Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Genesis 10:21

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber - It is generally supposed that the Hebrews derived their name from Eber or Heber, son of Shem; but it appears much more likely that they had it from the circumstance of Abraham passing over (for so the word עבר abar signifies) the river Euphrates to come into the land of Canaan. See the history of Abraham, Genesis 14:13; (note).

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 21-32

- XXXIII. Shem

21. אבר 'eber “‹Eber, yonder side; verb: pass, cross.”

22. עילם 'eylām “‹Elam.” עוּל ‛ûl “suckle.” עלם ‛ālam “hide; be mature.” ארפכשׁד 'arpakshad “Arpakshad.” כשׂד ארף 'arp keśed “boundary of Kesed, or (von-Bohlen) Arjapakshata, beside Aria.” ארם 'ǎrām “Aram, high; verb: be high.”

23. עוּץ ‛ûts “‹Uts; verb: counsel; be firm, solid.” חוּל chûl “Chul; verb: rub, twist, writhe, be strong, await.” גתר geter “Gether, bridge?” משׁ meshek “Mash; related: feel, touch.”

24. שׁלח shelach “Shelach, missile, shoot.”

25. פלג peleg “Peleg; noun: brook, canal; verb: divide.” יקטן yāqṭān “Joctan, small.”

26. אלמודד 'almôdād “Almodad.” למד lāmad “learn.” מדד mādad “measure.” שׁלף shelep “Sheleph; verb: draw out or off.” חערמות chatsarmāvet “Chatsarmaveth, court of death.” ירח yerach “Jerach, moon, month.”

27. הדורם hadôrām Hadoram, “majesty, beauty;” verb: “swell, honor.” אוּזל 'ûzāl Uzal; verb: “go out or away.” דקלה dı̂qlâh Diclah, “palm.”

28. עובל ‛ôbāl ‹Obal, “bare, bald.” אבימאל 'ǎbı̂ymā'ēl Abimael, “father of Mael” (circumcision).

29. אופיר 'ôpı̂r Ophir; verb: “break, veil.” יובב yôbāb Jobab; verb: “cry, call.”

30. משׁא mēshā' Mesha, שׁאה shā'âh = שׁוא shô' “roar, crash.” ספר sepār Sephar, “counting. writing.”

From Japheth, who penetrated into the remotest regions, the writer proceeds to Ham, who came into close contact with Shem. From Ham, he passes to Shem, in whom the line of history is to be continued.

Genesis 10:21

Shem is here distinguished by two characteristics - the former referring to a subsequent, the latter to an antecedent event. He is “the father of all the sons of Heber.” It is evident from this that the sons of Heber cast luster on the family of Shem, and therefore on the whole human race. It is unnecessary to anticipate the narrative, except so far as to note that the sons of Heber include most of the Arabians, a portion of those who mingled with the race and inhabited the land of Aram, and, most probably, the original element of the population in the land of Kenaan. This characteristic of Shem shows that the table in which it is found was composed after the Hebrews had become conspicuous among the descendants of Shem.

Shem is next distinguished as the “older brother of Japheth”; that is, older than Ham. This interpretation of the words is most agreeable to the Hebrew idiom, and is the only one which affords an important sense. That Shem was the second son appears from the facts that Ham was the youngest Genesis 9:24, that Shem was born in the five hundred and third year of Noah Genesis 11:10, and, therefore, Japheth must have been the one born when Noah was in his five hundredth year Genesis 5:32. The reason for inserting this statement is to prevent the order in which the brothers are introduced in the pedigree from being taken as that of their age, instead of that of the historical relationship subsisting among the nations descended from them.

Genesis 10:22

Twenty-six of the primitive nations are descended from Shem, of which five are immediate.

(45) Elam was settled in a part of the modern Persia, to which he gave name. This name seems to be preserved in Elymais, a province of that country bordering on the Dijlah, and now included in Khusistan. It was early governed by its own kings Genesis 14:1, and continued to occupy a distinct place among the nations in the time of the later prophets Isaiah 22:6; Jeremiah 49:34; Ezekiel 32:24. Its capital was Shushan or Susa Daniel 8:2, now Shuster.

(46) Asshur seems to have originally occupied a district of Mesopotamia, which was bounded on the east by the Tigris Genesis 2:14. The inviting plains and slopes on the east of the Tigris would soon occasion a migration of part of the nation across that river. It is possible there may have been an ancient Asshur occupying the same region even before the flood Genesis 2:14.

(47) Arpakshad is traced in Ἀῤῥαπαχῖτις Arrapachitis Arrhapachitis, a region in the north of Assyria. V. Bohlen and Benfey identify it with Ariapakshata, denoting a country beside Aria. Gesenius renders it border or stronghold of the Kasdim; but the components of the word are uncertain. The nations descended from Arpakshad are noted at the close on account of their late origin, as well as their import for the subsequent narrative.

