"From These the Whole Earth Was Populated"
I certainly expect that every one watching this evening likely knows how the Wheel of Fortune works; the game show has been on TV for decades. Contestants guess letters in order to slowly uncover words until they are able to guess the hidden puzzle. A similar idea underlay the game show, Name that Tune. Contestants would be given a few notes to try to identify a mystery tune. In the early 90s, there was a kids gameshow called, Get the Picture. Kids would compete for chances to remove squares covering a large picture with the goal of being able to guess what the picture was.
Tonight, we are going to see if we can’t remove a few squares and reveal a bit more of God’s big picture plan of redemption as He reveals it in Scripture.
Two weeks ago, we were admiring the beauty of the rainbow as presented in Genesis 9. We saw that the rainbow was the sign that God gave to Noah after the Flood to go along with the covenant He made with Noah that promised that He would never again destroy the earth with a Flood. Through the unconditional covenant, God converted His judgment into grace, assuring mankind of a future.
We should remember that the overall purpose of Genesis is to show a theological history. Moses wrote the book while the nation of Israel was in the wilderness, having been rescued from their enslavement in Egypt. They are coming into their own is a great nation. Moses is recording why God has selected them and why He is acting on their behalf. In other words, this is a theological interpretation of selected events; this is not a complete history for the sake of simply recording history. As we look at Genesis, we must remember that its original purpose was to inform Israel about her origin, purpose, and destiny. It provides a theological and historical foundation for God’s covenant with the nation and helps teach them that they are the vehicle for establishing God’s kingdom on earth. It shows a large portion of the biblical picture of redemption. The first 11 chapters specifically show in a very graphic way the need for God’s blessing in the world.
Tonight, we are going to be looking at several sections of Genesis that Moses has carefully strung together. There is not much in the way of narrative in our verses tonight. In fact, the largest section is given over to a list of names—all of chapter 10. These are the kind of verses that we tend to either skip or skim over very quickly when we come to them in our reading plans. But, as I said, Moses has carefully placed all of these verses here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That certainly suggests that they are important and worth us spending some time looking at them.
The value in these sections largely lie in the contributions that they make the larger context of Genesis; they are necessary for Moses’ overall goal of explaining to the nation of Israel why they are who they are and what God is doing through them. If you would like to look for one overall idea this evening, I would state it as Humanity is divided both by God’s design and through our relationship to Him. I will admit that that is not a real tight statement, but then again, our sections are not a real tight set so it is the best that I could come up with. Humanity is divided both by God’s design and through their relationship to Him.
In order to understand these sections, I will likely have to do more teaching than preaching tonight, but I believe it will be worth it; God’s picture of redemption is worth uncovering.
Transition from introduction to body:
Humanity is divided both by God’s design and through their relationship to Him.
The first section we will look at are the first two verses we are picking up with in Gen 9. These verses come immediately after God finished making His covenant with Noah and assign the rainbow to serve as the ongoing sign that the covenant remains in effect. What we see in these verses is the…
I. Transition to Noah’s Sons, Gen 9:18–19
<read Gen 9:18–19>
Since Noah was introduced at the end of chapter 5, he has been the central character in God’s plan for humanity. Noah has stood out from the rest of humanity through his obedience to God’s command. He built and entered the ark according to God’s command. He survived the Flood by God’s action. He left the ark and worshiped God by building an altar. He received the covenant blessing and promise from God. Noah has been at the center of all the action. But now the focus will begin to shift to his son. We had received reminders along the way that they were there through all of the action, but Shem, Ham, and Japheth had clearly been on the side of the stage, so to speak; the spotlight had been upon Noah.
Notice, in verse 18, we are again reminded that the three sons had come out of the ark with Noah, but we are also introduced to one grandson, the son of Ham—Canaan. It is just a quick dangler here…no real information about Canaan is given. Still, we have a suggestion here that Canaan is going to become crucial in the chapters that follow. Of course, if you know your OT history you know that Canaan is the main antagonist that Israel will face when they try to enter the Promised Land. Remember, they are in the wilderness, having been rescued from slavery by God from Egypt. God has promised that they will be a great nation, but at the moment that Moses is writing, the Canaanites live in the land that God has promised to give to Israel and for that reason pose their biggest obstacle.
In verse 20 we are also told that these three sons of Noah are the ones from which all the earth will be repopulated. Of course, that is necessary since they are the only families that exist at this time, but this comment serves to indicate that the blessing that Noah was given along with the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” flowed through these three men. They are the means by which God brought this aspect of His blessing into reality. In fact, the mention of Canaan in the previous verse indicates that the process had begun.
