New European Commentary


About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan

Deeper Commentary


10:1 Now this is the history of the generations of the sons of Noah and of Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood- Thoughtful readers of Genesis must have wondered at the rubric "Now these are the generations of...". This phrase, the toledoth [Hebrew for "generations"] formula, is used to introduce both genealogies and also narratives. Why not say "Now this is the story / account / history of Joseph"? Why describe a narrative as a genealogy? Why preface genealogies and narrative histories as if they are one and the same? I suggest that the inspired writer of the Bible's opening book wished to establish the point that history gives birth to the future, history is pregnant, and not dry, dead and finished. And God's history especially demonstrates that the "generations" somehow repeat themselves over history, in that situations and character types recur over time in a Divinely planned manner.

It has  been observed that in none of the flood myths is there anything like the table of nations of Gen. 10, which seeks to explain how the area affected by the flood was subsequently repopulated. However, the 70 peoples mentioned in Gen. 10 are clearly meant to be understood as representative of the wholeness of peoples. The point is being made that all tribal groups have one common origin, either in Adam or in one of Noah’s sons. Remember that Moses was writing against a background of tribalism, where groups were persuaded that their group alone was the master race, and all foreigners were to be despised. The value of persons inspired by the Genesis record rose far above this petty tribalism. And for all our apparent sophistication, it’s evident that our world is just as much full of tribalism as it ever was.

The surrounding myths all emphasize how depleted humanity after the flood started to re-grow in size by miraculous means- the Atrahasis Epic claims that magic incantations of the god Ea over 14 lumps of clay gave birth to many new humans after the flood; the Greek flood tradition asserts that Deucalion threw stones which turned into men. The Biblical record states simply and realistically how the population re-grew through natural procreation.

Gen. 10 lists 70 nations- see on Ex. 24:9-11. Luke records that the Lord sent out 72 preachers (Lk. 10:1). The Jews understood that there were 72 nations in the world, based on the LXX of Gen. 10. Surely Luke’s point is that they went only to the Jews, thus highlighting the gap between the disciples’ understanding at the time, and the Lord’s further reaching intention of a mission to the Gentiles.

After the flood, we come to the record of Babel. This is prefaced by some genealogies. The record speaks as if Shem, Ham and Japheth were the only people living on ‘earth’. Once we take this to mean ‘the land’, things are much easier. These three men were ancestors of the Middle Eastern races [as provable within the pages of the Bible itself], but not of any others. The idea that the black peoples descended from Ham / Canaan and were to be servants is sadly a 19th century piece of racism, that has far too much acceptance in our community. The tension between the children of  Shem and Canaan has been worked out between the Jews and Canaanites, not white and black. The Canaanites which we read of in the Bible as dwelling in the land were quite simply the descendants of Canaan / Ham. Interestingly, we read of men like Magog, Gomer, Meshech, Tarshish, Asshur, Elam, Aram… all of which occur in prophecies like Ezekiel 38, as the latter day enemies of Israel. The origin of these peoples is not in Eurasia; they are the ‘people of the land’, the neighbours and relatives of Israel. The peoples of the land spoke one language in the sense that they all had the same intentions- to build a tower, and live together in one place, in Babylon / Babel. Previously we have been informed that the sons of Noah were divided “in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families” (Gen. 10:5,31). So when in chapter 11 we are told that they had “one language” this must refer to their unity of intent rather than them all using the same lexical items. They were scattered from Babylon / Babel into all parts of the land [i.e. that promised to Abraham]. The descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth weren’t literally scattered into the whole planet. If the flood was local, then there would have been plenty of other people alive in other parts of the planet.

Gen. 12:1-3, the promises to Abraham, has a clear connection with the language repeatedly found in the table of nations in Gen. 10. "Country" (:1), "peoples" (:3), "nation" (:2) and "people/ race" (:1) are terms used throughout Gen. 10. The idea seems to be that all those nations are listed in Genesis 10 in order to help us understand what God promised Abraham. He was promised the inheritance of all the people, nations, countries and races of Gen. 10.

10:2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras- These and other names here occur in the list of nations in Ez. 38 who will invade Israel in the latter days, and we see that they are therefore all within the territory of the eretz promised to Abraham. And that is precisely the situation we see developing there today. The idea that "Japheth" refers to western Europe is mere fancy; the context here clearly explains that these are the nations living in the eretz. "Madai" refers to the Medes. "Tiras" is Tyre; and clearly Meshech refers to an area within the eretz and not to Moscow; and likewise with Tubal.

