Table of Nations / Rebellion at Babel

Genesis (Chapter 1 to 11) – Be Basic
Table of Nations / Rebellion at Babel

Beginning of Nations – Genesis 10 is a listing of the descendents of Noah’s sons. It is called the Table of Nations, or the Family of Nations. It traces the descent of man through the three sons of Noah. This account explains the origin of nations and peoples of the known world. The account is unique for several reasons.

1.  Humanity has a new beginning after the Flood
Human history kind of goes like this genealogically:  Adam to Seth to Enoch to Methuselah, to Lamech, to Noah. The whole human race, then, follows that same line because all of humanity was destroyed in the flood, leaving only Noah. Here we have the second starting point for human history through Noah and his three sons. 

2.  Laid out God’s Redemptive history with the introduction of Abraham
The next crucial man on the genealogical charts in redemptive history is Abraham.  And Abraham is introduced in the twelfth chapter, though his name appears at the end of chapter 11 in the genealogies. The listings of the sons of Japheth and the sons of Ham and then the sons of Seth are designed to move toward the people of God. Shem is the last one listed here because it was from Shem that Abraham came, and from him, the people of God and the line of redemption. Most importantly, through whom God sent the Messiah, the Conqueror and Destroyer of Satan, and the Saviour of the world. 

3.  Fulfillment of God’s Command to Noah and his sons – “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”
The listing is also witness to the fact that in chapter 9:1, “God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth'”.  This was what God said, this was what God commissioned, and this account indicates that this was fulfilled. 

4. Showed the scattering of man and the ethnic makeup of the ancient world
The design is to show how the people were scattered into the world from the starting point in the Middle East, which is still the theatre of redemptive history and will be until the very end. The account highlights the ethnic makeup of the ancient world, listing some seventy different groups that formed the basis of the known world. 

Table of Nations
The Table of Nations has three basic divisions. The people and nations fit into one of the three families of Shem, Ham and Japheth. The names which appear in each of the families are names which come from several different categories: racial descent, geographical location, language differences, or political units:

  • Japheth (Gen 10-2-5)
    Japheth’s descendents were Gomer, Magog, Madai. Javan, Tubal, Meshech, Tiras. They settled in Aegean region and Anatolia or Asia Minor. The principal nations that sprang from them were: Russians, Germans, Britions, Medes, Iberians etc
  • Ham (Gen 10:6-20)
    The descendents of Ham were located in North Africa, and the coastal regions of Canaan and Syria. The nations that came from them were Ethiopians, Egyptians, Libyans and Canaanites.
    What about the oriental people?  Did the Japhethites get to Asia?  Most of the evidence connects the heritage of Asian people to the descendants of Ham. Perhaps the Hittites who came out of Ham were the ones who populated China. 
  • Shem (Gen 10:21-31)
    The descendents of Shem are important because the promised line through Abraham comes from the line of Shem. The descendents of Shem settled in Assyria, Syria, Persia, Northern Arabia and Persia. The nations that came from them were Persians, Assyrians, Chaleans, Syrians, Lidyans, Armenians.
    The God of Shem – it is the first time God is associated with a certain person to show His special relationship with them.
    Shem – Arphaxad – Shelah – Eber – Peleg – Reu – Serug – Nahor – Terah – Abraham – Isaac – Jacob …… Joseph-Jesus (NT Luke 3:25-38).
    Tracing the promised line from Shem to Jesus showed  the prophecy finally fulfilled through the seed of woman to overcome evil i.e. through Jesus Christ.

Descendents of Noah

Noah’s Sons

The Principal Nations which sprang them were

They settled in


– Gomer

Russians, Germans, Britons

Asia Minor

– Magog



– Madai



– Javan

Ionians and Athenians


– Tubal


– Meshech


– Tiras



– Cush


The continents of Africa, Asia and Arabia

– Mizraim


– Phut


– Canaan



– Elam 



– Asshur



– Arpphaxad

Chaldeans, Hebrews, Lidyans


– Lud


Northern Arabia

– Aram



So Ham settles the south, Africa, and to Asia.  Japheth settles to the north; Europe and into the northeast Persia and India. And Shem stays in the Middle East. Twenty six families are listed from Shem, 30 from Ham, 14 from Japheth, totaling 70. Philistines are mentioned parenthetically to explain to the Jews who were hearing this read hundreds of years later. 

After the flood, the life span of man was progressively shortened from Shem to his descendent Moses to about 120. Chapter 10 shows us that we are all related and come from the original line from Adam and Eve. So there should not be any preference for race. We are all related in the same ancestry – the same blood effect.

In the tenth chapter, it becomes apparent to us that life in the new world was just the same as life in the old world. They have abandoned the true and living God. Here is the hopelessness of humanity. The warning of the flood which drown the entire world didn’t seem to have any effect on anybody. Man was no better, but God decided to be patient and gracious for His own sovereign purposes. Instead of judgment, He sent a people as a witness nation. He gave them His Law, the scripture. His Covenants, and His promises, to take to the world.

