“This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah’s sons, who themselves had sons after the flood” (Genesis 10:1).
Genesis chapter ten basically consists of a long line of family histories that follow the descendants of Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japeth. Everyone who is alive today, no matter what their race or culture, can trace their lineage back to one of these three people.
This chapter (along with chapter eleven) helps us to understand how the present day nations of the world originally came to be. Because of this, Genesis chapter ten contains what has come to be known as “The Table Of Nations.”
Many of Noah’s descendants are listed in Genesis chapter ten along with the cities they established, or those that were built by other descendants who came later. Now we’re not going to look at every single person mentioned in chapter; instead, we’ll do a overview of the people and places listed here to get a general idea of who ended up where.
The first guy mentioned in is Japeth’s son Gomer in verse two. Gomer is thought to be the ancestor of many people from western Europe and if your ancestry includes someone from France, Germany, or somewhere else in western Europe, then you are probably part of this family tree. (1)
Meshech is another name mentioned in verse two. The word “Moscow” is derived from the name Meshech (2) and if your ancestry descends from Russia, Poland, or other areas in eastern Europe, then chances are good that this guy is in your family tree.
Another person mentioned in verse two is Madai. Madai became the forerunner of the Medes of the ancient Persian Empire. They lived in what is now known today as the areas of Iran and Iraq. The peoples of India also came from this branch of Japheth’s family. So Japeth and his sons are the ancestors of what we would call the Indo-European group. (3)
Verse three mentions a man named Ashkenaz. One source tells us that Ashkenaz and his descendants first settled around the Black Sea and then moved north into a land that was called Ascenia. This area later became known as the Islands of Scandia, or Scandinavia as we know it today. (4) So if your heritage is from a Scandinavian country like Finland, Denmark, or Sweden, then this person is probably your distant relative. It is also possible that some people in this lineage also settled in Germany since the word Ashkenaz is a traditional Hebrew word for Germany. (5) Verse three also mentions a man named Togarmah who is thought to be the ancestor of the Turkish people. (6)
(1) David Guzik, Commentary On Genesis http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0110.htm
(2) Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record pg. 248 although this claim is disputed by some
(3) Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record pg. 248
(4) Ray C. Stedman, God’s Funnel http://www.raystedman.org/genesis/0331.html
(5) Fact Archive.com, Ashkenazi http://www.fact-archive.com/encyclopedia/Ashkenazi
(6) Institute For Creation Research, Defenders Bible Notes Genesis 10:3 http://www.icr.org/bible/Genesis/10/
In Genesis chapter ten, verses four to five (Genesis 10:4-5) we have the mention of a man named Javan and his sons. Javan is thought to be the forerunner of the people of ancient Greece. (1) Elishah, who is also mentioned in verse four, is believed to be the ancestor of the peoples of Sicily and Southern Italy. (2)
“The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan” (Genesis 10:6).
In Genesis 10:6, the attention shifts to his Noah’s middle son named Ham. These descendants of Ham later went on to become the forefathers of the peoples of Africa and the Far East. For example, Ham’s son Cush is generally associated with the peoples of the southern Middle East and Ethiopia. (3)
Mizraim is believed to be the ancestor of the Egyptian people (4) while Put is the ancestor of those people who settled in North Africa. (5) Canaan was the ancestor of the Canaanites who used that name to identify the land where they lived. This is the area of the world that we generally know as Israel today and the Canaanites are mentioned quite often later on in Old Testament history.
Genesis 10:8-12 then goes on to get into some detail about a man named Nimrod. Genesis 10:8 tells us that Nimrod grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth and there are many ancient legends regarding him. For example, one legend states that Nimrod was out hunting one day when a wild boar turned on him and killed him in a field. However, after three days, his life supposedly returned to him. So people began to celebrate his “resurrection” by coloring eggs and having festivities in the springtime of the year. This celebration was called “Ishtar” which eventually morphed into the word “Easter” that we’re familiar with today. So if you ever wondered where the tradition of coloring “easter eggs” came from, now you know. (6)
Anyway, one meaning of Nimrod’s name is “rebellion.” (7) and he went on to become the founder of what eventually became the Babylonian empire (Genesis 10:10). Nimrod is also sometimes associated with the effort to build the Tower of Babel that we’ll read about later in Genesis chapter eleven. (8)
Genesis 10:9 identifies Nimrod as “…a mighty hunter before the LORD” and an ancient Jewish commentary explains that statement like this: “He was powerful in hunting and in wickedness before the Lord, for he was a hunter of the sons of men, and he said to them, ‘Depart from the judgment of the Lord, and adhere to the judgment of Nimrod!'” (9) Another commentator says that, “It was through (Nimrod’s) ability to fight and kill and rule ruthlessly that his kingdom… was consolidated.” (10)
So it seems that Nimrod was a pretty bad guy who was attempting to set himself up in the place of God.
