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Sunday, December 3rd, 2023
the First Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 10

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-32

Genesis 10:1-32

Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah

A chapter of genealogies

Many readers might be disposed to undervalue a chapter like this, since it is but a collection of names--some of which are quite unknown--and is made up of barren details promising little material for profitable reflection.

Yet a thoughtful reader will be interested here, and discover the germs and suggestions of great truths; for the subject is man, and man, too, considered in reference to God’s great purpose in the government of the world. This chapter “is as essential to an understanding of the Bible, and of history in general, as is Homer’s catalogue, in the second book of the Iliad, to a true knowledge of the Homeric poems and the Homeric times.” The Biblical student can no more undervalue the one than the classical student the other.


1. It is not vague and general, but descends to particulars. The forgers of fictitious documents seldom run the risk of scattering the names of persons and places freely over their page. Hence those who write with fraudulent design deal in what is vague and general.

2. Heathen literature when dealing with the origin of nations employs extravagant language. The early annals of all nations, except the Jews, run at length into fable, or else pretend to a most incredible antiquity. National vanity would account for such devices and for the willingness to receive them. The Jews had the same temptations to indulge in this kind of vanity as the other nations around them. It is therefore a remarkable circumstance that they pretend to no fabulous antiquity. We are shut up to the conclusion that their sacred records grew up under the special care of Providence, and were preserved from the common infirmities of merely human authorship.

3. Here we have the ground plan of all history.

THAT HISTORY HAS ITS BASIS IN THAT OF INDIVIDUAL MEN. The general lesson of this chapter is plain, namely, that no man can go to the bottom of history who does not study the lives of those men who have made that history what it is.

THAT MAN IS THE CENTRAL FIGURE OF SCRIPTURE. Infidels have made this characteristic of revelation a matter of reproach; but all who know how rich God’s purpose towards mankind is, glory in it, and believe that great things must be in store for a race which bus occupied so much of the Divine regard.

THE PROGRESSIVE MOVEMENT OF HISTORY TOWARDS AN END. All the interest centres successively in one people, tribe, and family; then in One who was to come out of that family, bringing redemption for mankind. “Salvation is of the Jews.” The noblest idea of history is only realized in the Bible. Those of the world had no living Word of God to inspire that idea. That book can scarcely be regarded as of human origin which passes by the great things of the world, and lingers with the man who “believed in God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (T. H. Leale.)

Circumstances attendant on man

Instead of saying that man is the creature of circumstances, it would be nearer the mark to say that man is the architect of circumstances. It is character that builds an existence out of circumstance. Our strength is measured by our plastic power. From the same materials one man builds palaces, another hovels; one warehouses, another villas; bricks and mortar are mortar and bricks until the architect can make them something else. Thus it is that, in the same family, in the same circumstances, one man rears a stately edifice, while his brother, vacillating and incompetent, lives forever amid ruins; the block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weakly becomes a stepping stone in the pathway of the strong. (T. Carlyle.)

