Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, March 3rd, 2024
the Third Sunday of Lent
There are 28 days til Easter!
Partner with StudyLight.org as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries
Genesis 10

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 10:1-32


Descendants of NoahNations Descend from NoahThe Table of the NationsThe Descendants of Noah's SonsThe Peopling of the Earth
Genesis 10:1Genesis 10:1Genesis 10:1Genesis 10:1Genesis 10:1
Genesis 10:2-5Genesis 10:2-5Genesis 10:2-5Genesis 10:2-5Genesis 10:2-5a
Genesis 10:5b
Genesis 10:6-14Genesis 10:6-14Genesis 10:6-14Genesis 10:6-12Genesis 10:6-7
Genesis 10:8-12
Genesis 10:13-14Genesis 10:13-14
Genesis 10:15-20Genesis 10:15-20Genesis 10:15-20Genesis 10:15-20Genesis 10:15-19
Genesis 10:20
Genesis 10:21-31Genesis 10:21-31Genesis 10:21-31Genesis 10:21-31Genesis 10:21
Genesis 10:22-23
Genesis 10:24-30
Genesis 10:31
Genesis 10:32Genesis 10:32Genesis 10:32Genesis 10:32Genesis 10:32

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. What is the theological purpose of the detailed nature of Genesis 10:0?

1. It shows that God is concerned with all nations. Genesis 11:0 is chronologically out of order. This seems to show that Genesis 10:0 is not only a judgment (cf. Genesis 11:1-9), but primarily the fulfillment of Genesis 1:28 and Genesis 9:1, Genesis 9:7 (i.e. be fruitful and fill the earth).

2. These same nations are often referred to in the prophets (cf. Isa. 7-23; Jer. 46-51; Ezek. 27-30; 38-39) as groups that God judges.

3. It sets the stage for the call of Abraham and his seed as a kingdom of priests to bring all the world to YHWH (cf. Genesis 12:3; Exodus 19:5-6).

4. It follows the pattern of Genesis of the narrowing focus of the Messianic line (cf. Genesis 9:26).

5. There seems to be about 70 groups mentioned. The rabbis say that there are 70 languages of the world, possibly from LXX of Deuteronomy 32:5. Many link Luke 10:1 with this to assert the worldwide missionary thrust of the Gospel.

B. How and why does it disagree with modern ethnological research?

1. Modern research is based on linguistic principles while the biblical account focuses on geographical data. This geographical information is affected by (1) date and (2) people movements both from migration and war (cf. Ezekiel 16:3).

2. One must take into account the theological nature of this account

a. Selective coverage

b. Unity of mankind (Adam and Noah)

c. Those nations farthest from contact with Israel are dealt with least (or not at all)

3. This chapter contains many plural names. This shows that often an ancestor stands for a group. Often, groups occupy more than one geographical location.

4. This is not a western, detailed, scientific account. We often forget that this is the first attempt at a list of this type. Its accuracy is assured by our pre-suppositional commitment to Scripture. However, this does not mean it was meant to inform us exhaustively in all areas or conform to our western mind-set. For its day it is shockingly accurate!

5. This list, as all of the Torah, was subject to scribal revisions and updating. Several of the names in this list (i.e. Cimmerians, Scythians, Philistines, and Medes) are not found in other ancient Near Eastern literature until 1500-1000 B.C.

6. It is possible because the peoples of Asia and Polynesia (and thereby the Americas) and many of the peoples of Africa are not dealt with, that this list may only include parts of the racial diversity observable today. If this is true then it is a theological overstatement to say the races came directly from Noah's three children.

This is not meant to diminish the oneness of humans (which DNA studies have confirmed) which is clearly asserted in the original human pair in Genesis 1:0 and 2.

C. Its structure

1. Japheth, Genesis 10:2-5, occupies the region north of Mesopotamia from Spain to the Caspian Sea.

2. Ham, Genesis 10:6-20, occupies the region south of Mesopotamia from Africa to India

3. Shem, Genesis 10:21; Genesis 10:21ff, deals with the Semites' occupation of Mesopotamia from the Mediterranean Sea to India.

Verse 1

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 10:1 1Now 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.