We note that out of Noah's three sons, fewest descendants are listed for Japheth. And there is no suggestion in this genealogy that they lived "in the tents of Shem", as Noah had predicted in his half drunken cursing of Ham and blessing of Japheth. This would suggest that his cursings were just that, the cursings of a man awaking with a hangover... and are not to be taken as actual prophecies of the future relationships between the sons.

10:3 The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah- Ashkenaz was one of the nations which overthrew Babylon (Jer. 51:27). Again, we're dealing with a people within the eretz and not outside of it. I would argue that the Bible has very little to specifically say about the peoples beyond the eretz.

10:4 The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim- Tarshish is a relative of Togarmah (:3), Meshech and Tubal (:2). This confirms my suggestion on Ez. 38 that Tarshish is with the other invaders and not against them. Tarshish may be another name for Tyre. The Tel Amarna tablets mention some of these names as peoples in the eretz promised to Abraham.

10:5 Of these were the islands of the nations divided in their lands, everyone after his language, after their families, in their nations- The same idea of nations, languages and families is found in Rev. 5:9 and Rev. 7:9; the converts from them may refer therefore to latter day converts made within the eretz from all the nations and families found there. "The islands" is an idiom and not to be taken literally. Some interpret it as meaning a people who could be reached by sea, or "coastlands". But not all the nations listed inhabited coastlands, and so I don't find this satisfactory. "Islands" is literally "spots", we might better understand it as meaning simply "locations". The same Hebrew word is translated "country" in  Jer. 47:4, and is parallel with "places" in Zeph. 2:11. Is. 11:11 lists a number of nations and summarizes them as being "the isles". And Is. 20:6 apparently speaks of the inhabitants of Jerusalem as "the inhabitants of this isle", meaning 'this place'. "The isles" are "the ends of the land", the areas on the borders of the eretz, in Is. 41:5.

It's possible that :5 refers to all the descendants of Noah; that they were the sole origin of the nations in the eretz. But it could also be that :5 refers specifically to how Japheth was indeed "enlarged" and spread abroad as defined here.

10:6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan- The Canaanites were therefore under Noah's curse to be subservient to Shem. But as discussed on Gen. 9, it's hard to know whether to take Noah's cursings as any more than the cursings of a man awaking from a drunken stupor.

Pan-Arabism will in the end come to its full term (however short-lived), in the final invasion of Israel. The Hebrew word translated “Libya” is also translated “Phut” or “Put”, which was another name for Libya in Bible times. “Mizraim” likewise is the Biblical name for Egypt. Significantly, Phut, Mizraim and Canaan were brothers (Gen. 10:6). There is therefore a strong and valid idea of Arab brotherhood between the Palestinian Arabs [i.e. the Arabs living in Canaan or the land of Israel] and the Arabs of Libya, Egypt and the other countries in the surrounding Arab world. The Babylonian invasion of Judah was a type of the invasion of Israel by latter day ‘Babylon’, which will bring on the return of Christ. But this invasion [as at the time of the Assyrian invasion of Israel] was really by a confederacy of nations- including the Ethiopians, Lydians, Egyptians and Libyans (Jer. 46:8,9 cp. Nahum 3:9). And history will repeat itself- in that these nations along with Babylon will invade Israel in the last days. But where history shall stop, the red line of human time come to a terminus, will be in the simple fact that this time, the Lord Jesus shall return to earth to establish God’s Kingdom here.

10:7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan- Sheba and Dedan are found in Ez. 38 as amongst the enemies of Israel in the last days; see on Ez. 38:13. The impression is given that all the nations surrounding Israel in the eretz, descendants of all three sons of Noah, will invade her in the last days.

10:8 Cush became the father of Nimrod. He began to be a mighty one in the land- Nimrod founded Babel or Babylon (:10). The "top" or rosh of the Babel tower was to reach to heaven; as in Ez. 38:2, the rosh refers to a person who was being elevated, and we assume this person was Nimrod. Ham and his descendants were not therefore black Africans, as proposed by 19th century racist theologians. The connection is clearly with the "mighty ones" of Gen. 6:4, for whose sake the earth was destroyed by the flood. Again, the potential for restoring Eden was messed up by human dysfunction. The term is used of the 'mighty ones' of Canaan who were to be subdued (Josh. 6:2; Jud. 5:13,23). Israel in the wilderness listening to Moses' teaching would have learnt that there had been 'mighty ones in the land', the very land they were now approaching, who likewise would ultimately come to nothing.

