an uncomfortable episode in Noah’s life, but it serves as a reminder that even those saved by the grace of God are prone to sin (Genesis 8:21). It’s also a powerful warning about how just one careless decision can destroy the reputation of even the most godly man or woman. That’s especially true when it comes to drinking. Although the Bible says that wine is good for cheer (Psalm 104:15), it also warns that it can be dangerous, especially for those in positions of authority (Proverbs 31:4).
What the Bible doesn’t specify is “why” Noah became drunk. There are several possibilities, although none of them change the responsibilities of the people involved. Noah was responsible for his own actions, as were his sons. This includes Ham, who seems to have reacted with ridicule instead of compassion toward his inebriated father (Genesis 9:22).
One possibility is that Noah was haunted by his experiences during the flood and chose to over-consume wine and get drunk in order to ease his pain. Attempting to avoid negative feelings is one of the major reasons people abuse alcohol today. The strain of trying to rebuild a shattered world, on top of the horrific loss of human life, would doubtless have been a heavy burden to bear.
Another potential answer is that Noah’s drunkenness was inadvertent and caused by old age. That is, Noah might have become drunk accidentally. After the flood, mankind began aging much more rapidly. It’s possible that Noah was feeling his age more than he knew and wasn’t able to hold as much wine as he once did. This is a key danger of alcohol—it takes judgment to know when to stop, but good judgment is exactly what alcohol tends to erode.
Another option is that Noah became drunk because he wasn’t experienced with large quantities of alcohol. Grapes existed before the flood, so man would have had the ability to press grapes before Noah entered the ark. But, according to the Bible, Noah was the first to plant a vineyard (Genesis 9:20). Common sense suggests that a cultivated vineyard will produce significantly more fruit, juice, and wine than wild vines. Noah may well have had access to more wine than he’d ever had before. Possibly, he carelessly consumed more than he had in the past, resulting in his drunken state.
Ultimately, we can’t say for sure exactly why Noah became drunk. Scripture often leaves out details that are ultimately irrelevant to our relationship to God. The exact sequence of events leading to Noah’s stumble isn’t given in the Scriptures. What we do see is enough for us to understand the history of Noah’s sons and to be warned about the power of what we put into our bodies.