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The Line of the Sons of Noah

The New World Order (Life after the deluge)

Part I

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 29, 1998

Genesis 10:1-32

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Genesis 10:1-32.

The New World Order (Life after the deluge)(l): The Line of the Sons of Noah

If you have your Bibles with you please turn with me to Genesis, chapter 10. Tonight we enter into a new section of the book of Genesis. Moses himself partitions this particular chapter and gives it the heading "the Toledoth of the sons of Noah," that is, the book of the generations of Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah. And this passage is an expansion of those passing comments that we saw last week in Genesis 9, verses 18 and 19. If you’ll notice those words, "Now the sons of Noah who came out of the ark were Shem, and Ham and Japheth; and Ham was the father of Canaan. These three were the sons of Noah; and from these the whole world was populated." And from that little verse where we got a taste of the nations of the earth descending from Noah and his sons, we have this long catalog given to us here in Genesis, chapter 10. Cornelius Vanderwaal says this: "Soon the revelation of the Lord was to be restricted to the circles of Abraham's descendants, but before this revelation bids the nations farewell, all of them pass once more in review." And that's what we have right here in Genesis 10. You know that in just one more chapter we're going to be introduced to the father of Abram, and then from that time on for the rest of the book of Genesis, we’ll be concentrating on one nuclear family and its descendants. Before we do that the Lord holds in front of our eyes the nations to remind us that He has not forgotten the nations, and that His people must be conscious that the nations descend from one bloodline and that God has his own providential plan for them as well. So this passage serves to set the line of Shem in its international context to show how it is related to the other nations of the ancient world, and to prepare the way for the story of Abraham. So let's turn to Genesis 10, verses 1 through 32 and hear God's word for us:

Genesis 10:1-32

Our Heavenly Father, these words are difficult. Not only because they present to us names which are strange, and nations which are in many cases unknown to us, but because the purpose of the genealogy is not always readily apparent. We ask, oh Lord, as we see this Your inspired word in the context of Moses’ word to us in Genesis 1 through 11, that You would open our eyes to see the many lessons which You have given to us in Your word. Not just lessons for the people of God many thousands of years ago, but lessons for the people of God today. May we see again as we study this, Your word, that Your word is profitable for reproof and correction and training and righteousness, and may we be given even more confidence in its applicability and its authority even as we study it tonight. We ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Derek Kidner says, "Not every nation known to the Old Testament is enrolled here. But enough are present to make the point that mankind is one. For all its diversity, under the one Creator. Possibly the seventy names influenced the Lord's choice of this apparently symbolic number when He sent out His disciples as emissaries in Luke 10." Have you ever thought about that? Seventy names of the nations. Seventy emissaries sent out by Christ on a missionary journey in Luke 10. At any rate Kidner's comments certainly set the stage for one of the main points of this passage. Even in this long list of names, this genealogical tree of the nations in the ancient world, there are a number of lessons to be learned. And I'd like to point your attention to three or four. First of all let me just mention that the passage outlines in a fairly straight-forward fashion following the sections of the genealogy. Verse 1 is the introduction. It's the title, it's the heading of the chapter, explaining everything that's coming after it. Then in verses 2 through 5 you find the first section of the chapter. This is the line of Japheth. In verses 6 through 20 you hear the line of Ham recounted. And finally from verse 21 to verse 32, the end of the chapter, we see the line of Shem. And so Moses begins in reverse order with regard to the line which God is going to spend most of His time unfolding in the book of Genesis. He starts with Japheth. It's apparent that He does this because Japheth is the remotest of the people with regard to the people of Shem, and eventually the people of the Hebrews. These are the people who are on the coast lands and very far away, especially to the west. Then He recounts the line of Ham. The Hamites and their nations seem to be particularly to the south of the land of Canaan. But not restricted to Africa. And then of course there are the children of Shem, including the Hebrews. They are mentioned last because they are the focus of God's attention in the rest of the book of Genesis. So let's learn the lessons that God has for us here.

I. The people of God cannot forget the nations.

First of all, I direct your attention to verse 1. Here we are reminded that God's people are set umong the nations as a light to the nations and to be a blessing to the nations. Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and sons were born to them after the flood. The Canaanite line has been wiped out by the flood. And so, according to Moses the whole human family is descended from Seth and now from Noah and his sons. And God is setting the people of God descended from Seth and Noah and Shem and Eber down to the line of Abram. He is setting that in the context of their relationship with the other nations. They are in a sense cousins. And so the people of God cannot forget the nations. The whole human family, because it is descended from Seth and Noah, shares a single source and origin.

