From Noah to Abram
Key Verse: 11:26
“After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.”
Last week we thought about Noah’s walk with God during and just after the flood. Walking with God did not become easier for Noah once he finished building the ark; in fact, it may have been even more difficult. Yet through it all, Noah never forgot God and he maintained a thankful heart. The first thing Noah did when he came out of the ark was build an alter and offer a thanksgiving offering to God. God accepted this offering, blessed Noah and established an everlasting covenant with him and every future generation. God also gave us a beautiful sign to remember this covenant, the rainbow. We learned the importance of having a thankful heart especially when our walk with God is the most difficult. We should always remember God’s blessings in our lives and give thanks for bringing us this far in our journey of faith. May God help us to live as thankful covenant people in this generation.
Today we want to think about the generations from Noah to Abram. Mankind grew and spread out across the face of the earth. The Bible tells of one great man and one great event that took place during this period. However, one thing that is not mentioned during this period is man calling on the name of the LORD. Chapter 11 gives us a detailed genealogy from Shem to Abram, our father of faith. Though the study of this passage we can see that mankind grew and spread, but did they remember God who had blessed them to do so? May God bless our study and help us to always remember that He called us to be a blessing in this generation.
First, Ham disrespects his father (9:18-29). Our passage begins with Noah and his sons coming out of the ark. Verse 19 makes it clear that the three sons of Noah were very important people. It would be from these three men that all the people who are scattered over the earth would come. So what kind of people were they? Verse 20 tells us that Noah was a man of the soil, or a farmer. When he came out of the ark one of the things he planted was a vineyard. In the course of time the vines produced grapes which Noah used to make wine. One day Noah drank enough of this wine to become so drunk that he passed out naked in his tent. His son Ham walked into the tent and saw Noah laying there completely exposed and drunk, but he didn’t do anything to cover up his father’s shame. Instead, he went out and told his brothers. His brothers’ reaction was quite different. They took a garment, draped it across their shoulders and walked into the tent backward so they wouldn’t see their father’s nakedness. Then they laid the garment on Noah to cover up his shame. Shem and Japheth showed great respect for their father. They could not take away their father’s shame, but they did what they could; they covered it up. When Noah woke up and found out how his sons had acted he blessed Shem and Japheth but he cursed Ham. Ham wanted to expose his father’s shame publically, so Noah cursed him in a very public way. Throughout the generations Ham’s family was cursed to be the slaves of Shem and Japheth’s families.
From Shem and Japheth we can learn that we should do our best to cover up the sins and shame of others. This does not mean that we simply look the other way and pretend that the sin and shame don’t exit. Shem and Japheth did what they could to fix their father’s situation instead of exposing him to public humiliation. This is what we should do with our family, friends and Bible students. We must do what we can to help them overcome their sin problem without exposing them to public humiliation. We should show them great respect just as Shem and Japheth showed their father.
We can’t know for sure why Noah drank so much wine, but from this passage we can learn something about drinking too much. Noah drank so much that he passed out. He lay naked and exposed in his tent. This was shameful. In this state he could not glorify God, he could only embarrass himself. Many people think that the Bible prohibits drinking alcohol, but this is not the case - in John’s gospel, Jesus’ first recorded miraculous sign is turning water into wine. However, the Bible does make it very clear that we should not drink too much. But how much is too much? This can be debated endlessly, but simply speaking if drinking alcohol is keeping us from glorifying God and is exposing our own sinfulness then we are drinking too much. The easiest way to avoid this sin is to live as a tee-totaler; that is, not to drink alcohol at all. This issue is just as important today as it was in Noah’s time. So many people suffer from alcohol and drug addiction around the world and as Christians we must know how to help them based on clear Biblical principles. May God help us to be a blessing for those who suffer from alcohol and drug problems by helping them overcome their sin problem without exposing them publically.
Chapter 9 ends by telling us that Noah lived 350 years after the flood giving him a total of 950 years of life. This makes Noah the third oldest person in the Bible. Abram was born just 292 years after the flood, but the Bible says that he only lived 175 years and that he died “at a good old age; an old man full of years.” We’ll think more about this in part four.
Second, the table of nations (10:1-32). Chapter 10 gives a brief genealogy of Noah’s three sons. This is a rather boring chapter and many people might think it is unimportant and not worthy of study. However, it was important enough for God to include in the Bible, so we should take the time to see what we can learn from it. As I studied it four points stood out to me.
1) When Noah’s sons are mentioned, Shem is listed first in 5:32, 7:13, 9:18 and 10:1, yet his genealogy comes last and it begins by saying that Japheth was his older brother.
2) Japheth’s genealogy is very short compared to Shem and Ham.
3) Nimrod was a great warrior and a mighty hunter before the LORD, but the Bible never says that he called on the name of the LORD or built an alter to the LORD.
4) Peleg got his name because the world was divided in his time.
Every time Noah’s sons are mentioned in this account Shem’s name occurs first, but verse 21 tells us that Japheth was his older brother. Naming Shem first goes against all tradition. The first born have always had the honor of being named first in genealogies and other family records. But the author seems to have made a point of naming Shem first. This is because God’s world redemptive work was to be completed through Shem’s line. In God’s sight, it is not the oldest who should be honored, but the person He can use to accomplish His will on earth. In this case it was Shem and his descendants. The Bible is full of examples of this principle; Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his 10 older brothers, Moses and Aaron, and King David and his 7 older brothers - in each case the younger was honored above the elder(s).
The genealogy of Japheth is only four verses long while Ham’s is 15 verses and Shem’s is 12 verses. Why is this? Look at verse 5. “From these the maritime peoples spread out into their territories by their clans within their nations, each with its own language.” The Bible says that Japheth’s descendants went away across seas while Ham and Shem’s descendants stayed relatively close to each other in the Middle East region. More importantly, the main characters in the rest of the Bible are the descendants of Ham and Shem. The enemies of God and His chosen people were Ham’s descendants while God’s world salvation work was carried out through the descendants of Shem.
