The Genesis of the Nations
Nations. Have you ever wondered how the world got the way it is? Why are there many groups of people who have their own characteristics, languages, and cultures? Anthropologists for centuries have pondered the archaeological evidence to understand the placement of peoples and languages over the globe, but they are stumbling in the dark. Read more… Genesis 10 – 11 answer these questions, by shedding the Divine light of God’s Word on the subject. Genesis 10 gives the actual breakdown of the nations, and Genesis 11 gives the moral reason for the division of languages, and the scattering of the peoples over the face of the earth, divided by mountains and rivers. There were no such distinctions before the flood. The line of Shem was distinguished from the line of Cain, but there were no governments, no nations, and one language. Nations play an tremendous role in history and the Bible. Think of the wars that have been fought, the immense migrations of mankind, the conquering of one people by another. With nations in scripture, we are given three points:
- 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.
We also must think of God’s dispensational ways. He chose one nation out from all the others, the nation of Israel, to make them His special possession (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Deut. 32:8 says: “When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the children of Adam, he set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.” What was the backdrop for the calling of Abraham, and later the calling of Israel? It was the nations, springing from the sons of Noah, and descending into immorality and idolatry (Rom. 1:19-32). It was the nations, who began to abuse the responsibility of government (Gen. 9:6), and have propagated terror and bloodshed now for four-thousand years. But God had Israel in His eye from the beginning, and although the Canaanite possessed the favored land at the beginning, God’s plan to give it to Israel never wavered. In a day still future, all blessing will flow from that land out to all nations (Ezek. 47).
Genesis 10. It is important to note that this chapter gives the division of Noah’s family and the various regions which their families inhabited. It is not merely a genealogy, it is an ethnography. William Kelly said it is “a sacred ethnography, grounded on genealogy, and linked with geography”. There is no scriptural evidence that the spreading of mankind over the earth took place immediately. In fact, ch.11 shows that man’s first effort was to rebel against the Divine command to “swarm on the earth, and multiply on it” (Gen. 9:7). Rather than spread out, mankind congregated in the plain of Shinar, saying; “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). It was after their languages were divided that the scattering took place. Ch.10 gives the various families and by which the earth was divided.
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)
1 And these are the generations of the sons of Noah: Shem [‘a name’], Ham [‘warm, hot’], and Japheth [‘may he spread’]; and to them were sons born after the flood. v.1 This is one of ten generations mentioned in Genesis, all beginning with the words “the generations of”, etc. Read more… The sons of Noah are given.
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)
2 The sons of Japheth: (1) Gomer [‘perfection’], and (2) Magog [‘extension’], and (3) Madai [‘middle’], and (4) Javan [‘soft’], and (5) Tubal [‘flowing forth’], and (6) Meshech [‘selection’], and (7) Tiras [‘desire’]. v.2 As we have already shown, Japheth was the oldest son of Noah, therefore he comes first in the list. His descendants live up to the meaning of his name; “may he spread”. Of the three sons, Japheth’s family was by far the most widespread geographically. What is interesting about all these families of Japheth is that their languages, which range from Greek to Hindi, can be shown to have come from some common ancestor now extinct, which is the Indo-European family of languages.
- 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.
3 And the sons of Gomer: (1) Ashkenaz, and (2) Riphath, and (3) Togarmah. v.3 Details are added as to the sons of Gomer or Gaul, which was the Keltic race descending from Japheth:
- 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).
4 And the sons of Javan: (1) Elishah, and (2) Tarshish, (3) Kittim, and (4) Dodanim. v.4 The sons of Javan are now given, which compose the Italo-Hellenic family.
- 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.
