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Old Testament Study - Genesis 10:1-11:9

Here, we continue our study in Genesis.

The Table of Nations

1This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons, who themselves had sons after the flood.

2The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras.

3The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah.

4The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittim and the Rodanim. 5(From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.)

6The sons of Ham: Cush, Mizraim, Put and Canaan.

7The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah and Sabteca.

The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan.

8Cush was the father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. 9He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, "Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD." 10The first centres of his kingdom were Babylon, Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar. 11From that land he went to Assyria, where he built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah 12and Resen, which is between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

13Mizraim was the father of the Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, 14Pathrusites, Casluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites.

15Canaan was the father of Sidon his firstborn, and of the Hittites, 16Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, 17Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, 18Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites.

Later the Canaanite clans scattered 19and the borders of Canaan reached from Sidon towards Gerar as far as Gaza, and then towards Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha.

20These are the sons of Ham by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

21Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.

22The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram.

23The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshech.

24Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, and Shelah the father of Eber.

25Two sons were born to Eber: One was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided; his brother was named Joktan.

26Joktan was the father of Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, 27Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, 28Obal, Abimael, Sheba, 29Ophir, Havilah and Jobab. All these were sons of Joktan.

30The region where they lived stretched from Mesha towards Sephar, in the eastern hill country.

31These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.

32These are the clans of Noah's sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.

Here we have the second genealogy in the book of Genesis. The first genealogy (in chapter 5) detailed the generations from Adam to Noah. The genealogy in this chapter--the so-called "Table of Nations"--details the descendants of Noah and his sons, with the purpose of describing how Noah's descendants were divided into the nations of the world. As Moses states in verse 32: "These are the clans of Noah's sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood." Given this stated purpose, it is worthwhile to look at the names in this genealogy and determine into what areas they settled and into what nations they evolved.

Table I contains a summary of the "Table of Nations". It furnishes some of the other Biblical references to the nations in this genealogy and also provides a list of the modern areas that correspond to where these nations resided. Because of the Biblical references, many of these nations are easy to locate. Modern archaeology gives us more evidence for locating these nations and confirms that this account is historically accurate. So, we find that this chapter (though it may seem, upon cursory reading, boring and useless to us) is important in establishing that the book of Genesis is a history and not a collection of fables. Many consider the Bible a collection of "cleverly invented stories" (II Peter 1:16), but on the contrary, when the Bible depicts historical events, details cultural customs or describes locations and landmarks, it has been found to be flawlessly accurate. Given its track record, we must conclude that, in its entirety, the Bible is truth.

The Table of Nations tells us how the family of one man grew into a world of nations and languages. At the same time, it reminds us that we all have the same heritage. Though we do not at present speak the same or look the same or dress the same, we indeed all belong to the same family (trite though it may sound). And so, as missionaries go out to foreign lands, they are truly witnessing to their cousins, trying to bring them back into a relationship with God, from which they so long ago strayed.

Table I. The Table of Nations from Genesis 10[Footnote #1]

Name/Tribe       Other Biblical Refs.     Modern Region/Notes
==========       ====================     ===================
Gomer (v. 2)     Ezek. 38:6	           Southern Russia

Magog            Ez.38:2;39:1; Rev. 20:8  Bet. Black Sea to              
                                          Caspian Sea

Madai            II Ki. 17:6; Est. 1:3;   Iran; became Medo-Persia
                 Dan. 11:1               

Javan            Isa. 66:19; Ezek. 27:13; Greece, incl. Asia Minor 
                 Dan. 8:21; 10:20;        Refs. also found in 
                 Joel 3:6                 Sanskrit, Egyptian and
                                          Assyrian relics
Tubal	            Isa. 66:19; Ez. 27:13;   Soviet Georgia	

Meshech          Isa. 66:19; Ezek. 27:13; Bet./ Black Sea and
                 32:26;38:2,3,15;39:1     Armenia	

Tiras                                     Balkan Peninsula(Thrace)

Ashkenaz (v. 3)  Jer. 51:27               Possibly Armenia or 
                                          possibly Germany 
                                          (according to modern 

