The Setting of the History of the World (Gen 10:1-32)

Author’s Note: I am preaching through Genesis on Wednesday nights. Here I will present edited notes in blog form. You can listen to the sermon below and download it here. May God be glorified and His people edified. Comments below if you like.

In this study we come to a chapter which one commentator correctly observes is “one of the least satisfactorily studied passages” in Genesis — Genesis 10. I’d add it’s one of the least satisfactorily studied chapters in all of the Bible, the kind of chapter we overlook. We read it in fast-forward. Sunday School curriculums skip it. Preachers skip it. In fact, I cannot recall ever hearing a sermon on this chapter, and I’m willing to guess you probably haven’t either.

But what does that say about our belief in the inspiration of Scripture? What does it say we really believe about 2 Timothy 3:16, which tells us all Scripture in breathed out by God and profitable? Beloved, God Himself saw to it chapters like Genesis 10 were included in His word, so it’s wrong to skip it. We’re going to deal with it here.

That’s not to say this is easy, going through a chapter that is largely genealogy. But it’s not a bad thing it’s hard. It just means we have to work harder to mine the precious jewels. And there are jewels in Genesis 10, often called the table of nations. This is one of those passages where we’re not going to be blown away emotionally, most likely, but we do need to love the LORD our God with all of our minds.

This chapter is actually essential to our understanding of the development of humanity after Noah. It sets the table for Genesis 11 and the Tower of Babel. In fact, we really need to understand these two chapters as one unit, covering the history of the world from Noah to Abraham. What we read tonight about the spread of humanity, in fact, assumes how that spread takes place — which we’ll read about in the next chapter. Ultimately, beloved, Genesis 10 is not just names and families, but the setting of the world through which the rest of Scripture would unfold (up through today and even to Revelation).

So let’s begin by looking — Genesis 10 — at the first verse and the last verse, which are very similar and essentially serve as bookends for everything in-between.

Genesis 10:1…

Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah; and sons were born to them after the flood.

And now Genesis 10:32…

These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.

This is about the descendants of Noah, which ultimately includes you and me. This is all genealogy, followed through three lines, the three sons of Noah — Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And here in Genesis 10 we find their families listed for us in reverse order from what we normally see. Japheth is first, then Ham, then Shem, from whom will eventually come Abraham, and the nation of Israel, and Jesus. Before we talk about Abraham and the rest of history and how God will save sinners, we have to get from Noah to Abraham. Hence, here we are in Genesis 10.

Now, it should be noted as we get into all of these names that not every name is given. The listing of names in Genesis 10 is not exhaustive, it’s selective. Not every person, not every family is listed. For example, we see this in verse 2…

The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras.

That’s seven sons of Japheth listed there. Seven. But in the verses following only  two of those sons have their families listed. And so we ask why.

The key is context. Context is always essential to understand when we are studying the Bible. Who is writing? Who is being written to? When is it being written? What’s the situation? Beloved, many a sermon has been preached and many a false teaching been borne from those who take Scripture out of context.

Well, the context here is Moses compiling all of this and writing all of this — under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — 800 years or so after this happened, as the nation of Israel, having left Egypt and spent forty years in the wilderness, was about to go into the Promised Land. The names listed here in Genesis 10 were names pertinent to Israel at that time and going forward. Names deemed worthy of mention, important to remember. These were people Moses would have known of, and Israel would have known of, as God prepared them through Moses to go into the land.

So as for all of these names, starting with Japheth… Japheth is the father of what are considered today Indo-European nations. His sons, if we are think about Israel as kind of the center of things geographically… his sons go north, then east and west, stretching from Europe to what we know as India, which is how we get Indo-European. All humanity came from three ancestors — Shem, Ham, and Japheth — and so many of these people came from one, Japheth, father of the Indo-European nations.

Now when we think about this today… you know, a Brit, an Englishman, looks much different than someone native to India, speaks in a different way than someone native to India. But what’s interesting about that is in the past couple hundred years it has become clear to people who specialize in these things that the language in that range of nations, that vast territory, are related. They have a common ancestor. Differences in appearance from one region to another can be easily explained by concentrations of genetic traits in various areas, but for their languages to all be related is another thing entirely. And yet, from England to India, they are.

