Table of Nations: Japheth and Shem


Last week, I covered the migration of Ham’s descendents across the Middle East and through to the continents of Africa to the west and south, with one branch moving to the east and north. This week I’ll follow Japheth into Eurasia, over the top of the world and across to the other side of the globe, the Americas. Shem will settle largely in the Levant.


Hannes Karnoefel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Japheth produced seven sons and their descendants.

Early in the history of the world, the Japhethites split into two groups. One group settled in India and the other group in Europe. Together they form what is known as the “Indo‑European” family of nations.

The Indians have an account of the flood where the hero had three sons. The name of his oldest son was Iyapeti (you can see Japheth in that), and the other two were Sharma, and C’harma (Shem and Ham). The interesting thing about the Indian account is that C’harma was cursed by his father because he laughed at him when he got drunk.


Magog, Tubal, Meshech – were all north of the Black Sea and the Caucasian sea, eventually producing Russia and those northern countries. In fact, Tubal and Meshech can be traced to people groups just northeast of Israel.[1]

Madai – Medes and Persians.[2]

Tarshish – the farthest west you can go, the gateway to the west.[3]

Javan – Grecian empire, who said their ancestor was a man named Japetos (see the resemblance to Japheth?).[4]

Gomer – became the word Gaul, or Galatians, or Celts. They migrated to the north and settled in Spain, France and in Britain, northern and western Europe.[5]


Japheth and his descendants sort of recede in Biblical importance until the end of time. You and I read in both Old and New Testament prophecies about a war that has not yet taken place, when Gog and Magog will come against Israel and God will intervene—it seems this will all happen in the very last days. The prophet Ezekiel, in particular, described in detail this war to end all wars,


Mortal, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him… Gomer and all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remotest parts of the north with all its troops—many peoples are with you…

…and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army; you will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the earth. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I display my holiness before their eyes…

On that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, says the Lord God, my wrath shall be aroused.

Ezekiel 38:2, 6, 15-16, 18 (NRSV)

The Plain of Megiddo, where the Battle of Armageddon is prophesied to take place
Thomasccnawiki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D

The record preserved in Genesis Chapter 10 regarding these ancient nations was an ingenious idea because as names and boundaries changed throughout history, the prophets, who foretold future events, used the venerable names in this chapter, enabling every generation to identify the nations involved in prophecy by their current names.

On that day,” whatever day that is, the final great battle will commence between Almighty God and the nations of the earth.


The last, and most significant, division is Shem, who had five sons and their descendants, but Shem’s most prominent descendant was Peleg

Eber – from which comes the word Hebrew. Abraham, who was really the founder of the Hebrew nation, was six generations beyond Eber, but is identified as an Eberite, or Hebrew.

Elam – Southern Mesopotamia.

Asshur – Assyria.

Peleg  – possibly during the time of Babel, Peleg in Hebrew means “Division,” but in Greek it means “Sea.” The word archipelago comes from  archi (first) ‑pelagos, (sea). The Greeks called the Aegean Sea “The Archipelago,” the first sea, drawing the name from this man, Peleg.


Peleg’s time may very well have coincided with the Ice Age, when sea levels were very low and land bridges, as well as narrow archipelagoes, connected most of the continents. This time lasted for a very short period, and ended abruptly when the ice sheets rapidly melted and filled the sea. “The earth was divided” could have a double meaning of division of languages of the people of earth, dispersion of people groups over the earth, and division of the earth itself as the land bridges quickly disappeared.

Two names possibly link Job to this time in history: Uz, is theland of Job, and Jobab could be a reference to Job himself, who trusted God and loved Him regardless of his circumstances.

Nimrod represented the elite of Ham’s descendents. His stature harkened back to Cain and the mighty civilization that rose up from Cain’s posterity. The Bible rightfully and mindfully portrays Nimrod as a great conqueror and establisher of the earth’s earliest postdiluvian empires.

As a counterfoil, Job characterized the best of Shem, just as Seth’s line counterposed the line of Cain. In response to his wife’s bitter invective, Job famously said,


Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:10 (NRSV)

Job
William Blake [Public domain]

So often you and I want to know why, but most of the time God doesn’t answer that question. Job was surrendered to God and His purposes, even though he didn’t understand why God was allowing all this suffering and disaster in his life. In a moment of truth and clarity, Job spoke for the people who would one day descend from him,


“I know that you can do all things,

    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;

    I will question you, and you declare to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

    but now my eye sees you;

Job 42:1-5

Job still didn’t understand why all these things had happened to him but he recognized something very important. The stream of God’s purpose had coursed through his life. If God’s purpose in your life, in my life, includes suffering, it is an opportunity to see the Lord.

It is so interesting to me that Genesis began with this test of love and faith portrayed in the Tale of Two Trees. God gives every person genuine moral choice, to choose between good or evil, His will or some other way.

What resulted was the first world destruction, when a nauseating wave of corruption and death erupted from the breach that rent through Genesis chapter 3. Two paths formed out of that horrific rupture: the Way of Cain and the Way of Seth. It seemed inevitable that Cain’s selfish, self-absorbed, self-serving, and ultimately heartless clan would eventually overwhelm the God-fearing clan of Seth, were it not for God’s eleventh hour rescue of the last eight left on earth.

Now, after this second destruction of the world, post Flood, a second migration, and a second parting of ways emerged as illustrated in the histories of Nimrod and Job. What does my life look like by the plumbline of Nimrod’s life, the mighty hunter, with lots of accomplishments, but little spiritual value, or by Job’s life, surrendered to the Lord no matter what, his love expressed in obedience and trust?


[A good number of facts and figures for this post  came from Archaeology and the Old Testament, by Merrill F. Unger. Copyright © 1954, 1982 by Zondervan Publishing House.]


[1] According to Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:1, Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, was ruler of Magog.

[2] See, for example, 2 Kings 17:6 and Isaiah 21:2.

[3] Of all these place names, this one is possibly the most familiar, as it turns up throughout the Hebrew (Jonah 1:3, for example)  and Christian Bibles, and Isaiah used Tarshish to represent the unknown world (Isaiah 60:9).

[4] Biblical references include Isaiah 66:19 and Daniel 8:21, 10:20

[5] Ezekiel lists Gomer and Togarmah as residing “in the uttermost parts of the North,” in relation to Israel.


Shem’s Migration Throughout the Levant | No machine-readable author provided. MapMaster assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D

Published by Joanne Guarnieri Hagemeyer

Bible Teacher and partner with Ancient Voices, Sacred Stories

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