- The origin of each nation in the book of Genesis.
- The intersection of each nation with Israel in history.
- The final destiny of each nation in prophecy.
In the Bible there is not a more important chapter than Genesis 10 as regards the providential arrangement of tongues, families, and nations. Here alone is given the rise of different races, with their sources. Who else could have told us how and when the earth was thus divided?1
Chapter 10 is not history, but a survey of the whole earth. There were no tongues or nations at all until Babel; if you try to put this chapter into time, you will go all astray.2
The Sons of Noah (10:1)
The order here is not their birth order. In Gen. 11:10 we learn that Shem was a hundred years old when he begat Arphaxad, which was two years after the flood. Yet we read that Noah was five hundred years old when he began to have children, and the flood took place in his six-hundredth year. Therefore, Noah's oldest son must have been a hundred years old at the time of the flood, while Shem was only ninety-eight. Japheth therefore must have been the elder, as he is called in Gen. 10:21, "Japheth the elder". Ham is explicitly called Noah's "youngest son" (Gen. 9:24). The birth order is thereby fixed: Japheth, Shem, and Ham. However, Shem is usually listed first because Israel and the Messiah came through the line of Shem.These sons became the heads of the three great families of the earth. The general features are listed here, but the details follow in the chapter:
- Shem settled in the middle-east, became the father of the children of Israel, and eventually the Messiah.
- Ham settled in the middle-east and Africa, marked by rapid progress in civilization, and degenerating into barbarism.
- Japheth settled in Europe primarily, became the father of the indo-European peoples, marked by the tendency to colonize.
The Generations of Japheth: Europe and Western Asia (10:2-5)
- Gomer was the father of the Celtic peoples, who settled first in the north of India, then migrated to Europe (Germany). The name Gaul is taken from Gomer. A branch of the Gauls invaded Turkey, and gave their name to that province: Galatia. Gomer is mentioned in Ezek. 38:6 as being confederate with Magog in the great northern confederacy that will descend on Palestine at 1335 days from the middle of Daniel’s 70th week. Gomer is mentioned with “all his bands”, indicating that they were composed of a number of tribes. This all fits with what we know of the Germanic tribes.3
- Magog was the father of what we call Russia today, known as Scythia and Tartary. We read in Ezek. 38:2 that Magog is “the prince of Rosh” (Russia). The land of Magog is called Gog. Gog will form an alliance with many other nations, and will play a large role in future prophetic events. Read more… Magog is also possibly the head of the Mongols and Orientals.
- Madai is the father of the Medes, who settled in northwest Iran and southeast Turkey. Madai is the Hebrew name for Media. The Medes later became closely intertwines with the Persians, who come from the line of Shem. In Ezek. 38 we find that Persia also (likely with the Medes) will be found in the alliance of Gog and Magog.
- Javan is the father of the Ionian peoples, ‘Javan’ being the Hebrew name for Greece. They are mentioned in Ezek. 27:13 as being a maritime people, taken up with commerce “they bartered with thee the persons of men, and vessels of bronze.” Greece will be allied with the Beast (Revived Roman Empire) in future prophetic events. Read more…
- Tubal is the father of the Tibareni people, occupying vast areas in Scythia, but pushed at times to a small area located on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. The Russian city of Tobolsk takes its name from Tubal.
- Meshech is the father of the Moschi people, who settled the mountainous region of Georgia. The Russian city of Moscow likely takes its name from Mechech. Both the Tibareni and the Moschi are mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus and by the Jewish historian Josephus. Both Meshech and Tubal are found in Ezekiel 38:2 as closely connected with Magog, the prince of Russia.
- Tiras is a name we know little about. Based on the similarity of the names, Tiras could be the father of the Thracian people, who occupied modern-day Bulgaria and Romania. We cannot be certain who Tiras is, but God knows.
- Ashkenaz settled the region of Armenia, and they are connected in Jer. 51:27 with Ararat and Minni, which were also in that region. Later some migrated to Europe and settled in modern day Germany; e.g. the Teutons, a Germanic tribe that the Romans knew and wrote of.