Genesis 10:1 “Now these are the records of the generations” This phase is repeated three times in the context of Genesis 10:0 and 11 (Genesis 10:1; Genesis 11:10, Genesis 11:27). This may have been the author's way to outline the book or a Babylonian colophon to mark the cuneiform clay tablets that go together.

“Shem, Ham, and Japheth” This order of listing their names is not primarily related to their age but a theological arrangement, listing those in the Messianic line first, and those farthest removed last.

Verses 2-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 10:2-5 2The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras. 3The sons of Gomer were Ashkenaz and Riphath and Togarmah. 4The sons of Javan were Elishah and Tarshish, Kittim and Dodanim. 5From these the coastlands of the nations were separated into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.

Genesis 10:2 “Gomer” This seems to refer to the Cimmerians (BDB 170), who are mentioned in Homer's Iliad, chapter Genesis 11:13-19. They inhabited northern Asia Minor. They possibly migrated north and became European tribal groups. This can be seen through a similar term for them in north Germany, “Cimbi” and in Wales, “Cymri.”

“Magog” There has been much discussion about this name because of its connection to Ezek. 38-39 and end-time events. However, it must be asserted that Magog (BDB 156), along with Meshech and Tubal, also mentioned in Genesis 10:2, are primarily tribes connected with Asia Minor and the coast of the Black Sea. It is quite possible that they migrated north and became the tribal groups of modern Russia. But, in ancient times, they were much closer to the Promised Land. Most assert that Magog is connected with the Scythians, southeast of the Black Sea. This information comes from Josephus.

“Madai” Most assert that this refers to the Medes (BDB 552), who lived south and southwest of the Caspian Sea, who become so important to Israel in their joining with Persia to overthrow the Neo-Babylon Empire (Nebuchadnezzar).

“Javan” This (BDB 402) seems to refer to the Ionian (southern) Greeks (cf. Daniel 8:21; Daniel 10:20; Daniel 11:2). This group is spelled “Javana” in Sanskrit; “Juna” in old Persian and “Jounan” on the Rosetta stone. They later became, not only the kingdom of Greece, but possibly a part of the sea peoples in the Aegean area (i.e. Phoenicians and Philistines).

“Tubal” Many assert that this (BDB 1063) refers to the Tiberenians of central Asia Minor. Both Tubal and Meshech occur in Ezek 38-39 as residing in Asia Minor.

“Meshech” Many assert that this is a tribal group (BDB 604) who lived south and southwest of the Black Sea (cf. Ezekiel 27:13; Ezekiel 32:26; Ezekiel 38:2; Ezekiel 39:1). This information comes from Herodotus.

“Tiras” There have been several possible identifications for this group (BDB 1066), as is so common among commentators. Many of these names and locales are simply uncertain. The possibilities include (1) the Etruscans; (2) an Aegean pirate nation called Pelasgians; (3) Josephus says the Thracians; or (4) Rashi says that it refers to Persia.

Genesis 10:3 “Ashkenaz” This is the name (BDB 79) adopted later by Jews of Europe (i.e. Germany). The current theories are (1) Scythians in the area of Germany; (2) people close to Lake Urumia; or (3) a tribal group of Bithynia in Asia Minor.

“Riphath” This has been alleged to be a tribal group (BDB 937) near the river Rhebas or a tribal group near the Bosphorus.

“Togarmah” These (BDB 1062) are (1) a tribal group in the area of Cappadocia in Asia Minor; (2) near the ancient city of Carchemish; or (3) a tribal group in Phrygia. All three of these possibilities are in modern Turkey.

Genesis 10:4 “Elishah” Most assert that this refers (BDB 47) to the native population of Cypress. They are mentioned in Ezekiel 27:7.

“Tarshish” Although Albright located this at Sardinia, most modern researchers locate it in southern Spain (i.e. Tartessos). It is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 9:21; Psalms 48:7; Psalms 72:10; Jonah 1:3; Jonah 4:2).

“Kittim” There is a consistent opinion that this refers to the settlers on the east coast of Cypress (BDB 1076 II).

“Dodanim” Many assert that the similarity between the Hebrew letters, D (ד) and R (ו), has been confused and that this refers to the tribal inhabitants of the Island of Rhodes (cf. NIV translation). However, others assert that it is northern Greece and still others say it is southern Italy. It is obvious that this is simply unknown (BDB 187).