10:9 He was a mighty hunter before Yahweh. Therefore it is said, Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before Yahweh- Nimrod "the mighty hunter against the Lord" (Heb.) uses a word related to 'Gibbor', the title of Christ used in Is. 9:6. Nimrod appears to be a prototype anti-God and anti-Christ, and for this he was well known even then. Gen. 10:10,11 shows his characteristic of building cities in the Babylon/Assyria area. Seeing that "the beginning of his kingdom was Babel" (Gen. 10:10), it is not unreasonable to assume that when "a man said to his neighbour, Go to, let us make brick" to build the tower of Babel, this is in fact referring to Nimrod (Gen. 11:3 A.V. mg.).  

10:10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar- Nimrod was therefore the instigator of the Babel building we read of in chapter 11. Perhaps the allusion is to how God created "in the beginning" (s.w.), as if Nimrod tried to make a new creation of his own device. We can therefore assume that idea of Babel, of building a ziggurat to reach heaven, began with Nimrod. In Is. 14, another king of Babylon says the same: "Thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:  I will sit also in the mount of the congregation (i.e. the temple mount), in the sides of the north (Jerusalem, Ps. 48:2)... yet thou shalt be brought down... that (his children) do not possess the land, nor fill the face of the world with cities" (Is. 14:13,14,15,21). This last phrase is definitely alluding to the record of Nimrod's city building program as detailed in Gen. 10:9-11. This "king of Babylon" of Is. 14 can refer with equal relevance to either Nebuchadnezzar or Sennacherib,, both of whose invasions of Israel are typical of that which is to occur in the last days. 

Again we note that all these places were within the eretz promised to Abraham (e.g. Calneh is a place in Assyria, see Is. 10:9; Am. 6:2).

10:11 Out of that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah- The going out of the land of Shinar (:10) presumably refers to how Nimrod's intention to build Babel was thwarted, and from there he went away from the area (he was scattered away from it, Gen. 11:8) and built Nineveh, as a kind of replacement Babel. The AV reads "Out of that land went forth Asshur". The reference could therefore be to the son of Shem who had this same name (:22). In this case the point would be that the descendants of Shem and Ham committed apostacy together, lending weight to my suggestion on chapter 9 that Noah's cursing of Ham was but the ravings of an angry man awaking with a hangover.

10:12 And Resen between Nineveh and Calah (the same is the great city)- There is nothing much known about Resen or Calah; yet one or both of them merits the title "the great city". Perhaps this title was because, as noted on :11, Nimrod had been seeking to rebuild Babel there. The same Hebrew term "great city" is used of the cities of Canaan which the Israelites who first heard this Mosaic history were intended to conquer (Num. 13:28).

10:13 Mizraim- This is the usual word for "Egypt". The eretz extended to the river of Egypt, and so we can assume that this person lived in Egypt east of the Nile, rather than referring to "Egypt" as it is now defined.

Became the father of Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim- Anamim may be related to the "anakim", the giant people who inhabited Canaan. Again we can discern how Moses was producing this material with the primary intention of explaining to Israel the origin of the peoples they were to encounter in Canaan. These people were mere men, descendants from the same Noah whom they too were descended from; and whatever their size or physical features, they were not to be unduly feared. We note the absence of Divine names in nearly all the descendants of Noah here listed; in contrast to the way that they feature in the names of those before the flood. The impression we get is that Noah's descendants failed to keep the faith, until it had totally died out and God called Abram and revealed Himself to him.

10:14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (which the Philistines descended from), and Caphtorim- As noted on :13, one primary intention of this genealogy was to assure Israel that the enemies they were encountering in the eretz, such as the Philistines, were mere men; there was nothing superhuman about them.

10:15 Canaan became the father of Sidon (his firstborn), Heth- Sidon is known as a town in northern Palestine. Constantly, we encounter evidence that this genealogy describes the peoples of the eretz promised to Abraham. Heth likewise lived in the land of Canaan (Gen. 25:3).

10:16 The Jebusite, the Amorite, the Girgashite- The Jebusites inhabited Jerusalem (2 Sam. 24:18), and so often the Hivites, Jebusites and Amorites are spoken of as the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. There is no way that Canaan therefore refers to Africa and negroid peoples.

10:17 The Hivite, the Arkite, the Sinite- These were the tribes through whom the Israelites would've travelled on their wilderness journeys; the Sinites lives around mount Sinai. Moses is providing historical and geographical context for the Israelites.

10:18 The Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were spread abroad- The same word is used for how the builders of Babel feared being "spread abroad" (Gen. 11:8), and yet they were "spread abroad" after the confusion of languages (Gen. 11:9). Again this is evidence that the genealogy of chapter 10 is descriptive of what came to pass after the Babel incident in chapter 11. We read there of how the situation in chapter 10 came about; see on :20. The same word is frequently translated "scattered", and usually refers to Divine judgment. So we could read this as meaning that the Canaanites were scattered, spread abroad, after Babel, in judgment for wanting to resist that judgment; and for wanting to build the blasphemous ziggurat, a massive temple system intending to place themselves as God Himself. There is reason to think that in the last days a similar structure will be built by the same ethnic groups in the same land... and likewise judged.