Oneness of humanity

A clear conception of the import of this marvellous chapter should enlarge and correct our notions in so far as they have been narrowed and perverted by our insular position. We should recognize in all the nations of the earth one common human nature. “God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell on the face of the earth.” This reflection is both humbling and elevating. It is humbling to think that the cannibal is a relative of ours; that the slave crouching in an African wood is bone of our bone; and that the meanest scum of all the earth started from the same foundation as ourselves! On the other hand, it is elevating to think that all kings and mighty men, all soldiers renowned in song, all heroes canonized in history, the wise, the strong, the good, are our elder brothers and immortal friends. If we limit our life to families, clans, and sects, we shall miss the genius of human history, and all its ennobling influences. Better join the common lot. Take it just as it is. Our ancestors have been robbers and oppressors, deliverers and saviours, mean and noble, cowardly and heroic; some hanged, some crowned, some beggars, some kings; take it so, for the earth is one, and humanity is one, and there is only one God over all blessed for evermore! If we take this idea aright we shall get a clear notion of what are called home and foreign missions. What are foreign missions? Where are they? I do not find the word in the Bible. Where does home end; where does foreign begin? It is possible for a man to immure himself so completely as practically to forget that there is anybody beyond his own front gate; we soon grow narrow, we soon become mean; it is easy for us to return to the dust from whence we come. It is here that Christianity redeems us; not from sin only, but from all narrowness, meanness, and littleness of conception; it puts great thoughts into our hearts and bold words into our mouths, and leads us out from our village prisons to behold and to care for all nations of mankind. On this ground alone Christianity is the best educator in the world. It will not allow the soul to be mean. It forces the heart to be noble and hopeful. It says, “Go and teach all nations”; “Go ye into all the world”; “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others”; “Give and it shall be given unto you, good measure, pressed down, heaped up, and running over.” It is something for a nation to have a voice so Divine ever stirring its will and mingling with its counsels. It is like a sea breeze blowing over a sickly land; like sunlight piercing the fogs of a long dark night. Truly we have here a standard by which we may judge ourselves. “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” If we have narrow sympathies, mean ideas, paltry conceptions, we are not scholars in the school of Christ. Let us bring no reproach upon Christ by our exclusiveness. Let us beware of the bigotry of patriotism, as well as of the bigotry of religion. We are citizens of the world: we are more than the taxpayers of a parish. A right view of this procession of the nations will show us something of the richness and graciousness of Christ’s nature. What a man must he have been either in madness or in Divinity who supposed that there was something in himself which all these people needed! (J. Parker, D. D.)