5 From these came the distribution of the isles of the nations, according to their lands, every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations. v.5 The “isles” is a broad word that encompasses the peninsulas of Greece, Italy, Spain, and Scandinavia, the coastlines, interior settlements, and islands. Japheth’s family tended toward these types of geography, which are conducive to commerce, trade, and maritime prowess. But in Gen. 11 we find that God places each nation where He determined, and in Deut. 32:8, that “the Most High… set the bounds of the peoples according to the number of the children of Israel.” Japheth has been true to his name; “may he spread”. There is no continent where the commerce and colonization of Japheth has not reached. Often he has caused trouble in these distant places. The Beast and his navy will spring from these very “isles of the nations”. But we can be thankful for the wonderful way the gospel has penetrated the ranks of Japheth, and years later European naval powers paved the way for the gospel of God’s grace to reach the distant corners of the earth!
The Generations of Ham: the Middle East and Africa (10:6-20)
6 And the sons of Ham: (1) Cush [‘terror’], and (2) Mizraim [‘double bank’], and (3) Phut [‘nine bows’], and (4) Canaan [‘abasement’]. v.6 When we come to the Hamitic line, we find that his descendants settled in Africa and the Middle East. His family was marked by two things: rapid advance in civilization (Cush and Mizraim), and also degenerating into barbarism (Phut and Canaan). Both these tendencies are but different forms of departure from God. Cush and Mizraim pick up with civilization where Cain’s family left off, in Gen. 4.
- 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)
7a And the sons of Cush: (1) Seba, and (2) Havilah, and (3) Sabtah, and (4) Raamah, and (5) Sabtecha. v.7a The five sons of Cush are enumerated first, with the grandson (Nimrod) mentioned separately in vv.8-11.
- 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.
7b And the sons of Raamah: (1) Sheba and (2) Dedan. v.7b The two sons of Raamah are given, perhaps because they were well known to Israel.
- 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.
8 And Cush begot Nimrod: he began to be mighty on the earth. v.8 Nimrod was likely a descendant of Cush through Raamah and then Sheba. He lived contemporary with Peleg, and continued in the land of Mesopotamia after the Tower of Babel. Nimrod’s name means “the Rebel” and it was given to him derogatorily by the Shemites (and recorded by Moses), who he apparently enslaved to build his empire. Nimrod sought great things for himself (like Cain) and was the first one to subvert the patriarchal government given to Noah. It is important to see that Noah was alive this whole time, and probably outlived Nimrod.
9 He was a mighty hunter before Jehovah; therefore it is said, As Nimrod, the mighty hunter before Jehovah! v.9 Nimrod was the first man to make himself great in the earth. The term “mighty hunter” means “tyrant”. He did not merely hunt animals; he hunted men. He was set on building an empire, and to do so he acquired dominion over mankind through violence, upsetting the divine order. The expression “before Jehovah” shows that this “hunting” was a moral issue (Gen. 13:13). Man was given dominion over the animals by God, but strictly commanded to guard human life. Nimrod did the opposite. Secular history reveals that Nimrod brought in the Zabian idolatry, although scripture does not record this, rather attributing idolatry to the darkening of man’s understanding in general (Rom. 1:20-23). Nimrod became enshrined in ancient astronomy. His Greek name is Orion, meaning “Giant” (Job 9:9, Job 38:31, Amos 5:8) – and is still seen in the sky with his hounds Sirius and Canicula and pursuing the Great Bear as a hunter. The idolatrous system spread, and in the history of Israel we read of the worship of “Baal” or “Beel”, which means “lord” or “master”, the same male deity as Nimrod in the earlier form of idolatry. Yet much of this depends on secular annals and myths, and therefore we need to be careful not to speak with certainty beyond what scripture plainly says.
10 And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. v.10 Nimrod founded Babylon (in Iraq). It would seem that Nimrod continued the civilization of Babylon after the scattering of ch.11. The manifest displeasure of God did not check Nimrod’s ambitions. Nimrod’s success in Babel encouraged him to push into other endeavors. He was just getting started. He built other cities; Erech, Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. Shinar refers to the fertile plain between the Tigris and the Euphrates, and it is the “land of Nimrod”; the “land of Asshur” lying just north of it (Micah 5:6). Erech or Uruk was an important Sumerian city, and the origin of the modern name Iraq. Accad or Akkad was the capital of the Akkadian Empire, which played a role in the history of Mesopotamia.