The implications for this are enormous. The book of Genesis is going to lay a tremendous stress on the separation of God's people from the unbelieving world around them. But this does not mean that God's people may look upon the unbelieving world and even nations which are at enmity with them with the lack of concern or indifference. Vanderwaal again says this: "Because mankind is one in its origin, Israel may not pretend that the calling to be a blessing to all the nations is something strange and incomprehensible. Those nations, after all, are their cousins. Those nations are the cousins of the line of Seth. The line of Noah. And of course of the line of Shem.

So this passage forces God's people to view even their enemies as cousins who have a part in God's plan. Again, we have seen throughout these chapters of Genesis a tremendous missionary force. We see that God is not simply concerned with the Israelites and with their predecessors, but He has a desire to see the nations brought to Him. And this is going to be very apparent when we look at verses 2 through 5. But this sets the whole context to the passage, and that is perhaps the major lesson here. Though God is going to leave the nations, and especially at the end of chapter 11 he is going to focus on Abram and his line, that does not mean that God has no concern for the nations. No, the nations will have their own role in God's plan.

II. God even cares about the nations remotest to Israel.

Secondly, if you will look at verses 2 through 5, we’ll look at the line of Japheth. As we said, God deals with Japheth and Ham first. Derek Kidner puts it this way: "Of the three families of humanity, Japheth and Ham are dealt with first, to leave a clear field to the history of Shem in the remainder of the book." But again, in this section on Japheth, though it's the shortest of the three sections, the language that is used about the lands which the sons of Japheth occupy, reminds us that God even cares about the nations remotest to Israel.

Look again at the language of verse 5. From these the coast lands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations. The isles, or coast lands, and your translations may translate that word differently. Some of you may be reading the isles of the nations in verse 5, whereas others of you may be reading the coast lands of the nations. Different translations translate the word differently. But that technical term is picked up by the prophets, especially Jeremiah and Isaiah, and especially Isaiah after Isaiah 40 and on. And they are used as an image of the very remotest ends of the earth and God's interest in those remote ends of the earth. The isles and the coast lands are a term for the distant parts of the west. Let me say just one thing in passing. You see the word "Gomer." It's a word that you’ll see later in the Old Testament. But apparently, that word "Gomer" I am assured by E. A. Spizer in his commentary, is related to the Cimmerians, not the Samarians, but the Cimmerians. And he also tells me that those Cimmerians are related to the Welsh. Now Derek Thomas is not here tonight to defend himself, but you might ask him about that. Apparently, the root word for Welsh in Gaelic is similar to this idea of Cimmerian or Gomer. But you can ask him about that sometime.

At any rate, Isaiah and Jeremiah both look for a day when God will come to visit judgment and salvation upon the Gentiles, and they base it on the language of Genesis, chapter 10, verse 5. Again, these words, "from these the coast lands of the nations" were separated into their lands. Turn with me first to Isaiah 42. Now this passage is very familiar to us and perhaps especially at Christmas time as we are reading through messianic passages in the Old Testament. This is one that comes to mind. Let's pick up in verse 1 and look where Isaiah goes with this argument. Isaiah 42, verse 1: "Behold my servant whom I uphold. My chosen one in who My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon him. He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise his voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish. He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed until he has established justice in the earth and the coast lands will wait expectantly for his law." Isaiah is telling us that the sons of Japheth wait expectantly for the law of the Lord to be implanted in their hearts. And so Isaiah and Jeremiah see this reference in Genesis 10 to the coast lands, the remotest parts of the earth where the sons of Japheth dwell. They see it as a picture of the Gentiles coming to the one true Messiah.

And again here we see a package of tremendous missionary significance. If the Old Testament church could not afford to be indifferent to the nations, then neither can the New Testament church. We, too, can never be cozy and determine simply to pad our own nest to look after our own people. We must always be looking out for the nations and determining to be a blessing to them. It is part of our calling as the spiritual sons of Shem to be a blessing to the nations. And we see that grounded even here in Genesis, chapter 10.

Now, by the way, there's a flip side to that message. Turn with me to Jeremiah 25 and begin skimming at verse 19, and as you see Jeremiah mention this judgment from the Lord's hand which he is going to make all the nations to drink of. He mentions that in verse 17. He begins listing all these nations which are going to drink from the judgment of the Lord. And if you’ll look down at verse 22, he expands this by saying, "And all the kings of Tyre, and all the kings of Sidon, and the kings of the coast lands which are beyond the sea." And then you begin to see him list names that you have just read in Genesis 10. And again, what is Jeremiah's point? That God's judgment is going to be extensive, as extensive as the ends of the earth. So God has not lost sight of the nations, either for judgment or for salvation. And so the people of God must not lose sight of the nations. That is one of the lessons that we learn.