Immediately following these two transition verses, Moses inserts one brief narrative; the strange story of…
II. Noah’s Drunken Nakedness, Gen 9:20-27
Let’s read these verses…<read Gen 9:20–27>
We have no idea how much time passes after the flood before this event occurs; obviously, the extended family is still living together. Yet, enough time has passed for Noah to till and plant a vineyard, for the vines to grow, a crop of grapes to be harvested, and wine to be produced. All of that suggests at least a few years.
There are a couple of things that I want to point out before we look at the actual event. At several points in the overall story Moses presents Noah as somewhat repeating the Creation account; God is starting over with mankind. Here, in verse 20, we have a couple of these allusions. First of all, when we’re told that Noah began “farming,” the Hebrew word literally means “a man of the ground.” You may remember that Adam was formed “from the ground” according to Gen 2:7. There is a clear linkage of Noah here to Adam.
Secondly, this event takes place in a vineyard, a type of garden. For the second time in Genesis a garden is grown as a place for man to enjoy but becomes a place for sin. Even though God has started humanity over again, the root problem remains the same.
The problem begins in verse 21 when Noah drinks too much of his wine and becomes drunk. In his drunken state, Noah, we are told “uncovered himself inside his tent.” Noah apparently was so intoxicated that he took off his clothes and then passed out in the tent.
We clearly see the degrading effects of abusing alcohol here. Both drunkenness and nakedness are connected to overindulgence here by Noah. And both remain common effects today. The bible, as I have said before, does not out and out forbid the use of alcohol. But it does over and over warn of its great danger. Drunkenness is called out as sin. And alcohol so easily leads to drunkenness that it is to be considered a dangerous substance. As I have also said many times before, for that reason there is great wisdom in a Christian avoiding it completely since we have so many other beverage options. This is doubly the case when we consider the second risk that alcohol brings—nakedness. Alcohol lowers healthy inhibitions that protect people from acting in shameful ways. Far too often drunkenness leads to moral debauchery and acts of shame. A wise person will avoid the risk that alcohol poses.
The second danger is the one in focus here. Noah’s drunkenness is almost incidental to the issue of his nakedness. We should recall that in Genesis, ever since the Fall in the Garden, nakedness has been shameful. God hid Adam and Eve’s shame by creating garments of skin by which they could clothe themselves. In his drunken state, Noah removed his clothing which we should recognize is allowing the shame of sin to be seen.
Just a quick side-note, in the marriage bed God has given us one place on this side of the Fall in which nakedness does not bring shame.
Noah passes out naked in his tent which brings us to…
A. The Son’s Actions
Verses 22 and 23 contrast the actions of Ham with those of his brothers. There is nearly endless speculation as to what Ham did in verse 22 because the details are cryptic, but it is clear that Ham behaves in an offensive manner toward his father. What the text says is that he saw his father’s nakedness and told his brothers about it. In verse 23, the Hebrew has the definite article with “garment” which suggests that Ham may have brought his father’s garment out of the tent to show his brothers when he told them about what he had seen. Rather than honor his father and hide his shame, Ham aggravated the situation by talking about it.
In contrast to the cryptic nature of verse 22, verse 23 gives great detail to emphasize that Shem and Japheth took great care to preserve the honor of their father. They took his garment and covered him while ensuring that they would not see him in his naked condition. In fact, if we were to translate the end of verse 23 literally, it would be “their father’s nakedness not they saw.” The last word of the verse in the Hebrew is “saw.” The first word in verse 22 is also “saw.” This word is placed like a bookend around the brother’s actions to highlight the contrast of Shem and Japheth with Ham.
It is the contrast between these two sets of actions that become the bases for…
B. Noah’s Curse and Blessings
We are not told in verse 24 how Noah came to know what Ham had done, but somehow, he finds out after he wakes up and sobers up.
I don’t know if you remember, but I mentioned several times when we were looking at chapters 7 and 8 that Noah is presented as a silent doer. Noah obeyed God’s commands over and over, but he never spoke. The very first word that Scripture ever records Noah speaking is here in verse 25, after the Flood and after the focus has started to shift to his sons. The very first word that he is recorded as speaking is the word “cursed,” “Cursed be Canaan.”
