These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.
2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4 The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations. [i]
The list of names, known as the Table of Nations, in Genesis 10 gives us a verbal map of the known world at the dawn of history. Three times (once for Japheth, then for Ham, and then for Shem), the author states that the Table was composed according to “their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations” (v. 31; cf. vv. 5, 20). It seems to us to be a baffling mishmash of ethnic, linguistic, geographical, and political designations. “The descendants of Canaan listed in verse 17 sound to our ears like an entomologist’s list of something for the pest controller — “Hivites, Arkites, Sinites,” and termites!”[ii]
This Table of Nations is a remarkable historical document. There is nothing else like it in any other ancient Near-Eastern literature. “It is obvious… that the chapter is attempting to show the general outline of the expansion of the peoples and nations of the world from Noah’s three sons, after the flood. It acts as a bridge between what we would call ‘prehistory’ (history for which we have no other historical documents or monuments) and the historical times of Abraham and his descendants, with which the next section of Genesis deals.”[iii] The next chapter, Genesis 11, contains another10-generation genealogy covering the high points of the Godly line. It gives the descendants of Seth through Terah to Abraham, listing the ages of the fathers at which their chief sons were born and the total years of their lives, just like the 10-generation genealogy of Genesis 5.
But Genesis 10 is not like that. It lists names—the sons of Noah and their sons. But these names are not merely of the ancestors, in some cases they are names of people groups or nations or places. For example, “the Kittim and the Rodanim” of verse 5. These are groups of people descended presumably from two sons of Javan named Kit and Rodan, respectively. But they are not listed as individuals. They are listed as peoples (thus, the plural “im” endings), along with two other names that, by contrast, are not peoples but individuals: Elishah and Tarshish. Again, although the text does not explicitly say so, there are obviously whole families of nations that are left out. The table lists seven sons of Japheth (v. 2); but in the ensuing verses only the descendants of two of those sons are listed: three sons of Gomer and four sons (or peoples) of Javan. The same selectivity is evident throughout the chapter.[iv] The table represents the nations as being all of one blood, multiplying under God’s blessing as distinct tribes and nations. The Table represents God’s broad concern for all peoples, not just the Israelites. In fact, Israel is omitted from this list.[v]
The Table is “a highly stylized account of Israel’s known world. Seventy nations are given: fourteen from Japheth, thirty from Ham, and twenty-six from Shem. Seventy, a multiple of seven and ten (both connoting completeness), represents a large (see Judg. 8:30; 2 Kings 10:1) and complete number…. This number compares with the number of Abraham’s seed at the end of the book. By the time of their descent into Egypt they, too, have reached the symbolic, complete, and full number. Thus, the sovereign God has laid a firm foundation for making this microcosm of the nations into a nation able to bless the earth (cf. Gen. 46:27; Ex. 1:5).”[vi]
In addition to the intentional sum of “seventy,” Moses shows a preference for “seven” and its multiples. Japheth has seven sons and seven grandsons. Ham has seven descendants of Cush (10:6–7) and seven of Mizraim (10:13). Counting Cainan, fourteen distinct names are given in the lineage from Shem to Eber. The last of the elect ancestors before the line of Shem is divided between Eber’s sons, Peleg (meaning “divided”) and Joktan. The word “Sons of” (benê) occurs fourteen times, seven times in 10:1–7, before Nimrod, and seven times in 10:20–32. By contrast, there are no sevens in the structuring of the Canaanite genealogy. The representation of the Canaanites in the Table is distinct for its asymmetry. That suggests chaos, harkening back to the pre-flood demonized cultures.
