Genesis 10:21
To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.
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(21-23) shem . . . the brother of Japheth the elder.—Really, the elder brother of Japheth. Though the rules of Hebrew grammar will admit of no other rendering, it is remarkable that both the Syriac and the Vulg. make the same mistake as our own version. In designating Shem as “the father of all the children of Eber,” attention is called to the fact that the descendants of Peleg, his elder son, are omitted from this table, and reserved for the Tôldôth Shem. (See Genesis 11:10.)

The nations descended from Shem were:—

1. Elam.—According to Mr. Sayce (Chald. Gen., p. 196), “the primitive inhabitants of Elam were a race closely allied to the Accadians, and spread over the whole range of country which stretched from the southern shores of the Caspian to the Persian Gulf.” But just as the Semitic Asshur expelled a Hamite race from Assyria, so another branch of this conquering family occupied Elymais. It is now called Chuzistan, and was the most easternly of the countries occupied by the Semites. But see Excursus to Genesis 14 on the conquests of the Elamite Chedorlaomer.

2. Asshur.—This Semitic stock seems to have been the first to settle on the Tigris, as the Hamites were the first to settle on the Euphrates. Finally, as we have seen (Genesis 10:11), they conquered the whole country.

3. Arphaxad.—Heb., Arpachshad. We may dismiss the idea that he was connected with the region called Arrapachitis, for this correctly is Aryapakshata, “the land next the Aryans.” Really he appears as the ancestor of Eber and the Joktanite Arabs.

4. Lud.—Probably the Lydians, who, after various wanderings, settled in Asia Minor.

5. Aram.—As Asshur means plain, so Aram means highland. It was originally the name of the Lebanon ranges, and thus Damascus is called Aram in 2Samuel 8:5. Subsequently the race so extended itself as to possess Mesopotamia, a lowland country, but called, as early as Genesis 24:10, “Aram of the two rivers.” The greatness of Aram will be best seen by examining those places in our version where Syria and Syrian are spoken of, and which, in the Hebrew, are really Aram.

To the Aramæan stock belonged also four outlying dependencies—(1) Uz, the land of Job, a district in the northern part of Arabia Deserta; (2) Hul and (3) Gether, regions of which nothing is known; and (4) Mash, a desert region on the western side of the Euphrates (Chald. Gen., p. 276).

Genesis 10:21. Unto Shem, &c. — The word Shem signifies a name; but two titles are also added whereby to distinguish him: 1st, He was the father of all the children of Eber. Eber was his great-grandson; but why should he be called the father of all his children, rather than of all Arphaxad’s or Salah’s? Probably because Abraham and his seed, from Eber, were called Hebrews. Eber himself, we may suppose, was a man eminent for religion in a time of general apostacy; and the holy tongue being commonly called from him the Hebrew, was retained in his family in the confusion of Babel, as a special token of God’s favour to him. 2d, He is styled the brother of Japheth, perhaps to signify the union of the Gentiles and Jews in the church.10:15-32 The posterity of Canaan were numerous, rich, and pleasantly seated; yet Canaan was under a Divine curse, and not a curse causeless. Those that are under the curse of God, may, perhaps, thrive and prosper in this world; for we cannot know love or hatred, the blessing or the curse, by what is before us, but by what is within us. The curse of God always works really, and always terribly. Perhaps it is a secret curse, a curse to the soul, and does not work so that others can see it; or a slow curse, and does not work soon; but sinners are reserved by it for a day of wrath Canaan here has a better land than either Shem or Japheth, and yet they have a better lot, for they inherit the blessing. Abram and his seed, God's covenant people, descended from Eber, and from him were called Hebrews. How much better it is to be like Eber, the father of a family of saints and honest men, than the father of a family of hunters after power, worldly wealth, or vanities. Goodness is true greatness. - XXXIII. Shem

21. אבר 'eber, "'Eber, yonder side; verb: pass, cross."

22. עילם 'eylām, "'Elam." עוּל ‛ûl, "suckle." עלם ‛ālam, "hide; be mature." ארפכשׁד 'arpakshad, "Arpakshad." כשׂד ארף 'arp keśed, "boundary of Kesed, or (von-Bohlen) Arjapakshata, beside Aria." ארם 'ǎrām, "Aram, high; verb: be high."

23. עוּץ ‛ûts, "'Uts; verb: counsel; be firm, solid." חוּל chûl, "Chul; verb: rub, twist, writhe, be strong, await." גתר geter, "Gether, bridge?" משׁ meshek, "Mash; related: feel, touch."

24. שׁלח shelach, "Shelach, missile, shoot."

25. פלג peleg, "Peleg; noun: brook, canal; verb: divide." יקטן yāqṭān, "Joctan, small."