11 From that land went out Asshur [‘And from that land he went out into Asshur’], and built Nineveh, and Rehoboth-Ir, and Calah, 12 and Resen, between Nineveh and Calah: this is the great city. v.11 The reading of v.11 is uncertain. It could be translated “and from that land he went out into Asshur”.7 If this is the case, Nimrod then invaded Asshur (northern Iraq and southern Turkey) who was a Shemite, to build the seed cities of another empire. If the alternate reading is wrong, then Nimrod did not build Nineveh, etc. but rather his actions to the south stirred up a spirit of rivalry in Asshur (a distant cousin) to build an empire to the north.89 Either way, the emergence of the seeds of the Assyrian empire are attributed to Nimrod by the Spirit of God; whether Nimrod did the actual building, or triggered a rivalry in the Shemite Asshur. Nineveh (in Iraq) eventually became the capital of Assyria, and is referred to here as “the great city”. The other cities Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen have been connected with other cities in the province of Assyria.
The Sons of Mizraim (vv.13-14)
13 — And Mizraim begot the (1) Ludim, and the (2) Anamim, and the (3) Lehabim, and the (4) Naphtuhim, 14 and the (5) Pathrusim, and the (6) Casluhim, out of whom came the Philistines, and the (7) Caphtorim. vv.13-14 Sons of Mizraim:
- 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)
15 — And Canaan begot (1) Sidon, his firstborn, and (2) Heth, 16 and (3) the Jebusite, and (4) the Amorite, and (5) the Girgashite, 17 and (6) the Hivite, and (7) the Arkite, and (8) the Sinite, 18a and (9) the Arvadite, and (10) the Zemarite, and (11) the Hamathite. vv.15-18a Canaan’s sons are now given. We must remember that Canaan was already cursed (Gen. 9:25), and said to be “a bondman of bondmen to his brethren”. This prophecy appeared to be very unlikely at first, because the sons of Canaan settled in the choicest land.
- 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 Arkite, Sinite, Arvadite, Zemarite, and Hamathite have disappeared, but God still knows where they are.
18b And afterwards the families of the Canaanites spread themselves abroad. 19 And the border of the Canaanite was from Sidon, as one goes to Gerar, up to Gazah; as one goes to Sodom, and Gomorrah, and Admah, and Zeboim, up to Lesha. vv.18b-19 The Canaanites spread themselves abroad, seeming to flourish. But the curse was still upon them. The borders of the Canaanites are given in more detail than other families, because the land they possessed was to be given to the tribes of Israel. “When the Most High assigned to the nations their inheritance, When he separated the sons of Adam, He set the bounds of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel” (Deut. 32:8). Four of the five cities of the plain are mentioned, “which Jehovah overthrew in his anger and in his fury” (Deut. 29:23). But the fuller judgment of the Canaanites came when Israel dispossessed them as Jehovah’s sword and bow (Gen. 48:22). The judgment of fire and brimstone was given to Israel by the prophets as a warning to them, to abstain from the ways of the Canaanites (Hosea 11:8; Jer. 20:16).. These sins included idolatry, sexual immorality, and making their children pass through the fire (2 Kings 16:3). Israel failed to fully drive out the Canaanite (Judges 1), but a day will come when “there shall be no more the Canaanite in the house of the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 14:21).
20 These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, in their nations. v.20 In summing up the sons of Ham, it is interesting that “lands” are mentioned and not “isles”. This is a point of difference with Japheth. If Japheth was the seafaring colonizer, Ham is the inland empire-builder. Ham was the first to build and empire, the first to exploit human capital, and the first to descend into idolatry.
