The Line of Shem

10: 21-31

DIG: What was significant about the descendants of Shem in relation to the Jewish people? Who was the most significant person to come through the line of Shem? Why was he so important? What is significant about the number seventy?

REFLECT: How could it be possible that the line of Shem has affected your life? If you had a son or a daughter, which line would you want them to be a part of spiritually? Japheth? Ham? Or Shem? Why? What can you do to make that a possibility? What is beyond your control?

Shem is the last brother discussed because he is the most crucial. Although his offspring included the Arabs, the line of faith in the LORD came through Shem and his descendants, the Hebrews. Shem lived 502 years after the Flood, and that means he lived until after Tara, Abraham’s father died. In fact, Noah lived until Tara was 128 years old.

Sons were also born to Shem, whose older brother was Japheth. This shows that Shem was the firstborn son of Noah although he is dealt with last.Although Eber occurs as a name far down the list among the Shemites (Semites), his importance is called to our attention early in the passage: Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber (10:21).195 Eber in Hebrew is Ever and is the source of the word for Hebrew. So what this means is that Shem was the father of the Hebrews. And this is the main significance of his line. So, it is not just Shem that is crucial, but also Eber.

The five sons of Shem were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram (10:22). The first son was Elam. His descendants settled east of Babylon and later became part of Persia. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, was the apparent leader of the confederacy that invaded Canaan during the days of Abram (14:4-5). The ancient city of Susa, or Shushan, east of Mesoptamia, was their capital. The Elamites apparently later merged with others, especially the Medes (descendants of Madai and therefore of Japheth), to form the Persian Empire.196 The second son was Asshur. His descendants settled in the land of Assyria along the Tigris River and the capital of Asshur was Nineveh. These are the Semitic Assyrians who supplanted the Hamitic Assyrians in 10:11. The third son was Arphaxad. The Jewish historian Josephus refers to him and the Chaldeans, northeast of Nineveh. This is line that the Seed of the woman (3:15), or the Messiah, comes through, so this is the Seed son. The fourth son was Lud and his descendants settled in Lydia, in what is now western Turkey. And the fifth son was Aram. His descendants settled in Aramia between Damascus and the Euphrates River, better known today as Syria. By the time of Christ, Aramaic would be the common language for the leading nations of the ancient world, including Assyria and Babylonia. Some of the TaNaKh (portions of Daniel and Ezra) were written in Aramaic, and it was the common spoken language among the Jews at the time of Christ.197

The four sons of Aram (and the four grandsons of Shem)were Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshech (10:23). Little is known about these four, but they are all Syrian tribes between Armenia and Mesopotamia. The first son was Uz. His descendants located in northwest Mesopotamia (22:21), and perhaps the same was the home of Job since Uz is mentioned as Job’s home in Job 1:1. It may also be the same as the land of Uz in Jeremiah 25:20. The second son was Hul. Josephus locates him in Armenia, but more likely he was located in the region of Leja. The third son was Gether. His specific location is unknown, but Josephus put him in Bactria, in northeast Afghanistan. The fourth son was Meshech. Again the specific location is again unknown, but puts his descendants, the Mesena, at the mouth of the Euphrates. The rest of this section focuses on the line of Arphaxad because he was the Seed son.

Shem’s third son Arphaxad, was the father of Shelah. Where he settled is unknown, but he is mentioned in the Septuagint and the book of Jubilee as being the father of Cainan. They both say that Arphaxad was the father of Cainan, and Cainan was the father of Shelah. So in both of these extra-biblical books Cainan was between Arphaxad and Shelah. And indeed this was the order written by Luke. He writes that Shelah was the son of Cainan, and Cainan was the son of Arphaxad (Luke 35-36). Luke knew of Cainan from these other records at that time.

Then the Bible tells us that Shelah, or Shem’s grandson,was the father of Eber, Shem’s great-grandson (10:24). The descendants of Eber settled in Ur of the Chaldeans (11:31), Haran (11:27) and Paddan Aram (25:20) - for he is the father of the Hebrews.

