Lessons from the Nations

Genesis 10

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
January 2015

Today, we come to our second genealogy in the Book of Genesis.  It contains a long list of names.  I may have mispronounced some of these names but that is not a big deal, because they are not around to correct me.  Some of these names are quite funny.  Are names would be just as funny to the ancients.  We have some funny names, like Harry, Gaye and Snooki.

Let’s be honest.  This is not one of the most exciting chapters in the Bible.  It seems as exciting as reading out of the phone book.  Certainly, no one would call this their favorite chapter in the Bible.  It does not seem very practical.  How is reading this ancient list of names going to change your life?

People say that the Bible is not boring.  This chapter seems to put people right to sleep.  I would be that probably most people who say that they read the whole Bible probably did not read this entire chapter.  They just skimmed through it.  You have to have a Ph.D. just to pronounce some of these names.

On the surface, it seems like this chapter is not too important.  Many would just skip it and go to the next one.  Many pastors would never even try to preach from Genesis 10.  They like to preach to people’s needs.  It is called “needs based preaching.”  That raises an important question.

Why should we study this chapter?  How is this chapter relevant to us?  There are two reasons.  One, most people are interested in their roots.  They want to know who their ancestors were.  This chapter tells you. Everyone in the world today is a descendant of Noah.  This chapter tells you how you are related to Noah.  Noah had three sons.

Noah had three sons – Shem, Ham and Japheth or Yapheth in Hebrew (Hebrew does not have a J sound).  Noah must NOT have been Jewish because he named one of his sons Ham and Jews don’t eat ham.  After the Flood, there were eight people on the earth.  Everyone else died in the Flood.  The world was repopulated from Noah’s three sons.  Noah was the ancestor of the Jews but he was not Jewish.

Genesis 9:18-19 says, “Now the sons of Noah who went out of the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the whole earth was populated.”  Genesis 10:32 says, “These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.”

Every single person on the planet today goes back to one of Noah’s three sons.  All seven billion people on the planet today go back to one of these three sons.  Most people in this room are descendants of Japheth.  He was the father of the Europeans.  I am a descendant of two of Noah’s sons.  I am a descendant of both Shem (Noah’s oldest son) and Japheth (Noah’s youngest son).  My dad was Jewish and so were his ancestors.  I am a descendant of Shem on my father’s side and of Japheth on my mother’s side.

There is a second reason that we should study this chapter.  It is in the Bible.  It is inspired.  Paul said that “all Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”.  That is II Timothy 3:16.  He did NOT say that much of the Bible is inspired or most of it is inspired.  He said that ALL of it is inspired and is useful.  Every word matters.  Genesis 10 is in the Bible.  Therefore, it is inspired and must be useful in some way.  There are some important lessons that we learn from this chapter, which we will look at.

This chapter demonstrates the need for expository preaching.  Expository preaching is when you go chapter by chapter and book by book through the Bible.  Now there’s nothing wrong with topical preaching but when you do expository preaching, you are exposed to the whole counsel of God, not just the parts of the Bible that you like.  We all have our favorite parts of the Bible.  We have our favorite passages, and our favorite books.  Everyone does.

It is very easy as Christians to get imbalanced.  We emphasize one portion of Scripture, like the Gospels or the Psalms or we preach our favorite topics in the Bible (e.g., prophecy or spiritual gifts) but we completely neglect other topics and other passages of Scripture.  This is a major problem in the church today.

I have been in many churches where the pastor says the same thing week after week.  Nothing changes.  When you do expository preaching, the agenda for preaching comes right out of the text.  The point of the passage becomes the point of the sermon.  Since the Bible is God’s Word, we are getting God’s thoughts, not our thoughts.

The Uniqueness of this Chapter

This chapter gives us two things.  It gives us the descendants of Noah’s sons.  It also gives us a list of nations.  It is not only a list of descendants.  It is a list of nations.  Genesis 10 is called The Table of Nations.

It also gives us the origin of nations.  It gives us the birth of nations.  This is the first time we see nations.  Before Genesis 10, there were no nations.  There were cities before this (cf. 4:17) but no nations.  This chapter lists about 70 nations and tells us where they came from.  That makes this chapter unique. There is no other historical document like Genesis 10.  It stands alone in the world of literature.

These 70 nations came from Noah’s three sons.  Fourteen nations came from Japheth.  Thirty nations came from Ham and twenty six came from Shem but there is something different in this chapter.  The order of Noah’s sons in the Bible is always Shem, Ham and Japheth.  That is always the order in Scripture.  That is NOT the order in Genesis 10.

Instead of talking about the descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth, it gives us the descendants in the order of Japheth (10:2-5), Ham (10:6-20) and Shem (10:21-31). It is the exact opposite.  Why? The most important one goes last.  The whole rest of Genesis is about Shem.  In fact, the rest of the Bible is about Shem and his descendants.   The one that applies the most to us goes first.  Most of us are descendants of Japheth.  It is the shortest.

