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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Genesis 10

Verses 1-9

E. What became of Noah’s sons 10:1-11:9

This section gives in some detail the distribution of Noah’s descendants over the earth after the Flood (cf. Genesis 9:18-19).

This fourth toledot section (Genesis 10:1 to Genesis 11:9) brings the inspired record of primeval events to a climax and provides a transition to the patriarchal narratives. All the nations of the world in their various lands with their different languages descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Of special interest to the original Israelite readers were the Canaanites and the other ancient Near Eastern powers.

"From this section we learn that the ’blessing’ is for all peoples because all nations have their source in the one man, Noah, whom God favored. Moreover, the disunity among Noah’s offspring that resulted from the tower event [Genesis 11:1-9] did not prevent the blessing God had envisioned for humanity." [Note: Mathews, p. 427.]

"The Tower of Babel incident (Genesis 11:1-9), though following the table in the present literary arrangement, actually precedes chronologically the dispersal of the nations. This interspersal of narrative (Genesis 11:1-9) separates the two genealogies of Shem (Genesis 10:21-31; Genesis 11:10-26), paving the way for the particular linkage between the Terah (Abraham) clan and the Shemite lineage (Genesis 11:27). The story of the tower also looks ahead by anticipating the role that Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) will play in restoring the blessing to the dispersed nations." [Note: Ibid., p. 428.]

1. The table of nations ch. 10

This table shows that Yahweh created all peoples (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8; Amos 9:7; Acts 17:26). Like the genealogy in chapter 5, this one traces 10 main individuals, and the last one named had three sons.

This chapter contains one of the oldest, if not the oldest, ethnological table in the literature of the ancient world. It reveals a remarkable understanding of the ethnic and linguistic situation following the Flood. Almost all the names in this chapter have been found in archaeological discoveries in the last century and a half. Many of them appear in subsequent books of the Old Testament.

". . . the names in chapter 10 are presented in a dissimilar manner: the context may be that of an individual (e.g., Nimrod), a city (e.g., Asshur), a people (e.g., Jebusites) or a nation (e.g., Elam).

"A failure to appreciate this mixed arrangement of Genesis 10 has led, we believe, to numerous unwarranted conclusions. For example, it should not be assumed that all the descendants of any one of Noah’s sons lived in the same locality, spoke the same language, or even belonged to a particular race." [Note: Barry J. Beitzel, The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands, p. 76. See pages 76-79 for discussion of each name in chapter 10.]

"The table of nations is a ’horizontal’ genealogy rather than a ’vertical’ one (those in chaps. 5 and 11 are vertical). Its purpose is not primarily to trace ancestry; instead it shows political, geographical, and ethnic affiliations among tribes for various reasons, most notable being holy war. Tribes shown to be ’kin’ would be in league together. Thus this table aligns the predominant tribes in and around the land promised to Israel. These names include founders of tribes, clans, cities, and territories." [Note: Ross, "Genesis," p. 42.]

In contrast to the genealogy in chapter 5, this one lists no ages. It contains place and group names, which are spoken of as the ancestors of other places or groups, as well as the names of individuals. God built nations from families. Thus it is quite clearly a selective list, not comprehensive. The writer’s choice of material shows that he had particular interest in presenting Israel’s neighbors. Israel would deal with, displace, or subjugate many of these peoples, as well as the Canaanites (ch. 9). They all had a common origin. Evidently 70 nations descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth: 26 from Shem, 30 from Ham, and 14 from Japheth (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8). Seventy became a traditional round number for a large group of descendants. [Note: Wenham, Genesis 1-15, p. 213.] Jacob’s family also comprised 70 people (Genesis 46:27), which may indicate that Moses viewed Israel as a microcosm of humanity as he presented it here. God set the microcosm apart to bless the macrocosm.

Japheth’s descendants (Genesis 10:2-5) settled north, east, and west of Ararat. [Note: For helpful diagrams showing the generational relationships of the descendants of Japheth, Ham, and Shem respectively, see Mathews, pp. 440, 444, and 459.] Their distance from Israel probably explains the brief treatment that they received in this list compared with that of the Hamites and Shemites. The "coastlands" (Genesis 10:5) are the inland areas and the northern Mediterranean coastlands on the now European shore from Turkey to Spain. The dispersion of the nations "according to . . . language" (Genesis 10:5) took place after Babel (ch. 11) all along these coasts as well as elsewhere. [Note: For discussion of the identities of each name, see Wenham, Genesis 1-15, pp. 216-32; or the NET Bible notes on these verses.]