This word clearly echoes the other curses recorded already in Genesis. For example, in Gen 3:14 God cursed the serpent and Gen 3:17 God cursed the ground. Of course, this is different because here a man is speaking rather than God. When God speaks a curse it is a pronouncement. When a man speaks a curse, it is really an expression of faith in the just rule of God. Man doesn’t have the ability to bring the curse about, his words have no power. He can, though, express faith that God will bring about a just result in the face of a wrong. That is what Noah is doing here.
The surprise comes in the fact that Noah curses Canaan, Ham’s son, rather than Ham himself. In reality, what is happening is that Noah is anticipating that the evil traits that marked his father will show up in Canaan and his descendants as well. It is no surprise that when Israel was warned of the vile practices of the Canaanites in Leviticus 18, that the word “nakedness” is used 24 times. The Israelites are to shun the evil practices of the Canaanites. The Canaanites, their main adversaries are destined to be their servants. In fact, they are to be “servants of servants” meaning the lowest of slaves.
By contrast, Noah foresees blessings falling on the descendants of the other two sons. But look carefully at verse 26, notice how the blessing is worded. Noah blesses the Lord, “the God of Shem.” It is God who is blessed. Any blessing that comes to Shem comes because the Lord is his God. Any blessing that comes to Shem is the result of the Lord’s doing, not because Noah has spoken. God blesses those who know Him as God.
It is also interesting to note that the blessing that comes to Japheth in verse 27 is through his connection to Shem. Japheth’s position over Canaan is the result of his peaceful relationship with Shem.
Now we won’t get to it this evening, but Abraham comes from the line of Shem. The pronouncements that Noah gives in these three verses make the points that God is going to work in a special way through the line of Shem. But the blessing is the result of those who acknowledge God as their God. Ultimately, all people will be known by their relationship to God which is visible through their relationship to God’s people—those who know God as God. Specifically, Moses is recording this so that the Israelites will know their role as the people of God. The Canaanites will be people who rebel against God and will thus be placed by God in a position of servitude under the Israelites. Other nations, though, will be blessed by God through their relationship to Israel. Do you see how the big picture of redemption is starting to come into view for the nation of Israel? A few more squares covering the picture are being removed.
Let’s move on. In the next two verses, Moses records….
III. Noah’s Obituary, Gen 9:28–29
<read Gen 9:28–29>.
We’re told that Noah lives another 350 years after the Flood. Based on the fact that we were told in Gen 7:11 that he entered the Ark in his 600th year, that gives Noah a life of 950 years. Yet, in all of these post-flood years, we only know of two events: the altar he built as soon as he got off the Ark and his drunken night that we just looked at. Moses’ selectivity is clearly on display in only choosing to record the events that develop the theological themes he needs to present—the events which help bring the big picture into view.
The final note that Noah died in verse 29 actually wraps up the record of Seth, Adam’s son, that began in Genesis 5. That chapter, if you recall, emphasized that death was the end result for those who had the image of Adam. Noah’s death completes that part of the picture…physical death remains the end for man because sinfulness is a continuing problem, even after the Flood. It remains the natural end for all men.
As we move into chapter 10, we are entering what is commonly called…
IV. The Table of Nations
Let’s read verse 1…<read Gen 10:1>
This verse begins another major theological section of Genesis. Remember, the main sections, after the first section, are introduced by the Hebrew word, toledot, which is usually translated along the lines of “these are the generations of…”. These are the generations of the sons of Noah who were born after the flood.
Now, I am not going to read this chapter tonight…a quick glance at it shows that it is filled with a list of names. Rather, I will just point out a few highlights that Moses draws special attention to. The names are important if you are doing a deep study of ancient history, but our purpose is to trace the big picture that Moses is unveiling.
I will mention that it is clear that once more Moses was highly selective in creating this list. He is certainly not giving us a complete genealogical listing for Noah’s sons. Rather, he is giving more of a panoramic view as a backdrop for the rest of Genesis. He seems to specifically limit a couple sections to 7 names and the entire list has 70 names. In Genesis both the numbers 7 and 10 have indicated completeness several times. Here those are combined to indicate this is a complete picture of what needs to be known to have the theological understanding necessary. The list is developed with Israel…both the people and the land they were to occupy…as the center of his concern.
In verses 2–5 we are given…
A. The Sons of Japheth, Gen 10:2–5
From Moses’ perspective, these become the peoples who are most on the outskirts of his concern. Following the dispersion of the nations, which, Lord willing, we will look at next week, these nations that descend from Japheth end up on the outer fringe of the known world. By dispensing with the sons of Japheth first, Moses is able to focus on the more central role that the descendants of Ham and Shem will plan in God’s plan.
