We begin today reading a list of Noah’s descendants. Some (or most) of these genealogies are very easy to read through quickly without paying much attention at all. But they are all in the Bible for a reason. They are inspired Scripture!
Notice that in this genealogy, there are no years of life given, and only specific children are named. This is similar to the line of Cain that was given in Genesis 4. As we saw, this is different from the godly line of Seth, and is also different from the godly line of Shem that we see in Genesis 11, where years of life are given and we are told of “other sons and daughters.” One genealogy points us to those who hope in God, and one to a sinful world that does not. Here in Genesis 10, the Bible is detailing for us the spread of sin in the world.
Additionally, you will recognize some of the names in this list, such as Magog, Meshech, Cush (modern day Ethiopia), and more. These settlements, some of which become entire countries, are mentioned again in the Bible, and almost exclusively as enemies of God and His people. Many are mentioned in Ezekiel chapters 38-39 that describes (symbolically) God’s final judgment on the world (see also Rev 20:8).
We are also introduced to notorious cities/nations that will play a large part in the history of redemption. Cush’s son Nimrod* becomes a mighty hunter and a king, and included in his kingdom are Nineveh of Assyria and Babel (Babylon), two nations that will eventually send the northern kingdom of Israel (Assyria) and the southern kingdom of Judah (Babylon) into captivity. Babylon is used throughout the Bible as the prototypical symbol for the sinful world and its ways. So again, we see in these cities representative opposition to God and His people.
Additionally, we are introduced to people groups as the offspring of some of these men, such as the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Hivites – all Canaanites – who will show up repeatedly in the Bible as enemies of God and His people. All of these – the men, the nations, the cities, and the people groups – are showing us how the world is against God and His people.
In chapter 11, we see that the world is mired in sin. The Tower of Babel is a symbol of sinful man’s pride and desire to be his own god. We see a futile effort to reach heaven by man – a pointer to the fact that we cannot reach heaven, so heaven came down to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. The desire of the sinful world was to join together – there is power in numbers – and rule over God’s creation by their own power. They want to make a name for themselves. And notice that their fear was that they would be spread over the whole earth. This is a callback to the creation mandate, reestablished in the Noahic Covenant, to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” – this is exactly the last thing they want to do. They didn’t want to obey God. They wanted to live their own way, according to their own will, in their own power.
And, of course, pride hits its peak before everything falls apart. God confuses their speech so they cannot communicate**, hindering them from making more sinful plans together. And He disperses them over the face of the whole earth; exactly what they didn’t want because of their sin. But God – according to His will, and in His sovereign power – actually helps sinful man in his helplessness to begin fulfilling the creation mandate. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.
And we end today’s reading with a genealogy of Shem. Note that we are here given the years of life, and are told that these men “had other sons and daughters.” This is signaling us that, contrary to the genealogy given in chapter 10, this is revealing to us the godly line of those who hope in God. By His sovereign grace, God elects each of these men to carry on the hope of the Redeemer promised in Genesis 3:15.
A few things are worthy of note in this genealogy. Shem is the starting point, and is where we get our word “Semitic” (Shemitic). Eber is believed to be where the word “Hebrew” comes from. The genealogy ends in the tenth generation (the number ten, like three and seven, carries the idea of completeness or perfection) with Abram, who would become Abraham.
As we go through the books of Genesis, we need to keep in mind its original purpose. Why did Moses record the story of Cain, Abel, and Seth? Why the Tower of Babel? Why all the genealogies? As we have seen, the story of redemption establishes at the outset that there are two types of people in the world. And we have also seen that God’s sovereignty is in clear view throughout. And what is recorded in these first eleven chapters shows us that even though sin may reign in the world, and even though the world may be against God and His people – God is sovereign, God has all the power, God always has and always will preserve a people for Himself, and God has a purpose for everything. For the nation of Israel, called to enter the Promised Land full of all those sinful and powerful people, it was imperative that they believed all of this.
And so, the next 39 chapters will show God’s sovereign preservation of a particular people of His choosing to achieve His purposes.
And, of course, the preservation of a people was really about Jesus Christ. He is the true Son of Abraham (Matt 1:1). He is why God preserved a people. So as we read, let’s remember, this about Christ. So the history of redemption, is the history of our redemption!
* In modern language, the word nimrod means someone inept or unintelligent. How did this happen? Blame Bugs Bunny. In a 1940’s cartoon, Elmer Fudd haplessly tries to hunt Bugs, who outwits him at every turn. Throughout the cartoon, Bugs throws out some insults to Elmer about his ineptitude. At one point, Bugs calls Elmer “a real Nimrod.” Bugs was being sarcastic by comparing the inept Elmer to the greatest hunter in history. An increasing secular society took it as an insult along the lines of “maroon” and “nincompoop” (two of his favorites), and the word took on new meaning.
** The confusion of languages is a punishment for sin. God promises to restore what was taken away at Babel in Zephaniah 3:9. In the meantime, as the world continues to fall further and further away from God’s design and become more and more corrupted by sin, communication is getting more and more difficult. Just look at how the younger generation uses words – I find it very hard to understand them. Consider that we are all communicating via email, text, and IM using fewer and fewer words, and often miscommunicating. All this to say, effective communication is an ethical matter. Communicating effectively shows forth the glory of God.