JAPHET FAMILY (2-4)
In vv. 2-4 Moses writes, “2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4 The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.” [vii] Verse one listed the sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. But when the writer begins his Table of Nations, he reverses the order in which he details their stories. Now, he begins with Japheth because the Japhethites are the people group the farthest distance away from Israel’s Promised Land. Japhet’s seven sons “lived mostly to the north and east of Canaan and spoke the Indo-European languages. Gomer dwelt north of the Caspian Sea. Tubal and Meshech settled around the southern shores of the Black Sea. Tiras lived west of the Black Sea in Thrace. Madai occupied the area south of the Caspian in what became Media. And Javan populated Ionia, the southern part of Greece. The sons of Javan spread around the northern Mediterranean as far west as Tarshish or southern Spain.”[viii]
Why do we speak of anything being “Indo-European”? The answer is that the languages of the east and the languages of the west have a common-language ancestor. Serious linguistic students go to India to study Sanskrit as the closest known language of the original in this entire block of languages. This vast family of languages is divided into two types: the eastern division involving the tongues of India, Afghanistan, Iran, Armenia, the Balkans, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, parts of Germany, east Prussia, Lithuania, and Latvia. The western Indo-European division contains the languages of Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Romania, Cornwall, Wales, Brittany, Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, parts of Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and England.[ix]
That large amount of languages gives us an idea of the large amount of people groups and lands involved in these few short verses. Japhet’s descendants crossed an ancient land bridge into North America and spread out across the hemisphere. Even though these people were far away from Israel’s land, they represent the vast majority of humanity in Moses’ time. The Lord made good on his promise in 9:27 to enlarge Japheth. Japheth’s family eventually possessed most of the world’s territory.
6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.[x]
While the Japhethites spread into Persia and India and also into Europe and beyond, the Hamites moved into Africa and Asia. Ham’s four sons. “Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan” (v. 6) settled primarily in northeast Africa and Egypt, the eastern Mediterranean, and Southern Arabia. Cush populated the territory of the upper Nile south of Egypt. The son named “Egypt” here literally means “Egypts” and indicates Upper and Lower Egypt.[xi] Since Put is not mentioned by language or geography, he is a possible candidate to have populated Asia – though the Jewish historian Josephus identifies him with the region of modern-day Libya. Put’s descendants are a matter of pure speculation because Moses is not writing a complete list of who went where. Canaan settled in what was later called “Palestine,” after the Philistines. The descendants of Canaan noted in verses 15-19 read like a “most wanted” list of Israel’s chronic enemies.
Cush is the Bible’s name for the country of Ethiopia, although there was also a Cush in Arabia. Cush (in vv. 8–12) is linked to Nimrod, the mighty hunter-warrior who established the first world empire at Babylon in the valley of the Euphrates on the plains of Shinar. Bad things happen on the plains of Shinar: The Tower of Babel; the Babylonian Empire and its destruction of Judah make it the place of Jewish captivity and slavery; it becomes Revelation’s symbol for all that is bad about the world, the flesh, and the demonized culture. Nimrod also founded the evil metropolis of Nineveh to which Jonah would later come to preach repentance.
Moses writes of the Shemites: “21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram.”[xii] Shem is immediately noted as the father of all the children of Eber because Eber is the progenitor of Abram and the originator of the Hebrew race and language. It is through Abram that Noah’s blessing of Shem becomes reality. Ultimately “Abram the Hebrew” (14: 13) shared descent from Eber through Peleg as the genealogy from Shem to Abram will show (11:16-26). It is through Abram that Noah’s blessing of Shem would be ultimately realized.[xiii]
Shem’s five sons form the Semitic people of the ancient Near-East. Elam’s descendants lived between the Medes to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south. Asshur’s descendants were the Assyrians in northern Mesopotamia. Arpachshad was the father of the Chaldeans in southern Mesopotamia. Lud’s descendants were the Lydians of Asia Minor. And the Arameans dwelled in today’s Syria.[xiv]
WE ARE THE WORLD
Moses’ Table of Nations is his picture of how God fulfilled his command to Noah to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”[xv] The Table concludes with these grand words, “32 These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.”[xvi] It was from these people and places that human beings once again spread out over the whole earth – to every continent and island. Populations migrated over time moving from places of scarce resources to greater resources. Wars and weather patterns and the need to discover what lay beyond the horizon drove humans to expand their range. Of course, we shall learn in chapter 11, this expansion came only after God gently prodded stubborn humanity to disperse.
The overarching truth Moses wants his readers to know is that humanity has a common ancestry. All humanity is interrelated. Every human, regardless of our particular shade of skin, eye color, hair color, regardless of our language, regardless of our culture, was made in the image of God and has a unified lineage through Adam and Noah. Our DNA comes from the same source. The Table of Nations is bedrock theology for the Children of Israel who are supposed to be a light to the Gentiles that are promised blessing through Abraham the ancestor of the Promised Seed. It’s a reminder that they are not special for any other reason than God sovereignly chose to set his loyalty love upon them and preserve them as a people built around his promise of the Seed of the Woman (Gen. 3:15). It’s a reminder for us that in Adam we are all losers, not one of us better than the next. It suggests to us a mantra the Israelites (and most of us most of the time) forget:
- We are ALL broken messes.
