The Table of Nations; Japheth;
Genesis Lesson #052
May 19, 2004
In the episode of the last part of Genesis chapter nine Noah plants a vineyard, v. 20. He drinks the wine and he gets drunk. There have been many people who have taught that what happened here was something that surprised Noah. But that is an attempt to try to justify a more positive view of Noah. Every time we look at Old Testament characters that are listed in the New Testament we need to realize that the Old Testament gives both good and bad, and throughout the book of Genesis we see these characters start off good and end up revealing a certain corruption in their character. This is not just to denigrate them but the writer is making a point that this is the result of sin, and that sin corrupts everyone. So Noah is presented here as getting involved in the sin of drunkenness. But the focus isn’t on Noah, it is really on Canaan. This is emphasized by the fact that twice the writer says “Ham the father of Canaan.” Then the curse on Canaan in v. 25 drives our attention on what is happening in relationship to this curse on Canaan.
The phrase that Noah uncovered himself indicates what the key issue is in this whole thing. The allegation is that it was some kind of sexual sin, that Ham commits toward Noah, because it says that Noah awoke and knew what his younger son had done to him. But the point is that the verb used in v. 21 is the hithpael stem of the verb which means to uncover or to lay bare. The hithpael stem is a reflexive stem, so this is accurately translated he “uncovered himself.” Then in v. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father. The phrase “saw the nakedness” expresses Ham’s action. The phrase in the Hebrew comprises the verb to see in the perfect tense, indicating past action [he saw], and nakedness is what he saw. In Leviticus chapters eighteen and twenty there are numerous statements describing the sexual sins and perversions of the Canaanites. In all of those passages there is a different phrase. In Genesis there is the phrase to look upon or to see and a phrase in Leviticus 18:19 is a parallelism. Some people say that this shows that seeing the nakedness is the same as uncovering the nakedness. No it is not. The key controlling thought in the Leviticus passages is different and has to do with sexual perversion. So it is an extremely weak argument to say that to see the nakedness implies some sort of sexual sin. We have to remember that nakedness in the ancient world represented a loss of human dignity and to look upon someone in such a state of vulnerability was a sign of a lack of respect, a lack of personal dignity, and they had the person in a position where they lacked protection and were vulnerable. It was considered and extreme cultural sin to do that. What Ham did shows a moral flaw, and so this represents the first stage in the process of abandoning the moral code that has been stated in the Noahic covenant. It is already breaking down. Ham’s lack of respect for his father represents the first stage in this abandonment. What happens is that Noah in his perceptiveness of what is going on with his sons recognizes that Ham’s problem is already evident in the behavior of his son, Canaan, and he prophesies that this will lead to a complete breakdown of sexual morality among the descendants of Canaan. So he pronounces a curse upon Canaan, that because of his lack of self-discipline in this area of sexual sin it will lead to servitude of those people. Eventually the Canaanites were also related to the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians who are all destroyed by others. The Canaanites were wiped out by the Jews, the Phoenicans eventually disappear from history, and the Carthaginians are also wiped out by Rome. So it is ultimately fulfilled that Canaan goes into servitude to his brethren.
The blessing is on Shem and the blessing is related to their spiritual environment, and this works itself out in the descendants of Shem which will be given in chapters 10 and 11 and culminates in Abraham. It is through Abraham that God will call out a new people and through whom the Messiah will come. So the spiritual blessing is through Shem who is positive to doctrine, positive to the Lord, and it is specifically stated again that Canaan will be his servant. Then in verse 27 is the blessing, “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.” The Hebrew word for “enlarge”—it is a play on words—means to expand. Throughout history you see this expansion and exploration of Japhethic tribes. The expanded north into Russia and then westward, but eventually the new world was expanded and settled by descendants of Japheth, and then they have gone out under the British and then the Americans and many of the Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries, and established colonies and basically controlled most of the commerce on the face of the earth. The idea that Japheth may dwell in the tents of Shem is the fact that most Japheth’s descendants are going to come under the umbrella, as it were, of Christianity and Judaism; that most of western civilization is going to be influenced by Judeo-Christian values. This is the idea of dwelling in the tents of Shem, “and Canaan shall be his servant.”
In that curse you have the recognition that the human race and the history of the human race is going to follow upon the three different paths related to their progenitors. Every time we run into the names of the sons of Noah they are listed in this order: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And this is what we discover in Genesis chapter 10, verse one.