And the Webster New Collegiate Dictionary agrees. It says Indo-European languages are “the most important linguistic family of the globe. Comprising the chief languages of Europe, together with the Indo-Iranian and other Asiatic tongues. . . . The prehistoric dialects of the primitive Indo-Europeans accompany their migrations into India, Persia, Greece, [and] Rome.” East and west, we get this evidence of a common ancestry, one we learn in the Bible is from Japheth.

And just to give one illustration of this… The Greeks… they trace themselves back to someone named Chapitas, a form of Japheth. People in Persia and Indian, also trace themselves — get this — to a flood account and a man named Yapetehas, another form of Japheth. So when we talk about Japheth and his sons we’re talking about people spread from Europe through much of Asia.

And Genesis 10 tells us a bit of how this happened. Look at the sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. A lot of good work has been done on this by men like the late Dr. Henry Morris. Gomer, for instance, is identified by other ancient writings with an area called Cimmeria, north of the Black Sea. Today it’s known as Crimea, the Crimean Peninsula, due north of Israel, and it’s been in the news a lot the past couple of years amidst the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. So that’s Gomer.

What about his sons? Verses 3-4: “The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz and Riphath and Togarmah. The sons of Javan were Elishah and Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim.” Later the sons of Gomer went westward into Europe. There’s linguistic evidence they went into what we known today as Germany and France and England and Wales.

Another son of Japheth was Magog, whose family isn’t given here, but you may recognize his name from elsewhere in Scripture, Ezekiel 38, which speaks of a future battle to come involving “Gog of the land of Magog.” It’s a battle in which the enemies of God’s people will be supernaturally crushed. Some believe Ezekiel 38 is describing the battle of Armageddon in Revelation. I lean toward another view, that it’s a battle occurring probably before the seven year tribulation. But that’s not the point tonight. My point in bringing Ezekiel 38 up is that Magog is mentioned there with a prince of Rosh, from which it’s believed the modern word Russia comes. And in that passage Magog is spoken of alongside two other names of sons of Japheth, Meshach and Tubal. Meshach being the word from which Moskovi comes, the original name of Russia, and what the word Moscow came from. So what we’re seeing here is how Genesis 10 helps define even modern geography and placenames. We’ve got western and central Russia here.

Another son of Japheth is Madai, verse two. According to practically all authorities he is the ancestor of the Medes, and we know them from Scripture. The Medo-Persian Empire took the place of the Babylonian Empire in the book of Daniel. So that’s Iran and that area.

Javan, meanwhile… we get his family in verse four, but his is the ancient and original form of the word Ionia, which is Greece. In fact, in the Old Testament the word Javan is sometimes translated as Greece. Sometimes Javan, sometimes Greece. Japheth and Javan, then, were the original founders of the Greeks.

And Tarshish, son of Javan… he is associated with Spain and even the city of Carthage in North Africa. We see a reference to Tarshish in Jonah. God told Jonah to go where? Nineveh, right? Which was to the north and east. Instead he got on a boat and tried to go as far west as he could… as far away from Nineveh as he could get. Tarshish. And we know how that worked out. But that’s what Tarshish is a reference to — Spain and North Africa.

And well, we’ll move on. I’ll just add that the rest of the names in Japheth’s line point us to Cyprus and Rhodes, islands to the south and east of Greece, and also to the Italian peninsula. In the Mediterranean, in Europe. And we can probably all trace our ancestry back to Europe. I know mine is. That makes us, most likely, sons of Japheth. His sons went all over the place, west and east. They would eventually sail across the Atlantic to North America and beyond on the one hand, and even those in Russia would migrate across the Bering Strait to Alaska, North America, and South America from the other direction. The point being we talk about Native Americans and then there is us, most of us with ancestry immigrating from Europe. But we’re all Native Japhethans, most likely.

Japheth was indeed enlarged, just as Noah prophesied his sons would be back in Genesis 9. His progeny would make up more of the world than the sons of Ham or Shem, most of the population of the world, occupying most of the land in the world. But as we’ll see… as Scripture unfolds, as they gained the world they would, to a large degree, lose their souls.

