Genesis 10-12 (Bible-365.4): Rethinking Genealogies

Genesis 10-12 (Bible-365.4): Rethinking Genealogies

Genesis 10 deals with the family tree of Noah’s sons.
Genesis 11 tells us how all those nations (born of Noah’s sons) came to be so diverse.
Genesis 12 splits the book between Creation and early humanity (chapters 1-11) and God’s covenant promises to Abraham and his descendants (the rest of the book – and in fact, the rest of the Bible).

Family trees (genealogies) are important in the Bible for a few reasons:

  1. They prove the lineage of a person (i.e. they can show how Jesus is a direct descendant of King David).
  2. They can show us how individuals gave birth to diverse generations, which in turn produced vastly different nations.
  3. They can show us how the blessing or cursing, the righteousness or sins of the father can be carried over into multiple generations.
  4. They can also show us how a curse on one generation may come back to negatively impact the blessing on another generation, and vice versa.

All of these are the case for today, Noah’s family tree.

Noah’s three sons were (in order): Japheth, Shem, Ham. Ham is obviously the youngest (9:24), and Japheth is obviously the oldest (10:21). Ham was cursed by his father for mocking his drunkenness. The others were blessed. This is how each of the family trees of Noah’s sons breaks down:

Japheth (the eldest):

  • Notable sons: Gomer and Javan – these are the sons whose sons are also recorded. (Other sons are Magog, Madai, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras).
  • Grandchildren: Gomer’s kids (Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah), and Javan’s kids (Elishah, Tarshish, the Kittim and the Rodanim).

From Japheth, the maritime and coastland nations were born. Japheth is traditionally held to be the father of the Indo-European peoples who moved north and west into Europe and Russia. It is interesting that although he is the oldest son of Noah, his family tree is the least accounted for in the Bible.

Shem (the middle child):

  • Notable sons: Aram and Arphaxad. (Other sons are Elam, Asshur, and Lud).
  • Grandchildren: Aram’s kids (Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshech), and Arphaxad’s son (Shelah).
  • Great grandchildren: Shelah’s son (Eber).
  • Great great grandchildren: Eber’s sons (Peleg and Joktan).
  • Great great great grandchildren: Joktan’s kids (Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah and Jobab).

From Shem, the eastern and middle-eastern people groups were born. Shem is traditionally held to be the father of the Hebrew people, and Eber, whom is listed specifically in verse 21 as Shem’s descendant is where the word “Hebrew” comes from. Also, Shem’s descendants are known as Semites – which is where the terms “Semitism” and “Anti-semitism” come from. Shem is also held to be the original recorder of these family trees, as his family is listed to the fifth generation, and it is through his line that the “seed of the woman” would pass, leading eventually to Abraham, David, and Jesus. (By comparison, Japheth’s descendants are only recorded to the second generation, and Ham’s only to the third generation).

Also interesting to note is that verse 25 says that Eber’s (Shem’s great grandson’s) first son was named Peleg “because in his time the earth was divided.” This division most likely refers to the Tower of Babel, and the division of languages, nations, and cultures when God came down to confuse them.

Ham (the youngest):

  • Notable sons: Cush, Mizraim (also Egypt, ESV), and Canaan. We know from history that Canaan and Egypt became nations that were constantly at odds with Israel. Also, Cush is the same as “Ethiopia.”
  • Grandchildren: Cush’s kids (Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, Sabteca, and Nimrod – who directed the building of the Tower of Babel), Mizraim’s (Egypt’s) kids (Ludites, Anamites, Lehabites, Naphtuhites, Pathrusites, Casluhites (from whom the Philistines came) and Caphtorites – and we know as well the Philistines were constantly at odds with Israel), and Canaan’s kids (Sidon, the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites – and a good majority of those people groups were ordered wiped out by God as the Israelites journeyed into the Promised Land).
  • Great grandchildren: Raamah’s sons (Sheba and Dedan).

Nimrod, who was Cush’s (Ethiopia’s) son also established the notable kingdoms of Babylon and Ninevah (among others: Erech, Akkad and Calneh, in Shinar, Rehoboth Ir, Calah and Resen). Babylon became the kingdom that took Israel captive for their long Exile in 586-538 BC, and Ninevah was a godless kingdom that Jonah was told to go to and preach repentance to, and Nahum prophesied the destruction of. Additionally, the Canaanites spread south to Gaza, as well as Sodom and Gomorrah (which were both destroyed for their godlessness).

From Ham, the southern peoples were born – Ethiopians, Egyptians, other Africans, and so on. But, it is wonderful to see God’s hand moving in Africa in these days despite the wickedness of Ham and his original descendants. God is a God of all peoples, who redeems and forgives all peoples who repent and turn to him. He is an inclusive God, not an exclusive God.

From Shem to Abram

Since “the seed of the woman” promised in Genesis 3 was passed down through Shem’s line, it was important to accurately record his family tree. Chapter 11 does just that:

  1. Shem -> Arphaxad
  2. Arphaxad -> Shelah
  3. Shelah -> Eber
  4. Eber -> Peleg
  5. Peleg -> Reu
  6. Reu -> Serug
  7. Serug -> Nahor
  8. Nahor -> Terah
  9. Terah -> Abram

So Abram is the 10th generation descended from Noah, and Shem’s great x6 grandson.


Besides an interesting look at history, and the aforementioned 4 reasons genealogies are important, Mark Driscoll makes an equally great point about the lesson we can learn from these chapters: He says that genealogies can help us understand how the choices of our own ancestors help determine the courses of our lives, and how our choices will determine and impact the lives of countless generations of our own descendants.


Here’s also a great picture to illustrate the different family trees:

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