(48) Lud is usually identified with the Lydians, Λυδοὶ Ludoi who by migration at length reached and gave their name to a part of the west coast of Asia Minor.

(49) Aram gave name to the upper parts of Mesopotamia and the parts of Syria north of Palestine. Hence, we read of Aram Naharaim (of the two rivers), Aram Dammesek (of Damascus), Aram Maakah on the southwest border of Damascus, about the sources of the Jordan, Aram Beth Rechob in the same neighborhood, and Aram Zoba to the north of Damascus. The name is perhaps varied in the Ἄριμοι Arimoi of Homer (Iliad 2:783) and Strabo (xiii. 4,6). From Aram are descended four later nations.

Genesis 10:23

(50) Uz ( Ἀνσῖτις Ausitis Septuagint.) the chief of a people having their seat in the north of Arabia Deserta, between Palestine and the Euphrates. From this Uz it is possible that the sons of Nahor and of Seir Genesis 22:21; Genesis 36:28 obtained their name. Job dwelt in this land.

(51) Hul is supposed to have his settlement about the sources of the Jordan in Huleh. Others trace this nation in the Hylatae (Pliny 5:19) near Emesa.

(52) Gether is of uncertain position, probably in Arabia.

(53) Mash may have left a trace of his name in Mons Masius, Karajah Dagh, south of Diarbekir, and perhaps also in the Mysians and Moesians, who may have wandered westward from under this mountain.

Genesis 10:24

Arpakshad begat (54) Shelah. We know nothing of the nation of which he was the founder. He begat

(55) Heber. He is the progenitor of the Hebrews, the race to which Abraham belonged. He is marked out very prominently for reasons partly unknown to us at this distance of time, but partly no doubt because he was the ancestor of the chosen race who immediately preceded the confusion of tongues, and to whom belonged that generic Hebrew tongue, which afterward branched into several dialects, of which the Hebrew, now strictly so called, was one. It is probable that most of the diversified modes of speech retained the substance of the primeval speech of mankind. And it is not improbable, for various reasons, that this Hebrew tongue, taken in its largest sense, deviated less from the original standard than any other. The Shemites, and especially the Hebrews, departed less from the knowledge of the true God than the other families of man, and, therefore, may be presumed to have suffered less from the concussion given to the living speech of the race.

The knowledge previously accumulated of the true God, and of his will and way, would have been lost, if the terms and other modes of expressing divine things had been entirely obliterated. It is consonant with reason, then, to suppose that some one language was so little shaken from its primary structure as to preserve this knowledge. We know as a fact, that, while other nations retained some faint traces of the primeval history, the Hebrews have handed down certain and tangible information concerning former things in a consecutive order from the very first. This is a proof positive that they had the distinct outline and material substance of the primeval tongue in which these things were originally expressed. In keeping with this line of reasoning, while distinct from it, is the fact that the names of persons and things are given and explained in the Hebrew tongue, and most of them in that branch of it in which the Old Testament is composed. We do not enter further into the special nature of the Hebrew family of languages, or the relationship in which they are found to stand with the other forms of human speech than to intimate that such investigations tend to confirm the conclusions here enunciated.

Genesis 10:25

This nation was very extensive, and accordingly branched out into several, of which the immediate ones are Peleg and Joctan.

(56) Peleg is remarkable on account of the origin assigned to his name. “In his days was the land divided.” Here two questions occur. What is the meaning of the earth being divided, and what is the time denoted by “his days?” The verb “divide” (פלג pālag ) occurs only three times elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures 1 Chronicles 1:19; Job 38:25; Psalm 55:10. The connection in which this rare word is used in the Psalm, “divide their tongues,” seems to determine its reference in the present passage to the confusion of tongues and consequent dispersion of mankind recorded in the following chapter. This affords a probable answer to our first question. The land was in his days divided among the representative heads of the various nations. But to what point of time are we directed by the phrase “in his days?” Was the land divided at his birth, or some subsequent period of his life? The latter is possible, as Jacob and Gideon received new names, and Joshua an altered name, in later life.

The phrase “in his days” seems to look the same way. And the short interval from the deluge to his birth appears scarcely to suffice for such an increase of the human family as to allow of a separation into nations. Yet, on the other hand, it is hard to find any event in later life which connected this individual more than any other with the dispersion of man. It is customary to give the name at birth. The phrase “in his days” may, without any straining, refer to this period. And if we suppose, at a time when there were only a few families on the earth, an average increase of ten children in each in four generations, we shall have a thousand, or twelve hundred full-grown persons, and, therefore, may have five hundred families at the birth of Peleg. We cannot suppose more than fifty-five nations distinguished from one another at the dispersion, as Heber is the fifty-fifth name, and all the others are descended from him.

And if three families were sufficient to propagate the race after the flood, nine or ten were enough to constitute a primeval tribe or nation. We see some reason, therefore, to take the birth of Peleg as the occasion on which he received his name, and no stringent reason for fixing upon any later date. At all events the question seems to be of no chronological importance, as in any case only four generations preceded Peleg, and these might have been of comparatively longer or shorter duration without materially affecting the number of mankind at the time of his birth. Peleg is also remarkable as the head of that nation out of which, at an after period, the special people of God sprang. Of the Palgites, as a whole, we hear little or nothing further in history.

(57) Joctan, if little or insignificant as an individual or a nation, is the progenitor of a large group of tribes, finding their place among the wandering races included afterward under the name Arabic. Cachtan, as the Arabs designate him in their traditions, may have given name to Cachtan, a town and province mentioned by Niebuhr.

Genesis 10:26-29

The thirteen tribes of the Joctanites or primitive Arabs are enumerated here in Genesis 10:26-29.

(58) Almodad is usually referred to Yemen. The first syllable may be the Arabic article. Mudad is the name of one celebrated in Arab story as the stepfather of Ishmael and chief of the Jurhum tribe of Joctanites. The Ἀλλουμαιῶται Alloumaiōtai of Ptolemy belonged to the interior of Arabia Felix.

(59) Sheleph is traced in the Σαλαπηνοὶ Salapeenoi of Ptolemy (vi. 7), belonging to the interior.

(60) Hazarmaveth gives name to a district on the Indian Ocean, abounding in spices, now called Hadramaut. This tribe is the Chatramitae of Greek writers.

(61) Jerah occupied a district where are the coast and mountain of the moon, near Hadramaut.

(62) Hadoram is preserved in the tribe called Ἀδραμῖται Adamitai Atramitae, placed by Pliny (vi. 28) between the Homerites and the Sachalites on the south coast of Arabia.

(63) Uzal perhaps gave the ancient name of Azal to Sana, the capital of Yemen, a place still celebrated for the manufacture of beautiful stuffs.

(64) Diclah settled possibly in the palm-bearing region of the Minaei in Hejaz.

(65) Obal is otherwise unknown.

(66) Abimael is equally obscure. Bochart supposes there is a trace of the name in Μάλι Mali a place in Arabia Aromatifera.

(67) Sheba is the progenitor of the Sabaei in Arabia Felix, celebrated for spices, gold, and precious stones, and noted for the prosperity arising from traffic in these commodities. A queen of Sheba visited Solomon. The dominant family among the Sabaeans was that of Himjar, from whom the Himjarites (Homeritae) of a later period descended.

(68) Ophir gave name to a country celebrated for gold, precious stones, and almug wood, which seems to have lain on the south side of Arabia, where these products may be found. What kind of tree the almug is has not been clearly ascertained. Some suppose it to be the sandal wood which grows in Persia and India; others, a species of pine. If this wood was not native, it may have been imported from more distant countries to Ophir, which was evidently a great emporium. Others, however, have supposed Ophir to be in India, or Eastern Africa. The chief argument for a more distant locality arises from the supposed three years‘ voyage to it from Ezion-geber, and the products obtained in the country so reached. But the three years‘ voyage 1 Kings 10:22; 2 Chronicles 9:21 seems to be in reality to Tarshish, a very different region.

(69) Havilah here is the founder of a Joctanite tribe of Arabs, and therefore his territory must be sought somewhere in the extensive country which was occupied by these wandering tribes. A trace of the name is probably preserved in Khawlan, a district lying in the northwest of Yemen, between Sana and Mecca, though the tribe may have originally settled or extended further north.

(70) Jobab has been compared with the Ἰωβαρῖται Iōbaritai of Ptolemy (vi. 7). Bochart finds the name in the Arabic: yobab a desert.

Genesis 10:29

The situation of Mesha is uncertain. But it is obviously the western boundary of the settlement, and may have been in the neighborhood of Mecca and Medina. Sephar is perhaps the Arabic Zaphari, called by the natives Isfor, a town on the south coast near Mirbat. It seems, however, to be, in the present passage, the “mount of the east” itself, a thuriferous range of hills, adjacent, it may be, to the seaport so-called. Gesenius and others fix upon Mesene, an island at the head of the Persian Gulf, as the Mesha of the text. But this island may have had no existence at the time of the Joctanite settlement. These boundaries include the greater part of the west and south coast of the peninsula, and are therefore sufficient to embrace the provinces of Hejaz (in part), Yemen, and Hadramaut, and afford space for the settlements of the thirteen sons of Joctan. The limits thus marked out determine that all these settlers, Ophir among the rest, were at first to be found in Arabia, how far soever they may have wandered from it afterward.

Genesis 10:31-32

Genesis 10:31 contains the usual closing formula for the pedigree of the Shemite tribes; and Genesis 10:32 contains the corresponding form for the whole table of nations.

From a review of these lands it is evident that Shem occupied a much smaller extent of territory than either of his brothers. The mountains beyond the Tigris, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Levant, the Archipelago, and the Black Sea, bound the countries that were in part peopled by Shem. Arabia, Syria, and Assyria contained the great bulk of the Shemites, intermingled with some of the Hamites. The Kushites, Kenaanites, and Philistines trench upon their ground. The rest of the Hamites peopled Africa, and such countries as were supplied from it. The Japhethites spread over all the rest of the world.

In this table there are 70 names, exclusive of Nimrod, of heads of families, tribes, or nations descended from the 3 sons of Noah - 14 from Japheth, 30 from Ham, and 26 from Shem. Among the heads of tribes descended from Japheth are 7 grandsons. Among those from Ham are 23 grandsons and 3 great-grandsons. Among those of Shem are 5 grandsons, one great-grandson, 2 of the fourth generation, and 13 of the fifth. Whence, it appears that the subdivisions are traced further in Ham and much further in Shem than in Japheth, and that they are pursued only in those lines which are of importance for the coming events in the history of Shem.

It is to be observed, also, that, though the different races are distinguished by the diversity of tongues, yet the different languages are much less numerous than the tribes. The eleven tribes of Kenaanites, and the thirteen tribes of Joctanites, making allowance for some tribal peculiarities, most probably spoke at first only two dialects of one family of languages, which we have designated the Hebrew, itself a branch of, if not identical with, what is commonly called the Shemitic. Hence, some Hamites spoke the language of Shem. A similar community of language may have occurred in some other instances of diversity of descent.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
The posterity of Canaan were numerous, rich, and pleasantly seated; yet Canaan was under a Divine curse, and not a curse causeless. Those that are under the curse of God, may, perhaps, thrive and prosper in this world; for we cannot know love or hatred, the blessing or the curse, by what is before us, but by what is within us. The curse of God always works really, and always terribly. Perhaps it is a secret curse, a curse to the soul, and does not work so that others can see it; or a slow curse, and does not work soon; but sinners are reserved by it for a day of wrath Canaan here has a better land than either Shem or Japheth, and yet they have a better lot, for they inherit the blessing. Abram and his seed, God's covenant people, descended from Eber, and from him were called Hebrews. How much better it is to be like Eber, the father of a family of saints and honest men, than the father of a family of hunters after power, worldly wealth, or vanities. Goodness is true greatness.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 139-40

The wretched condition of the world at the present time has been presented before me. Since Adam's fall the race has been degenerating. Some of the reasons for the present deplorable condition of men and women, formed in the image of God, were shown me. And a sense of how much must be done to arrest, even in a degree, the physical, mental, and moral decay, caused my heart to be sick and faint. God did not create the race in its present feeble condition. This state of things is not the work of Providence, but the work of man; it has been brought about by wrong habits and abuses, by violating the laws that God has made to govern man's existence. Through the temptation to indulge appetite, Adam and Eve first fell from their high, holy, and happy estate. And it is through the same temptation that the race have become enfeebled. They have permitted appetite and passion to take the throne, and to bring into subjection reason and intellect. 3T 139.1

The violation of physical law, and the consequence, human suffering, have so long prevailed that men and women look upon the present state of sickness, suffering, debility, and premature death as the appointed lot of humanity. Man came from the hand of his Creator perfect and beautiful in form, and so filled with vital force that it was more than a thousand years before his corrupt appetite and passions, and general violations of physical law, were sensibly felt upon the race. More recent generations have felt the pressure of infirmity and disease still more rapidly and heavily with every generation. The vital forces have been greatly weakened by the indulgence of appetite and lustful passion. 3T 139.2

The patriarchs from Adam to Noah, with but few exceptions, lived nearly a thousand years. Since the days of Noah the length of life has been tapering. Those suffering with disease were brought to Christ from every city, town, and village for Him to heal; for they were afflicted with all manner of diseases. And disease has been steadily on the increase through successive generations since that period. Because of the continued violation of the laws of life, mortality has increased to a fearful extent. The years of man have been shortened, so that the present generation pass to the grave, even before the age at which the generations that lived the first few thousand years after the creation came upon the stage of action. 3T 139.3

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