If we include Canaan himself, we have from :15-18 a description of 12 tribes of Canaan. They were a fake, imitation Israel; and were to be superseded by the 12 tribes of Israel.

10:19 The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon, as you go toward Gerar, to Gaza; as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, to Lasha- This note is included to demonstrate how 'their' land was to be later promised to Abraham.

10:20 These are the sons of Ham, after their families, after their languages, in their lands, in their nations- As noted on :18, we are reading here of a situation which came about as a result of the judgment on Babel. For here we read of division according to their languages; and this was achieved through the judgment upon the Babel builders in chapter 11. We can conclude that the builders of Babel were all the peoples listed in chapter 10, who as a result of Babel were divided according to different languages.

10:21 To Shem, the father of all the children of Eber- "Eber" is understood as the root of the word "Hebrew". The idea can be 'one who crosses over', which is one of the basic characteristics of all God's people.

The elder brother of Japheth, to him also were children born- Shem, Ham and Japheth are described as all being born in the same year; perhaps Shem was the eldest because he came out first. Or maybe the curse of Noah upon Ham and Canaan was a way of giving the right of the firstborn to Shem, although he may not have been the firstborn at birth.

10:22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram- Wherever these peoples later lived, they were at this time all within the eretz promised to Abraham.

10:23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash- "Aram" is the word usually translated "Syria". Job lived in the land of Uz. "Mash" is "Meshech" in 1 Chron. 1:17; the Meshech of Ez. 38 is to be interpretted as some people within the eretz promised to Abraham.

10:24 Arpachshad became the father of Shelah. Shelah became the father of Eber- "Shelah" like most of the names in this genealogy has a rather negative spiritual meaning; in this case, "missile". The impression given is that spirituality died out over these generations, until God started again with the call of Abram.

10:25 To Eber were born two sons. The name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided. His brother’s name was Joktan- This "division" refers not to plate tectonics, but to the division of the earth according to language which we will read of in chapter 11. Several times here in chapter 10, we find reference to the division which is described in chapter 11. The division of the eretz at Babel is therefore presented here as occurring four generations after the flood; although the Biblical genealogies frequently skip generations, and in this case, they must be compared with the information provided in 1 Chronicles.

10:26 Joktan became the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah- More sons of Joktan are recorded than for any other in this genealogy. Yet his name means "made little"; perhaps we are to understand that the one who was somehow made little was the one who became great, in terms of descendants.

10:27 Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah- "Hadoram" meaning "high place", we again get the impression of unspirituality amongst these peoples. I have mentioned that this genealogy is explaining how indeed the descendants of Noah were scattered throughout the eretz promised to Abraham after Babel; where they later may have migrated to isn't in view here. But it is also noteworthy that the children of Joktan would appear to be located in the Arabian peninsular and what is now Yemen. The southern borders of the eretz are hard to define; perhaps we are to include these areas within it.

10:28 Obal, Abimael, Sheba- Most commentaries focus upon where these tribes ended up living later. But let's remember that we are here reading of how the descendants of Noah were scattered throughout the eretz promised to Abraham after the events of Babel. Where they may have migrated to afterwards is not what is in view here.

10:29 Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan- There is a "Havilah" in :7, which may suggest that the lines of Ham and Joktan intermarried. This again would be evidence that the curses of Noah didn't come into effect; for he presupposed that the lines of descent from his sons would be distinct, especially between Ham and the others. According to LXX notes, this "Jobab" is the Job of the book of Job.

10:30 Their dwelling was from Mesha, as you go toward Sephar, the mountain of the east- This could as well be translated "the mountain of ancient time". Perhaps the contrast is with Mount Zion; this was perhaps a centre of idolatry.

10:31 These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their languages, in their lands, after their nations- As noted on :18, the point is being made that the splitting up of the families was on the basis of language; and chapter 11 will explain how that came about. Chapter 11 is not therefore strictly chronological, but as often in the Hebrew Bible, a step backwards to explain how a situation just described has come about. The way that language differences were eclipsed within the true Israel by the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost is another case of where the Genesis curses for disobedience are mitigated for God's people.

10:32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations. Of these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood- As noted on :18, we have here a description of the scattered abroad ["divided"] descendants of Noah in the eretz, but now in chapter 11 we will read how that division or scattering abroad came about- through the division of languages at Babel.