Genesis 10 - The Table of Nations
The tenth chapter of Genesis . . . stands absolutely alone in ancient literature, without a remote parallel, even among the Greeks, where we find the closest approach to a distribution of peoples in genealogical framework . . . The Table of Nations remains an astonishing accurate document. (William F. Albright, cited in Boice)
A. The descendants of Japheth.
1. (1) The three sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
2. (2) The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.
a. Japheth is the father of the Indo-European peoples: those stretching from India to the shores of Western Europe, all linked by linguistic similarities which seem invisible to the layman but are obvious to the linguist.
b. From Gomer come the Germanic peoples, from whom come most of the original peoples of Western Europe: the original French, Spanish, and Celtic settlers.
c. Three of Japheth's sons, Magog, Tubal, and Meshech, settled in the far north of Europe and became the Russian peoples.
d. From Madai, the son of Japheth, come the ancient Medes, and populated what are now Iran and Iraq. The peoples of India also came from this branch of Japheth's family.
e. From Javan, the son of Japheth, come the ancient Greeks, whose sea-faring ways are described in verse 5.
3. (3) The sons of Gomer.
a. From Ashkenaz, the son of Gomer, come the peoples who settled north of Judea into what we call the Fertile Crescent.
b. From Togarmah, the son of Gomer, come the Armenians.
4. (4-5) The sons of Javan (the ancient Greeks).
a. Geographic names that spring from these names in this chapter abound. Linguists have no trouble seeing the connection between Kittim and Cyprus, Rodanim and Rhodes, Gomer and Germany, Meschech and Moscow, Tubal and Tobolsk.
B. The descendants of Ham.
1. (6) The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan.
a. From Ham come the peoples who populated Africa and the Far East.
b. The family of Cush apparently divided. Some founded Babylon (notably, Nimrod), and others went and founded Ethiopia.
c. Mizraim is a Biblical reference to Egypt. Put refers to Libya, the region of North Africa west of Egypt. Canaan refers to the peoples who originally settled the land we today think of as Israel and its surrounding regions.
2. (7-12) The sons of Cush.
a. One son of Cush worthy of note is Nimrod. He was a mighty one on the earth, but not in a good way. He ruled over Babel, which was the first organized rebellion of humans against God. The name Nimrod itself means, "let us rebel."
b. In this context, the phrase Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord is not complimentary. The idea is that Nimrod was an offense before the face of God.
i. "This is not talking about Nimrod's ability to hunt wild game. He was not a hunter of animals. He was a hunter of men - a warrior. It was through his ability to fight and kill and rule ruthlessly that his kingdom of the Euphrates valley city states was consolidated." (Boice)
ii. A Jerusalem Targum says: "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!' Therefore it is said: 'As Nimrod the strong one, strong in hunting, and in wickedness before the Lord.'"
c. Ginzberg quotes from a Jewish legend: "The great success that attended all of Nimrod's undertakings produced a sinister effect. Men no longer trusted in God, but rather in their own prowess and ability, an attitude to which Nimrod tried to convert the whole world."
i. "Hence it is likely that Nimrod, having acquired power, used it in tyranny and oppression; and by rapine and violence founded the domination which was the first distinguished by the name of a kingdom on the face of the earth. How many kingdoms have been founded in the same way, in various ages and nations from that time to the present! From the Nimrods of the earth, God deliver the world!" (Clarke)
3. (13-14) The sons of Mizraim.
4. (15-19) The sons of Canaan.
a. The family of Sidon, the son of Canaan, went north and is related to the Hittites and Lebanese.
b. Many people believe the Oriental peoples descended from the Sinites.
5. (20) The spread of the descendants of Ham.
C. The descendants of Shem.
1. (21-22) The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram.
a. From Shem comes Elam, who was an ancestor to the Persian peoples; Asshur, who was the father of the Assyrians; Lud was father to the Lydians who lived for a time in Asia Minor; and Aram was father to the Arameans, who we also know as the Syrians. Arphaxad was the ancestor to Abram and the Hebrews.
2. (23) The sons of Aram.
a. Uz became a region in Arabia; later we know Job came from Uz (Job 1:1).
3. (24-30) The sons and descendants of Arphaxad.
a. The names under the son of Joktan (son of Eber, son of Salah, son of Arphaxad) are all associated with various Arabic peoples.
b. The one named Jobab in verse 29 may be the one we know of as Job in the Old Testament.
4. (31) The spread of the descendants of Shem.
5. (32) Summary statement: the nations after the flood.
a. "Hence one must consider this chapter of Genesis a mirror in which to discern that we human beings are, namely, creatures so marred by sin that we have no knowledge of our own origin, not even of God Himself, our Creator, unless the Word of God reveals these sparks of divine light to us from afar . . .. This knowledge the Holy Scriptures reveal to us. Those who are without them live in error, uncertainty, and boundless ungodliness; for they have no knowledge about who they are and whence they came." (Luther, cited in Boice)