Two of Shem’s great, great grandsons were born to Eber; one was named Peleg, because in his time the earth was divided. This was an extremely important event and Eber named his son in commemoration of it. The word peleg means division because the language division at the Tower of Babel occurred during the time of his birth. Therefore, the division of languages at Babel happened five generations after the Flood. His brother was named Joktan (10:25), which means the younger son, and he lived in southern Arabia.

Joktan was the father of thirteen sons and eventually thirteen nations. The fact that all of Joktan’s sons are listed, and none of Peleg’s may suggest that Shem (the probable author of this section) was living near Joktan at the time and so was more familiar with the names of his sons than of those of his other descendants. In any case, these names were more prominent in the day in which this was written than they have been in later times.198

   His first four sons were Almodad, Sheleph, Hazarmaveth, and Jerah (10:26), all of which also became Arabian tribes. The first son was Almodad. His descendants were a south Arabian people of the tribe of Al-Mudad. The second son was Sheleph. His descendants were also a south Arabian people of the tribe of Sulaf in Yeman. The third son was Hazarmaveth and his descendants located in Saudi Arabia. His name is preserved in the term Hadhramautic, which is one of the most important dialects of the South Arabic language. And the fourth son was Jerah.

The fifth son was Hadoram. His descendants located in the Adramitae in South Arabia. The sixth son was Uzal; this was the old name for modern Sanqa, which is the capital of Yemen. The seventh son was Diklah, which means date-palm grove. His descendants also settled in the area of the Yemen (10:27).

The eighth son was Obal; his descendants also settled in south Arabia or Yemen (10:28). The ninth son was Abimael, but nothing about him is known. The tenth son was Sheba. His descendants became the Sabians (from Seba) of southwest Arabia, and were also listed as part of Ham’s line in 10:7.

The eleventh son was Ophir. His descendants settled in Somalia, which was famous for its gold (First Chronicles 29:4; Second Chronicles 8:18; Job 22:24, 28:16; and Psalm 45:9). The twelfth son was Havilah and he settled on the west coast of Arabia, north of Yemen. He was also mentioned in Ham’s line in 10:7. The thirteenth son was Jobab, who settled in southwest Saudi Arabia. It is also the town of Juhaibab in the area of Mecca. All were sons of Joktan (10:29).

The borders of the region where they lived stretched from Mesha, the western border, toward Sephar, the eastern border, in the eastern hill country (10:30).

These are the sons of Shem by their clans and languages, in their territories and nations (10:31). There are a total of twenty-six nations that cover six generations.

In Chapter 10, the Hebrew word eretz, or land is used fourteen times (2X7). The Hebrew word bnei, or the sons of is used 14 times (2X7). The Hebrew words avi, or the father of, banim, or son, toldot, or the generations of, and yalad, or the offspring of are used 28 times (4X7). In addition, when we add up the nations that came from Shem, Ham and Japheth, we discover a very intriguing fact: The total number is seventy (fourteen from Japheth, thirty from Ham and twenty-six from Shem). This is a further example of the significance of the number seven that we have observed so often up to this point in Genesis (see Ae – The Number Seven). But it is more. It would also seem to be an anticipation of the number of the members of Jacob’s family in Egypt, who were seventy in all (Genesis 46:27 and Exodus 1:5). The seventy nations of Chapter 10 are conveniently summarized in First Chronicles 1:5-23, where they are listed in the same exact order.199

From this point on, the number seventy will be particularly associated with the nation of Isra'el. Thus the angel Gabriel would say: seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people (Daniel 9:24), and Isra'el’s history can be understood within a framework of successive cycles of seventy ‘sevens.’ Isra’el was led by seventy elders (Numbers 11:16 and 25) and later there were seventy members of the Jewish Supreme Court (see my commentary on The Life of Christ Lg – The Great Sanhedrin). Seventy scholars translated the TaNaKh into Greek to produce the Septuagint, or the Hebrew version of the Scriptures. Moses wrote that man’s allotted life span was seventy years (Psalm 90:10). The Babylonian captivity lasted seventy years; and the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and Herod’s Temple seventy years after Herod’s attempt to murder Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, in His infancy.200


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