Let’s move on to the line of Ham, then.

Genesis 10:6-7…

The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. The sons of Cush wereSeba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan.

And now Genesis 10:13-19…

Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim.

Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.

Notice after verse thirteen you start seeing several names ending in “im.” Those aren’t the names of individuals, but of peoples, families. “Im” is a plural suffix in Hebrew, like with the word of God, Elohim. So these names here are people groups, families. You could just as well say Mizraites or Ludites or Anamites. There are a lot of people in Ham’s line from verse 6 to 19. We’ll get to verses 8 through 12 in a minute.

Let’s talk about Cush, though, the first of Ham’s sons. Cush is a common word found in the Old Testament. It’s the Bible’s name for Ethiopia in the New Testament, which is the area of Africa south of Egypt. Ham’s people went to the south, to Africa, and also to the southern parts of the Middle East. All of the names in verse seven are identified with Arabia, and you’ve got Libya and North Africa represented there. And of course another son of Ham was Canaan, the fourth son, the cursed son. And where did he settle? In the land that would become the Promised Land.

But what about the far east? Far east Asia? Southeast Asia? Where did they come from? Well, it’s unlikely they came from Japheth, but we know they came from one of Noah’s three sons. And probably Ham. Look again at verse 17. At the end of the verse we see that from Canaan came the Sinite. Now why is that word important?

Well you don’t hear this very often anymore, but for a long time American-Chinese relations were called Sino-American relations. There were two Sino-Japanese wars fought between China and Japan, the second of which was some of the most violent, bloodiest action of what became World War II. So what about that word Sino? From the word Sin, and not sin as in rebellion against God, but it became an oriental word meaning purebred. Many emperors used Sin as a title. There was a Chinese dynasty called the Sin Dynasty. And if you look it up in the dictionary, Sinology is the academic study of China. The point being… it’s possible and perhaps likely the far eastern cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and going south into Malaysia, Indonesia, and elsewhere came from Ham. It’s certain they came from Noah.

Now, let’s get back to verses 8-12. We’re told there about another son of Cush by the name of Nimrod, who became a mighty one on the earth. Verse 9: “He was a mighty hunter before YHWH, therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before [the LORD] YHWH.’” Basically, this was a way of saying he was very, very powerful.

It would appear that Cush was so rebellious toward God that he had intentions for this son. Nimrod’s name means “Let us rebel.” And look at 10-12…

The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

This little bit about Nimrod is the break in the genealogies here, and that’s because he is very important. Any why not? Because this is the first time in the Bible the word kingdom is used. There had never been a kingdom before, but Nimrod began one at Babel. He became the world’s first king, he had the world’s first empire. When we get to chapter eleven we’ll see more about that empire called Babel and now rebellious it became, in the image of its king.

And here’s something else about Nimrod. When it says he was a mighty hunter, it’s not talking about animals. He was a hunter of men. Another, better way to translate hunter here is warrior. The great-grandson of Noah was a mighty warrior. Noah found grace in the sight of the LORD and was righteous. Ham was blessed, we know, from Genesis 9:1, but he obviously wasn’t as righteous in the way he lived as his father had been. Ham’s son Cush was even worse, and probably not a believer. And now Nimrod… the degradation continues. He was a deadly man, the language implying he was a strong, even ruthless ruler, a conqueror, consolidating all the peoples and families and tribes into his Babel.

All of the other names in verses 10-12 point to a massive tract of land from the Persian Gulf in the south to upward into what is known today as Turkey. Nimrod’s kingdom was a vast tract of land, and it really became a foretaste of the later Babylonian Empire, which itself is a foretaste of a final Babylon, ruled by the Antichrist.

Now that leaves Shem. Before we get to that, notice verses 5 and 20, mentioning the separation of these families to their lands, and languages, into their nations. Remember Genesis 10 is written with the events of Genesis 11 in mind… So Shem… verse 21…

Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born.