Riphath                                   Near Black Sea

Togarmah         Ezek. 27:14; 38:6        Armenia

Elishah (v. 4)   Ezek. 27:7               Greece (became the    

Tarshish         Jonah 1:3; 4:2;          Possibly Spain; Jonah                          
                 Esth. 1:14; Ps. 48:7;    tried to flee there
                 72:10; Isa. 23:1,6; 
                 60:9; 66:19; Jer. 10:9; 
                 Ezek. 27:12,25; 38:13; 
                 John 2:3; 4:2

The Kittim       Num. 24:24; Isa. 23:1;   Cyprus 
                 Ez. 27:6

The Rodanim                               Possibly North Greece or 
                                          possibly Italy

Cush (v. 6)      Esth. 1:1; 8:9;          Ethiopia
                 Job 28:19; Ps. 68:31; 
                 87:4; Isa. 11:11; 18:1;
                 20:3-5; etc.

Mizraim          Gen. 50:11               Egypt

Put              Isa. 66:19; Jer. 46:9;   Libya 
                 Ezek. 27:10; 30:5; 38:5; 
                 Nah. 3:9

Canaan           Gen. 11:31; 12:5; etc.;  Modern Israel
                 Ex. 6:4; 15:15; 
                 Lev. 14:34; etc.

Seba (v. 7)      Isa. 43:3; Ps. 72:10     No. Ethiopia

Havilah          Gen. 2:11                Yemen

Sabtah                                    Southern Arabia

Raamah           Ezek. 27:22              Oman (SE Arabia)

Sabteca                                   East of Persian Gulf

Sheba            I Ki. 10:1; Ezek. 27:22  Western Arabia

Dedan            Isa. 21:13; Ezek. 27:15  Western Arabia

Nimrod (v. 8)    Mic. 5:6                 Babylon/Assyria

The Ludites (13) Jer. 46:19; Ezek. 30:5   Egypt

The Anamites                              Egyptian Delta

The Lehabites    II Chr. 12:3; 16:8;      Libya/Egypt
                 Nah. 3:9; Dan. 11:43

The Naphtuhites                           Egypt

The Pathrusites  Isa. 11:11; Jer. 44:1,15 Upper Egypt 
                 Ezek. 29:14; 30:14

The Casluhites   Jer. 47:4; Amos 9:7      Sinai Penn. (Philistia)	

The Caphtorites  Deut. 2:23; Jer. 47:4;   Lower Egypt (Copts)
                 Amos 9:7

Sidon (v. 15)    Gen. 49:13; Jos. 11:8;   Lebanon (Phoenicia)
                 Isa. 23:4 

The Hittites     Gen. 23:3-20; 25:9;      Modern Israel
                 26:34; 27:46; 28:1,8; 
                 49:32; Num. 13:29; 
                 Josh. 1:4; II Kings 7:6

The Jebusites    Judg. 1:21; II Sam.      Jerusalem; Conquered
                 24:18; Zech. 9:7         by David when he gained
                                          control of Jerusalem.

The Amorites     Gen. 15:16; 48:22;       Mountains of Judah and
                 Deut. 1:4; Jud. 1:34-36  beyond the Jordan

The Girgashites  Gen. 15:21; Deut. 7:1;   Holy Land, west of
                 Josh. 24:11              Jordan River

The Hivites      Gen. 34:2; 48:22;        Holy Land (near Shechem 
                 Josh. 9:7; 11:3;         and at base of Lebanon)
                 Judg. 3:3	

The Arkites                               Lebanon (Phoenicia)
The Sinites      Ex. 16:1; 17:1;          Lebanon
                 Num. 33:12; Ez. 30:15-16	

The Arvadites    II Ki. 29:13; Ez. 27:8   Is. of Arados, (off

The Zemarites    Josh. 18:22;             Coast of Lebanon
                 II Chr. 13:4

The Hamathites   Num. 13:22; 34:8;        No. Syria (Hamah)
                 Josh. 13:5; II Sam. 8:9; 
                 II Ki. 17:24; Isa.10:9; 
                 Ezek. 47:16; Zech. 9:2

Elam (v. 22)     Gen. 14:1-9; II Ki 15:19 From Persian Gulf to                       
                 Job 1:17; Isa. 11:11;    Caspian Sea
                 Jer. 25:25

