1 These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.
2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer: Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. 4 The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.
6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabteca. The sons of Raamah: Sheba and Dedan. 8 Cush fathered Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt fathered Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, 14 Pathrusim, Casluhim (from whom the Philistines came), and Caphtorim.
15 Canaan fathered Sidon his firstborn and Heth, 16 and the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites. Afterward the clans of the Canaanites dispersed. 19 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. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations. – Genesis 10:1-20 ESV
Noah lived a long and fruitful life. For 950 years, this righteous and blameless man had walked with God. No, he had not been perfect or sinless. But he had stood out from the rest of his generation as a man who had a heart for God. And, as a result, Noah found favor with God. He and the members of his immediate family were chosen by God and graciously given a chance to survive the judgment that God poured out on the world. They alone had lived before and after the devastation of the flood. After assessing the pervasive presence of wickedness amongst mankind, God had decided to destroy His creation and start over. With this small remnant of humanity and a relative sampling of the rest of the living creatures, God rebooted the entire creation project.
In Genesis 10, Moses provides another genealogical listing designed to emphasize this new phase of God’s plan. The first genealogy is found in chapter five and covers the family tree of Adam all the way to Noah. Now, Moses picks up the story of mankind’s expansion by chronicling the family trees of Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
Noah eventually died, but his three sons would continue to fulfill God’s mandate to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Humanity would continue to use its God-given capacity to procreate. Just as Adam and Eve had born children, so would these three men. And, as Moses makes clear, “Sons were born to them after the flood” (Genesis 10:1 ESV). Life continued. But as will soon become readily evident, so did sin.
From this one man, Noah, would come all the nations of the world. And though he was a man who walked with God, his descendants would show a stubborn capacity to walk away from God. The further the narrative gets away from the story of Eden, the greater the distance grows between God and mankind. As humanity multiplies and spreads across the earth, its desire for autonomy and independence from God will increase exponentially.
Yet, God had a strategy in place. He was working behind the scenes to preserve a faithful remnant through whom He could bring about His ultimate redemptive plan for the world. The genealogical lists found in Genesis 10 are intended to display God’s sovereign power and glory. The births recorded in this chapter are meant to emphasize God’s providential orchestration of all things. He was divinely determining the trajectory of mankind, creating from the three sons of Noah all the future nations of the world. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses encouraged the people of Israel to consider God’s sovereign authority over the nations.
Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God. – Deuteronomy 32:7-8 ESV
And many centuries later, the apostle Paul would reemphasize the undeniable sovereignty of God over the affairs of mankind.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” – Acts 17:26-28 ESV
In the lengthy list of names found in Genesis 10, Moses provides a series of not-so-subtle hints, designed to explain to his readers the origins of some of the nations of their day. In the family tree of Ham, Moses reveals the genesis of Babel, the city that would later become known as Babylon. Of course, that same family tree contains the name of Canaan, the son of Ham whom Noah had cursed. From this son would come the Canaanites, the people group who would occupy the land that God would later promise to Abraham as his inheritance. In verse 12 is mentioned the city of Nineveh, which would later become the capital of the Assyrian empire, the nation that God would eventually use to destroy the northern kingdom of Israel. Verse 14 contains the name of the Philistines, another people group that would prove to be a constant thorn in the side of God’s chosen people.
Moses also points out that Canaan became the father of “the Jebusites, the Amorites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, the Arvadites, the Zemarites, and the Hamathites” (Genesis 10:16-18 ESV). This list of names would have been very familiar to Moses’ audience. Among this list are the names of the nations that God had promised to defeat so that Moses and the people of Israel could occupy the land of Canaan.
The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” – Exodus 33:1-3 ESV
Moses is assuring his people that God had been behind the creation of these various nations. Their formation had not been a byproduct of chance or serendipity. They had been divinely ordained. And while many of these nations would eventually become the enemies of Israel, they would be completely under the authority and dominion of God Almighty. There was a purpose for their existence and it had been determined by God.
And Moses provides one last “hint” in his genealogical record of Ham’s family tree. In verse 19, he describes the eventual territorial boundaries of the Canaanites. And in his description, he includes the names of two infamous cities that would play an important role in the history of Israel: Sodom and Gomorrah.
The family tree of Ham includes such names as Egypt, Canaan, Babel, Assyria, Nineveh, Canaan, Sodom, and Gomorrah. The Jewish readers to whom Moses wrote would have flinched at the mention of these names. They were laden with significance and represented important milestones in the history of the Jewish people. And yet, Moses is painstakingly proving that these various nations and cities were the byproduct of God’s sovereign will. A point he emphasizes when he writes, “These are the sons of Ham, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations” (Genesis 10:20 ESV).
“The table of nations is a ‘horizontal’ genealogy rather than a ‘vertical’ one (those in chapters 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.” – Allen P. Ross, Genesis
The Jews, who were designated as God’s chosen people, had to constantly question why God had allowed such nations as Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon to exist. Why did God permit the presence of wicked cities like Sodom and Gomorrah? Wouldn’t the world have been a better place without the Canaanites, Amorites, and Jebusites?
But this chapter was intended to display and explain the sovereignty of God. As Paul so clearly asserted, “From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries” (Genesis 17:26 NLT).
The sin committed by Ham (Genesis 9) produced some significant consequences. His genealogical line is filled with a rogue’s gallery of names and locations that would have struck fear into the hearts of the Jewish people. But these individuals and nations each existed for a reason. They would have divinely ordained roles to play in God’s unfolding redemptive plan. Yes, from Ham would come the Canaanites. But as chapter 11 will reveal, from Shem would come Abram, the father of the Hebrew people.
When dealing with the question of God’s sovereignty, it’s essential that we accept the bad with the good. The existence of the Canaanites, Ninevites, Babylonians, Egyptians, and Sodomites may cause us to question the wisdom of God, we must always remember that God’s ways are not always understandable or even logical to our finite minds. And the sovereign God of the universe has warned us that trying to comprehend His ways is well beyond our limited capacity.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:8-9 NLT
Mankind was procreating and filling the earth, but all the while, God was fulfilling His sovereign, infallible will.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.