Genesis 10:5 “From the coastlands of the nations” This phrase is used metaphorically for far away peoples, but here it seems to refer to the inhabitants along the coast of the Mediterranean and Black Seas which follows the migration of the children of Japheth.

“their lands. . .his language. . .their families. . .their nations” This seems to be a fourfold division of how this chapter is divided: (1) geographically; (2) linguistically; (3) ethnically; and (4) politically.

Verses 6-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 10:6-14 6The sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan. 7The sons of Cush were Seba and Havilah and Sabtah and Raamah and Sabteca; and the sons of Raamah were Sheba and Dedan. 8Now Cush became the father of Nimrod; he became a mighty one on the earth. 9He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the LORD.” 10The beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech and Accad and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. 11From that land he went forth into Assyria, and built Nineveh and Rehoboth-Ir and Calah, 12and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13Mizraim became the father of Ludim and Anamim and Lehabim and Naphtuhim 14and Pathrusim and Casluhim (from which came the Philistines) and Caphtorim.

Genesis 10:6 “Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan” These sons of Ham are discussed further in the following verses: Cush (BDB 468) in Genesis 10:7-12; Mizraim (BDB 595) in Genesis 10:13-14; and Canaan (BDB 488) in Genesis 10:15-19. Put (BDB 806), although not discussed, seems to refer either to East Africa (Somalia), southern Arabia, Libya or Cyrene. It is obvious from this many possible locations that we are uncertain.

Genesis 10:7 “Seba” This is the area of the upper Nile as far as we can tell from the information that is now available (BDB 685). It is mentioned in Isaiah 43:3.

“Havilah” This is literally “sandland” (BDB 296), possibly located somewhere in Egypt.

“Sabtah” This (BDB 688) can either be in the area of modern Ethiopia, which would be east Africa, or a city in Arabia.

“Raamah” This seems to be the Sabateans of southwest Arabia (BDB 947).

“Sabteca” This also refers to Ethiopia (BDB 688).

“Sheba” This (BDB 985) seems to be the famous area of the Queen of Sheba, southwest of Arabia (cf. 1 Kings 10:1-10; Job 1:15; Job 6:19; Psalms 72:10, Psalms 72:15; Isaiah 60:6; Jeremiah 6:20).

“Dedan” This seems to be somewhere in Arabia (BDB 186). It is obvious that the sons of Cush are located in east Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It is mentioned in Isaiah 21:13; Jeremiah 25:23; Jeremiah 49:8; Ezekiel 25:13; Ezekiel 27:20.

Genesis 10:8 “father of Nimrod” Nimrod (BDB 650) is particularly named because he was a founder of the first major civilization. This would mean that descendants of Ham developed Babylon. He is linked with the sons of Cush because of the linguistic similarities to the name Kassites. There are two groups from Cush, one in Genesis 10:7 on the eastern side of the Red Sea and this one in Genesis 10:8 on the western side of the Red Sea.

“Nimrod” The term seems to mean “revolt” according to Rashi and Leupold. With this in mind the next two major phrases, “mighty one” and “mighty hunter,” are interpreted negatively as “tyrant” or “conqueror” or “killer of men.” However, we are uncertain if this is the connotation, but it seems to fit the context. This man is going to build some of the major cities of Mesopotamia and he will apparently start the first world power. Many have asserted that this refers to Tukuli-ninurta I, but he did not live until the thirteenth century B.C. when he controlled Assyria and Babylon. He was called Ninus, but his time is much too late to fit that of Nimrod. Others assert that this refers to Sargon I, ruler of the city of Akkad.

Genesis 10:9 “a mighty hunter before the LORD” Some commentators assert that God taking notice of a hunter is beneath His dignity, but if the phrase refers to the first conqueror and developer of a human world system (cf. Micah 5:6), then God taking notice of him is understandable.

Genesis 10:10 “Babel” The Babylonians say that this term (bab-ili) means “the gate of the gods.” However, in Genesis 11:0, the Jews interpreted it as meaning (balil), “he confused” (BDB 93).

All of the cities listed in this verse were major cities in Shinar at one time or another.

“Calneh” Some say that this (BDB 484) refers to a city of Nippur, while others re-verbalize this to mean “all of them.”

“the land of Shinar” This is linguistically related to the term “Sumer” or “Sumeria” (BDB 1042). It refers to an area of southern Mesopotamia.

