************ Sermon on Genesis 10 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 9, 2011
"The Table of Nations"
Do you remember what Scripture says about the three sons of Noah? Scripture says that "from them came the people who were scattered over the earth" (Gen 9:19).
Last time, we looked at what Noah, filled with the Spirit, prophesied about his three sons and the people who come from them. This time, we look at the nations, languages, tribes, and people who come from the three sons. And, next time we look at how God brought about mankind's different tribes and languages and people and nations.
Now, in personal or family devotions the temptation always exists to skip over those chapters, like Genesis 10, which are nothing but long lists of names or genealogies. Technically, Genesis 10 is not a genealogy like we have in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 because, unlike those two chapters, Genesis 10 does not constantly repeat the phrase "became the father of ... became the father of ... became the father of ..." Rather, as indicated in my sermon title, Genesis 10 is a Table of Nations because it traces the origins of and connections between the various countries.
The chapter in front of us is not meant to be an exhaustive list of every single nation on the planet. Rather, it focuses on those people known to the Hebrews freed from slavery in Egypt.
If you were to count the nations and peoples you would see there are 70 of them. This number is highly significant in the Bible. It is the number of completeness and wholeness. This is the number of elders selected by Moses – as representatives of Israel. This is the number of men who served in the Sanhedrin – again, as representatives of Israel. In the same way, the 70 nations represent all other nations on earth. In this light, consider that Jesus chose 70 disciples to preach the Gospel – one for every nation listed in Genesis 10 thus symbolizing the missionary efforts of the church to reach the whole world (Lk 10).
I One Human Family
A What stands out as the children of Israel looked at or heard the Table of Nations in Genesis 10? What stands out is that all the nations of the world come from the same place as Israel. They all have common roots not only in Adam but also in Noah. As Moses writes at the start and end of our Scripture reading:
(Gen 10:1,32) This is the account of Shem, Ham and Japheth, Noah's sons, who themselves had sons after the flood ... (32) These are the clans of Noah's sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.In other words, all of the nations are part of the same family as Israel. As far as Israel is concerned, the Table of Nations is not a list of strangers. Rather, it is a list of cousins, of far-flung family members.
Today, a list of countries in the United Nations ought to strike us the same way as the Table of Nations struck Israel. It is not a list of strangers. Rather, it is a list of cousins because all of humanity continues to be part of one big family. The Table of Nations tells us that the peoples of the rest of the world are our cousins. They may come from a different nationality, they may have a different culture, their language may be different, but they are part of our family – the human family that descended from Adam and Noah.
Do you remember how the Apostle Paul puts this in his sermon to the men of Athens? He said,
(Acts 17:26) From one man [God] made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.We are all from one man. And every nation on earth comes from one man. We are all related. We are all cousins. In God, says Paul, we all "live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:26). In God, we all have life, share the same human nature, breathe the same air, and live on the same earth. We are one big family!
B Meaning what? Meaning that every nation and language and culture shares certain things with us. Like us, they are made in the image of God (Gen 1:26,27). Like us, they have dignity and worth. Like us, they have the right to life and the pursuit of happiness. Like us, they come under the "creation ordinances" God has built into what He has made.
Do you remember these ordinances God has built into His Creation? There is the ordinance to be fruitful and increase in number, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). There is the ordinance to worship God (Gen 2:2-3). There is the ordinance to obey God's covenant of works (Gen 2:16-17). There is the ordinance to leave father and mother and to cling to your wife in a relationship of love and fidelity (Gen 2:23-25). There is the ordinance that the husband is the head of the wife and he is to love his wife in the same way as Christ loves His church (Gen 2).
We can sum up the ordinances as work, worship, obedience, marriage, and male spiritual headship. These are the ordinances that govern our relationship to God, to man, and to Creation today. The Table of Nations tells us that these ordinances apply not only to us but also to every other member of the human race.
C The Table of Nations tells us we are one big family. So, what difference does this make? It means we cannot look down on other races, nationalities, languages, and people. We cannot despise our cousins because then we are despising ourselves.