1) The oracle of Noah is a capsule of ancient history. It gives us a three-pronged approach to understanding human history in terms of these three sons of Noah.
2) The oracle emphasizes certain characteristics of the three branches of the human race in relation to cursing and blessing.
3) We see that Shem had positive volition toward God. His blessing is in the spiritual dimension and this is fulfilled ultimately in the person of Christ.
4) The descendants of Japheth share in that blessing and their promised geographical expansion.
Verse 1, “Now these are the generations [record of, toledot] of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.” This introduces chapter ten extending down 11:9. This is the section that gives us the summary of what happens to the three sons of Noah.
That brings us to the table of nations. This is called technically the table of nations and describes all of the nations and their sources, where they came from in terms of the descendants of Noah after the flood.
The Table of Nations
1) The table is foundational to understand Israel’s past and future. We have to understand the framework of this table that has to do with the foundation of Israel. Between the events of chapter nine and the events of chapter twelve we have these two genealogically heavy chapters. What is their purpose? Their purpose is to show the need for God calling out Abraham as the father of a distinct people. So the table of nations is a very brief run-down to show why that has to happen: that there is a continued corruption and the Gentiles as a whole fail to obey God, fail to follow and apply the Noahic covenant, and therefore God is going to quit working through the human race as a whole and is going to work primarily through the descendants of Abraham. The purpose for the table is to show various blood ties, various treaty relationships and alliances, and other connections between the people who existed at the time that Moses is writing this. When Moses writes the Pentateuch all of these peoples had been developed and Israel was getting ready to go into the land. The basic purpose of giving the table of nations was to give Israel an understanding of how they fit into the rest of humanity. This not only affects their past historical situation but will all affect their future condition and ultimately their final estate, because it is terminology from this table of nations that is used again and again and again that is used to define certain people groups.
2) The second thing we realize from a study of the table of nations is that the Mid-East conflict is primarily theological and has its roots in these nations. We often want to pin the Arab-Israeli conflict in Isaac and Ishmael. It also goes back to Isaac’s sons, Jacob and Esau. But there are numerous Arab tribes that were descendants of cousins of Abram and it goes back to the table of nations itself where we see that these various nations rejected God. What creates the division, the hostility, the warfare, the conflict in human history? It is the rejection of God. Everything ultimately has to be traced to a theological root, to an understanding of who God is, what God is doing in history, man as a fallen creature, and the consequences of that. So we see that this is ultimately going back to a breakdown in the first three divine institutions: # 1, human responsibility. We see that at the tower of Babel, they refused to take responsibility for their actions in terms of expanding, and they gather together and build the tower in rebellion against God. There is a further breakdown of responsibility several times in the life of Abraham. This leads to breakdown in divine institution #2, marriage, when Abraham takes Sarah’s advice to take Hagar as his wife and raise up the promised child through her. This in turn breaks down the third divine institution, the family. So again and again what we see traced through the table of nations and through Abraham and the rest of Genesis is when the first three divine institutions break down, then it creates conflict and warfare. And these seemingly innocent acts that take place early on don’t seem that momentous have consequences that reverberate for centuries. Noah recognizes that this action that takes place in the tent really represents certain major character traits that are going to reverberate all the way down through history. In the same way, this seemingly innocuous act of Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage continues to reverberate through the headlines of the newspapers every day that we read about the problems in Israel. So again and again in Genesis the emphasis is on the fact that what may appear to be events that aren’t that momentous just ripped the fabric of society in threw ancient world.
3) Nevertheless, God is still in control of history. As we go through the table of nations we see that God controls the affairs of nations. Even though all events and decisions in human history are freely made by man, in the final analysis every event in human history is under God’s sovereign will and He is working through human history to accomplish His purposes in the angelic conflict.
4) We learn that the sins of the parents may afflict future generations but only insofar as those future generations continue to perpetuate those sins. This is found in Exodus 34:7, and this is called the fourth generation curse. This doesn’t mean somebody can curse you and it goes down to the fourth generation. It doesn’t mean that God is going to punish down to the fourth generation those who commit certain sins, but if a person commits the same sins as his forbears they will. What the table of nations points out is that there is a genetic tendency to perpetuate the sins of the parents, grandparents and great grandparents unless there is a turning to God, positive volition, a change based on Bible doctrine. That is the only way to reverse this curse.
