The Table of Nations

Reading: Gen. 10:1-11:32

  1. Genesis chapter 10 is known as the "Table of Nations" as it shows the ancestry of the world's nations. How was the list of people presented? (Genesis 10:5,20,31,32)
  2. What was Nimrod noted for?
  3. Peleg means "division" in Hebrew. What happened about the time Peleg was born?
  4. Why did the people of Babel build a tower?
  5. Why was God displeased with the people?
  6. Why did confusing the language solved the problem?
  7. Continue your timeline from Noah to Abram. In what year did the events at Babel take place?
  8. From what country did Abram originate?

The Table of Nations

The list of nations given in Genesis 10 is unique in ancient literature. No other list contains such a complete list of where all the world's nations originated and no other list is comparable to its accuracy. According to Genesis 11:10, the list was compiled by Shem, one of the sons of Noah. The list is organized by family and by tongue. This means the list of nations was compiled after the event in Genesis 11. The events described in Genesis 10 overlap the events described in Genesis 11.


From the list, we learn that Indo-European nations descended from Japheth. It is interesting to note that the Greeks refer to Iapetos as their founder. Indians refer to Iyapeti as the founder of their race. If you allow for alterations of names over time, it is likely that both nations are referring to Japheth.

Gomer is associated with a nation the Greeks called the Cimmerians who were located south of the Black Sea. During the reign of Sargon, this nation was called Gimirrai.

Magog is associated by the Jewish historian, Josephus, with ancient Scythian tribes who lived southeast of the Black Sea. They are also mentioned in Ezekiel 38:2 and Ezekiel 39:6.

Madai are the Medes who settled southwest of the Caspian Sea. This name is frequently used in the Scriptures and Assyrian writing to refer to this nation.

Javan is an older form of the name Ionia, the name for Greece. One of Javan's sons, Elishah is believed to be another form of the name Hellas, from which we get the Hellenist. In the Iliad, there is a reference to the Eilesian people. Another son of Javan, Dodanim is thought to be related to an ancient Greek oracle, known as the Oracle of Dodona. Tarshish is connected with the ancient Spanish city Tartessus in southern Spain. Kittim refers to the people who dwelt on the east coast of Cyprus (see Numbers 24:24, Jeremiah 2:10, Ezekiel 27:6).

Tubal is associated with the nation in the eastern part of Asia Minor, whom we now call the Tibarenians. The Assyrians called this nation Tabal.

Meshech is connected to nation in the southwestern corner of the Black Sea. The Assyrians called this nation Muskaya. They latter were known as the Muskovi, an early name for Russia.

Tiras is thought to have founded the pirate nation known as the Pelasgians on the edge of the Aegean Sea.


The land of Cush is generally regarded as the area of modern day Ethiopia. Cush actually occupied a larger area of Africa than Ethiopia does today and extended into Arabia. (See II Kings 19:9, Isaiah 37:9). One of Cush's son was called Nimrod. The literal meaning of his name is "Let us rebel." He is described as a mighty hunter. This same phrase can be translated as "mighty tyrant." Babel was a city in his kingdom. The Assyrians called their founder Ninus, which is believed to be a derivative of Nimrod. This is also why the Assyrians capital was called Ninevah. The Babylonians also descended from Nimrod. There is a reference to the city of Calah, which has been found by archeologists. In the city's records, it refers to itself as the city of Nimrud.

The Egyptian founder was Mizraim. The name is very close to the name of the first Egyptian Pharaoh. The children of Mizriam are all associated with tribes in the area of Egypt. It is interesting to find that the Philistines are also related to the Egyptians.

Canaan and his children settled the region that was latter conquered by the Israelites. One of his children, Sin, is remembered in the Wilderness of Sin and Mount Sinai. The Assyrians also had a god named Sin. It is believed that descendants of Sin settled China. An older name for China is Sinae (as in the Sino-Japanese War).


Elam settled the region east of the Tigris River. They were known as Elamites and later called the Persians.

Asshur is the ancestor of the Assyrians, who were eventually conquered by Nimrod.

Arpachshad founded the country called Arrapachitis, located northeast of Nineveh on the Zab river. Arpachshad's grandson was called Eber. From Eber's name is derived the name "Hebrew", of whom Abraham is the most famous descendant. One of Eber's sons was named Peleg, which means division. We are also told the world was divided in the days of Peleg, so we concluded that the incident at Babel occurred about the time Peleg was born.

Lud is associated with the Lydians in Asia Minor. An early historian, Herodotus, reported that the nation called itself a Semitic nation.

Aram founded the Aramaeans, who lived northeast of Palestine. In the Bible, they are often called Syrians. The names of the locations in this region often contain the prefix "Aram".

Notice that Shem's descendants are traced in greater detail than the other brothers. This makes sense since the division of the world would cause families to lose track of each other.