It also means we don't have the luxury of ignoring the rest of the world. They are family: they are our cousins! Everything about them should be of concern to us: their needs, their hopes, their dreams, their problems, their struggles, their successes, and their failures!
Let me break this down into something concrete. Later this month we pass out the Peter Fish and the first Sunday next month we observe World Hunger. Why do we do that? Because hunger in the Sudan is hunger of our cousins. Because children orphaned by AIDS in Africa means our cousins are orphans. Because refugees in Asia means our cousins have no place to call home.
Or, consider this. Most Sunday nights we pray for the persecuted church. Who are we praying for? Not only are they cousins, but – in Christ – they are also our spiritual brothers and sisters.
Have you heard of the 10/40 Window? The 10/40 Window represents a rectangular area of the world; running south to north it covers an area from 10 degrees south of the equator to 40 degrees north of the equator; running west to east it starts in West Africa and goes to East Asia.
Over 4 billion people live in the 10/40 Window – most of them are not Christian. Every major non-Christian religion is headquartered here: Islam, Hindu, Buddha, Confucius, Tribalism, New Age. The U.S. State Department reports that four out of the five governments that actively sponsor terrorism are in the 10/40 Window (Syria, Iran, North Korea, Sudan). And, 43 of the top 50 nations that persecute Christians are located in this Window. Do you know what Jesus tells us to do? Jesus tells us to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). Jesus tells us to bring the Gospel to our cousins in these lands.
No, God does not allow us to ignore our cousins. God certainly doesn't. Neither should we.
II In the Heart of Darkness
A The Table of Nations is divided into three sections. It starts with the descendants of Japheth (Gen 10:2-5). Moses tells us very little about Japheth's descendants because these nations were the farthest from Palestine. The descendants of Japheth split into two groups: one group settled in India and the other in Europe. Together they form what is known as the "Indo-European" family of nations. Notable among Japheth's descendants is Javan (Gen 10:2), the father of the Greeks.
Do you remember Paul's missionary journeys? Do you remember where he went and what direction he traveled? The missionary journeys of Paul focused on the descendants of Japheth. It was among the pagan descendants of Japheth that the New Testament church spread like wild-fire (cf prophecy of Noah "may Japheth live in the tents of Shem" in Gen 9:27).
B The descendants of Ham started off living in the land of Canaan and expanded all the way down to Egypt. Later, some of their number migrated to Mesopotamia. Their opposition to the people of God reflects the evil nature of their father, Ham (Gen 9:22). Furthermore, it is especially Ham and his son, Canaan, who are to be identified as the seed of the serpent who oppose the seed of the woman (Gen 3:14; 4:11; 9:25). It is not surprising, therefore, to find Egypt (Mizraim, Gen 10:6), Babylon (Gen 10:10), and Assyria (Nineveh, Gen 10:11) in the line of Ham. These three empires were the deadliest foes of Israel during the Old Testament period.
Under the inspiration of the Spirit, Moses singles out Nimrod in his discussion of Ham. Three times Nimrod is called "mighty" (Gen 10:8,9). Even the Lord took note of his might (Gen 10:9). But this is not meant as a compliment. God took note of Nimrod in the same way as He later took note of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 18:20-21). Nimrod was an offense to God!
Nimrod was known as a mighty hunter. This was a time when civilization was sparse and wild animals were a constant threat to people. Nimrod evidently acted to protect people by killing wild animals. Nimrod, however, was more that a hunter of wild animals. The Jewish Talmud helps us understand Nimrod when it says he was "a hunter of the souls of men." We see this in two of the cities Nimrod founded: the evil cities of Babylon and Nineveh. Nimrod opposed God, defied God, and rebelled against God. He introduced a perverted, degraded form of religion into the world. It began at Babylon, spread to Nineveh, and can be traced throughout history. It isn't an accident that the 10/40 Window I mentioned earlier finds many of its roots in Nimrod and the cities he established.
C The descendants of Shem are the Semitic peoples who inhabited modern-day Iraq, Iran, and eastern Saudi Arabia. Amazing, isn't it, that the people today who fight each other the most in the Middle East are all related to each other through Shem?