26. אלמודד 'almôdād, "Almodad." למד lāmad, "learn." מדד mādad, "measure." שׁלף shelep, "Sheleph; verb: draw out or off." חערמות chatsarmāvet, "Chatsarmaveth, court of death." ירח yerach, "Jerach, moon, month."

27. הדורם hadôrām, Hadoram, "majesty, beauty;" verb: "swell, honor." אוּזל 'ûzāl, Uzal; verb: "go out or away." דקלה dı̂qlâh Diclah, "palm."

28. עובל ‛ôbāl, 'Obal, "bare, bald." אבימאל 'ǎbı̂ymā'ēl, Abimael, "father of Mael" (circumcision).

29. אופיר 'ôpı̂r, Ophir; verb: "break, veil." יובב yôbāb, Jobab; verb: "cry, call."

30. משׁא mēshā', Mesha, שׁאה shā'âh equals שׁוא shô', "roar, crash." ספר sepār Sephar, "counting. writing."

From Japheth, who penetrated into the remotest regions, the writer proceeds to Ham, who came into close contact with Shem. From Ham, he passes to Shem, in whom the line of history is to be continued.

Genesis 10:21

Shem is here distinguished by two characteristics - the former referring to a subsequent, the latter to an antecedent event. He is "the father of all the sons of Heber." It is evident from this that the sons of Heber cast luster on the family of Shem, and therefore on the whole human race. It is unnecessary to anticipate the narrative, except so far as to note that the sons of Heber include most of the Arabians, a portion of those who mingled with the race and inhabited the land of Aram, and, most probably, the original element of the population in the land of Kenaan. This characteristic of Shem shows that the table in which it is found was composed after the Hebrews had become conspicuous among the descendants of Shem.


21. Unto Shem—The historian introduces him with marked distinction as "the father of Eber," the ancestor of the Hebrews. Of all the children of Eber, i.e. of the Hebrews, the only church and people of God when Moses wrote, who are called

Eber, Numbers 24:24, as here, the children of Eber. And he is here called the father of them peculiarly, though he had other children, because he was their father not only by natural generation, but also in respect of the promise of God, which was conveyed to them through Shem’s hands, and of that faith and holiness wherein he was their predecessor and eminent pattern; even as Ham, though he had other sons, is specially called the father of Canaan, Genesis 9:22, because his father’s curse rested upon him, Genesis 10:25.

Object. Eber had many other children here recorded, and therefore in that sense Shem was not the father of all the children of Eber.

Answ. Though Eber had other children, yet none are called in Scripture the children of Eber, or, which is all one, the Hebrews, but Abraham’s posterity; even as though Abraham had divers other children, yet the Israelites are in many places peculiarly called the children of Abraham. And the ungodly Jews, when they degenerate from God and godliness, God takes away their name, and denieth them to be Jews, Romans 2:28, and calls them Sodomites, Isaiah 1:10. And therefore no wonder if Joktan and his posterity, having, as it is probable, forsaken their father’s God, and turned idolaters, be here disowned as bastards, and blotted out of the honourable catalogue of the children of Eber: see Romans 9:8.

Japheth alone is here mentioned as his brother, and not Ham, because he was deservedly shut out from Shem’s blessing pronounced by Noah, and was accursed of God, whereas Japheth was partaker with Shem, both in the piety exercised towards their father, and the blessing thereupon pronounced; the word brother being often applied to persons alike in condition, disposition, or manners: see Genesis 49:5.

The elder. Though the words in Hebrew may seem ambiguous, yet other texts make it probable that Japheth was the elder. For Noah began to beget children in his five hundredth year, Genesis 5:32. And Shem was but a hundred years old two years after the flood, Genesis 11:10. Therefore he was not the eldest. And Ham is concluded not to be the eldest, from Genesis 9:24; of which see Poole "Genesis 9:24"; if so, Japheth must be the eldest. And Shem is generally named first, not because he was the first-born, but because he had the privileges of the first-born, and was chief in dignity and authority in the church of God. Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber,.... And for the sake of those Shem is particularly said to be the father of, is this genealogy given, and indeed the whole book of Genesis wrote: Eber was the great-grandson of Shem, and is here spoken of by anticipation, and Shem is called not the father of either of his immediate sons, but of the posterity of this man; because the Hebrews sprung from him in his line, among whom the church of God and the true religion were preserved, and from whom the Messiah was to come, as he did: the word Eber, Jarchi interprets, "beyond the river, Euphrates" or "Tigris", or both, as describing the seat of the posterity of Shem; but as this too much straitens them, since they inhabited on both sides, Dr. Hyde (d) has shown that the word used may refer to both, to those beyond these rivers, and to those on this side; see Numbers 24:24.

