Sermon: Genesis 10: The Table Of Nations

Scripture Reading: Genesis 10

“These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood. The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations. The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim. Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon in the direction of Gerar as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram. The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. Arpachshad fathered Shelah; and Shelah fathered Eber. To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. These are the clans of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations, and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.” (Genesis 10, ESV)



Brothers and sisters, one of the things for which I am grateful is to have the privilege of pastoring a church that is eager to hear God’s word proclaimed in its entirety. And I would urge you to never allow that hunger for God’s word to fade.  

I think all of you would agree that there are some passages of scripture that are more exciting and obviously applicable than others. But our belief is that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV). And so our practice it to teach through the scriptures in their entirety. 

I would imagine that to many the portions of scripture that seem least applicable are the ones that contain genealogies. Perhaps you have had the experience of opening your Bible a the scripture reading for the day (assuming you are using a Bible reading plan) only to see a long list of names. Many, I would imagine, feel as if there is nothing for them in a text like that. While I understand the sentiment, I do hope to change your mind today. 

While I am willing to admit that the genealogies of Genesis apply to us in a different way than, let’s say, Colossians 3:5-10 applies — they still apply! 

The application of a passage like Colossians 3:5-10 is obvious. It lays there on the surface and is easily picked up by the reader: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Colossians 3:5–10, ESV). This text speaks in a most direct way to how we ought to live in Christ Jesus. The meaning is clear. The application is direct. 

It is not that passages like Genesis 10 are less meaningful. Neither are they less applicable. But two things need to be said: One, it is true that more work is required to mine texts like Genesis 10 when compared to texts like Colossians 3:5-10 if we are to understand its meaning and make application. Hard mental and spiritual spade work is required here. The reader must dig a little to reap the rewards and profit from a passage of scripture like this. Two, the kind of application drawn from texts like Genesis 10 is different from the kind of application drawn from texts like Colossians 3:5-10. After considering the Colossians passage, the reader is most naturally urged to “do something” — “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you”, etc. But after considering the list of names, peoples and places in Genesis 10, the reader is most naturally urged to “see and to understand” something. The application is simply different. It has more to do with what we art to believe than with what we are to do. 

Friends, application that begins with the words, “see” or “understand” is not less important than application that begins with the word, “do”. In fact, seeing and understanding the message of the Bible is more foundational than doing what the Bible says. My objective as a minister of the gospel is not primarily to convince you to do this or that, but to convince you to believe something. My primary concerning is not to make you a better person, in other words, but to convince you that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and [to understand] that by believing you… have life in his name” (John 20:31, ESV). And after urging you to believe that Jesus is the Christ, then my objective is urge you to obey him.

Brothers and sisters, today I hope to convince you, if you are not convinced already, that these lists of names that appear in the scriptures from time to time are of great importance. They are of great importance for they tell the story of the accomplishment of our salvation.

Friends, I hope that you are beginning to understand that God did not accomplish our salvation through a Christ who appeared out of the blue one day. Instead, God provided salvation for us by first promising that he would.  He promised that a victorious savior would one day appear. And he would appear, not by dropping from the sky without warning, but in fulfillment to  promises previously made. The savior would, in due time, come from amongst the offspring of Eve. 

The accomplishment of our salvation, therefore, began with a promise. And it also involved the fulfillment of that promise in human history. God promised to accomplish our salvation through the offspring of the woman, and he was also faithful to bring it about. The scriptures tell this story. The scriptures tell the story of God calling and preserving a people for himself in the world. And it was through this people that the Christ eventually came to pay the price for our sins. 

Brothers and sisters, hear me now. There is no gospel of Jesus Christ apart from these genealogies.

I should  remind you that Matthew began his gospel with a genealogy. The title of his work is, “The Gospel According to Matthew”. And the first words in his gospel presentation are, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham”, etc. (Matthew 1:1–2, ESV). Luke’s gospel also has a genealogy at the heart of it. In Luke 3:23 we read, “Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli”, etc. I will say it again — there is no gospel of Jesus Christ apart from these genealogies, for God determined in eternity past to accomplish our redemption progressively, in human history, through the selection and preservation of an elect line through every generation up until the birth of the Christ, who would atone for the sins of his people by his own shed blood. 

And what do we see here in Genesis 10 except the earliest stages of the development of that story. 

There is so much that could be said about this passage. Some scholars have labored to identify each of the names in this list and to identify them with known peoples and nations in the ancient world. Many of the names and peoples mentioned are known to us. Some are a bit more difficult to identify. This is a very interesting and important field of study, but it is not the focus of the sermon today. 

Let me begin by making seven general and brief observations about this list of people, places and nations before moving on to make three main points. 