Our Bible reading emphasizes that "Eber" is in the line of Shem (Gen 10:21,24,25). From Eber we get the name "Hebrew." Eber had two sons: Joktan and Peleg. It was Peleg's line which led to Abraham and the nation of Israel. This is the family that God deals with throughout the rest of the Old Testament.
D There are a number of lessons we can learn from this glance at the three families. The first lesson: the people of God, otherwise known as the line of the woman (cf Gen 3:15), live in the heart of darkness. If you look at the Table of Nations on a map (HOLD IT UP) you will see that Ham lives along the coast. Along the top and side is Japheth. In the middle is Shem. Do you see what I see? The line of the woman that was carried from Seth to Noah to Shem to Abraham is surrounded on every side by the darkness of evil and idolatry.
When Martin Luther studied the Table of Nations he had this to say: "Whenever I read these names, I think of the wretched state of the human race." He looked at the Table of Nations and saw sin, evil, violence, hatred, and warfare as nation fights against nation. Now, don't forget, in Genesis 10 Moses is recording life after the Flood. This is life after God's cleansing judgment. We see that things are no better after the Flood than they were before the Flood. Before the Flood, remember, God grieved that He had made man on the earth and His heart was filled with pain (Gen 6:6). After the Flood, man's heart and ways continue to be wicked and full of hate and violence.
As it was in Genesis 10, so it is now: the line of the woman continues to live in the heart of darkness. And, this is the way it will be until the Lord Jesus comes again. As Jesus put it in two of His parables, there are weeds mixed in with the wheat, and good fish mixed in with the bad (Mt 13). As God's people, we live in a world of sin and darkness. Attacked on every side. Tempted on every side. Hated on every side.
Second lesson. There is a warning to the nation of Israel here. As Israel entered the promised land she learned that no nation can defy God and long survive. Look at what happened to Egypt with the ten plagues. Look at the heathen nations to be destroyed as Israel conquers the land of Canaan. Look at how the might of even Assyria and Babylon eventually comes to nothing. The new nation of Israel needs only to survey the many nations around her to see that God disperses and curses the rebellious, bringing utter confusion and antagonism among them – as He did at Babel. As Paul puts it, God determines the time and place for every nation (Acts 17:26). Unlike the heathen, Israel must obey and submit to God's will. If she doesn't, she too will be scattered across the face of the earth.
Third lesson. As God's people live in the heart of darkness they need to be on guard and keep watch lest they be polluted by the ways of the world in which they live. Isn't that the sin that Israel repeatedly fell into again and again? Isn't that the sin we need to guard against? Aren't we warned against conforming to the pattern of this world (Rom 12:2)? And, keep in mind what is written by James and John:
(James 4:4) You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
(1 Jn 2:15-16) Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For everything in the world--the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does--comes not from the Father but from the world.
Fourth lesson. Why was Israel put in the heart of darkness? Israel was put there to be a light to the nations (Is 49:6; 51:4). And, like Israel, we too are called to be light to a world in darkness (Mt 5:14-16). However, our lampstand will be removed if we are unfaithful and forsake the Lord (Rev 2:9).
We are to see Genesis 10-11 as God's funnel. A funnel, as you know, is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. This funnel starts wide with Noah, his three sons, and the nations that come from them. Shem is put last because God is narrowing the flow of sacred history to the Semitic races. In Genesis 11 we are introduced to Abraham, the neck of the funnel. From there it begins to broaden out again to take in Abraham and all his descendants, both physical and spiritual.
Why does God do this? Why does God funnel sacred history down to one man and one family and one nation? Is He playing favorites? There is nothing about Israel that made the Lord choose her (cf Deut 7). Rather, in Israel we see God breaking into the hearts and wills of sinful people in order to redeem them.
In the fullness of time, God again broke into human history – into sinful human history – in order to redeem a people. Again, the funnel came down to one man – this time the Lord Jesus Christ. In Christ, God deals decisively with the sin and rebellion of the nations. And, in Christ, God will someday bring all the warring nations together again.
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