the brother of Japheth the elder; he was the brother of Ham too, but he is not mentioned because of the behaviour towards his father, and because of the curse that was upon him and his; but Shem's relation to Japheth is expressed to show that they were alike in their disposition; and it may be to signify, that in times to come their posterity would unite in spiritual things, which has been fulfilled already in part, and will be more fully by the coalition of the Jews, the posterity of Shem, and of the Gentiles, the posterity of Japheth, in the Christian church state: and from hence we learn that Japheth was the eldest of Noah's sons, though some render the words, "the elder brother of Japheth" (e); and so make Shem to be the eldest; but as this is contrary to the accents, so to the history: for Noah was five hundred years old when he began to beget sons, Genesis 5:32 he was six hundred when he went into the ark, Genesis 7:11 two years after the flood Shem begat Arphaxad, when he was one hundred years old, and Noah six hundred and two, Genesis 11:10 so that Shem must be born when Noah was five hundred and two years old; and since he begot children, there must be one two years older than Shem, which can be no other than Japheth, since Ham is called his younger son, Genesis 9:24.

even to him were children born, who are reckoned as follow.

(d) Hist. Relig. Pers. c. 2. p. 47, 48. (e) "fratre Japheth majore". V. L. Samar. Syr. Ar. "frater major natu ipsius Japheth", Tigurine version; "fratri Japheti majori", Cocceius; so some in Vatablus.

Unto {i} Shem also, the father of all the children of {k} Eber, the brother of Japheth the elder, even to him were children born.

(i) In his stock the Church was preserved: therefore Moses stops speaking of Japheth and Ham, and speaks of Shem extensively.

(k) Of whom came the Hebrews or Jews.

21–31. The Sons of Shem (J and P)

21. And unto Shem, &c.] The brief account in verse is from J.

the father of all the children of Eber] This is the point in the description of Shem which would seem most honourable to Israelite readers. The names “Eber” and “Hebrew” are almost identical in the Hebrew language. “Eber” was accepted as the ancestor of the Hebrew-speaking peoples. In the widest sense of the word, “Hebrews” are a group of Semitic peoples who issued from the Arabian Peninsula. They are included among the descendants of Joktan and Peleg, as well as of Terah. For the ordinary derivation of the word “Hebrew,” as = “the man from the further side” of the river, see Genesis 10:24 and Genesis 14:13. The term “Hebrew” is racial, “Israelite” national; though ultimately used as synonyms.

the elder brother of Japheth] These words seem to be inserted, in order to remind the reader that Shem, though here mentioned last, was the eldest of Noah’s sons. The rendering of R.V. marg., the brother of Japheth the elder, is very improbable.Verse 21. - Unto Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, - as Ham of Canaan (Genesis 9:22; vide ver. 24) - the brother of Japheth the elder. Either the eldest brother of Japheth (Syriac, Arabic, Vulgate, Gesenius, Rosenmüller, Kalisch); or the brother of Japheth who was older (LXX., Symmachus, Onkelos, Raschi, Aben Ezra, Luther, Clerieus, Michaelis, Dathe); or the elder of Japheth's brothers, as distinguished from Ham the younger, i.e. the son who was older than Ham, But younger than Japheth (Murphy, Quarry; vide Genesis 5:32). Even to him were children born. Descendants of Shem. - Genesis 10:21. For the construction, vid., Genesis 4:26. Shem is called the father of all the sons of Eber, because two tribes sprang from Eber through Peleg and Joktan, viz., the Abrahamides, and also the Arabian tribe of the Joktanides (Genesis 4:26.). - On the expression, "the brother of Japhet הגּדול," see Genesis 9:24. The names of the five sons of Shem occur elsewhere as the names of the tribes and countries; at the same time, as there is no proof that in any single instance the name was transferred from the country to its earliest inhabitants, no well-grounded objection can be offered to the assumption, which the analogy of the other descendants of Shem renders probable, that they were originally the names of individuals. As the name of a people, Elam denotes the Elymaeans, who stretched from the Persian Gulf to the Caspian Sea, but who are first met with as Persians no longer speaking a Semitic language. Asshur: the Assyrians who settled in the country of Assyria, Ἀτουρία, to the east of the Tigris, but who afterwards spread in the direction of Asia Minor. Arphaxad: the inhabitants of Ἀῤῥαπαχῖχτις in northern Assyria. The explanation given of the name, viz., "fortress of the Chaldeans" (Ewald), "highland of the Chaldeans" (Knobel), "territory of the Chaldeans" (Dietrich), are very questionable. Lud: the Lydians of Asia Minor, whose connection with the Assyrians is confirmed by the names of the ancestors of their kings. Aram: the ancestor of the Aramaeans of Syria and Mesopotamia.
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