Have you ever found yourself in certain parts of the Old Testament and wondered, “Who ARE those Moabites?” And while we’re thinking about this, who are the Amorites, the Jebusites, the Edomites—even the Canaanites—not to mention the countless other groups of people who never seem to be favourably disposed towards God’s people and whose names always seem to end in “-ite”?
The end of the year is fast approaching, and soon enough those who read through the Bible using a reading plan, or who plan to do so in 2023, will find themselves at the beginning of January and very likely opening up Genesis. We will read about Creation and the Fall, Cain and Abel, and the story of Noah, finishing with the terrible story of Ham, son of Noah, who dishonoured his father and whose family line was thereafter cursed.
And then comes Genesis chapter 10—the account of the family lines of Noah’s sons Japheth, Ham and Shem. It’s a chapter that’s very hard to read because it contains lengthy lists of long names of people and places that are foreign to the eye and hard to pronounce. Some brave souls will read through this chapter while others will settle with skimming their eyes over it. Some will skip it entirely, moving straight to Babel in chapter 11, and sadly for some, this will be the end of using a reading plan for another year.
For those who press into Genesis 10 and read it closely there is a great reward
But for those who press into Genesis 10 and read it closely there is a great reward, especially if you look carefully at the descendants of cursed Ham.
We see straight away in verse 6 that Ham’s sons are Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan. Egypt and Canaan might sound familiar right from the get-go. Continuous, confirmed enemies of God’s people.
We read on and learn in verse 8 that Ham’s son Cush is the father of Nimrod, who was a mighty warrior. The first centres of his kingdom include Babylon (who later removed the Southern Kingdom of Judah into exile at the end of 2 Kings) and Shinar (where the Tower of Babel was famously built in Genesis 11.) Among other places, Nimrod then extends into Assyria (who took over and exiled the Northern Kingdom of Israel midway through 2 Kings) and builds Ninevah (which happens to be the capital city of Assyria and is cast unfavourably into the spotlight in Jonah’s story.)
In verse 13, we learn that Ham’s son Egypt is the father of the Kasluhites, from whom the Philistines were descended. We know Goliath of course, that most famous of Philistines, but the five Philistine cities of Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron were a constant source of annoyance to the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament.
And in verse 14 we discover that Ham’s son Canaan is the father of Sidon (think Tyre and Sidon) and the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, Girgashites and Hivites, among others—all of the Canaanite nations that Israel was tasked with removing from the Promised Land under Joshua.
See how many of the cities, nations and tribes—bothersome at best and outright enemies at worst—were descended from cursed Ham.
Once your detective eyes are cued-in, and you’re upskilled and excited to persevere with next year’s reading plan, also look out for Genesis 19 (where we find the terrible backstory to the Moabites and Ammonites), Genesis 21 (for the origins of the Ishmaelites, sometimes known as the Midianites) and Genesis 25 (where we meet Edom).
These genealogies are a key that unlocks so much of the Old Testament and paves the way for the New Testament. Nearly all of the enemies of God are introduced in Genesis (most of them in Chapter 10) and knowing their origins helps us to better understand so much of what happens beyond Genesis.
If you are looking for a great Bible reading plan for next year, one of my current favourites is the Five Day Bible Reading Plan (https://www.fivedaybiblereading.com/) which takes you through the Bible in a year, with five sets of readings per week leaving two days to catch up. In this plan you can expect to be reading Genesis 10 on 4th January. Read it, enjoy it, learn from it and press on, because 4th January is far too early to abandon the great goal of reading the whole Bible in a year.