Basic Observations on the Table of Nations
1) Genesis 10:1-11:26 comprise the fourth and fifth toledot sections. (This is what happened to the descendants of) The fourth toledot extends from 10:1 to 11:9—the toledot of Noah’s sons (This is what happened to Shem, Ham, and Japheth). In 11:10-26 we have the toledot of Shem. Notice something: the 4th one says, “These are the generations of Shem, Ham, and Japheth,” and then the 5th comes back, “These are the generations of Shem.” What is the writer telling us? What is important here? The Shemites. This is where the focus is going to go, so it is foreshadowed by repetition of Shem’s descendants. That culminates in Terah who is the father of Abraham.
2) The isolation of Shem as a distinct toledot, after Shem, Ham and Japheth, draws our attention to the unique role that Shem will play in human history—that is, the descendants of Shem. Shem is the one who is positive to Yahweh.
3) The toledot of Shem, Ham and Japheth focuses on two things: what happens to the descendants of the three sons and the rebellion at the tower of Babel. In this section which is called the table of nations the Scriptures classify people according to genetically related plans. They are divided up anthropologically, linguistically, politically and geographically. The genealogy not only mentions the names of people but also mentions tribal groups, countries and cities.
4) Another thing that is interesting is the order reversals. Up to this point we’ve read the names of Noah’s sons as Shem, Ham, and Japheth. When the table of nations begins we don’t we don’t begin with the descendants of Shem, we begin with the descendants of Japheth. Again, this is the writer drawing our attention to the fact that he has reversed the order and he is going to end with Shem. That is the direction he is going in. This draws attention to Shem as the focal point of the table of nations.
5) The number of descendants. Japheth’s descendants number fourteen. Ham’s descendants number thirty. Shem’s, twenty-six. Add them up and we have seventy. There were 70 that went into Egypt with Jacob when Joseph was the vice-ruler. This all ties Genesis together. This shows us that there are internal threads here that give us great confidence that this is exactly what it claims to be, the Word of God. It was written by one author; there is an internal cohesion; and it is not just something cobbled together by different religious people over the centuries, which is what the liberals charge.
6) The seventy nations are said to correspond to the numbers of families in Israel where God arranged their boundaries according to the number of the Israelites—Deuteronomy 32:8, “When the Most High divided to the nations their inheritance, when he separated the sons of man [the division at Babel], he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.”
7) The table of nations also introduces important place names—important geographical places, cities, nations.
8) The writer shifts between two terms. He starts off talking about “the sons of” and then he will shift and use the phrase, so and so “gave birth to.” It indicates something. The writer emphasizes what became of the sons. Certain sons were given birth to and then the writer wants to emphasize what became of those sons, what they produced, the people that came forth from them in relation to Israel. We don’t see some things in the English but they are there in the Hebrew, and they give us the confidence that this is a historically valid document, that it is accurate in everything that it says, that “all Scripture is God-breathed.”
Genesis 10:1, “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.” Obviously they had daughters as well, but the focus is on that line of descent through the sons. We start off by looking at the sons of Japheth. Seven are given. Only two of these sons are then singled out for further development: Gomer and Javan. Their sons are given in vv. 3, 4, and then there is a concluding sentence in v. 5. That is where we are headed, the conclusion, the emphasis. “By these were the isles of the Gentiles divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations.”
The first focus is on Japheth. This word is also brought over into the Greek in the word IAPOTOS. He was considered to be the father of the Greeks and he is part god. Here is an interesting aside to remember. There are two things that go on during this early period of time. First, there were these stories that filtered down of the beni ha Elohim, the sons of God. These were the demons that intermarried with the daughters of men, and they produced a race that was known as the nephilim, the monsters, “giants in the earth in those days” [KJV]. This was a supernatural race. So that is one stream of thought that gets filtered. Remember that as time goes by these things get distorted, but there is a core of truth, a kernel of historical reality, that goes back to the fact that there were these demons that were thought of as gods who came to the earth and took human wives. Then, on the other hand, there are the beni Noah, the sons of Noah. These sons of Noah and their sons, and even their grandsons, lived for hundreds of years after the flood. See Genesis 11:10ff, “These are the generations of Shem: Shem was an hundred years old, and begat Arphaxad two years after the flood: and Shem lived after he begat Arphaxad five hundred years, and begat sons and daughters. And Arphaxad lived five and thirty years, and begat Salah: and Arphaxad lived after he begat Salah four hundred and three years, and begat sons and daughters.” All these people are going to die before Shem dies. Most of them are going to live longer than their great grandsons. These are the first three or four generations off the ark. That means the first three generations or so off the ark are going to also appear to be gods to their great great grandchildren. These were civilization builders. When we look in Genesis 10:6 at Mizraim who is the descendant of Ham, he is the founder of an Egyptian civilization, the founder of the first dynasty of Egypt. He and his sons built the pyramids. These men were considered gods by their descendants because of what they were able to accomplish. Shem, Ham, and Japheth brought with them the technology of the antediluvian world. So in those early generations while they were still alive, while Ham and Mizraim and the other passed on this technology—and they accomplished incredible things—five generations, ten generations later on that technology was lost. They couldn’t go back and duplicate it. So those descendants thought of Noah and that generation as gods. As a matter of fact, what we have is an attempt to identify Noah, Shem, Ham and Japheth with the gods.