(1) “Javan” Easton’s Bible Dictionary http://www.bible-history.com/eastons/J/Javan/
(2) “Elishah” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
(3) “Cush (2)” Fausset’s Bible Dictionary
(4) “Mizraim” Unger’s Bible Dictionary
(5) Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record pg. 250
(6) See Chuck Smith, Commentary on Genesis 10-12 http://www.blueletterbible.org/commentaries/comm_view.cfm?AuthorID=1&contentID=4726&commInfo=25&topic=Genesis and Where did “Easter” get its name? Where did the concept of an Easter egg and bunny originate? http://christiananswers.net/q-eden/edn-t020.html
(7) “Nimrod” The Online Bible Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
(8) The ancient historian Flavius Josephus says this: “(Nimrod) also said he would be revenged on God, if he should have a mind to drown the world again; for that he would build a tower too high for the waters to be able to reach and that he would avenge himself on God for destroying their forefathers.” (Antiquities Of The Jews Book 1 4:2)
(10) James Montgomery Boice, quoted in Commentary On Genesis David Guzik http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/0110.htm
Genesis 10:14 mentions the Casluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Genesis 10:15 mentions another group known as the Hittites. Verse sixteen then goes on to talk about three other groups known as the Jebusites, Amorites, and Girgashites. All five of these people groups would eventually go on to battle it out with the nation of Israel later on in the Old Testament.
Now so far, we’ve discussed the general origins of many people groups from many geographical regions. For instance, we’ve talked the ancestors of the people from western and eastern Europe. We’ve talked about the people who originally populated the area of Russia and the Scandinavian countries. We’ve also looked at the origins of people from India, Africa, and the Middle East.
However, there are two large geographic areas that we haven’t yet covered. These two areas are far away from each other but may be closer than you think- and the people who originally lived in these areas may have a common ancestor.
One clue that indicates this possibility is mentioned in Genesis 10:17 where a people group known as the Sinities are mentioned. You see, this prefix “sin” (pronounced “sy”) is used as an identifier for the people of China to this very day.
For example, the border between China and the Soviet Union during the 1960’s and 1970’s wasn’t called “the border between China and the Soviet Union.” It was called the “Sino-Soviet” border. Diplomatic relationships between China and the United States (for example) are called “Sino-American relations.” Another example is found in the word “sinology” which is a word that relates to the study of Chinese culture. So it’s very possible that Genesis 10:17 is speaking of those who went on to become the forerunners of the people who live in the area of modern day China.
Genesis 10:18-19 then goes on to tell us that “Later the Canaanite clans scattered” and gives a few examples of how far they had gone up to that time. This is the only people group mentioned in Genesis 10 that specifically packed up and moved on during this period and it may imply that these groups ended up going a lot further than anyone else.
Like where? Well, like maybe across the land bridge that is thought to have once existed across the Bering Straits and then moving down into North and South America. If this is the case, then it means that the modern day Inuit and Native American people groups along with the original inhabitants of Mexico, Central America, and South America all share a common ancestry that started with Noah’s son Ham.
“Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber” (Genesis 10:21).
The name of Noah’s son Shem provides us with the origin of the term “Semitic.” (1) This word is a term that generally identifies people who live in the Near East and it has come to be largely associated with the Jewish people in particular. (2) The word “Hebrew” is derived from the name of Eber who is also mentioned here in Genesis 10:21. (3)
“The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram” (Genesis 10:22).
Elam is thought to be the ancestor of the Persian peoples, a people group that is generally associated with the people who live in the area of Iran today. (4) Asshur went on to become the forerunner of the Assyrians, a group that was especially known in the Old Testament world for their violence and ruthlessness. (5)
Genesis chapter eleven will later go on to identify Arphaxad as an ancestor of Abram (also known as Abraham- see Genesis 11:10-27). Abram will eventually become a very important person in the Scriptures and we’ll begin looking at the events of his life starting in Genesis chapter twelve.