Now let me say in passing that the whole issue, or the whole matter of God choosing Israel as the main vehicle to receive His revelation in the Old Testament raises the theological problem of fairness. There are a lot of people that argue that unless God gives everybody the same information, if he gives everybody the same chance then it's not fair that some go to heaven and some go to hell. But the clear matter of the fact is in the Old Testament that Israel has a tremendous advantage over the nations. Israel gets more revelation, they get more profits, they get more law, they get more teaching, they get more gospel, they get more pictures and typology of the gospel of salvation to come. There is an imbalance of revelation given to Israel. How do we answer that problem?

How is it fair that the nations are judged for their wickedness when they do not receive the same amount of revelation that Israel receives? Well, basically there are two answers to that biblically. The first answer is found in Romans, chapter 1, and it has two parts. First, the Apostle Paul stresses that everyone has received revelation from God. Everyone has received revelation from God through His common grace, not only displayed in nature, but written in our hearts. Everyone has received that revelation from God, and that revelation ought to lead us to worship him. We don't believe that sometimes. We don't realize the clarity and the force of that revelation that God has revealed in nature in our hearts. But the Apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans, chapter 2, that God had written a law on our hearts. And yet many have chosen to reject Him. Now the Apostle Paul says the reason that they reject Him is not because they don't have enough information. It's why? Because their hearts are perverse. They contort the clear revelation that God has given. And though they ought to worship, and serve and adore Him, what do they do? They worship and serve the creature rather than the creator. So that's the first part of the answer to that question.

How can it be fair that Israel gets all this revelation, this extra and special revelation, and the nations don't and God judges the nation and many in Israel are saved. The first answer to that question is because God has revealed to everyone His nature. And Paul says in Roman 1, even some of His attributes have been revealed so that we all ought to worship. And the reason we don't worship is not because we don't know enough about God, it's because our hearts are perverse and we contort it.

The second answer to that question, however, is found in Genesis 10 and in Isaiah 42. That reminds us that though God's purposes especially in the Old Testament time rest with Israel, yet He has a plan in the time of the New Covenant which will come to fruition even amongst the nations, even amongst the Gentiles, even among the sons of Jacob.

And that, of course, gets us right back to the idea of a divine plan. It's right there in Genesis 10, and you can't get around it. God plans, God predestines, God chooses. That's just what He does. We may not like it, but that's what the Bible says. And those are the Biblical answers to that great theological conundrum.

III. The appearance of earthly prosperity and true heavenly prosperity are not the same.

Now we move on the verses 6 through 20. And if you’ll look with me there, we’ll see the line of Ham. And I want you to zero in on two things. These are fascinating genealogies. I have great respect for the people who worked through the meanings of these names and such. We don't have time to that tonight, so I want to skim the cream from the chapter and point you to two very important things here in the line of Ham.

In verses 8 through 12 in Genesis, chapter 10, we see the story of Nimrod. And I want you to notice two things about the story of Nimrod and then in verse 19 about the story of Canaan. Nimrod and Canaan are, of course, both descendants of the line of Ham. And Nimrod is described in tremendously powerful terms. We are told, for instance, that he was a mighty one on the earth, and even in verse 9 that he was a mighty hunter before the Lord. Now let me mention a couple of things about that.

First of all notice that Nimrod even in God's estimation was a mighty man of the earth. God looks down from heaven and says Nimrod is one of the most influential men on the earth. This is God's estimation. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord. But let me also mention that it may well mean not that Nimrod was a hunter who got - he bagged a lot of deer, an animal hunter, but that Nimrod was a conqueror, a man hunter. He was one who bagged nations. He bagged people, not simply animals. And so there is a dark side to Nimrod's power and his influence and his status in the land. He is part of the line of Ham. That cursed line, and yet he is mighty in the earth. Those who dwell apart from God in their lives often accumulate much earthly success and influence. That is not necessarily a sign of God's eternal and spiritual blessing upon them. In fact it may be, in some cases, a sign of His curse. He allows them to receive their influence and their wealth in this life, and there is none for them in the life to come.

Notice also as the territory of Canaan is described in verse 19 that that territory is lush. And though Canaan rests under the curse of God, Canaan is given land in which its nation and people dwell which are better land than Shem and Japheth had.

