What does Genesis 10:31 mean?
ESV: These are the sons of Shem, by their clans, their languages, their lands, and their nations.
NIV: These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations.
NASB: These are the sons of Shem, according to their families, according to their languages, by their lands, and according to their nations.
CSB: These are Shem's sons by their clans, according to their languages, in their lands and their nations.
NLT: These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.
KJV: These are the sons of Shem, after their families, after their tongues, in their lands, after their nations.
This verse serves to formally conclude the genealogy of Shem and his descendants, along with describing the regions in which they settled. However, the line from Shem to Abraham will be described more specifically in chapter 11. This entire chapter has been devoted to explaining the origins of the Middle East's various nations. All people, including every possible tribe or race, are descended from Noah and his sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Notably, the details in this part of the Bible are only concerned with family relationships. Other than a quick comment about Peleg (Genesis 10:25), the story of how the different tribes wound up with separated languages and territories is left entirely to the next part of Scripture. That explanation will come through the story of the Tower of Babel.
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.
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.
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.
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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