- Our future is brighter than we can imagine.
- ANYONE can get in on this!
The Table of Nations also teaches that every human being derives existence only from the power of God. Paul used this truth of bedrock theology when he spoke at the Areopagus of Athens, calling the idol worshipping Athenians to worship the One True Creator God:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ [xvii]
Remember what the first part of the mantra from the Table teaches us? “We are all broken messes.” While all people of the world are united in the common fatherhood of Adam and Noah and by their responsibility to their Creator, we are also all divided by sin. We are united in our humanity. We are divided by the condition of our sin. All we have to do is turn on the news to know how divided humanity is because of our sinful condition and the work of the evil one and his minions. We are all, by nature, divided from God. When Adam rebelled against God’s law, heaven and earth were torn apart; two perfect and perfectly united things were unnaturally divided.
What hope is there for a humanity so fundamentally united and yet so deeply divided? It’s found in the bedrock theology of Genesis. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve suffered division from God and each other through their sin, and God responded to Satan with an oracle that promised that one of her offspring would undo the devil’s work by crushing his head:[xviii]
I will put enmity between you and the woman, /and between your offspring and her offspring; /he shall bruise your head, /and you shall bruise his heel. [xix]
You may recall how we saw last week that, even without the influence of an evil and demonized culture around them, Noah and Ham were perfectly capable of (and very, very good at) sinning. We all sin just fine on our own without any encouragement from any other human being. The sin that the Family Noah carried with them across the chaotic waters in their ark-kingdom blossomed along with the plants of the new earth and divided their family just as it divides mankind today. And there is only one way toward uniting humanity to God and one another.
God’s oracle to the devil described how Christ will crush Satan’s head through Christ’s death, glorious resurrection, and ascension into the heavenly throne room. The only hope for Adam and Eve, who were so sundered from God and each other (and from the whole world, which would be likewise divided), is through the line of Seth, the offspring of Adam and Eve— and ultimately through Jesus Christ. How God preserved this unbroken line to Christ through primeval and patriarchal history is one of the great themes of Genesis played out in a series of dramas where the covenant line was almost wiped out by Satanic opposition and then saved by events both outlandish and awe-inspiring.[xx]
Remember the second line of the mantra the multiplication table suggests? “Our future is brighter than we can imagine.” The only way we can begin to understand our bright future is to apprehend what Adam and Eve lost: unbroken, perfect fellowship with their Covenant-Creator God. Their greatest sense of wholeness came from walking with God in their perfect garden-temple in the land of Eden. That’s why they were created – to enjoy perfect and eternal friendship with their Creator. But when they willingly broke that relationship and sat down to a sacramental meal with the devil to celebrate their new-found independence, they lost even the sense of how self-centered, how curved inward upon themselves they had become. That’s why our future is greater than we can imagine – our self-focus always clouds our God-focus requiring us to trust what God promises to restore.
God is calling people out from among that vast and ever-multiplying Table of Nations to come into his perfect, eternal garden-temple-kingdom – into a future of living the way we were created to live, into the bliss of walking with Messiah Jesus without the constant weight of sin and with the eternal weight of glory. John the Revelator writes of this new and eternal garden-temple-kingdom:
And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. [xxi]
To the extent you trust that bright future to be true, you will be anxious to see a vast number from that ever-multiplying Table of Nations come into Messiah Jesus’ Kingdom because, “ANYBODY can get in on this!”
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.[xxii]
[i] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 10:1–5.
[ii] Hughes, 157. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Boice, 402.
[v] Waltke and Fredricks, 161.
[vi] Id., 164.
[vii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 10:2–5.
[viii] Hughes, 157. Kindle Edition.
[ix] Boice, 403.
[x] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 10:6–12.
[xi] Hughes, 157-158. Kindle Edition.
[xii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 10:21–22.
[xiii] Hughes, 158. Kindle Edition.
[xv] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 9:1.
[xvi] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 10:32.
[xvii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 17:22–28.
[xviii] Hughes, 159. Kindle Edition.
[xix] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 3:15.
[xx] Hughes, op. cit.
[xxi] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 21:22–27.
[xxii] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 3:16–18.