The 26 Descendants of Shem
Shem is usually mentioned first, but he’s listed last this time so that the narrative can move right into the story of Babel and the genealogy of Abraham, who descended from Shem.
To Shem also, the younger brother of Japheth and the ancestor of all the children of Eber [including the Hebrews], children were born.
Genesis 10:21 (AMP)
The children of Eber comprised many different groups among the sons of Shem. The name Eber has been associated with the word Hebrew, the name by which the Israelites were known by other peoples. They were the ones who possessed the knowledge of the true God. The term “Hebrew” is racial, while “Israelite” is national. In later days, these words were used as synonyms.
The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpachshad, Lud, and Aram.
Genesis 10:22 (AMP)
Aram, or the Aramean, or Syrian people, make up the group around and within Damascus. They figured prominently in the history of the people of Israel. The Aramaic language became the language of trade and diplomatic relations. It gradually displaced the Hebrew language until, at the time of our Lord, Aramaic was the language of conversation and writing.
The sons of Aram were Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. Arphaxad was the father of Shelah, and Shelah was the father of Eber.
Genesis 10:23-24 (NET)
Five sons are mentioned, but the emphasis is on the family of Arphaxad because he was the grandfather of Eber. Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, came from the line of Eber, and his story begins in chapter 12.
Eber had two sons: one was named Peleg, which means “division,” because in his days, the earth was divided into many languages, and his brother’s name was Joktan.
Genesis 10:25 (VOICE)
This is probably referring to the dividing and dispersing of the nations described in chapter 11. However, some students think this “division” refers to a special dividing of the continents and rearranging of the landmasses.
Joktan fathered Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba,
Genesis 10:26-28 (VOICE)
Sheba is often mentioned in the OT to denote a wealthy group of people whose principal work was to furnish gold, perfumes, and precious stones for export to Palestine and to Egypt. They are identified with the Sabaeans, who held a prominent place in trade and in governmental achievement. So far as Bible students are concerned, the queen of Sheba was the most famous of the people of Sheba.
Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan.
Genesis 10:29 (AMP)
Ophir was famed for its fine gold. Solomon sent his men along with Hiram’s to extract it and to transport it to Palestine. In addition to gold, they found precious metals and gems in great abundance. Soon Solomon’s kingdom rivaled all the surrounding lands in wealth. Ophir was probably a seaport on the coast of Arabia. It has been located as far away as the mouth of the Indus. Much of the gold overlay of the Temple of Solomon came from Ophir.
The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha as one goes toward Sephar to the hill country of the east.
These are Shem’s descendants by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.
Genesis 10:30-31 (AMP)
This list of names and places carries with it some important theological truths, not the least of which is that Jehovah God is the Lord of the nations. God gave the nations their inheritance (Deut. 32:8) and “determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:26). In spite of despots like Nimrod, Jehovah is the God of geography and of history; He is in control. What God promises, He performs; and Noah’s prophecy about his sons came true.
Second, in spite of external differences, all nations belong to the same human family. God made us all “of one blood” and no race or people can claim to be superior to any other race or people. While in His providence, God has permitted some nations to make greater progress economically and politically than other nations, their achievements don’t prove that they are better than others (Prov. 22:2).
Third, God has a purpose for the nations to fulfill. The account in Genesis 9:24-11:32 makes it clear that God’s chosen nation was Israel. From chapter 12 on, Israel will be center stage in the narrative. But God also used Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Media-Persia, and Rome to accomplish His purposes with reference to the Jewish people. God can use pagan rulers like Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, and even Augustus Caesar.
Fourth, God is concerned for all the nations. Frequently in the Book of Psalms you find the phrase “all ye lands” or “all nations.” Psalms 66:1-8 and 67 both express this universal vision that all the nations of the earth come to know God and serve Him. The church’s commission to go into the entire world isn’t a New Testament afterthought; it’s written into the warp and woof of the Old Testament story.
Finally, what’s written in Genesis 9-10 must have been an encouragement to the people of Israel when they conquered Canaan. They knew that they were the chosen people of God and that the Canaanites would be their servants. They also knew that their God was the Lord of the nations and could dispose of them as He pleased. The conquest of Canaan was a victory of faith in God’s promises, which explains why God admonished Joshua to meditate on the Word of God (Josh. 1:8).
Noah’s three sons left a mixed legacy to the world, but the Lord of the nations was still in charge, and history is still His story.