The Tower of Babel

At one time, everyone spoke a single language. It makes sense, since everyone descended from Adam and Eve and even in the years after the flood, everyone descended from Noah. Since all the names in the table of nations only have meaning in Hebrew, we can conclude that it may have been the original language.

Mankind settled in the area of Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Instead of spreading to subdue the earth, mankind huddled together. Since the division of the world occurred in the days of Peleg, we conclude that the events here occurred 100 years after the flood. If each family averaged eight children, it has been calculated that the population had grown to about 30,000 people by this time.

The people developed kiln-fired bricks, and using asphalt (tar) as a mortar, began a great building project. They were working on a tower that would reach into the heavens. It is not that they were trying to reach God, but they were building a monument to themselves that would cause people to remember them. They also thought that the collective action would keep everyone from straying across the world, which was in direct conflict with God's command in Genesis 9:1.

God decided that the cause of mankind's rebellion was the unity of mankind's language. A variety of languages would keep mankind from acting as one and it would slow the spread of sin through the world. If people could not understand each other, work on the tower would cease and, eventually, the people would scatter across the world. Since people would tend to marry only those whom they could understand, the tight intermarriage within families produced the racial characteristics we see in the world today.

Shem's record of the scattering of the nations ends in Genesis 11:10. The account is then pickup by Terah (Genesis 11:27).

Terah's record is simply a genealogy record of his ancestors. It tells us how many generations and how much time passed from the flood to the days of Abraham. One of the things you will notice is that the life span of mankind rapidly dropped from Noah's day to Abraham's day. Some suppose this is due to the changes the flood wrought in the world.

Even in this brief account, we can glean many interesting facts. Shem's third son, from whom Terah descends, was born two years after the flood. However, we are uncertain if that is two years from the beginning of the flood or from the end of the flood. Shem himself died when Jacob was 48 years old. We often don't consider how long many of the patriarchs lived. Both Shem and Eber, Abrahams ancestors outlived Abraham! See the "Lineage of the Patriarchs" page near the end of this book.

In Luke 3:36, a Cainan appears between Arphaxad and Shelah. Cainan is not mentioned in Genesis 11:12-13, nor in another list in I Chronicles 1:24. I have not found a reasonable explanation for this difference.

The account is then picked up by Isaac (Genesis 25:19). Terah and his children lived in the city of Ur in the land of the Chaldeans. The city of Ur has been located by archeologists. The remains show that it was a large metropolitan city. While living in Ur, Haran, one of Terah's sons, dies. We conclude from later events that Abram, Haran's brother, must have assumed guardianship of Haran's son Lot.

Abram, himself, had married his half-sister, Sarai. Unfortunately, Sarai was barren, so the couple remained childless for most of their life. Nahor, Abram's other brother, marries his niece, Milcah, the sister of Lot.

At some point Terah moves part of his family out of Ur (Nahor is not listed as going with the group) and begins traveling towards Canaan. Stephen, in Acts 7:2-3, said that God had called to Abram to leave Mesopotamia, so perhaps Terah had decided to join Abram in his travel. Terah never reached Canaan. Instead, he settled in a town called Haran. Perhaps he became too old to travel any further. It is speculated that either the existing town at that location was renamed in honor of Haran, or Terah's family founded the town, naming it in honor of Haran. Later, Nahor also moves from Ur to the area of Haran (Genesis 22:20-24; 24:10; 27:43). A younger son of Nahor, Laban, settled in Haran.

There is some confusion that arises between the account of Terah and Isaac in Genesis and Stephen's brief history in Acts 7. From Genesis 11:26 we learn that Abraham was born when Terah was 70 years old. In Genesis 12:4 we learn that Abraham left Haran when he was 75 years old. This would make Terah 145 years old when Abraham left and he lived for another 60 years (Genesis 11:32). However, Stephen said that Abram left after Terah died (Acts 7:4). The best explanation for this difference is to remember that there is more than one way to die. Even in Genesis 3, we saw Adam and Eve die a spiritual death long before they physically died. In Joshua 24:2, Joshua mentions that Terah served other gods on the other side of the river. From where Joshua stood that would be in Haran, on the other side of the Euphrates river. A likely conclusion is that Terah once followed God Almighty when he left Ur with his son, but while they lived in Haran, Terah turned from God to serve idols. Thereby dying spiritually in God's sight. It was at this time that God called Abraham away from his idolatrous father to go to a new land. This view also explains Terah's grandson Laban's possessions of household idols, which is mention later in Genesis.

A second possible explanation is to notice that Genesis 11:26 lists Terah's three sons and mentions the first son was born when Terah was 70. It is possible that the three sons were not listed in birth order. If this is true, then either Haran or Nahor was the eldest son. Abram could then have been born when Terah was 130 and Abram, at the age of 75, left when his father died.

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