Genesis 10:11 “he went forth into Assyria” Some say that this refers to Nimrod and that seems to fit the context best (cf. Micah 5:6). However, others, including the Septuagint, the Vulgate, the Syriac, Martin Luther, and John Calvin, say it refers to Asshur.

“Nineveh” This (BDB 644) is the major capital of the Assyrian Empire located on the Tigris River (cf. 2 Kings 19:36; Isaiah 37:37; Jonah 1:2; Jonah 3:2-7; Jonah 4:11; Nahum 1:1; Nahum 2:8; Nahum 3:7; Zephaniah 2:13).

“Rehoboth-Ir” This literally means “wide street city” or “wide places of the city” and probably is a description of Nineveh (BDB 944 II).

“Calah” This is a major Assyrian city (BDB 480 II). Its modern name is Nimrud which is obviously connected to the name, Nimrod.

Genesis 10:13 “Mizraim” Many assert this refers to upper and lower Egypt (BDB 595).

“Ludim” This may refer to Lydians in Asia Minor (BDB 530).

“Anamim” This may be a tribal group occupying the oasis west of Egypt (BDB 777).

“Lehabim” This seems to refer to the desert tribes of the northern African coast (BDB 529).

“Naphtuhim” This seems to be the tribal group near the city of Memphis (BDB 661). All of those mentioned in Genesis 10:13 are obviously connected with Egypt and the surrounding area.

Genesis 10:14 “Pathrusim” This means southland and probably refers to upper Egypt (BDB 837).

“Casluhim (from which came the Philistines)” There has been much discussion about this phrase because from Amos 9:7 it seems to imply that the Philistines came from Crete. This is one of those places where this reference may be geographical. The continuing wave of invasions and migrations of the sea peoples of the Aegean affected most of the coastlands of the Mediterranean world, including Egypt and Palestine. For Casluhim see BDB 493.

“Caphtorim” This seems to refer to the inhabitants of the island of Crete known as Caphtor (BDB 499).

Verses 15-20

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 10:15-20 15Canaan became the father of Sidon, his firstborn, and Heth 16and the Jebusite and the Amorite and the Girgashite 17and the Hivite and the Arkite and the Sinite 18and the Arvadite and the Zemarite and the Hamathite; and afterward the families of the Canaanite were spread abroad. 19The territory of the Canaanite extended from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; as you go toward Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. 20These are the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, by their nations.

Genesis 10:15 “Sidon” This is the famous Phoenician seaport and originally its capital, north of Palestine (BDB 850).

“Heth” This (BDB 366) seems to be a non-Semitic name. It is possibly the beginning of the Hittite group. In the Bible they are located in two places: (1) around the city of Hebron and (2) north of Palestine in central Turkey. They dominated this entire region between 1800-1200 B.C. The tribal group called Hivites may also be connected to the term Heth.

Genesis 10:16 “the Jebusite” These were the occupants of the city of Salem or Jebus, later Jerusalem (BDB 101).

“Amorite” The term (BDB 57) Amorite can be a collective term (cf. Genesis 15:16) like the term Canaanite, see SPECIAL TOPIC: Pre-Israelite Inhabitants of Palestine. We think it had the connotation of “high-lander” (the literal name meant “westerner”) while Canaanite had the connotation of “low-lander” (the literal name meant “land of purple”). In the Bible the inhabitants of Canaan are listed in several places: (1) by two tribal groups in Genesis 13:7, Genesis 34:30; Judges 1:4, Judges 1:5; (2) by seven nations in Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11; (3) by ten nations in Genesis 15:19-21; and (4) the most common usage is a sixth nation designation that is used the majority of times in the Pentateuch.

“Girgashite” This was a Canaanite tribe often named in the various lists of the tribes of Canaan (BDB 173, cf. Genesis 10:16; Genesis 15:21; Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11; Nehemiah 9:8; 1 Chronicles 1:14), but no locality is ever identified.

Genesis 10:17 “the Hivite” They seem to be the inhabitants of central Palestine (BDB 295). Some identify them with Hurrians. Numbers 13:29 is a good geographical summary of the division of these tribes in Palestine.

“Arkite” This seems to be the inhabitants of a coastal city and island north of Sidon (BDB 792).