The most prominent person these genealogies mention is a man named Nimrod. Look at verses 8 and 9. “Cush was the Father of Nimrod, who grew to be a mighty warrior on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; that is why it is said, ‘Like Nimrod, a mighty hunter before the LORD.’” Verses 10 and 11 tell us that he had a kingdom and he was very active building cities. He was truly a great man, but as I meditated on the cities and kingdoms that he built, I realized that they became some of the most brutal and immoral places mentioned in the Bible. The Bible says that Nimrod was a warrior and a warrior is one who fights in wars. From this we can guess that Nimrod probably built much of his kingdom by force; going to war and conquering the people wherever he went. This means that the foundation of his kingdom was violence. The Bible also says that “he was a mighty hunter before the LORD,” but it never says that he called on the name of the LORD or built an alter to God. Nimrod was a humanly great man but his descendants became the enemies of God’s chosen people. They worshiped idols and did all sorts of detestable things in God’s sight.
Look at verse 25. One of Shem’s descendants was named Peleg because in his time the earth was divided. It is impossible to know exactly what the author meant by “the earth was divided,” but two possibilities occurred to me. First, Nimrod would have been an adult by the time Peleg was born (Nimrod was the second generation after Ham and Peleg was the fourth generation after Shem). Nimrod’s kingdom building may have resulted in wars that divided the earth. Another possibility is that Peleg was born just after the events of chapter 11, when God scattered the people and confused their language at Babel. Perhaps both of these things were what divided the earth in Peleg’s time.
Third, the whole world had one language (11:1-9). Look at 11:1. “Now the whole world had one language and a common speech.” This might seem like a very good thing, but as we study this passage we see that it was not. When everyone spoke the same language, the pride of man grew out of control. They moved east and found a large plain in Shinar. They decided that this would be a good place to settle down and build a lasting city. Look at verse 4. “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scatter over the face of the whole earth.” In their arrogance they challenged God’s blessing for mankind. When God blessed Adam and Eve, he said “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” And when God blessed Noah, He said again, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.” It was God’s plan and blessing for man to fill the whole earth, but these people didn’t want to do that. They wanted build this city so that they wouldn’t be scattered over the earth. They just wanted to fill the plain of Shinar not the whole earth. Furthermore, they had no intention of bringing glory to God with this city; they wanted to build it for their own glory. They wanted to build a tower reaching to the heavens to show off their own power and make a great name for themselves. When God came down to see what they were doing, He wasn’t happy. He realized that if men were allowed to remain together and speak the same language nothing would be impossible for them at some point. Man would grow to think that they no longer have any need for God and they would quickly forget about their creator. So God confused their language and scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Man wanted to rebel against God’s blessing and set themselves up as their own God, but God did not let them.
Just the other day I was speaking with two friends and we were discussing a one world language. They seemed to believe that in 20-50 years English would be the official world language. They were saying how good this would be for the world. How business and science could be so much more efficient and how convenient world travel would be. They also thought that a one world language would make the world a more peaceful place where conflicts could be settled quickly without misunderstandings. But I was thinking about this passage and how terrible a one language world would be. The arrogance of man would explode and our loving Father in heaven would quickly be forgotten. Yet, each day we seem to be getting closer to a one world language. This is why it is so important that we never forget the lessons of Genesis. God is in charge, He is the creator and if, in our arrogance, we think we can establish our own paradise without Him we are terribly mistaken. We must bring people back to the Bible to learn the lessons of Genesis.
Fourth, from Shem to Abram (11:10-32). Verses 10-27 are a detailed genealogy from Shem to Abram. This genealogy is very similar in form to the one found in chapter 5. Both genealogies list the age at which the father has a son and how many years each man lived. However, this genealogy does not use the phrase “and then he died” like the one in chapter 5. A careful study of this genealogy shows that the lifespan of man was very quickly getting shorter and shorter. As mentioned earlier, Noah lived 950 years, but according to this genealogy, Abram’s father only lived 205 years and his grandfather only 148 years. Abram himself only lived 175 years, yet when he died he was considered and old man who had lived a full life. Today, life is even shorter with an average lifespan of only about 75 years. Many people think that this is a terrible thing, but as Christians we should thank God for this. We all know that in this life there will be troubles and hardships; the Bible promises us this and our personal experience confirms it. But there is no trouble waiting for us in heaven. Just think if we had to suffer through 950 years or even 175 years of troubles and tribulations. Thankfully, God has cut this time short for us. We only have a few short years on earth to glorify God, so we must make the most of our time every day. Let us thank God for the time he has given us and work hard every day to glorify him.
Let’s read verse 26 together. “After Terah had lived 70 years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran.” Abram had two brothers, but one died while the family was still living in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram married Sarai, who was barren, and his brother Nahor married a woman named Milcah (Nahor and Milcah were the grandparents of Isaac’s wife Rebekah). After Abram’s other brother Haran died, Terah decided to move to Canaan. He took Abram, Sarai and Lot with him, but they only made as far as a town called Haran were they settled. Perhaps Terah stopped there because the name of the town reminded him of his dead son. Anyway, the point is, they never made it to Canaan which was their intended destination. The final portion of the journey was to be made by Abram, Sarai and Lot after God visited Abram and said, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” Abram’s obedience to God’s command was the beginning of God’s world salvation plan through His chosen people - a plan which would end with His greatest blessing to mankind, Jesus. May God continue to bless our Genesis study as we begin the study of the life of our father of faith and patriarch of God’s world salvation plan.