One, notice that this list of names differs a bit from the lists of names that we encountered earlier in the book of Genesis. The earlier lists are appropriately called genealogies, for they clearly trace the descent from father to son. Take, for example, the genealogy beginning in Genesis 5:1. There we read, “This is the book of the generations of Adam… When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth”, etc. The language is less precise in Genesis 10. This is not so much a genealogy, but a table of nations. The point is to show where the nations of the earth descended from after the days of Noah. 

Two, notice that this passage is a continuation of what was said in Genesis 9:18. There we read, “The sons of Noah who went forth from the ark were Shem, Ham, and Japheth. (Ham was the father of Canaan.) These three were the sons of Noah, and from these the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:18–19, ESV). The table of nations of Genesis 10 maps out the dispersion of the peoples of the earth descending from Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. 

Three, we must remember that the book of Genesis was originally written, not to us, but by Moses to ancient Israel after they had been redeemed from Egypt. While it is difficult for you and I to recognize the names in this list and to visualize where in the world these peoples resided, it would not have been so difficult for the ancient Israelite. As they heard these names, they would have recognized them, and they would have been able to visualize where in the world these people lived. 

Four, notice the order in which the descendents of Shem, Ham and Japheth are listed. First, the descendents of Japheth are presented. Second, the descendents of Ham. And third, the descendents of Shem. Why this order? Up until this point the order has been Ham, Shem and Japheth, or Shem, Ham and Japheth. But here the order is Japheth, Ham and Shem. This ordering makes sense only if we consider it from the perspective of ancient, Old Covenant Israel and in the context of the overarching story of the history of redemption. 

The Japhethites are mentioned first, and the least detail is given concerning them, because they were the people furthest removed from the Israelites. They were the peoples with whom the Israelites had least contact. They were the “ends of the earth” peoples  from the perspective of the Hebrews. 

The Hamites are mentioned second, and with much more detail, because they were the peoples that Israel had most contact with, and many of them were their enemies. Consider verse 6, where we read,  “The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan” (Genesis 10:6, ESV). Of those four names, two are familiar to us — Egypt and Canaan. And coinsider this — the Israelites had just been freed from Egypt and they were sojourning towards a land that God had promised to them, the land of Canaan. Israel would have to drive the Canaanites out of the land and subdue them before occupying it. 

The Shemites are mentioned last because this is line through through with the Hebrew people — God’s chosen people under the Old Covenant — would descend.  

Five, remember that when Noah cursed Ham for his sin, he did not curse Ham directly, but his son Canaan. Now it should be clear why Noah cursed Canaan and not Ham, for not all who descended from  Ham were cursed, but only the Canaanites. Noah said, “Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers” (Genesis 9:25, ESV). Again, this must be considered from the perspective of the Israelite who had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and was sojourning towards the promised land of the Canaanites.  

Six, it is significant that if all of the descendents of Shem, Ham and Japheth are counted, the number comes to 70. Seventy is a number of completion in  the scriptures. Clearly, this is not a complete and detailed genealogy of the sons of Noah. This is a selective list. The number 70  is meant to communicate the idea of completeness. From the sons of Noah, “the people of the whole earth were dispersed” (Genesis 9:18–19, ESV).   

Seven, special attention should be payed to the remarks that are made about certain individuals in this list. 

Take, for example, the remarks that are made about Nimrod in the line of Ham. Verse 8: “Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD. Therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.’ The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city” (Genesis 10:8–12, ESV). This is quite a statement. It is meant to catch our attention. In brief, it communicates that in the line of Ham was characterized by  mighty men — oppressive rulers, who engaged in city building, not to the glory of God, but to the glory of man. 

Notice also that when we come to the line of Shem in verse 21 we read, “To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born” (Genesis 10:21, ESV). It is highlighted and emphasized from  the outset that Shem was the “the father of all the children of Eber”. From Eber, the Hebrew people would descend, and this is emphasized  from the outset. 

With those general remarks out of the way, let me now make three points:


The Sons Of Japheth

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Firstly, as we consider the Japhethites, let it be recognized that God’s plan from the beginning was to bring salvation to all the peoples of the earth.

This table of the nations in Genesis 10 makes it clear that those who descended from Japheth were the ones who were far removed from Israel. They were the gentile people — the people with whom Israel had least contact. But we must also remember the blessing that God pronounced upon his son Japheth: “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant” (Genesis 9:27, ESV). God’s purpose from the beginning was to bless all the nations of the earth — even those who were far off — through his chosen people, the Israelites. 

This will become even more clear in Genesis 12 when God calls Abram, one of Shem’s descendents. There we will read, “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1–3, ESV). Two things are communicated here: one, God would make Abram into a great nation. And two, in Abram “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. This is a reiteration of the blessing pronounced upon Japheth when Noah said, “May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem”, which would become the tents of Abram in the course of time. 