There was a group of men who wrote for several centuries called Euhenerists, and these were men who took Genesis 10 and 11 as literally true. They also assumed that the ancients, descendants of Shem, Ham and Japheth, deified the early generations off the ark. So they tried to identify the humans listed in the table of nations with the gods and goddesses of the ancient pantheons.
Japheth’s first son is Gomer. He is mentioned in Ezekiel 38:6, “Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.”
There is a listing in this chapter that relates to the Gog and Magog invasion of Israel in the Tribulation. V. 2, “Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: and I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.” Who are these people? Well, we have to go back to Genesis 10 to find out.
Gomer, when you take out the vowels is GMR. If the G hardens to a C or a K you have the word CMR. This is related to the Cimerians who were related to the Cythians, the people who inhabited the central part of Turkey in the period right after the flood. Eventually those people moved north and west into Europe. The Assyrians listed them as the Gamaria, and in Greek they were called the Kemarioi. Notice how the G becomes a C and then becomes a K. Also, sometimes when a word goes from one language to another language the consonants will shift. Think about that: GMR, can we think of a country that instead of having as its root consonants GMR it has its root consonants as GRM? Germany! The descendants of Gomer through Ashkenaz (there is a lake Ashkenaz up in northern Germany): the Germanic tribes ultimately derived from the descendants of Gomer, and, of course, many, many others because he is so far back. Other names that are etymologically related to Gomer are Umber in Italy—the G in Gomer softens to O, and then U in Umber. That also shows up in the English North Umberland. Related to Gomer: the Gauls, the Celts, Galatia, etc. Ireland was also known as Ibernai or Hybernia, which again is etymologically related to the word Gomer. All of these are related to Gomer. So we end up with the Irish, the Scots, the Germans, Brits, some tribal groups in northern Italy, the Gauls in France; all are descendants from Gomer.
The third man is Magog, mentioned in Ezekiel 38:2, the land of Gog, a region between Armenia and Cappadocia in the central eastern part of Turkey. These are the ancestors of the ancient Cythians. Think about the word “Cythian.” SC or KT, or Scot. The Cythians are the progenitors of the Scots. They come down through Magog. Between those two terms, God and Magog you really have a summary of western Europe. So how does that fit Ezekiel 38 and 39? Interesting. According to an eighth century monk in Britain the Goths were also descendants of Magog.
Madai, the fourth son, is the progenitor of the Medes who lived in the area east of Assyria, south-west of the Caspian Sea in the area of modern Uzbekistan. These were the Medes who joined p with the Persians in the time of Daniel.
Then Javan, also Ionian. The J turns to an I and the V to an O and becomes Ionia. This is one of the progenitors of the Greeks in western Turkey, an area that is eventually made up of Greeks. There is Troy, Ephesus, and all that area. Early records during the reign of Sargon II in the 8th century BC refer to that area of western Turkey as Jawan or Jamon. So these ancient names were attached to the areas where they established their domain.
Tubal is described as the father of a people the Assyrians called Tabale, and they lived in an area called Tabal which is in modern Georgia. The capital of modern Georgia is Tblisi. Notice how that is related etymologically to Tabal and Tubal. Tabal is next door to the biblical land Togarmah, which is mentioned again in Ezekiel 38. He is mentioned in Genesis 10:3 as a son of Gomer.
Then we have Meshech, father of the Cappadocians. The last is Tiras, the father of a group of Greeks in the northern part of Greece known as the Thracians, according to Josephus.
So from the seven sons of Japheth we are beginning to get an overview of how western Europe became settled, and also how these names show up later on in history.