“Go west, old man, go west” — Genesis 10-12

Today’s reading is Genesis 10-12: the genealogy of the nations, the tower of Babel, and the beginning of the story of Abram (Abraham).

Most of us consider the genealogy passages usually worthy of merely passing over to get to the storyline parts of the Bible. And chapter 10 is one of those chapters, but don’t let its content lull you to sleep; there really are a few interesting things here.

Moses, through God’s inspiration, follows dispersion and (contemporary to Moses) settlements of the sons of Noah. Japheth’s descendants largely settled the Mediterranean basin and north of the Fertile Crescent. The nations that sprang from Ham and his son Canaan are listed next. They include the peoples that settled in Palestine (including Sodom and Gomorrah) and Africa, a few that settled in southern Mesopotamia (Babel), and a few more who became the Philistines (who seem to be related to the ancient Minoan civilization and perhaps even the Greeks). This genealogy and the curse put upon Ham and Canaan by Noah in the last chapter, help us and the Israelites to understand the perverse course the Canaanites were taking and why it was perfectly just of God to allow them to be destroyed later. Lastly, in this genealogy there are listed the descendants of Shem, the Semites. Notice that so many of those in the middle east are, in fact, Semitic: Elam (Persians), Asshur (the Assyrians), Arpachshad (the Jews are his descendants), Aram (the Arameans / Syrians), and others that probably included Arabs. Their languages mostly belong to a family of languages known as Semitic tongues.

And by the way, just in case you have heard this somewhere and were wondering about the truth of it: No, neither Ham nor Canaan were given black skin to mark them. It wasn’t given to Cain, either, whose descendants clearly perished in the flood. Darker skin is a common feature of most peoples living closer to the equator and is a protectant from too much sun. Lighter skinned is indigenous to peoples living farther from the equator, and who probably need more sun and the vitamin D it gives us keep a healthy immune system to survive. It has been micro evolution at work — not macro evolution, the changing of species — micro evolution, the adaptation of species over a number of generations to environmental conditions. Don’t get fooled by people who are looking for a religious reason for their personal bigotry.

Chapter 11 tells us the story of how Noah’s family got scattered across the face of the globe — pride, rebellion, and language. It is, by the way, a flashback we’re seeing here; Gen. 10:25 notes that the world (its people) was divided in the days of Peleg (his name means “division”). Noah’s family moved from Ararat east and south, down the Euphrates. They, of course, all spoke the same language and understood themselves to be one people, one family. But sin, never very far away, tempted mankind, only about 5 generations from the flood, to build something great, as a matter of pride, to reach to the heavens in order to “make a name for ourselves” and unify them. What really interests me here is God’s remark:

“The LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language. And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.” Genesis 11:6, NAS95.

Here’s an amazing, inspired observation about unity: nothing would be impossible for them. Now, there might be some hyperbole here, but consider the power of real unity. We live in such an independence oriented society, one that wants to embrace diversity in whatever extreme it comes, one that exalts the man or woman who marches to that different drummer, that we may never really understand the revolutionary power of unity — but it’s there. History has many examples for us to consider. But what I really wanted to point out here for us to think about is the power to turn the world upside down that believers in Jesus waste with denominationalism! The power wasted in the Lord’s church over squabbles over taste, opinion, pride, politics, and other nonsense, while the unsaved world looks on in deceived contempt or desperate confusion. Two passages to consider:

“A new commandment I [Jesus] give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”” John 13:34, 35, NAS95.

“Now I [the apostle Paul] exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, ‘I am of Paul,’ and ‘I of Apollos,’ and ‘I of Cephas,’ and ‘I of Christ.’ Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, NAS95.

The way to weaken them, divide them — by languages.

Do we have to be in absolute lock-step about everything? No, 1 Corinthians makes it clear that different skill, talents, and members are important, and even different scruples or opinions are allowable; but we do need to be on the exact same page in biblical teachings, in God’s purpose, and in leadership.

Lastly, we find the story of Abram in the latter part of Genesis 11 and all of chapter 12 — “Go west, old man, go west”. Abram and his family — only about 10 generations from Noah’s flood; maybe about 400 years had passed, if all the generations from Shem to Abram have been listed in Scripture — were pagans, worshiping other gods (it doesn’t appear to take long for people to wander off the path). But God seems to have seen something special in Abram, and so He calls him with a very strange calling: leave your home and follow Me to an undisclosed place and I will bless you with a great name, and a great nation.

“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father’s house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.'” Genesis 12:1-3, NAS95.

There’s just one problem, Abram and his wife Sarai are old — Sarai especially is too old to bear children. Nevertheless, Abram believes, and his faith becomes the touchstone of teaching to all men about what God values the most through the Old and New Testaments.

Moreover, this becomes the second Messianic prophecy, “And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Through Abram’s family the Messiah of all the world would come, and every family could be blessed.

After Abram arrives in Canaan, a local famine drives Abram to Egypt. Here Abram’s faith in God is tested — and it fails. Because Abram feared that Pharaoh would kill him to take his beautiful wife (Sarai was apparently quite attractive at 65), he commands Sarai to lie that she is only his sister and not his wife. In the end, God rescues Abram and Sarai and their marriage remains unviolated, by plaguing Pharaoh and communicating to him that Abram was favored by God and that Sarai was Abram’s wife. Pharaoh stops his advances toward Sarai and sends them both away.

Although Abram’s folly seems rather extreme to us, it doesn’t seem to have been so unusual for that period of history in that region of the world (e.g., Gen. 19:8 / Judges 19:24). But extreme or not, truth be known, avoiding trouble by doing sinful or worldly things still remains a common temptation: going along to get along at work or in business deals, telling “white lies” to avoid trouble, cheating on taxes, etc. Where’s all this faith that we say we have?

Hope you’re keeping up with your reading. See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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About parklinscomb

I'm a minister for the church of Christ in Manchester NH where I've worked since the 1970's. I'm a big fan of my family, archaeology, the Bible, the Lord's church, and Gander Brook Christian Camp.
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