What does Genesis 10:21 mean?
ESV: To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born.
NIV: Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth; Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber.
NASB: Also to Shem, the father of all the children of Eber, and the older brother of Japheth, children were born.
CSB: And Shem, Japheth's older brother, also had sons. Shem was the father of all the sons of Eber.
NLT: Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth. Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber.
KJV: Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.
Verse Commentary:
This verse begins the final section of chapter 10's table of nations, describing how all of the people groups of the ancient world descended from Noah's three sons. This section on the line of Shem comes last, though this verse makes clear that Shem was the oldest of Noah's sons. Earlier, Ham was described using a Hebrew term meaning either "youngest," or "least" (Genesis 9:24). Here, translations are split on whether Shem or Japheth is the older brother. Of course, their exact birth order is not explicitly given anywhere in the Bible. Most likely, but not assuredly, Shem was the oldest of the three sons Noah brought with him on the ark (Genesis 7:1). Shem's line is the one that will lead to Abraham and the Israelites.

Verse 21 begins by referring to Shem as the father of the Eberites. This is typical of genealogies, especially in the ancient world. The term "father" is often used to refer to any male ancestor (Genesis 15:15; Genesis 31:3). This makes Shem the "father" of the Eberites, in the sense that, as Eber's great grandfather, Shem is the ancestor of that people. Through the Eberites, eventually, Shem's line will lead to Abraham (Abram).
Verse Context:
Genesis 10:21–32 details the descendants of Noah's son, Shem. Shem's brothers, Japheth and Ham, fathered the nations described in the earlier portion of this chapter. Shem's children would be especially blessed by God. Into Shem's line, Abraham (Abram) would be born, as would the nation of Israel, and eventually the Messiah, Jesus Christ. The context given here suggests that some of these descendants were born after the events of the Tower of Babel, explained in chapter 11.
Chapter Summary:
Genesis 10 is sometimes called the table of nations. It describes, in three sections, the peoples that descended from Noah's sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Japheth's people settled mostly to the north of what would be Israel. Ham's people became great nations in the region of the Middle East, including the people that would settle in the Promised Land before Israel drove them out. Shem's line would lead to Abraham and the Israelites.
Chapter Context:
Genesis 9 described events that happened between God, Noah, and his three sons after the flood. Genesis 11 will tell the story of the Tower of Babel and the dispersal of the nations. Between them, Genesis 10 is a table of the nations that come from Japheth, Ham, and Shem after God divides and disperses humanity.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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