What is the Table of Nations in Genesis 10?
The Table of Nations is a list found in Genesis 10 that includes the list of the founders of 70 nations descended from Noah's three sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The list includes 26 descendants of Shem, 30 descendants of Ham, and 14 descendants of Japheth.
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While some interpret this list of descendants as exhaustive, many understand the list as not intended to include every descendant from Noah. As with other biblical genealogies, this list appears to include representative figures to bring readers from Noah to Abraham.
Where are or were these nations? Some of these nations have been easily identified. Others remain unknown. Shem's descendants are listed as those who would become the Arabian people. Ham would become forefather of the southern people of Northeast Africa. Japheth's descendants would migrate toward what is now known as Europe.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus produced a list that sought to connect the Table of Nations to ethnic groups existing in his time. Many later writers followed his example and based their work upon his to varying degrees. Though imperfect, his research offered insight into what people in the first century understood regarding many of these early people groups.
Some important selected examples from this Table can be noted. For example, Shem was noted as the ancestor of Eber (v. 21), the word from which the word "Hebrew" would originate. Abraham would descend from Shem, becoming the father of the Hebrew people.
Shem's son Elam would become father of the Elamites. Ashur would become the ancestor of the Assyrians. Japheth's descendants included Gomer, Magog, Tubal, and Meshech, all nations mentioned centuries later in Ezekiel 38 as nations that will arise against Israel in a future war.
Another interesting note is the mention of Peleg in verse 25: "To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother's name was Joktan." The division of the earth in his time referred to the Tower of Babel and the account found in Genesis 11 in which God created many languages as a judgment upon the people of Babel.
The Table of Nations offers a unique and important resource of information regarding the early history and migration of humans prior to the time of Abraham. Of great importance is the influence God showed over rescuing one family and then repopulating the earth through Noah's family as part of His redemptive, sovereign plan.
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