Friends, God’s purpose from the beginning was to save a people for himself from every tongue, tribe and nation. The savior, when he did come, would be the savior of the world, and not of the Hebrews only. The savior would defeat the evil one who plunged the world into sin and darkness. And the savior would redeem the children of Adam, who was the father, not of the Jews only, but of all people. But this savior would come into the world through one particular people, namely, the Hebrew people. It would be through the Jewish people that all the nations o f the earth would be blessed. This was God’s design from the beginning. 

So much of the Old Testament scriptures focuses in upon this one people — the Hebrew people —  that it would be east to assume that God had as his supreme goal the salvation  of this people. Really, Genesis 12 through to the end of  the Old Testament is about things that happened amongst the Hebrews. But do not forget God’s original design — to bless the Japhethites in and through the Shemites.  

You and I live in an amazing time, for the gospel of Jesus Christ has gone to the farthest corners of the earth. The Christ has come. He atoned for sin by his death and resurrection. And the good news off salvation in his name has been preached in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. But there are still some places where the gospel has never been preached. There are some peoples who have never heard. 


The Sons of Ham

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Secondly, as we consider the Hamites, let it be recognized that impulse of fallen and sinful man has always been to build cities and kingdoms for themselves, and for their own glory.  

I have already mentioned the emphasis  that is placed upon that man named Nimrod in the line of Ham. It must be recognized that a theme continues to develop in the story of scripture. God called Adam to build a city for the glory of God. He was to expand the garden, tend and keep it, so that worship of God might be promoted in that place. The garden was a temple — a city and  kingdom devoted entirely to the worship and service of God. Adam sinned when he rebelled against his maker and sought establish his own kingdom — to decide for himself right and wrong, good and evil. 

All of human history can be viewed from this angle. There are those who belong to God who are concerned  to live for his glory and for the advancement of his kingdom on earth, and there are those who belong to the evil one who are concerned to promote their own glory (to make a name for themselves), and to advance the kingdoms of this world. 

Cain and his son Enoch were of the world. Cain built a city and named it after his son, Enoch. 

Lamech was a mighty king who perverted justice. 

In the days leading  up to the flood powerful and tyrannical kings ruled on earth. They “saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose” (Genesis 6:2, ESV).

The Nimrod in the line of Ham was another one who lived  for his own glory and sought to advance the kingdoms of this world independent of God. “The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city” (Genesis 10:10–12, ESV).

This conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdoms of the world will by displayed most famously in Genesis 11  in the story of the tower of  Bable, when the people of the earth said, “‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.’ And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built” (Genesis 11:4–5, ESV).

Friends, there is nothing new under the sun. Even today there are those who live for their own glory and pleasure, and for the kingdoms of this world, and there are those who live for the glory and pleasure of God, and the advancement of his righteous kingdom. 

The line of Ham is characterized by the insatiable desire to establish kingdoms where man rules as supreme, independent of, and in constant rebellion against the God of heaven. 


The Sons of Shem

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Thirdly, as we consider the Sethites, let it be recognized that God, by his grace, determined to set a people apart for himself as holy and, through them, to provide a savior. 

Remember the blessing pronounced upon Seth by Noah. Genesis 9:26: “He also said, ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.” (Genesis 9:26, ESV)

From Seth, Eber would be born. And from Eber, the Hebrews would descend. 

But notice that in this passage the line of Seth is traced through Eber and then through Yoktan (10:25), which does not lead Abram and the Hebrews.

In chapter 11 we will find that the line of Seth is again traced through Eber, but this time through Ebers son Peleg (11:16), and eventually to Terah, who was the father of Abram and the Hebrews.   

Seths line is put before us twice, therefore — first in chapter 10 and again in chapter 11. The first does not lead to God’s chosen people. The second genealogy does. This was also true of Adam’s genealogy. The line of Cain was traced from Adam in Genesis 4. And the genealogy of Adam was presented again in Genesis 5 — this time with attention given to righteous and chosen line of Seth. 

What is the meaning of all of this?  It shows that God, by his grace, was faithful to preserve a people for himself in the world as holy and, through them, to provide a savior. This is the story of scripture. This is a crucial aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 



From the line of Japheth 

God’s purpose has always been to save people from every tongue, tribe and nation. 

Let us pray for the salvation of the nations. 

Racism has no place in Christ’s church. 

From the line of Ham

Let us recognize and beware of the spirit of the world which is to build cities and kingdoms  for the glory and honor of man and not for the glory of God. 

Let us be sure that that spirit is not in us. 

Let us live for God’s glory — may he be our only Lord and king. 

And let us labor to promote his kingdom in the world around us. 

I wonder, what opportunities do you have to promote God’s kingdom?

From the line of Shem 

Let us marvel at the mercy and grace of God that he would call and  keep a people for himself so that he might provide salvation for the world through them? 

This  is your spiritual heritage if you are in Christ.  

Thanks be to God for his faithfulness to call and to preserve his people in every generation. 

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