Three Branches of Humanity

Noah had three sons and these three sons became there branches of the human race – a Japhetic branch, and a Hamitic branch, and a Shemitic branch (or we would say today Semitic branch).  In 1975, a Christian anthropologist named Arthur Custance wrote a book about Noah’s three sons.[1] He had a very interesting theory about these three sons.  He believed that the descendants of each son had a different contribution to civilization.  They seemed to have a different personality.  It is not completely true.  It is a little bit of a generalization and an oversimplification but it is a fascinating theory.

What did the line of Japheth give the world?  The Europeans and Indo-Europeans came from Japheth.  What did the civilizations of Greece and Rome produce?  What were they characterized by?  This branch of the world is known for logic and philosophy.  That contribution was intellectual.  Historically, all the great philosophers are Japhetic. The Greeks, who began modern philosophy, are descendants of Japheth.

What was the main contribution of Ham’s descendants to civilization?  Their contribution was primarily technological.  It was more pragmatic and technical, than theoretical.  All of the earliest civilizations were Hamitic (Egyptian, Babylonian, Chinese, Mayan, Aztec).  What did the Egyptians give us?  They didn’t ask a bunch of philosophic questions like, What is the good life and the good society?  They gave us some of the wonders of the world, like they Pyramids.  The Hamites were inventors, scientists, engineers, mechanics and architects.

What was the main contribution of the Shem’s descendants to civilization?  The three great western religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) were Semitic in origin.  The contribution of the Semites was not intellectual or practical but religious.  The first and second largest religions in the world today are Semitic in origin.

Many think that Christianity is a western religion.  The think it is America’s religion.  It is not.  It is an eastern religion.  It began in the Middle East. Arabs and Jews are also Semitic peoples.  Modern day Jews and Arabs trace their lineage to Shem.  Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages.  The most important contribution that Shem’s side gave us is Jesus.  Jesus was a descendant of Shem.  The Messiah came through Shem.

Basic Observation

Genesis 10 gives us a fascinating genealogy.  It is unique.  It stands alone in the world of literature.  It is also selective.  It is not a complete family tree.  It only mentions some of the descendants of these men.  This is very easy to see in the chapter.  It mentions sixteen grandsons of Noah but it does not mention any of his granddaughters.  It doesn’t tell us everything.

Japheth had seven sons (10:2). Their names were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras, the youngest son of Japheth.  Japheth had seven sons but we are only given the descendants of two of them (Gomer and Javan).  We are not given the descendants of the other five sons.

Ham had four sons (10:6), like I do. Their names were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan.  Ham had four sons but we are given descendants for only three of them (Cush, Mizraim and Canaan).  We are not told who Put’s descendants were.

Shem had five sons (10:22).  Their names were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.  One must have been named after an animal (a ram). Shem had five sons but we are given descendants for only two of them (Aram, Arphaxad).  We are not told who the descendants of Elam and Asshur were. Clearly, this list is selective.

The Migration of Noah’s Sons

Where did these sons go?  Some of them may have lived in the same area but the basic difference is that Shem stayed in the Middle East.  Ham went south and Japheth went north.

Shem stayed in the area of the Middle East.  The Middle East includes the areas of Iraq, Iran, Israel, Turkey and Egypt.  It is Western Asia and Egypt.  These became the Hebrews, Persians and Assyrians.  Elam is the ancient name for Persia which is the ancient name for Iran.  Ashur was the ancestor of the Assyrians.

Arphaxad was the ancestor of the Jews.  Lud is the ancestor of the Lydians in Asia Minor or Western Turkey.  Aram was the ancestor of the Arameans or Syrians.  Aram is the Hebrew word for Syria. The Jews stayed in the Middle East until they were kicked out and scattered by the Romans all over the planet in 70 A.D.  They went to every continent, except Antarctica.  Someone pointed out that you can even find them there.  That is where the icebergs are located.

Ham’s descendants went south.  Ham had four sons.  Three of them went to Africa.  Ham’s four sons were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan.  Cush is Ethiopia in the Bible.  It is the Hebrew word for Ethiopia, South of Egypt.  Jeremiah 13:23 says, “Can the Cushite (Ethiopian) change his skin?”  Cush is the Hebrew word for Ethiopia.  Moses married a Cushite woman (Numbers 12:1).  He married an African.  Mizraim is in Egypt (which is in North Africa).  In fact, mizraim is the Hebrew word for Egypt.  According to Josephus, Put was the founder of Libya (NW Africa).

Three of the four sons went to Africa.  Only the Canaanites did not go to Africa.  They lived in and near the Promised Land.  Canaan had eleven sons: Sidon, Heth, the Jebusite, the Amorite, the Girgashite; the Hivite, the Arkite, the Sinite; the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite.  They lived in the Land of Canaan or the area near it.

Japheth’s descendants went north into Europe.  Japheth had seven kids.  Magog, Meshech and Tubal ever went to modern day Turkey or to Russia.  Scholars disagree.  Either way it is north of Israel. Gomer’s descendants went to Germany. Javan’s descendants went to Greece.  Maidai’s descendants are usually identified with the Medes.  Tiras was the ancestor of the Thracians in SE Europe (Yugoslavia).

