This not one of the top 10 go-to texts for aspiring preachers. Are even seasoned ones who probably would choose another one. Yet are some good and important things to learn from chapter filled with strange sounding names.
All this of great significance to people Moses most concerned with, Hebrew children. They needed this story because gives answers to ultimate questions. Every generation including ours needs it for same reason. Names given here probably largely familiar to Hebrews, doubtful whether many grasped all the connections and their place in it all.
Not simply list of names useful for constructing family tree. Not even useful for figuring out elapsed time… no age or life-span numbers given. Not even certain if names listed in birth order, especially since introductory sentence follows different order from subsequent listing. Is not a complete listing of names yet contains details found nowhere else in ancient literature.
Repeated summary statement in v.5, 20, 31
From these the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated into their lands, everyone according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.
These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.
These were the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands, according to their nations.
No explanation given to bridge between way of life before the flood and after. Idea of languages, lands and nations certainly well-known to Moses and Hebrews… no surprise there. How it all happened not necessarily well understood, something Moses will take care of next. Understanding what is taught here in Table of Nations helps them and us with question of identity, sense of place, God’s purpose and their part in it.
who you are
descended from Adam and Eve for sure, through line of Seth and then Noah… but what about after the Flood?
have to wait until end of list before names would start getting personal – descendant of Shem: Eber, then Peleg (25)
next chapter with Shem’s genealogy continue story, identifying these as direct ancestors of Abraham… the limb on family tree where they were attached
two possibilities: Eber perhaps the source of name “Hebrew”; Peleg: “in his days the earth was divided” perhaps reference to division/scattering explained in next chapter
who they are
Japheth listed first, descendants of only two of 7 sons named (selectively) – ancestor of Gentile peoples including us
next Ham’s people, significant commentary included in this section – details given about Nimrod, pertinent to next chapter as well as Israel’s future
seeds of unrest / rebellion already beginning to show – Nimrod described as “a mighty hunter”, not a good thing
Nimrod all about empire building… starting with Babel/Babylon, then Nineveh, later known for rebellion against God and oppression of his people
descendants of Noah did indeed through their many offspring replenish the earth, probably not how they expected!
somehow there came to be different languages / families / nations… but not different races
yet even for all the differentness and what it would lead to, still related – enemies at times yet family
where you are going
headed for Canaan, the land God promised – Moses language changes v.16, identifying peoples rather than individuals
should have encouraged Moses’ contemporaries – all the “-ites” descended from Noah’s grandson Canaan… the one he cursed, said would serve others
implied warning perhaps in how borders of Canaan identified – Sidon and Gaza ok for north/south, but Sodom and Gomorrah?
who your neighbors will be
neighbors would be Assyrians and Babylonians, then further away the families of Japheth reaching outer limits of known world
knew about some of neighbors in Egypt and northern Africa, now have clearer teaching about their ancestry
brief reference to coastland people indication that neighbors more than just the ones you can see over the next hill
center of the world
would be easy to understand from this political-historical-genealogical account that land of Canaan the hub of human activity
from that area where concentrated population had been dispersed, where major social and commercial routes intersected
Japheth’s people an arc NE to NW of Canaan, Ham’s people S and SW, Shem’s people S and E, Mediterranean to W
if was one God over original one family, is still same God over all their descendants – includes Hebrew children… and us
may seem like for a time Israel was focus of God’s attention – did certainly receive special favors / treatment
at same time, God has always had entire world, whole human family in view and he is Lord over all of them
Acts 17:26 “And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings”
racial distinctions and racism as we know it not God’s way of looking at mankind – in his view are one human race
God has had a plan from the beginning, articulated in miniature form to Adam and Eve – at no time has God deviated from or abandoned his one plan
instead he has governed his creatures and their actions to bring about that one plan, preserving the line of people from Adam through Seth and Shem down to Jesus
Regardless of how it looks in world today, God is still Lord of the nations. He has a plan for the nations, to “redeem us to God by His blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9) We are included in his plan, are privileged to be part of his plan – we are his ambassadors, carrying truth of Gospel to all who will hear. Should do so, confident that God will continue to move his plan forward, that Christ’s kingdom will advance. We know the good news, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to give hope to the hopeless, to heal the brokenhearted and set captives free.