This chapter outlines the nations that came from Noah’s three sons: Shem, Ham and Japheth. The world’s population of today stems from these three; therefore, this is a chapter of genealogies, of families, which are the origin of the nations of the world today. The order in this chapter, including the opening and closing verses of 1 and 32, is as follows:
This chapter is preparation for and portends (vss. 5, 18, 20; 25, 32) the division of nations throughout the world by the hand of God in chapter 11. This chapter lends weight and clarity to the Apostle Paul’s remarks to those he addressed in Athens in the Areopagus, such remarks prompted by their altar that listed the inscription, “To the Unknown God”:
God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men's hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, “For we are also His offspring.” (Acts 17:24-28)
One thing may be certain from both chapter 1 and chapter 10 of Genesis: all persons on earth are relatives of each other. In light of this it is bewildering when one considers all the strife and conflict between nations and people throughout the world, except for the fact of the existence of the person of Satan, the propagation of evil and the inherent pride of man.
Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood. The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah. The sons of Javan were Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. From these the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated into their lands, everyone according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.
Those who have a high degree of interest in ethnology and anthropology will find the genealogies of this chapter more than interesting. This commentator will not be among this number; although admittedly, a study of the world’s population is worthwhile. Yet, there are divisions within the ranks of experts in this field when it comes to pinpointing the precise linage of each nation and race of today; and, because of this, various suggestions and possibilities will be shared with the reader.
From Japheth comes the Japhetic peoples—the Medes, Greeks, Cypriots, etc. This probably includes the Caucasian people of Europe and of northern Asia. Many scholars would also include the Orientals here. J. Vernon McGee quotes H.S. Miller’s chart, which includes (1) those who proceeded from Magog: Scythians, Slavs, Russians, Bulgarians, Bohemians, Poles, Slovaks, and Croatians; (2) those from Madai: the Indians and the Iranic races—Medes, Persians, Afghans, and Kurds; (3) those from Javan: Greeks, Romans and the Romance nationalities such as French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, etc.; and (4) those from Tiras: Thracians, Teutons, Germans, and the east Germanic and the European races, the north Germanic or the Scandinavians and the west Germanic from which comes the High German and the Low German, and the Anglo-Saxon race, the English people.
The language in verse 5 looks forward to the time after the tower of Babel in chapter 11.
The sons of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. The sons of Cush were Seba, Havilah, Sabtah, Raamah, and Sabtechah; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, "Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD." And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city). Mizraim begot Ludim, Anamim, Lehabim, Naphtuhim, Pathrusim, and Casluhim (from whom came the Philistines and Caphtorim). Canaan begot Sidon his firstborn, and Heth; the Jebusite, the Amorite, and the Girgashite; the Hivite, the Arkite, and the Sinite; the Arvadite, the Zemarite, and the Hamathite. Afterward the families of the Canaanites were dispersed. And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; then as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.
From Ham came the Hamitic peoples—Ethiopians, Egyptians, Canaanites, Philistines, Babylonians, and possibly the African and Oriental peoples, though many scholars view the Orientals as Japhetic. As is seen, Ham had other sons other than Canaan even though it was only Canaan who was cursed due to the incident with Noah’s drunkenness in the last chapter.
What is notable in this passage is the introduction of Nimrod, a Hebrew name that had the meaning, rebel.
NIMROD (nim’rod). A descendant of Ham through Cush who early distinguished himself throughout the region of Mesopotamia (Gen 10:8-12). He is described as “a mighty one in the earth” (v. 8) and “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (v. 9), probably signifying that he was one of the first recorded potentates in history and a tyrant (a hunter of men, cf. Jer 16:16). According to v. 10 he founded a kingdom in the land of Shinar (q.v.), i.e., in southern Iraq, consisting of Babel, Erech, and Accad, “even all of them”. . . Then he went forth into Assyria and built—or rebuilt—Nineveh. . . . .
Archaeologically speaking, Nimrod may have been the leader of the Ubaid movement from S to N Iraq, c. 3800-3500 B.C. That is the only period prior to the time of Abraham (c. 2000 B.C.) when a non-Semitic culture came from the S and left significant remains in the early levels of the Assyrian cities. Sargo of Akkad or Agade (c. 2300 B.C.), who conquered all of Mesopotamia by marching from his capital near Babylon, was a Semitic ruler.
In Mic 5:6 Assyria is called the land of Nimrod. To the present day his name is attached to ruined cities: the site of Calah (q.v.) is called “Nimrud,” and the site of ancient Borsippa in Babylonia is called “Birs Nimrud.”
(Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, John Rea, Th.D. Theological Lecturer and Editor)
An interesting study on Nimrod from secular history may be found in Alexander Hislop’s book, The Two Babylons. Nimrod was responsible for the Tower of Babel, and he attempted to bring together the human race after the Flood in an effort to unify it into one nation of which he could become the great world ruler. He was the rebel who founded Babel, the hunter of souls of men. He was the lawless one, and he foreshadowed the last world rule, the Antichrist, who is yet to appear.
And children were born also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder. The sons of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. The sons of Aram were Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. Arphaxad begot Salah, and Salah begot Eber. To Eber were born two sons: the name of one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother's name was Joktan. Joktan begot Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, Jerah, Hadoram, Uzal, Diklah, Obal, Abimael, Sheba, Ophir, Havilah, and Jobab. All these were the sons of Joktan. And their dwelling place was from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the mountain of the east. These were the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands, according to their nations. These were the families of the sons of Noah, according to their generations, in their nations; and from these the nations were divided on the earth after the flood.
From Shem came the Semitic peoples—Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Arameans, Phoenicians.
The reference to Shem and Japheth without Ham recalls Noah’s blessing of Shem and Japheth in 9:26-27, where there Canaan is also excluded. The mention of the “sons of Eber” anticipates the genealogy that yet lies ahead and results in the birth of Abraham (11:10-26).
The list of descendants of Shem is also highly selective, going to the two sons of Eber and then following the line of the second son, Joktan. Significantly, another genealogy of Shem is repeated after the account of the building of Babylon (11:1-9), and there the line is continued to Abraham through the first son of Eber, Peleg (11:10-26). Thus a dividing line is drawn through the descendants of Shem on either side of the city of Babylon, falling between the two sons of Eber, Peleg and Joktan. One line leads to the building of Babylon and the other to the family of Abraham. A hint to this division is in v.25. Typically, the “earth” refers to the “inhabitants of the land.” Thus not only is the land divided in the confusion of languages (11:1), but two great lines of humanity diverge from the midst of the sons of Shem: those who seek to make a name (shem; GK 9005) for themselves in the building of the city of Babylon (11:4) and those for whom God will make a name (shem, 12:2; GK 9002) in the call of Abraham.
(NIV Bible Commentary, Volume 1: Old Testament, Zondervan Publishing House, 1194)
The final verse of this chapter again takes up the theme of the division of the nations. What has been described geographically and linguistically in this chapter will be described theologically in chapter 11, namely, God’s judgment of Babylon and His dispersion of earth’s inhabitants. Then the Bible will narrow its focus on the “seed of Abraham” and the “sons of Israel.”