And again, both of these incidences, the power of Nimrod and the territory of Canaan remind us that the appearance of earthly prosperity and true heavenly prosperity are not the same. Listen to what Matthew Henry says: "Those under the curse of God may yet perhaps thrive and prosper greatly in this world; for we cannot know love or hatred, the blessing or the curse by what is before us, but by what is in us. The curse of God always works really and always terribly; but sometimes it is a secret curse, a curse to the soul, and it does not work immediately; but sinners are by it reserved for, and bound over to a day of wrath. Canaan here has a better land than either Shem or Japheth, and yet they (Shem and Japheth) have a better lot, for they inherit the blessing."

Isn't this exactly the struggle that the Psalmist was having in Psalm 73? Turn with me there very briefly. In Psalms 73 this earnest believer looks out and what he sees disturbs him. The Psalm of Asaph and it begins this way: "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart." From that high point it plunges into the depths. "But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling; My steps have almost slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant, as I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pains in their death; and their body is fat. They are not in trouble as other men; nor are they plagued like mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; the garment of violence covers them. Their eyes bulge from fatness; the imaginations of their heart run riot. They mock, and wickedly speak of oppression; they speak from on high. They have set their mouth against the heavens, and their tongue parades through the earth. Therefore, his people return to this place; and waters of abundance are drunk by them. And they say, ‘How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High.’ Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure, and washed my hands in innocence; for I have been stricken all day long, an chastened every morning." You see the contrast there. This godly man attempting to be obedient, and he feels that he's being cursed in this life, while he looks out at openly wicked men who are being prospered. What's his answer? You see it in verses 15 on. "If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’; behold I should have betrayed the generation of Thy children. When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight, until I came into the sanctuary of God; and then I perceived their end. Surely Thou dost set them in a slippery place; Thou dost cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors! Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when aroused, Thou wilt despise their form."

And so he says when he went into the sanctuary of the Lord and saw the final end of the wicked, he realized that their earthly prosperity was not identical with heavenly blessing. And that is a lesson that we learn right here in Genesis, chapter 10, when we look at the story of Nimrod, a mighty conqueror on the earth. His name is almost like the William Conqueror's nickname. He's a mighty hunter, a mighty conqueror in the earth. And yet he is not accounted as blessed of the Lord. And there's Canaan with that glorious land that is inherited. And yet it's not blessed of the Lord.

IV. Goodness is better than greatness; God's unmerited favor than riches and power.

One last thing we see. In verses 21 through 32 we see the line of Shem, and we learn there about God's unmerited favor. For even the line of Shem was not without sin. You remember Abram came from a line of idolaters. Terah, a descendant of Eber, was an idolater. So Abram was not loved because Abram was righteous. Abram was made righteous because he was loved of the Lord. So even in the line of Shem, God's unmerited favor rests on a particular line. In fact, in Genesis, chapter 11, we're going to see the line of Shem further narrowed to one particular line of all his descendants. And its through that line that Abram will come. But isn't it interesting that Shem and Japheth are linked here in verse 21. Shem, and we read it either the older brother of Japheth, or the brother of Japheth, his elder. Shem is linked to Japheth. And this again forecasts the calling of the Gentiles, when the Gentiles will again be linked with a line of Abram.

And even the line of Shem is subdivided. You notice that Shem is called here in the caption the father of all the children of Eber. And, of course, that term is the root term for the name Hebrew. It may be related to the word Hiberew, which means to wander, those who are wandering, those who are not settled, those who are a part of a cast of society that don't have a set place in society, and that may be something that refers to the Hebrews, the children of Israel wandering in the wilderness. Whatever the case, he is the father of the line which becomes the line of Abram. And so we see that to be in the line of God's favor is better to have the power of the world. That goodness is better than greatness in the eyes of God.

So in Genesis 10 we have a recounting of the nations of the earth. Now we will see the work of Nimrod worked out in the first verses of Genesis 11. Then we will focus again for the last time on the nations, and then we will turn our attention to the line of Shem, the line of Eber, the line of Terah, the line of Abram and enter into the light of the promised covenant to Abraham. Let's look to the Lord in prayer.

Our Heavenly Father, this is a mysterious passage, perhaps full of as many questions as we could ever possibly ask and certainly answer. And yet it's meant for our edification. Help us to remember that You have placed us in the midst of the nations to be a blessing. Help us to remember that You care about those nations, even those ones that are remote to us. Help us to distinguish between earthly prosperity and heavenly prosperity. Help us to remember that it is Your unmerited favor which establishes Your people in the house of the Lord, and not our own works and not our own righteousness, and not our own goodness. But help us, too, to remember, Lord, that the goodness which You bestow on Your people is better than the greatness which the world describes. We ask all these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

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