Words by Paula Morrison | Illustrations by Marie Warner Preston
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: We are not makers of history, we are made by history." And Genesis 10 reminds us that ultimately, we are made by His-story. Recounting the formation of the nations, this important genealogy establishes not only the origins of various people groups, but also points us to the line of Christ and reminds us of God's faithfulness throughout all generations.
History was one of my favourite subjects at school—and growing up in the UK, there was a lot of it! In studying history, I found some of the answers to the questions I had as a child growing up in a divided nation; it explained how nations are formed, what causes other nations to be their enemy, and how that influences them going forward. These historical facts shaped my understanding of the world and my place in it; as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “We are not makers of history, we are made by history.”
Genesis 10 reminds us that God is the maker of all history. Though it might be tempting to skip over these lists of names, they are our origins, the start of Israel’s family tree and the birth of nations we know today. They tell a story, providing geographical reference points that were important to the original audience. In recording it, Moses provided the Israelites with a compact version of their history that could be easily memorised and shared down the generations; still today, the names are helpful in tracing the origins of all nations. Yet it isn’t intended to be a complete historical record. Rather, it is a selective account that establishes the foundational lineages that lead to Abraham, to David, and ultimately, to Christ: the son of David, the son of Abraham, and the son of Adam.
On a more detailed level, this table lists the generations of Noah, starting from his three sons, who found the diverse ethnic groupings which spread over the earth post-Flood. The lines of Japheth and Shem are linked by Noah’s blessing in Genesis 9:26-27. Noah asks God to extend Japheth’s territory and for him to live in the tents of Shem, indicating for Shem to treat his younger brother with honour and his offspring as family. In time, the sons of Japheth settled across modern Europe from Spain to Russia, while the sons of Shem occupied the Arabian Peninsula in the modern Middle East. It is from the nation formed from Shem’s line that Abraham will come (Genesis 11:10-26) and how the Jewish nation will trace its heritage all the way to Jesus. Their history has become our history: This is the same geographical area where the Gospel went first to the Jew and then to the Gentile in the book of Acts. We as Gentile believers are grafted into this line of promise, descendants of Japheth welcomed in by Shem’s descendants (Galatians 3:29).
By contrast, the sons of Ham became major enemies of the nation of Israel. Canaan in particular is connected with evil and opposition to God throughout Scripture, as are Egypt and Cush. This branch of Noah’s family settled across West Africa and parts of Arabia were they lived as enemies of God and pursued evil practices (Deuteronomy 20:17-18). The curse on Canaan to be the lowest of slaves to his brothers is fulfilled when Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land and Canaan becomes a servant to the children of Israel. Yet even these enemy peoples find their healing and redemption in Jesus (Matthew 15:21-28; John 4:4-26).
Finally, we must note the construction of the genealogy in addition to its contents. This table lists seventy names, representing the product of seven and ten, both numbers signifying completion and perfection to the ancient Hebrew mind. This is no coincidence. It is our perfect God who is the origin of our history, stretching back from the very beginning of nations forward to the culmination of the generations awaiting the Messiah at the coming of Jesus Christ. For us today, these verses point to God’s faithfulness to all nations through the Gospel. We know this is true as we see the righteous line of Christ continue century after century, generation after generation, throughout all the world (Psalm 119:90).
Meditate on Psalm 119:90. As you reflect on God’s faithfulness to the earliest generations, how can You see Him at work in your own family line? Give thanks for what He has been shaping throughout the past generations and commit those yet to come to His loving care.