The Generations of Shem: the Middle East (10:21-31)
21 And to Shem — to him also were sons born; he is the father of all the sons of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder. 22 The sons of Shem: (1) Elam [‘eternity’], and (2) Asshur [‘success’], and (3) Arphaxad [‘healer’], and (4) Lud [‘offspring’], and (5) Aram [‘highland’]. vv.21-22 The way Shem is introduced is interesting. He is stated to be: (1) “the father of all the sons of Eber” who was really Shem’s great-grandson, and (2) “the brother of Japheth”. On one hand the connection with Eber must have something to do with the genealogy of the chosen people, and of the Messiah. Eber was the seventh generation removed from Abraham, and yet Abraham is called “Abram the Hebrew” (Gen 14:13). Just as Ham had to bear the shame of being called “the father of Canaan” (Gen. 9:18), so Shem is given the privilege of being called “the father of all the sons of Eber”. It is interesting to note (see ch.11) that Eber outlived Abraham, being the last of the patriarchs before the one-half reduction of lifespan. Shem’s association with Japheth must be connected with the elder two sons’ action of covering their father’s shame in ch.9.
- 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.
23 And the sons of Aram: Uz, and Hul, and Gether, and Mash. v.23 As with the sons of Japheth and Ham, two sons of Shem are expanded on. Aram’s sons are named. Uz settled south of Palestine, in the place where Job lived (Job 1:1). The others we know little about.
24 — And Arphaxad begot Shelah; and Shelah begot Eber. v.24 Something different begins with Arphaxad. Instead of starting with “And the sons of…” it breaks in sharply. This signals a new departure in the ways of God, now giving us the direct line to the chosen people. It is believed that Arphaxad settled in southern Assyria. His grandson was Eber, the father of the Hebrews.
25 And to Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg [‘division’], for in his days was the earth divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan [‘small’]. v.25 Peleg lived contemporary with the division of the earth by language (the Tower of Babel). Joktan is the father of the Arabs who mingled with the Cushites and later Ishmaelites in Arabia.
26 And Joktan begot Almodad, and Sheleph, and Hazarmaveth, and Jerah, 27 and Hadoram, and Uzal, and Diklah, 28 and Obal, and Abimael, and Sheba, 29 and Ophir, and Havilah, and Jobab: all these were sons of Joktan. 30 And their dwelling was from Mesha, as one goes to Sephar, the eastern mountain. vv.26-30 Joktan had thirteen sons, they all settled in the Arabian peninsula with a few on the African side of the Red Sea and a few on the Iranian side of the Persian Gulf.
31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations. v.31 The families of Shem are thus given, confined largely to the middle east. The hopes of all mankind are pinned on the woman’s seed, to come through Shem, Eber, etc.
32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations. And from these came the distribution of the nations on the earth after the flood. v.32 In conclusion, the division of the human race, first by Noah’s sons, then their sons, etc. give us the breakdown of the nations in their respective locations. Some of the lands we have presented are quite certain, others are less certain. But we can be assured that these families are still in the world, and God will see to it that His Word comes to pass. The events of Gen. 11 give us the moral reason for the division, but Gen. 10 give us the actual breakdown. In summary we can see that the prophecy of Noah appeared at first to be very unlikely. Ham led the nations in empire-building and idolatry. For roughly the first 2000 years after the flood, Ham dominated the landscape. With the fall of Babylon (Elam and Medai joined to accomplish it), Ham begins to sink, and Japheth comes forward. For the next 2000 years, Japheth dominates the landscape. He builds a vast network of trade, and colonizes every continent for financial gain. What about Shem? Was the brief reign of Solomon the fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy? No. There is a coming administration in which Shem, under the reign of Christ, will have the first place. Israel will be the head and not the tail. Of Christ it will not be merely said, “may he spread”, or “let Canaan be his bondman”, but rather “He must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:25). “I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it… until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezek. 21:27).
The Nations in Prophecy. Throughout the Bible, the nations mentioned in Genesis 10 come up over and over again in prophecy. Take Numbers 24 or Ezekiel 38-39 for example. Genesis 10 serves as a key to understanding which nations will find their place in the confederacies that will emerge at the end of this age. The chart below summarizes some of those nations:
Link to PowerPoint slides for this chapter:
- 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.