“Sinite” This seems to be the inhabitants of a city close to Arke (BDB 696).

Genesis 10:18 “Arvadite” This seems to refer to the inhabitants of an island off the coast north of Palestine (BDB 71). Like the two previous ones it is north of Tripolis.

“Zemanites” These are descendants of Canaan. A city of similar name is mentioned in the Amarna tablets. It is also mentioned by Tiglath Pileser I (1116-1078 B.C.) located in Phoenician territory (AB, Vol. 6, p. 1074).

“Hamathite” This refers to the inhabitants of a city on the Orontes River (BDB 333).

Genesis 10:19 “Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim” These are cities of the plains that God later destroys. They are located in the southern end of the Dead Sea.

“Lasha” Jerome says that this was east of the Dead Sea (BDB 546).

Genesis 10:20 This is a summary of the divisions much like Genesis 10:5.

Verses 21-31

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 10:21-31 21Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born. 22The sons of Shem were Elam and Asshur and Arpachshad and Lud and Aram. 23The sons of Aram were Uz and Hul and Gether and Mash. 24Arpachshad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber. 25Two sons were born to Eber; the name of the one was Peleg, for in his days the earth was divided; and his brother's name was Joktan. 26Joktan became the father of Almodad and Sheleph and Hazarmaveth and Jeremiah 2:0; Jeremiah 2:07and Hadoram and Uzal and Diklah 28and Obal and Abimael and Sheba 29and Ophir and Havilah and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30Now their settlement extended from Mesha as you go toward Sephar, the hill country of the east. 31These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, according to their nations.

Genesis 10:21 “ Shem” This is the Hebrew term “name” (BDB 1028 II). His importance is seen because he is mentioned both here and in Genesis 11:10-26. The rebellious people of Gen. 10-11 want to build a “name” for themselves. His name links up with Genesis 4:26 (i.e. YHWH's name glorified). He will represent the chosen line of blessing (cf. Genesis 12:2).

“Eber” The etymology of this name is very similar to the term “Hebrew” (BDB 720 II), which refers to a much wider group than simply the Jews. There has been much speculation about the connection between Eber and the phrase found on many documents and stele(s) in Egypt called “Habirv” (cf. Genesis 14:13). A possible etymology of the name Eber is “to pass over and through,” which seems to imply a nomadic group.

“the older brother of Japheth” Rashi asserts that the Hebrew is ambiguous as to who is the older brother.

Genesis 10:22 “Elam” This was a major kingdom to the east of the Tigris River whose capital was Shushan (Susa). This is probably the most eastern of the groups mentioned in this chapter (BDB 743).

“Asshur” This (BDB 78) can refer to (1) a person; (2) a city; or (3) a nation (i.e. Assyria).

“Arpachshad” This (BDB 75) seems to be a tribal group north of Nineveh (another capital of Assyria). The NIV translation has Arphaxad.

“Lud” This possibly refers to the Lydian nation of Asia Minor (BDB 530). Heroditus asserts that they claimed origin from Nineveh, a Semite city.

“Aram” This refers to the area of modern Syria (BDB 74).

Genesis 10:25 “Peleg” This is the specific line from which Abraham will come and it is fully discussed genealogically in Genesis 11:18-27. It may mean “divided” (BDB 811 II).

“for in his days the earth was divided” The Hebrew term literally means “irrigation canals” which would fit southern Mesopotamia, but the popular etymology is “divisions” (BDB 811, KB 928, Niphal PERFECT). There is a sound play between Peleg and divided (niplega). This may to refer to the dividing of the languages mentioned in chapter 11. Therefore, the dispersions of chapter 10 are out of chronological order when compared to chapter 11.

Genesis 10:26-29 This is a delineation of the Arabian tribes.

Genesis 10:28-29 “Sheba. . .Havilah” This, along with Asshur in Genesis 10:22, seems to be included in both the Hamite list and the Semite list. This is either because of (1) geographical migration; (2) victories of war; or (3) the merging of two families by marriage. This list is not specific in many ways.

Verse 32

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 10:32 32These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is the purpose of Genesis 10:0?

2. Why is Nimrod singled out for special treatment?

3. Why are Israel, Moab, and Edom not mentioned in this list of nations?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 10". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/genesis-10.html. 2021.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile