Genesis 10 is often skipped by Bible readers. There’s little more boring than a genealogy – particularly of people you don’t know or care about.
But the genealogy in chapter 10 is no mere genealogy. The key to its importance is found in the “side trips” it offers and in the way the chapter ends.
First, this story tells Israel of the beginning of the nations she knows to exist during the Exodus. The list begins with the descendants of Japeth, not because he was the eldest, but because his descendants spread east, further geographically than the rest – all the way to Europe!. The second group, the descendants of Ham, are the people occupying Israel’s nearest vicinity and history and include great nation and civilization builders. The final group, that of Shem, contains Israel’s early lineage, along with the people who stretch out toward the south and west.
Second, this list tells Israel that she is related to all the people of the world. Israel’s distinctiveness lies not in her travels, her development of languages, nor her kingdom building. Her distinctiveness exists in nothing more than God’s election of her to be His people. There are more numerous, more accomplished people. But Israel is, by God’s grace alone, favored.
It’s something we should all keep in mind. No matter the race, culture, economic or political power of a people, we are all related, for we all came from Noah. There is nothing about a person’s nationality that is particularly distinctive. There will always be people more powerful and more successful. There will always be different, more colorful and accomplished cultures. No people has a monopoly on achievement. What really distinguishes people is their relationship with God. Moses names four sons of Shem, but only gives the descendants of two of them: Aram and Arphaxad – as if the others don’t matter. Arphaxax has a son Shelah who has a son Eber who has two sons. Here, Moses focuses on Eber’s son Joktan, not mentioning the other one until the middle of chapter 11 where he picks up on son number two: Peleg, who is the great-great grandfather of Abraham, God’s chosen. From that point on, none of the others will count.