The planting of nations great responsibility

The one point to which I would draw your attention is that which lies upon the very surface of this history, and to which, as a great law imprinted by God upon our race, I wish to call your special notice. It is the degree in which the original features of the founders of a race reproduce themselves in their descendants, so as to become the distinct and manifest types of national life. This is so plain here that it has rarely escaped some observation. The few words wherein, according to the wont of patriarchal times, Noah, as the firstborn priest of his own family, pronounces on his sons his blessing and his curse, sketch in outline the leading characteristics of all their after progeny. Thus, the “Blessed be the Lord God of Shem,” can hardly fail to convey to the heater’s mind the impression that devotion to, and a trust in God, as his portion, marked the character of the firstborn of Noah. And so it proved in fact, for it was the line of Abraham and the Semitic race, in the tribes of Israel and Judah, which filled this office of the priests of mankind for two thousand years. So also with regard to the second son of Noah. Sensuality and filial irreverence manifestly stained his character. In the future of such a man lay naturally cruelty--the inseparable companion--and degradation--the unfailing consequence--of lust. A “servant of servants” should he be. He who disregarded the duties of a son should lose the place of a brother: he who sacrificed to sensual appetite every highest duty, should in the end barter for it his own liberty; and his character, too, has through unnumbered generations reproduced itself in his descendants. Without entering upon the difficult task of tracing in some of its details the outline of the Hamitic race, it is clear beyond all contradiction, that through past ages, and even to the present day, the nations which manifestly sprung from his loins are marked by these characteristics--lust, cruelty, and servitude. The character of Japhet is perhaps, at first sight, less plainly to be traced in his father’s benediction. His words would seem, however, to point to a character marked less strongly than that of his firstborn by piety towards God, but possessed of those family virtues with which, in the course of things, an increasing posterity is commonly connected and endued with the practical activity and vigour, which, as opposed to the more contemplative character of Shem, were essential to that subduing of the earth, which must accompany its replenishment by the enlarging seed. Beyond this lay the unexplained and mysterious blessing of his future dwelling in the tents of Shem, pointing probably, in the personal life of the patriarch, to the pious rest into which the later years of a virtuous activity would so probably subside. And all this has plainly marked the Japhetic races: their increase has furnished the nations of the Gentiles; whilst family virtue, and that practical activity which to this day has so wonderfully subjected the material earth to its obedience, are the distinction of their blood. In all these cases, then, we may trace on the broadest scale the action of that of which I have spoken, as a law impressed upon our common nature, that nations, in their after generations, bear, repeat and expand the character of their progenitor. And then, further, we may observe adumbrations of a mode of dealing with men which seems to imply that in His bestowal of spiritual gifts, God deals with them after some similar law, Hence, then, we may conclude further, that, by the laws of grace as well as of nature, there is a reproduction in the after seed of the character of the progenitor. Now, it is to the application of this principle to our past history and our present duty, that I would specially invite your notice. And first, FOR THE FACT. Since the opening of the historical period, there has been scarcely any national planting of the earth through emigration, until within the last three centuries. Even those events of far distant times, which most resembled it, were widely different. For they were rather irruptions than emigration; and the great wave of life which they brought into some new land, first cast out races in possession, often as numerous as, and commonly more civilized than, their invaders, and who not unfrequently tinged their subduers with their religion, their manners, and their language. The direct replenishment of the earth for the last three hundred years by the Japhetic family, is altogether different. These emigrations have set forth exclusively from Christian lands. They have been directed to vast tracts of thinly peopled countries; and they have borne to them men who have been, in the fullest sense of the words, founders of nations. In this work, we have borne a larger share than any other people. Now, with what an awful character of responsibility does the truth which we have before considered invest such acts! A sensual seed will produce a degraded people; a godless seed will grow into an atheistic empire; nay, even the lesser evils of a worldly, or a sectarian origin, will mark and renew themselves in successive generations. How plainly, then, must it be one of the very highest duties of a Christian people to provide all that is needful to bless and hallow such a national infancy:--to plant a chosen seed, and not a refuse; to send forth with them that faith, which alone can exalt and renew the race of man in its purest form, and with every advantage for its reproduction! How far, then, has England, which has been the chiefest of the nations in this sacred work, acted up to her responsibilities? Let North America,--let Australasia answer. How scanty in its measure--how imperfect in its form--how divided in its character--was the Christianity we mingled with the abundant seed of man which we scattered broadcast over North America; how fearful a paternity of crime did we assume, when we conceived and almost executed the enormity of planting the antipodes with every embodiment of reckless wickedness, and giving it no healing influence of our holy faith! What then must be herein our guilt and shame! But our chief concern is not with the past: it is with that present in which the future lies enfolded. Never has the tide of emigration risen so high as now; never were we so freely planting the earth with our energetic, increasing race as the seed of future empires; never, then, did the duty of planting it aright press so heavily upon us: and what is the prime essential for its adequate discharge? Surely, far beyond all other, that with the seed of fallen man we plant that Church of Christ, through which God the Holy Ghost is pleased to work for his recovery. This, and no less than this, can fulfil our obligations. (Bishop Samuel Wilberforce.)

In their nations

The characteristics of a nation

1. It is descended from one head. Others may be occasionally grafted on the original stock by intermarriage. But there is a vital union subsisting between all the members and the head, in consequence of which the name of the head is applied to the whole body of the nation. In the case of Kittim and Dodanim we seem to have the national name thrown back upon the patriarchs who may have themselves been called Keth and Dodan. Similar instances occur in the subsequent parts of the genealogy.

2. A nation has a country or “land” which it calls its own. In the necessary migrations of ancient tribes, the new territories appropriated by the tribe, or any part of it, were naturally called by the old name, or some name belonging to the old country. This is well illustrated by the name of Gomer, which seems to reappear in the Cimmerii, the Cimbri, the Cymry, the Cambri, and the Cumbri.

3. A nation has its own “tongue.” This constitutes at once its unity in itself and its separation from others. Many of the nations in the table may have spoken cognate tongues, or even originally the same tongue. Thus the Kenaanite, Phoenician and Punic nations had the same stock of languages with the Shemites. But it is a uniform law, that one nation has only one speech within itself.