Asshur           Num. 24:24               Assyria

Arphaxad         Isa. 66:19               No. Assyria, near 

Lud                                       Iraq (Lydians of Asia 

Aram             Num. 23:7                Syria and Mesopotamia

Uz (v. 23)       Job 1:1,15,17;           Arabian Desert near
                 Jer. 25:20               Iraq; Job lived here

Hul                                       Syria (near source of             

Gether                                    Iraq (Mesopotamia)

Meshech          Ps. 120:5                Iraq (Mesopotamia)

Shelah (v. 24)   Gen. 11:12-15            Possibly Assyria

Eber             Num. 24:24; Luke 3:35    Possibly Arabia

Peleg (v. 25)                             Possibly Iraq

Joktan           Gen. 25:3                Arabia

Almodad (v. 26)                           SE Arabia

Sheleph                                   Yemen/Arabia

Hazarmaveth                               SE Arabia on coast

Jerah	                                     Possibly Yemen or Arabia

Hadoram (v. 27)                           Possibly So. Arabian 

Uzal                                      Yemen

Diklah                                    SE Arabia

Obal (v. 28)                              Possibly So. Arabia

Abimael                                   Possibly So. Arabia

Sheba            I Kings. 10:1;           Yemen (Sabean Kingdom);
                 Matt. 12:42              the famed Queen of Sheba       
                                          who visited Solomon came 
                                          from here

Ophir (v. 29)    I Kings 9:28; 22:48;     Possibly Arabia; 
                 Job 22:24; 28:16;        Possibly Persian Gulf
                 Ps. 45:9                 area

Havilah          Gen. 2:11; 25:18;        Yemen, bet. Arabian and
                 I Sam. 15:7              Persian Gulfs

Jobab                                     Unknown

Paul tells us: "In the past, [God] let all nations go their own way" (Acts 14:16). The Table of Nations is a depiction of the nations going their own way, going away from God. Apparently, with the possible exception of a very few, all of Noah's descendants named here turned from God.[Footnote #2] To save Himself a remnant, God had to miraculously call Abraham out of an idol-worshipping family. The abundance of nations named here (seventy in all) and the geographic vastness of their dwelling places, as compared to the absence of godly people, serve to highlight the sparseness and paucity of the people of God. Men, in their fallen state, make it their business to turn from God. "Though religion were first in God's intention, yet it is last in man's execution."[Footnote #3]

Prototypical of rebellion against God is Nimrod, "a mighty hunter before the LORD."[Footnote #4] Nimrod was the founder of many cities, including Babylon and Nineveh. Both of these cities were known for their godlessness and defiance against God. Babylon was so depraved that it became a symbol in the Bible of worldliness, of false religion and of rebellion against God. Nimrod, whose name means "we will revolt"[Footnote #5], is a type of the so-called "anti-christ" prophesied in the book of Revelation. Both are hunters (see Gen. 10:9; Rev. 6:2), both establish kingdoms in Babylon (see Gen. 10:10; Rev. 17), which in both cases are centers for a false worldwide religion (see Gen. 11:1-9; Rev. 18). Moses mentions Nimrod in this chapter in preparation for the details that he will give in the next chapter concerning Nimrod's Babylon (which is called Babel) and the Tower of Babel.

In verse 25, Moses tells us that, in the time of Peleg, "the earth was divided" (note: Peleg means "divided"). Moses is referring to the division that will be detailed in the beginning of the next chapter (the history of the Tower of Babel). It was this division that dispersed these descendants of Noah out into the world, causing them to develop into different nations. Since Peleg was named after this event, we can assume that it occurred approximately at the time he was born. This is a reasonable inference since Peleg was the fifth generation from Noah and Nimrod was the third generation from Noah, and since (presumably) the building of the Tower of Babel was part of Nimrod's establishment of the city of Babylon (which undoubtedly occurred after Nimrod had grown to manhood).