Ham’s family (Genesis 10:6-20) moved east, south, and southwest into Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Africa. Canaan’s descendants (Genesis 10:15-21) did not migrate as far south but settled in Palestine. [Note: For explanation of the locations the individuals, cities, tribes, and nations cited in this table, see Allen P. Ross, "The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 -Its Content," Bibliotheca Sacra 138:549 (January-March 1981):23-31.] The length of these Hamite Canaanite lists indicates the importance of these people and places in Israel’s later history. Note the absence of the common sevens in the structuring in Canaan’s genealogy, suggesting chaos. [Note: Waltke, Genesis, pp. 164-65.]

It is possible that Sargon of Agade, whom many secular historians regard as the first ruler of Babylon, may be the Nimrod (meaning "We shall rebel") of Genesis 10:8-10. [Note: Oliver R. Blosser, "Was Nimrod-Sargon of Agade, the First King of Babylon?" It’s About Time (June 1987), pp. 10-13.] Many people in ancient times had more than one name. Reference to him probably foreshadows Genesis 11:1-9.

"The influx of the Amorites in Canaan is disputed. It does not necessarily follow that the original Amorites, attributed to Hamite descent in Genesis 10, were a Semitic people since the term ’Amorite’ in ancient Near Eastern documents does not serve as a definitive source for designating ethnicity. Moreover, linguistic evidence does not always assure true ethnic derivation." [Note: Mathews, p. 456. See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Amorites," by A. R. Millard.]

Shem’s posterity (Genesis 10:21-31) settled to the northeast and southeast of the Canaanites. This branch of the human family is also important in the Genesis record of Israel’s history.

"When the two lines of Shem are compared (Genesis 10:21-31; Genesis 11:10-26), there is a striking divergence at the point of Eber’s descendants, Peleg and Joktan [Genesis 10:25]. In chap. 10 Peleg is dropped altogether after his mention, while the nonelect line of Joktan is detailed. It is left to the second lineage in chap. 11 to trace out Peleg’s role as ancestral father of Abraham . . ." [Note: Mathews, p. 459.]

"This Table of Nations, then, traces affiliation of tribes to show relationships, based on some original physical connections.

"It is clear that the writer is emphasizing the development of these nations that were of primary importance to Israel (yalad sections) within the overall structure of the Table (b’ne arrangement)." [Note: Allen P. Ross, "The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 -Its Structure," Bibliotheca Sacra 137:548 (October-December 1980):350. See also Eugene H. Merrill, "The Peoples of the Old Testament according to Genesis 10," Bibliotheca Sacra 154:613 (January-March 1997):3-22.]

"The three geographical arcs of the branches intersect at the center-that is, Canaan, Israel’s future homeland." [Note: Mathews, p. 433. See Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, map 15.]

This section reveals that it was God’s plan to bless the human race by dividing the family of man by languages, locations, and leaders. God formerly blessed the earth by dividing the light from the darkness, the earth from the heavens, and the land from the seas (ch. 1). Some creationists believe that the division of the earth in Peleg’s day (Genesis 10:25) refers to continental drift, but many creationists do not hold this view. [Note: For a creationist discussion of the subject of continental drift, see Ham, et al., pp. 11-12, 41-63; or David M. Fouts, "Peleg in Genesis 10:25," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 41:1 (March 1998):17-21.]

"By correlating the number of nations [in ch. 10, i.e., 70] with the number of the seed of Abraham [in Genesis 46:27], he [the writer] holds Abraham’s ’seed’ before the reader as a new humanity and Abraham himself as a kind of second Adam, the ’father of many nations’ (Genesis 17:5)." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 131.]

". . . his intention is not to give an exhaustive list but rather a representative list, one which, for him, is obtained in the number seven." [Note: Ibid., p. 132.]

"The table’s figure of ’seventy’ for the world’s nations is alluded to by Jesus in the sending forth of the seventy disciples, as recounted by Luke (Genesis 10:1-16). Here the evangelist emphasizes the mission of the church in its worldwide evangelistic endeavors." [Note: Mathews, p. 437. See also Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Part II. From Noah to Abraham, pp. 175-80.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Genesis 10". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/genesis-10.html. 2012.