- Riphath is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible, but is believed to have occupied Asia Minor along with Ashkenaz.
- Togarmah settled in Armenia, between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. The “house of Togarmah” is mentioned in Ezek. 38:6 as being confederate with the northern enemy, and identified as coming “of the north quarters” with “all his bands”. They are also mentioned in history as supplying the markets of Tyre “with horses, and horsemen, and mules” (Ezek. 27:14).
- Elishah was the father of the Ionian race, who settled in Asia Minor. We read in Ezek. 27:7 that dyed cloth “blue and purple” was a product made in “the isles of Elishah”. It is interesting the Lydia from Thyatira (Acts 16:14) was a seller of purple. The Ionian peoples eventually spread to the Peloponnesus, and inhabited Greece generally. They were known for “commercial prosperity, but for excellence in art and poetry, in history and philosophy”, characteristics which would later symbolize Greek culture.4
- Tarshish was an original settlement on the south shore of Spain. Tarshish had an “abundance of all substance; with silver, iron, tin, and lead” by which they furnished the markets of Type (Ezek. 27:12). It would appear that there was another place called Tarshish somewhere on the coast of India. We read that Solomon’s ships sailed from Ezion-Geber (1 Kings 9:26, 2 Chron. 9:21) and returned with ivory, and asses, and peacocks. These exotic things were not apparently available in Spain. The route around the horn of Africa (Cape of Good Hope) was probably not known, making India a more likely destination for Solomon’s ships. Which Tarshish did Jonah flee to? Probably the Indian port city. Yet whichever way, Jonah was fleeing a long distance from Joppa.
- Kittim or Chittim refers to the twin Peninsulas of Europe, which are Greece and Italy.5 Chittim is spoken of in reference to Greece in Maccabees 1:1; 8:5, and a reference to Rome in Daniel 11:30. In Daniel 11, the “ships of Chittim” is clearly a reference to the fleet of Gaius Popillius Laenas, the newly appointed Roman consul, who intercepted Antiochus Epiphanes (the king of the north) outside of Alexandria and thwarted his attack on the king of the south. We know from the prophecy of Balaam (Num. 24:24) that the “ships of Chittim” will sail again, referring to the Beast’s navy that will sail from the west and “afflict Asshur”, before coming to destruction. We read of the “isles” of Kittim in Jer. 2:10 and Ezek. 28:6, which fits will with the geography of Greece and Italy. Josephus thought Chittm was Cyprus, and many have followed his lead, although it does not seem to fit with scripture.
- Dodanim is possibly a reference to the Dardanians, who were closely associated with the Trojans (Troas being a region in northwestern Asia Minor). The exact meaning of Dodanim is uncertain.
The Generations of Ham: the Middle East and Africa (10:6-20)
- Cush became the father of great empires. His family separated into two branches: the African and the Asiatic Cush.6 We read in Isaiah 18:1 of the “rivers of Cush”, which are the Nile (African) and Euphrates (Asiatic). Those rivers represent the nations on the frontiers of Israel that had oppressed them, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon. The “land” spoken of in Isa. 18 is beyond those rivers, a country unknown at the time when Isaiah lived. We have a similar expression in Zeph. 3:10. The name “Cush” is frequently translated “Ethiopia”.
- Mizraim is the Hebrew name for Egypt. As the word ends with ‘im’, it is more than singular. In this case it is a dual word, and may refer to upper and lower Egypt. The name also includes a reference to earthworks of some kind. It may be that Mizraim was the first to embank the Nile river, turning that region into rich land for growing wheat. This thought would agree with Ezek. 29:9, which, speaking of the king of Egypt, says “he hath said, The river is mine, and I have made it”.
- Phut refers to the degraded African tribes south and west of Egypt.
- Canaan refers to the peoples that inhabited Palestine before Israel drove them out. They were Israel’s Adversaries, deeply entrenched in idolatry, and known for their wicked ways. Canaan was cursed because of Ham’s sin (Gen. 9). Canaan seized on the good land of Palestine early, and held it for hundreds of years until Israel came up from Egypt. The Bible makes it clear that the sin of the Canaanites was the reason they were driven out.