The division of the world into nations was a part of God's plan. God commanded Adam as well as Noah to "increase in number" and "fill the earth" (see Gen. 1:28; 9:1). Also, as part of His well-ordered plan, God divided the world into the same number of nations that He would later divide His own people, the sons of Israel. Here we see that the sons of Noah are divided into seventy nations. In Gen. 46:27, Moses tells us: "With the two sons who had been born to Joseph in Egypt, the members of Jacob's family, which went to Egypt, were seventy in all." Later, Moses tells us that this was part of God's plan: "When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, when he divided all mankind, he set up boundaries for the peoples according to the number of the sons of Israel" (Deut. 32:8). We must not forget that God is in control, working His will through men. And He was no less so in the division of the nations. As Paul says: "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live" (Acts 17:26).

The Tower of Babel

1Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. 3They said to each other, "Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly." They used brick instead of stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth."

5But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. 6The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

8So the LORD scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9That is why it was called Babel--because there the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered them over the face of the whole earth.

In the previous chapter, Moses listed the nations that "spread out over the earth after the flood" (Gen. 10:32). In this passage, Moses relates the events that led to the dispersion of Noah's descendants throughout the world. Originally, of course, "the whole world had one language and a common speech." Now, there are myriads of languages and dialects throughout the world. This section explains why philologists today cannot trace human languages to a single language, but rather, modern languages seem to have evolved from multiple families of languages.

Apparently, after the flood, most men migrated to the "plain in Shinar and settled there." Shinar is the site of Babylon and, what we have here is the history of the beginning of the city of Babylon (also called Babel). Most likely, given the background from the previous chapter, Nimrod was the leader of the events that occur in this passage. The plain of Shinar was a very fertile area, a fact that most likely led to their decision to settle there. It would have been relatively easy to grow the crops they needed to sustain them. However, the fact that they all settled in the same region was in opposition to the command that God gave to "fill the earth" (Gen. 9:1). We often sacrifice obedience to God for the sake of comfort.

Shinar, though fertile, lacked stones, so the inhabitants began to make bricks. Their ability to adapt to the environment by making bricks apparently fed their pride, for next they said: "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the earth." As so often happens, their talents and success led to a feeling of self-sufficiency, which in turn led to disobedience of God. They, in their success, felt that they no longer needed God, even to "reach the heavens." Rather than worship God, they desired to "make a name for themselves." They viewed with contempt God's command to fill the earth and schemed to build a mighty city so that they may "not be scattered over the face of the earth."

The builders of the Tower of Babel are typical of men who attempt by their own means to reach heaven, rejecting the means established by the True and Living God. They do not desire to live in obedience to God, they are successful in the world so they see no need to turn to God, and so, in their pride, they embrace a false religion by which, using their own means, they believe that they can reach heaven. The men of Babel rejected God's providence (by making their own bricks instead of using stone), rejected God's law (by all choosing to remain in the same region rather than filling the earth), and rejected God's salvation (by building a tower to the heavens rather than seeking heaven on God's terms). And so men today reject God's providence (attributing their success to luck or their own abilities rather than to God's work), reject God's law (holding His law in contempt, devising a "relative" morality in its stead), and reject God's salvation (by, in effect, making their own bricks and rejecting the Rock of salvation, Jesus Christ, provided by God).

"But the LORD came down..." All such schemes are foiled when the Lord comes down and chooses to deal with the ungodly. Certainly the Lord will come down long before man succeeds in reaching heaven by his own means. Those building the tower no doubt felt invincible, thinking that no one could thwart their plan. God did so very easily, though. Interestingly enough, God did not have to destroy the tower or physically displace the people to get them to disperse. God very wisely took care of both problems by simply confusing the tongues of the people of Babel.

Language is a gift peculiar to man among the creatures. Language can be a great tool for the glory of God: in praising, in teaching the truths of God, in turning people toward God through testimony, etc. However, more often, the tongue is used against God and the things of God: in blasphemy, cursing, obscenity, boasting, gossip, slander, mockery, derision, etc. In Babel, their language was a unifying element, uniting them against God. The common language should have been used to bring people together in the worship of the true God. Instead, it was used to foster false religion. From the beginning, their evil scheme was furthered through language: "Come, let's make bricks..." they said; then, "Come, let us build ourselves a city..."

One of the reasons that God responded to their evil scheme was that He saw that "nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them." In other words, God foresaw that the evil of the people of Babel would escalate, leaving, so to speak, no sin unturned. "By the firm establishment of an ungodly unity, the wickedness and audacity of men would have led to fearful enterprises."[Footnote #6] Consider Sodom and Gomorrah. Consider Ninevah at the height of its evil. God did not desire that all the people of the world be involved and united in such sin.