Ultimately, we must not lose sight of the fact that God’s plan is a redemptive plan for all the nations—that is the big picture being revealed—but that plan will come about through a very selective process. The sons of Japheth…and frankly, some of us may very well be the sons of Japheth…will benefit from God’s redemptive plan, but they are not central in the development and unfolding of that plan.
Verses 6–20, the longest section of the chapter, contains…
B. The Sons of Ham, Gen 10:6–20
The list for Ham begins the same way as the list for Japheth with the simple naming of his sons, but it is quickly seen that among his sons are the traditional enemies of Abraham’s descendants, such as Egypt whom the people just escaped, Canaan who they will soon face, and also Assyria and Babylon which are both significant future enemies from the perspective of Moses’ time.
If you have your bibles open, you can see that at verse 8 Moses breaks the listing of names by giving a bit of narratives about the exploits of a man named Nimrod. Specifically, he is the founder of several prominent cities that will impact the history of Israel: Babylon (Babel in v. 10) and Nineveh, the future capital of the Assyrian empire. The note about Nimrod in verse 8 that “he became a mighty one of the earth” suggests that the means of his ascendency was the use of aggressive force.
The most expansive list of names falls under Canaan as Moses calls out several nations which will play ongoing roles in Israel’s history.
In the final section, verses 21–31, Moses lists…
C. The Sons of Shem, Gen 10:21–31
It is common in Genesis that the lines of nonelect families are given before the lineage of chosen descent. That pattern is repeated here as Shem’s line is introduced last, even though he is always listed first as Noah’s sons. Furthermore, Two clues are given to the importance of Shem’s line in the introduction to it in verse 21. First of all, Eber is mentioned even though he is at least the great-grandson of Shem. Also, the reminder of the Shem’s connection to Japheth, “Shem,… the older brother of Japheth,” while Ham is not mentioned reminds us of the blessings and curses given by Noah in the previous chapter.
Eber is once again highlighted in Shem line when his descendants are listed in verse 25. At the mention of his son, Peleg, Moses adds the historical note this is the point when the earth was divided. This ties the genealogy to a specific historical event, well-known by the original readers. Most likely this is the dispersion of the nations that happens after the tower of Babel which comes next in Moses’ account.
Eber’s second son, Joktan, has his descendants listed out in the final verses, but Peleg does not. That sets us up for the second listing that Moses will give of Shem’s line which will trace the chosen line up to Abraham, but that listing is delayed until after the Babel account. We are given the nonelect line, but the elect line has to wait for further unveiling of the big picture.
Verse 32 wraps up this chapter by providing the second of a set of…
D. The Genealogical Bookends, Gen 10:1, 32
<read Gen 10:32>
The repetition of “the sons of Noah” and the comment about “after the flood” serve to place a bookend after the lists that corresponds to verse 1 at the other end. Not only does this chapter provide a context for what is coming in the next chapter, but it also affirms that Israel is part of a world governed by the one true God. All of humanity, despite their geographical and linguistic differences which leads to divisions, share a common origin—the sons of Noah. The table also serves as evidence that the commission that was given to Noah in Gen 9:1 to fill the earth was fulfilled through the nations that came forth from Noah’s sons. Even the historical enemies of Israel like the Canaanites and Assyrians are part of the blessing that God gave to Noah.
Transition from body to conclusion:
So what can we learn from the table of nations as well as the previous sections we looked at this evening?
I take you back to the idea of slowing unveiling a picture to see what is underneath. Much like the Wheel of Fortune, or Name that Tune, or Get the Picture; tonight we have seen God reveal a bit more of His big picture of redemption. And from that we should recognize that Humanity is divided both by God’s design and through their relationship to Him.
It is not by accident that nations are divided. That is part of God’s design. Yet, even in that division, every nation relates ultimately to a common origin in Noah. This planet is covered by one massively large family. So yes, language and geography divide us; but our humanity also connects us by God’s design.
More significant than the divisions that come from our family lines, though, is the division that results from differences in our relationship to God. Blessings flow from God alone, but those blessings flow to those who know God as their God. God alone can distribute divine blessings. In fact, tonight we have been reminded that God has one overall plan for distributing His blessings—a plan that involves His sovereign choice in electing to bring it to fruition through chosen lines. Ultimately, it comes through the Person of Jesus Christ. Humanity is divided both by God’s design and through their relationship to Him. Ultimately, humanity is divided by their acceptance or rejection of Jesus Christ—that is God’s design, His big picture plan of redemption.