And so this genealogy shows this drift, this decline, and how these nations spread around and oriented themselves around Israel by divine providence. Remember Acts 17:26, God determines the times of the nations, and their location. Now when it says in Romans 1, when they knew God they glorified him not as God, this is where that began. Now it stretches across the globe. 

“And He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us,”
Acts 17: 26 -27

The Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

In the beginning, the whole earth was of one origin, one nation, one language, and one speech.

After the Flood, out of the ark comes one family: Noah, his wife, the sons Shem, Ham, Japheth and their wives- total 8 people. Everybody else had been drowned. The entire world of people from Adam to Noah were gone. These 8 people were the new humanity. They were the forefathers of the entire world. These families then developed generations after one another and they reproduced and multiplied rapidly.

During this period, the whole earth was still using the same language, no barriers to communication and unity. God who made man as the one creature with whom He could speak to, was to take the gift of language and use it to divide the race. God had restated His commission for man to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 9:7). It was in the course of spreading out that this Babel event occurred. It was only about 100 years after the Flood. So, it was 1756 after creation.

While dispersing, a portion of the post-Flood group, under the leading of the powerful Nimrod (10:8-10), journeyed East and found a place in the land of Shinar, a plain in Mesopotamain Valley, between the Tigris-Euphrates River, near the original Garden of Eden.

And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (Gen. 11:4). They decided to stop there and establish a city as a monument to their pride and for their reputation.

Nimrod was a wicked warrior, “a mighty hunter before the Lord” (v9). He expanded his kingdom into Assyria, built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, Resen between Nineveh and Calah. By this time, the people were already idolaters. Being proud and wicked, sinful and rebellious against God, this group of people were using their inborn talents and gifts to build a city, a tower and a name – a Three-phased plan.

The Three-phased Plan:

  • 1) A City – their social goal,
  • 2) A Tower – The tower had to do with their religious goal, this is a ziggurat. Ziggurat are very common structures in the Babylonian-Acadian culture, found in the ancient cities of Mesopotamian valley. It was a step ladder by which the gods could descend and ascend and make connection with men. It could be made of bricks and mortar and was generally rectangular or square at the base, and there was a temple there so that people could worship the ascending and descending gods.
    Not that the tower would actually reach to the abode of God and not that the top would represent the heavens. It is just a symbol of the connection with the gods. They wanted it to be a high tower as a monument to their abilities, one that would enhance their fame. Thus, they attempted to steal God’s glory.
    It is not a sin to construct cities and towers. It is sin only when these towers become symbols of pride and rebellion. So, human pride was the element which led these people to defy God. But no matter how hard man tries, he can never recreate the eternity life that he had lost. As long as sin remains in the human heart, there can be no perfect world,
  • 3) A Name – their psychological goal. “let us make a name for ourselves (v4)”. A reputation for themselves instead of God, these people were trying to dethrone Him.

And the LORD said, “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” (Gen. 11:6 KJV)

God became concerned because during this time, everyone was still speaking the same language. God understood that the gift of creativity, ability and productivity He had given to the human race was never retracted. Man has God’s creative nature and if man can only think it, man can do it. Even if it means building a tower that reaches into the sky. That is the power of imagination and visualization: “nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (v. 6). Therefore, we can see very clearly that with the Fall, God did not take away the creativity, ability and productivity He had put into Adam. All those qualities are still there in man, except that they are now corrupted and evil (Rom. 1:28).

God addressed their prideful rebellion at the first act. They were trying to be united being the descendants of Noah. They had chosen to settle but God forced them to scatter. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Gen 11:7). This “let Us” proves the Trinity. From this account, it tells us how it was that the families of the earth “were separated, everyone according to his language” (10:5) and “were divided on earth” (10:32). So the Lord scattered them abroad upon the face of all the earth; and they ceased to build the city. (11:8) The people were scattered is mentioned in Gen 10 & 11. How and why the people were scattered is mentioned in Gen 11:1-9. All these happened in the divine act of God.

The place where this incident happened is known as Babel (Gen 11:9, 10:10), which later proved to be Babylon. Babel is linked to a Hebrew word meaning “to confuse”. From this account, Israel first understood not only how so many nations, peoples and languages came about, but also the rebellious origins of their archetypal enemy, Babylon (10:5,20,31). Because they would not fill the earth as God had commanded them, and because of their rebellious and idolatrous sinful acts, God confused their language so that they could not sin in deeper and had to separate and settle in regions where their own language was spoken. In the flood, it was judgement by destruction. At Babel, it was judgement by dispersion.

How it is related to Revelation:

The New World – In Revelation 19, 21 and 22, God said that Christ will come and destroy this world. There will be a new kingdom, a new city- a city not built by men but built by God. It is called the New Jerusalem, it will come down out of heaven and suspends over the millennial earth and is the capital city of the kingdom. This will be the city of God. There will be only one world, one ruler- our God, and one language then.