4. A nation is composed of many “families,” clans, or tribes. These branch off from the nation in the same manner as it did from the parent stock of the race. (Prof. J. G. Murphy.)

Ham’s posterity

1. The most cursed man may have a numerous seed: it enlargeth the curse.

2. Cursed ones bring out sometimes an eminent rebellious seed to hasten vengeance (Genesis 10:8).

3. The greatest judgments will not keep wicked ones from sin though being but a little escaped from them.

4. Under a wise providence, power and violence is suffered to rise and spring in the earth (Genesis 10:8).

5. It is the property of giants in sin and earthly power to hunt to death God’s saints to His face.

6. God makes in vengeance the names of such wicked ones a proverb (Genesis 10:9).

7. The beginning and chief of all the power of wicked ones is but confusion, and the place of wickedness. Babel and Shinar (Genesis 10:10).

8. Wicked potentates are still invading others to enlarge themselves (Genesis 10:11).

9. Edifying cities, and places of strength, is the wickeds’ security.

10. Great cities they may have, but such as are under the eye and judgment of God (Genesis 10:12). (G. Hughes, B. D.)



Nimrod was not merely a giant or mighty one in hunting, but also a cruel oppressor and bloody warrior. He is represented by some ancient historians as having renewed the practice of war, which had for some time been abandoned for agriculture, and hence the well-known couplet--

“Proud Nimrod first the bloody chase began, A mighty hunter, and his prey was man.”

Obscurity rests, and ever shall rest, on his particular achievements, although his figure and name have been found of late in Nineveh. What animals he slew, what weapons he employed, what battles he fought, with the blood of what enemies he cemented the cities which he built, how long he lived and where, how and where he died, are not recorded either in profane history or in the Book of God. Imagination figures him as another Hercules, clad in the skins of lions, and pursuing his prey with sounding bow and fiery eye over the vast plains of Asia, and when wild beasts are not to be found, turning his fury against his neighbours. Such men are the ragged and menacing shadows which the sun of civilization casts before it; their “strong heart is fit to be the first strong heart of a people”; their crimes, for which they must answer to God, are yet made useful to God’s purpose, and from the blood they shed springs up many a glorious harvest of arts and sciences, of culture and progress. Without questioning their guilt or the evil they do, or seeking to solve the mystery why they exist at all, we see many important ends which their permission answers; and acknowledge that the page of history were comparatively tame, did it want the red letters which record the names of a Nimrod, a Nebuchadnezzar, a Charlemagne, a Henry the Eighth, a Rienzi, and a Napoleon. (G. Gilfillan.)

Gospel archery

My text sets forth Nimrod as a hero when it presents him with broad shoulders and shaggy apparel and sun-browned face, and arm bunched with muscle--“a mighty hunter before the Lord.” I think he used the bow and the arrows with great success practising archery. I have thought if it is such a grand thing and such a brave thing to clear wild beasts out of a country, if it is not a better and braver thing to hunt down and destroy those great evils of society that are stalking the land with fierce eye and bloody paw, and sharp tusk and quick spring. I have wondered if there is not such a thing as Gospel archery, by which these who have been flying from the truth may be captured for God and heaven. The archers of olden times studied their art. They were very precise in the matter. The old books gave special directions as to how an archer should go, and as to what an archer should do. But how clumsy we are about religious work. How little skill and care we exercise. How often our arrows miss the mark.