Lessons from the Table of Nations 

1. There is a unity among all people.

There is something that everyone on the planet shares. Every one of them is a descendant of Noah from the lowest scum on the planet to the President of the United States.  Everyone came from Noah. If Noah was alive today and walked around, he might be a little shocked at how wicked the world is today or perhaps he would not be.  It was wicked in his day.  At least, there are no nephilim walking around.  One thing that he would be interested is seeing what all of his descendants look like.

This chapter shows is the unity of the human race.  In one sense, the whole earth is one big family.  This is really incredible.  We do not look like a family or act like a family but despite all of the differences that we have, we are all one family.  We are the family of Noah.  It is a rather strange family.

We are divided today by many things (skin color, language, religion, political philosophy, economic status, education) but we have one thing in common.  We come from the same family.  We all came from Noah and he came from Adam.  As one preacher said once said, “this is both humbling and elevating”.  We are in the same family as the most deranged psychopaths and serial killers and the greatest scientists, athletes and saints the world has ever had.

2. Races do not exist.

Since we are all part of the same family and since we all come from Noah, we are all genetically related.  That means that there are not races.  There is only one race on the planet.  It is a race of humans.  We are used to thinking of people divided by different races (a black race, a white race, a yellow race and a red race).  That is what I grew up believing.

Several years ago, I heard Ken Ham saying that there was only one race but I didn’t really believe him.  I thought he was just some crazy creationist.  Then, I heard the head of the science department at A & T say exactly same thing taught in the science classroom.  This is something that both creationists and evolutionists agree on.  There is one race.  It is a scientific fact. There is no such thing as different races.  It is a biological myth.

We do have different skin colors but that is different from races.  Dividing people up by race is actually a modern idea and it has absolutely no basis in genetics.  How do we know?  Science has taught us two shocking things.

The first fact is this.  Humans are 99.9% similar.  A recent study demonstrated this.  There is only a .1% difference of genetic difference between humans.  Racial characterizes, like skin color, make up six percent of this .1% which amounts to .01% genetic difference.

The second fact is this.  Most genetic variation among humans occurs within the same population.   There is more genetic variation within groups than between groups.  There is more genetic variation between two random people from China than a person from China and Russia.[2]

The Bible teaches that we are all one race.  Genesis 10 shows a division of the world, not based on race but based on families and nations (10:5).  It is a division of families, languages, lands and nations (10:20).  The division in this chapter is geographic, linguistic and political, not racial.

The Bible teaches that we are all ONE RACE which descended from one original pair of humans.  Acts 17:26 says, “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings” (NKJV).

Paul says that we are all “one blood” (Acts 17:26).  We divide ourselves into races but we are all one blood.  We are many sizes and shapes, many colors, many religions, many gifts and abilities.  We come from many nations, but all one blood.  In the Bible, the word “race” is a verb.  It is something you run. The only race in the Bible is the race you run.  It is a competition, not a complexion.  We are to run the race set before us.

There is only one problem.  Most bible translations do not read “one blood” in Acts 17:26. We do not know for sure if the word “blood” is in the Greek text.  It is part of the Western Text and the Majority Text but some of the oldest manuscripts do not have the word “blood” in it.  The NASB, ESV, NIV, NLT, and TLB read “one man”.

The NRSB reads “one ancestor”.  It doesn’t matter which translation you use.  They both say the same thing.  If all humans came from Adam and Eve, as the Bible teaches, then all humans descended from one blood line.  We all came from one family.  It would mean that all people are related by blood. They are all related genetically. The black African is the same blood as the white European.   That is why I can receive a blood transfusion from someone from Africa or China.  Blood transfusions are race neutral.

3. Racism is unbiblical.

If we are all one family and if there are no races, there is no basis for racism.  It is wrong morally, scientifically and biblically.  Racism takes many different forms.  It is not limited to someone in a white hood.  It is all rooted in pride.  One group thinks they are better than another group.

It takes place when one group looks down on and despises another group.  We can do that to an individual.  We can also do that to a whole group of people.  You can and should be patriotic.  It is one thing to root for your country in the Olympics.  It is another thing to despise and belittle another group of people.

4. God is sovereign over nations.

Nations began in Genesis 10. The chapter lists 70 nations and where they came from.  There are about 200 nations in the world today.  He is sovereign over who rules each country.  Daniel 4:25 says, “The Most High God is ruler over every kingdom on earth, and he gives those kingdoms to anyone he chooses.”  He is sovereign over where each country lives.  Acts 17:26 says, “God began by making one person, and from him came all the different people who live everywhere in the world. God decided exactly when and where they must live.”

God is in control were nations live and how long they live.  Some nations have died.  There are no more Philistines.  They died out.  The Girgashites and Amorites not longer exist.  The ancient Egyptians used to be a world power.  Egypt used to rule the world but it is not even a superpower today. Spain and Portugal used to be world powers in the 15th and 16th century but are not any more.  The question worth thinking about is this.  How long will our country last?  Will the USA always have the power and influence that it does now?  Is it in a period of decline?





[1] Arthur C. Custance, Noah’s Three Sons: Human History in Three Dimensions (Zondervan, 1975).

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