Aram was the predecessor of the Arameans, a people group that is also associated with the area of Syria. (6) Their language was Aramaic, a language that was well-known and widely used up until around the time of Jesus. In fact, some portions of the Old Testament were written in Aramaic. (7)
In Genesis 10:25 we read that, “Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided…” This comment about the “earth’s division” almost certainly refers to what happens next in Genesis chapter eleven when God starts dividing people up into different language groups. However, it’s also interesting to note that Peleg’s name means “division,” (8) “earthquake,” (9) or “watercourse.” (10)
Back in the days of the Old Testament, people would sometimes name their children after a significant event that had occurred around the time of their birth. This has lead people to speculate that the land area of the earth may have been much more of a single mass that somehow separated around the time of Peleg’s birth. If this is the case, then it means that Peleg may have been born around the time when the land areas of Earth began to look more like the major continents that we are familiar today.
Now it’s important to recognize that this theory represents nothing more than a guess that’s based on this comment in Genesis 10:25. (11) However, if this theory is correct, then it means that this portion of the Bible is making a reference to the idea of “Continental Drift” thousands of years before the term was even invented.
(1) “Semites, Semitic Religion” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
(2) As in the term “anti-semitic” for example
(3) A Commentary on the Old and New Testaments by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown, Genesis 10:21
(4) Hallman, Bob The Genealogy Of The Nations http://www.calvarykauai.org/pdfs/genesis_pdf/gen_10_notes.pdf
(5) “Archaeologists have discovered that the Assyrians were merciless and savage people. The Assyrian army was ruthless and effective. Its cruelty included burning cities, burning children, impaling victims on stakes, beheading, and chopping off hands.” (“Assyria” Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Copyright © 1986, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
(6) “Aram” New Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Originally published by Moody Press of Chicago, Illinois. Copyright © 1988
(7) Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record pg. 259
(8) “Peleg” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Brown Driver & Briggs Hebrew Lexicon
(9) “Peleg” New Exhaustive Strong’s Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary
(10) “Peleg” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (ISBE)
(11) “Some creationists propose a form of continental break-up after the flood, in the days of Peleg. This again would mean several centuries for animals to disperse, in this instance without the necessity of land-bridges. However, continental break-up in the time of Peleg is not widely accepted in creationist circles.” (How did animals get from the Ark to isolated places, such as Australia? ChristianAnswers.Net http://christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c006.html?zoom_highlight=peleg)
So Genesis 10:32 finishes up by saying this…
“These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.”
While it may be tempting to speed past this genealogy full of unpronounceable names, this list is significant because every person who is alive today is related to someone who is listed in Genesis chapter 10. This means that someone in Genesis chapter 10 was helping to write your history with their life- and they didn’t even know it.
This also illustrates why your own life has meaning and importance today. You see, you are also writing history every day, just like the people that we read about in Genesis chapter 10. The choices that you make, the things that you say, and the actions that you take (or fail to take) are all becoming a part of your history and the history of others. This is one reason why the New Testament book of Ephesians says, “…be very careful how you live. Don’t live like foolish people but like wise people. Make the most of your opportunities because these are evil days. So don’t be foolish, but understand what the Lord wants” (Ephesians 5:15-18 GW).
Genesis 10 reminds us that your life has meaning and importance because you influence the lives and destinies of others by the things you say and do. For example, those “others” may include your friends at school, the people that you work with, a girlfriend, a boyfriend, a teammate, or a member of your family. You are also leaving a legacy for those who follow you and your choices today will help shape and influence future generations as well- just like the people that we read about in Genesis chapter ten.
You may not believe that your life counts for very much, but the truth is that the things you say (or don’t say) and the things you do (or don’t do) affect your life and the lives of others every day. That’s why today (and every day) has meaning -both now and in eternity. Perhaps this is why Romans 2:6-8 reminds us that, “God will reward each of us for what we have done. He will give eternal life to everyone who has patiently done what is good in the hope of receiving glory, honor, and life that lasts forever. But he will show how angry and furious he can be with every selfish person who rejects the truth and wants to do evil” (CEV).
So your life matters to God and you are writing history every day. The question is, “what kind of history are you writing today?”