1. In the first place, if you want to be effectual in doing good, you must be very sure of your weapon. There was something very fascinating about the archery of olden times. Perhaps you do not know what they could do with the bow and arrow. Why, the chief battles fought by the English Plantagenets were with the long-bow. They would take the arrow of polished wood, and feather it with the plume of a bird, and then it would fly from the bowstring of plaited silk. The broad fields of Agincourt, and Solway Moss, and Neville’s Cross heard the loud thrum of the archer’s bowstring. Now, my Christian friends, we have a mightier weapon than that. It is the arrow of the Gospel; it is a sharp arrow; it is a straight arrow; it is feathered from the wing of the dove of God’s Spirit; it flies from a bow made out of the wood of the cross. Paul knew how to bring the notch of that arrow on to that bowstring, and its whirr was heard through the Corinthian theatres, and through the courtroom, until the knees of Felix knocked together. It was that arrow that stuck in Luther’s heart when he cried out: “Oh, my sins! Oh, my sins!” In the armoury of the Earl of Pembroke, there are old corslets which show that the arrow of the English used to go through the breastplate, through the body of the warrior, and out through the backplate. What a symbol of that Gospel which is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and body, and of the joints and marrow! Would to God we had more faith in that Gospel!

2. Again, if you want to be skilful in spiritual archery, you must hunt in unfrequented and secluded places. The good game is hidden and secluded. Every hunter knows that. So, many of the souls that will be of most worth for Christ and of most value to the Church are secluded. They do not come in your way. You will have to go where they are.

3. I remark, further, if you want to succeed in spiritual archery, you must have courage. If the hunter stand with trembling hand or shoulder that flinches with fear, instead of his taking the catamount, the catamount takes him. What would become of the Greenlander if, when out hunting for the bear, he should stand shivering with terror on an iceberg? What would have become of Du Chaillu and Livingstone in the African thicket, with a faint heart and a weak knee? When a panther comes within twenty paces of you, and it has its eye on you, and it has squatted for the fearful spring, “Steady there.” Courage, O ye spiritual archers! There are great monsters of iniquity prowling all around about the community. Shall we not in the strength of God go forth and combat them? We not only need more heart, but more backbone. What is the Church of God that it should fear to look in the eye any transgression?

4. I remark again, if you want to be successful in spiritual archery, you need not only to bring down the game, but bring it in. I think one of the most beautiful pictures of Thorwaldsen is his “Autumn.” It represents a sportsman coming home and standing under a grapevine. He has a staff over his shoulder, and on the other end of that staff are hung a rabbit and a brace of birds. Every hunter brings home the game. No one would think of bringing down a reindeer or whipping up a stream for trout, and letting them lie in the woods. At eventide the camp is adorned with the treasures of the forest--beak, and fin, and antler. If you go out to hunt for immortal souls, not only bring them down under the arrow of the Gospel, but bring them into the Church of God, the grand home and encampment we have pitched this side the skies. Fetch them in; do not let them lie out in the open field. They need our prayers and sympathies and help. That is the meaning of the Church of God--help. O ye hunters for the Lord! not only bring down the game, but bring it in. (Dr. Talmage.)


1. The last mention of the Church’s line is not the least in God’s account.

2. Fruitfulness is given to the Church of God, for its continuance on earth.

3. Visible distinction hath God made between the lines of the world and of the Church.

4. Heber’s children are the true Church of God.

5. The name and blessing of Shem is on that Church.

6. Sharers in the promise are especially brethren.

7. The first in birth may be last in grace (Genesis 10:21).

8. Out of the same holy stock may arise enemies to the Church as well as the right seed (Genesis 10:22). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


1. Syrians may arise from the Father of the Church according to the flesh, very enemies to it.

2. God’s mind is to keep the line of His Church distinct; from all who turn aside (Genesis 10:23).

3. The line of the Church is but short in respect of the world (Genesis 10:24).

4. Memorable as well as terrible is that division of people and tongues which God hath made (Genesis 10:25).

5. Saints have been careful to keep in memory such judgments of division; the naming of the child (Genesis 10:25).

6. Numerous is the seed departed from the Church (Genesis 10:26; Genesis 10:29).

7. God has given a dwelling place to degenerate seed (Genesis 10:30).

8. The Church hath its family, tongue, place, and people, distinct from all (verse 37). (G. Hughes, B. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 10". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/genesis-10.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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