The Sons of Cush (vv.7-11)
- Seba settles on the Nile but farther south than Mizraim. It is the region we know today as Sudan. It was a civilization known as Meroe. They are mentioned in Psa. 72:10 as those who will offer tribute to Christ in the Millennium.
- Havilah refers to southern Arabia, which is modern day Yemen. It is the region we read of in Gen. 2:30 as containing much gold, and identified in Gen. 25:18 as a place where Ishmael’s family later settled.
- Sabtah is never otherwise mentioned, but is believed to have settled in modern-day Yemen. Pliny the elder wrote of a city Sabtecha in that area. They are not mentioned specifically elsewhere in scripture.
- Raamah settled in the Persian Gulf side of Arabia. They are mentioned in Ezekiel as being traffickers in precious commodities; “The trafficking of Sheba and Raamah, they were thy traffickers; they traded for thy wares with chief of all spices, and with all precious stones and gold” (Ezek. 27:22).
- Sabtecha is mentioned here only. We know nothing of where his family settled, only that is was probably with the rest of his family in Africa or Arabia.
- Sheba settled the Persian gulf area of Arabia. There is another Sheba mentioned in the Shemitic line. The two Shebas are distinguished in Ezek. 27. The first is the Cushite Sheba (Ezek. 27:22), whose merchandise was spices and precious stones. The second is the Shemitic Sheba mentioned with Asshur (Ezek. 27:23), whose merchandise was fine clothing. It would seem that Sheba was the father of Nimrod (v.8).
- Dedan also settled in the Persian gulf area of Arabia, and at one time there was an inland named for him. As with Sheba, we have a Shemite Dedan also mentioned in this chapter (v.20). The Cushite Dedan is mentioned in Ezek. 27:15 as supplying “horns of ivory, and ebony”, while we have the Shemite Dedan connected with a region to the south of Edom in Ezek. 25:13.
The Sons of Mizraim (vv.13-14)
- Ludim were the Africans west of the Nile. It is important to distinguish this Lud from the Shemite Lud (v.22) who was the ancestor of the Lydians. These people were archers (Isa. 66:19; Jer. 46:9). They will be found in the confederacy of the king of the south (Ezek. 30:5), and will be crushed by the king of the north at the end of Daniel’s 70th week.
- Anamim is mostly a mystery, although they are thought to have settled in the Nile delta of Egypt.
- Lehabim, along with Phut (son of Ham), were the ancient Libyans. They settled north Africa west of the Nile. The hieroglyph for Phut or Lehabim was a bow, and the name Phut means “nine bows”, showing that they were a populous people, and skilled archers. They were allied with No, or Thebes (Upper Egypt), but were not able to save that civilization from judgment (Nahum 3:9).
- Naphtuhim means “nine peoples”, and are also connected with the Libyans.
- Pathrusim refers to those who settled in Egypt specifically. Pathros is a name for parts of Egypt (Isa. 11:11; Jer. 44:1).
- Casluhim refers to those who occupied the Nile delta before the Philistine migration to Canaan. It states that the Philistines came from Casluhim, which figure prominently in the early history of Israel, and became a primary enemy of Israel in the land until David defeated them.
- Caphtorim was similar to Casluhim, and migrated to Canaan at a later date and merged with the Philistines.
The Sons of Canaan (vv.15-19)
- Sidon means “fishing”, and his family settles the Mediterranean coast in what is modern-day Lebanon. They were a seagoing people (Ezek. 27:8), familiar with cutting trees for ships (1 Kings 5:6). They oppressed Israel in the days of the judges (Judges 10:12), and Israel (through Solomon) imported the worship of “Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians” (1 Kings 11:1-5).
- Heth was the father of the Hittites, who became a great kingdom at one time, stretching from Turkey almost to Arabia. Their young woman were troublesome to Isaac and Rebecca (Gen. 27:46). However, one of David’s mighty men, Urijah, was a Hittite.