Shem isn’t listed last because he’s the youngest, because he’s not, he’s older than Japheth. No, he’s listed last because his is the genealogy which leads to Abraham. And Shem is further differentiated in that right away it says he was the father of all the children of Eber, which is the name from which we get the very common word Hebrew. This is actually the first time, the first reference, to that word in Scripture. And Shem, it’s from his name we get the word Semite. Those who hate Jews are called anti-Semites, their behavior is called anti-Semitic.

As for the sons of Shem, well, we pick them up in verses 22-31. They all stay in the Middle East. The first mentioned is Elam, the father of the Elamites. He’s probably mentioned first because we’re going to see the Elamites mentioned again in chapter 14. There’s a man named Chedarlaomer, King of Elam. Chedarlaomer, a descendant of Shem, invades Canaan, sons of Ham, sons of Canaan, so that the sons of Canaan serve the sons of Shem, just like Noah said in chapter nine. Chedarlaomer ends up tag teaming with some sons of Japheth so that they both are victorious over sons of Ham.

The Elamites lived east of what we know as Israel. Their capital became known as Susa and they were mixed up with Medes making up the Medo-Persian Empire.

Notice also in verse 22, Asshur. He becomes the father of the Assyrians, who go on to play a big role in biblical history. Remember, they are the ones who conquered Israel after it divided. Assyria pretty much obliterated the northern kingdom and carried them into exile.

Next there’s Arpachshad, who we’ll see in chapter 11 was in the line of Abram (or Abraham). Then there’s Lud, who settled in Asia Minor, up near the Black Sea. That would be northern Turkey. And then Aram, the father of the Arameans (or Syrians). Aram would settle just to the north of what we know as Israel today, and his sons would be a constant thorn in the side of God’s people, especially in the days of Elijah and Elisha. They would develop the Aramaic language, which was commonly spoken in the land even in Jesus’ day, and a couple portions of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic.

Aram had descendants. One was Uz. Someone famous lived in Uz… Job. Job 1:1: “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job.”

I know I’m throwing a lot of names at you. Let’s do one more, verse 25…

Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother’s name was Joktan.

A curious statement, to be sure. What does it mean? Peleg means divided. One pastor who I was reading in my studies postulated that Peleg was probably named for the judgment at Babel. Peleg was named, and I think this is right, for when God came down and judged the world, the kingdom of Nimrod, and divided it every which way and in all manner of tongues. Eber was alive then and named his son according to what he saw God do.

The rest of the sons of Shem… they spread across the Middle East. So you’ve got Ham in the south, Africa, Asia. Japheth goes north and spreads west and east. Shem stays in the Middle East. And like the sons of Japheth and Ham, verse 31, there is the postscript. They are listed “according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.”

And then the postscript to the entire section in verse 32.

These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.

The Flood is linked to the separation, to Babel, there. And what will we see at Babel? Well there are already hints of it in verses 8-12, telling us about Nimrod. We’re going to see confusion. We’re going to see how far and how fast men fell. How badly we failed to learn from the Flood. As I read it put in my studies, it’s Romans 1 coming to pass. You know, where men suppress the truth in unrighteousness and abandon the knowledge of God they know, preferring their own ways, their own idols. We see it on display at Babel.

And while the tenth chapter of Genesis may be, at least on the surface, among the most boring in all of Scripture, it shows us progression of the history of God’s people. We’ve seen Adam, then Seth, then down through Noah. Then Noah to Shem, Shem to Eber, and we’ll follow that to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, to Israel, to Jesus Christ. Genesis 10, then, is on the road to the gospel.

So next time we read this, and other passages and chapters like it, may we be slow to speed through, but quick and eager to dive in and understand not just the words, but why the God we worship, the one true God who saves us from our sins… May we be eager to understand why He, through His Holy Spirit, ordained these words be, and how the lessons of all His words might compel us to live for His glory.

Father, may we rest in Your goodness and grace and mercy. May we stand upon the rock solid foundation of Your written word, which shows us Your Son — how He precedes history, how He entered history, how history got to Him, and ultimately how He rules over all history — past, present, and most definitely future. Help us to not be like society in its downward spiral from Noah to Babel. Help us to humble ourselves and worship you with our lives, in spirit and in truth… to the praise of Your glory. Amen.

Author: Matt Privett

Christian. Husband. Father. Pastor.

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