As common language unites, so differing languages divide. God miraculously confused their languages. Presumably, since the people divided into nations along family boundaries (as we saw in chapter 10), God gave a unique dialect or language to each family. This eventually led to the project at Babel being abandoned. Verse 8 indicates that it was the people's choice to discontinue building the city, for "they stopped building the city." They quite possibly tried to continue after the confusion of the languages; however, with sin as their common bond, and not love, such a project was doomed to failure at such an obstacle.

The work of confusing the tongues was performed through the counsel of the Trinity, for God says: "Come, let us go down and confuse their language." Given this language, we can infer that the Holy Spirit was involved in this work. Interestingly, the Holy Spirit was involved in a similar work, much later in history, at Pentecost: "All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them" (Acts 2:4). Pentecost, of course, was different than Babel in that the dissemination of tongues was used to bring people to God, for "[w]hen [the people] heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language" (Acts 2:6). At Pentecost, God in effect was saying that the confusion of tongues, though it separates the people of the world, will not separate the people of God. The message of Pentecost was that the Gospel is for people of all languages and nations. In the end, the confusion of languages on the earth will not keep the people of God from uniting in heaven, where "a great multitude...from every nation, tribe, people and language" will stand before the throne of God (see Rev. 7:9).

And so, through the confusion of the languages, "the LORD scattered them over the face of the earth." Ironically, one of their motives was that they would not be scattered (see v. 4), but the result of their labor was just that. The result of false religion is failure and confusion. It is vain for man to contend against God. By doing so, man will necessarily destroy himself, by battling the God of the universe. By God's grace, he may succeed for a short time, for God often is patient to give him an opportunity to repent. In the end though, if he continues in he rebellion, he will be destroyed.

The people of Babel did, however, succeed in one of their goals. They did "make a name" for themselves, not for their greatness, but for their godlessness. As stated, this same Babel (later Babylon) is a city that became prototypical of godlessness in the Bible. Babylon is alluded to both literally and figuratively throughout the Bible, until it is destroyed in the book of Revelation (see Rev. 18).

The people of Babel were given by God great talents. They had the ambition, intelligence and strength to build a great city. It is unfortunate that they did not use these God-given talents for the glory of God, rather than in defiance of God. "Culture, civilization, intellect, cleverness, progress, are all among the natural gifts of God to human life, and there is no reason whatever why they should not all be consecrated to the Divine service. When they are thus yielded to Him they become doubly powerful, and are the means of blessing on every hand. When, however, they are not handed over to God who gives them, but are kept in man's own power and authority, they lead men farther and farther from God, and are the means of nothing but trouble on every hand."[Footnote #7]

Closing Prayer

Lord, we thank You for the talents and abilities that You have given each one of us. Help us by Your Spirit to use them, not for ungodly pursuits or worldly pursuits, but for Your glory. Guide us as we serve You. We thank You for Your providence, we thank You for Your perfect law, and we thank You for Your way of salvation, through Jesus Christ. We accept this salvation that You have provided for us, and give our lives to You in glad gratefulness. In the name of Your Son, our Savior, Amen.

(In the next issue, we will continue our study in Genesis

with a study of the call of Abraham)


1. The information in this table was taken from three sources: Jamieson, Fausset, Brown, A Commentary; Keil & Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament; and The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

2. The exceptions may include Uz, whose descendant Job was a godly man. As far as is recorded in the Bible (which is a chronicle of God's people), there was one other godly man, Melchizedek. We do not know which nation Melchizedek belonged to (cf. Heb. 7:3).

3. Swinnock, George, The Christian Man's Calling, from The Works of George Swinnock, Vol. I, pg. 12. Banner of Truth.

4. The phrase "before the LORD" is used here in the sense of "in defiance of the LORD" or, idiomatically, "flying in the face of the LORD". This is how the Septuagent, Josephus, and the Jewish Targum render the phrase.

5. Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament; Vol. I, pg. 165.

6. Keil and Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, pg. 174.

7. Thomas, W. H. Griffith, Genesis: A Devotional Commentary, pg. 110.

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