- The Jebusite possessed Jerusalem, and the children of Israel were unable to dispossess them (Josh. 15:63) until David in 2 Sam. 5. It is recorded there that the Jebusites insulted David at that time, although later we read of Ornan the Jebusite who offered his threshing-floor to David.
- The Amorite settled the land which was later given to Judah, but also occupied the land east of Jordan. There was great strength among the Amorites, “whose height was as the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks” (Amos 2:9), and also much wickedness. God told Abraham that his descendants would go down into Egypt for four generations before coming up, because at that time “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). When approaching the land, Israel defeated two great Amorite kings; Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, “two kings of the Amorites… on this side the Jordan, toward the sun-rising” (Deut. 4:46-47). Later, Joshua dealt with the five Amorite kings to the west of Jordan (Josh. 10:5).
- The Girgashite has disappeared, but God still knows where they are.
- The Hivite interacted with Israel on a number of occasions, most notably when the men of Gibeon deceived the men of Israel (Josh. 9).
The Generations of Shem: the Middle East (10:21-31)
- Elam settled in the province of Persia, whose capital later became Shushan or Susa (Esther 1:2, 5; Neh. 1:1; Dan. 8:2). Before the chest and arms of silver (Dan. 2), we read of considerable strength in Elam. We read in Gen. 14 of Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, who subjected the cities of the plain to his rule, and amassed an army to (unsuccessfully) quell a rebellion. Elam will be found in the confederacy of Magog in the last great conflict (Ezek. 38:5). However, there will be a part of that nation that is restored in the Millennium (Jer. 49:39).
- Asshur strictly refers to Assyria (northern Iraq and southern Turkey). Assyria developed into a great empire, peaking in the days of the later kings of Israel. We read of Pul, Tiglathpileser, Shalmaneser, and Sennacherib, all kings of Assyria. As Assyria rose to prominence, it began to threaten the power of Egypt. We read of Israel being caught in the middle between the two superpowers (2 Kings 17:4) who fought at times (2 Kings 23:29). In the Millennium, Assyria and Egypt will be restored and blessed, but they will no longer dominate Israel; “In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land” (Isa. 19:24-25).
- Arphaxad was the father of the Chaldees, who lived between the Tigris and Euphrates. He is also the father of the chosen people.
- Lud was the father of the Lydians of Asia Minor. This people is not to be confused with the Hamite race in Africa called the Ludim.
- Aram is the Hebrew name for Syria, and includes Lebanon, and the whole table-land to the northeast of Palestine. There are a number of districts within Aram that are mentioned in scripture: Aram-Dammesek (Syria of Damascus, 2 Sam. 8:5, 6; 1 Chron, 18:5, 6), Aram-Zobah (northeast, 1 Sam. 14:47), Arambeth-Rehob (2 Sam. 10:6, 8), Aram-Maachah (2 Sam. 10:6), Geshur in Aram (2 Sam. 15:8), and Paddan-Aram (Gen. 28:7). Damascus became the prominent city in Syria.
- Kelly, W. Lectures on the Pentateuch.
- Darby, J.N. Hints on the Book of Genesis.
- But there is no good reason for doubting that those we call Germans were of Gomer, no less than the Kelts. – Kelly, W. Early Chapters of Genesis.
- Kelly, W. Early Chapters of Genesis.
- There is no difficulty as to Kittim, which is a term beyond controversy applied to two of the peninsulas of Europe, first Greece [or Macedon], then Rome or Italy. – Kelly, W. Early Chapters of Genesis.
- Even Homer (Od. ii. 23, 24) speaks of Ethiopians as divided into two parts, the most distant of men, some at the setting sun, and some at the rising. – Kelly, W. Early Chapters of Genesis.
- Morrish, G.A. Concise Bible Dictionary. Entry: Asshur.
- This is the position of William Kelly. See Kelly, W. Early Chapters of Genesis.
- J.N. Darby took the opposite position: “Babel was the beginning of his [Nimrod’s] kingdom; others he went out and built, or conquered.” – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.