The Origin of Nations

God can use even wicked nations to accomplish his plan on earth.

“These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Sons were born to them after the flood.” (Genesis 10:1 ESV)

The list of Noah’s descendants in Genesis 10 is unique among genealogies in that it lists not only individual fathers and sons but also the clans, cities, and nations they founded. This passage, often referred to as the Table of Nations, describes the origins of the people groups that later spread across the earth. It is here that we first see the names of nations that God will use to accomplish his plan across the whole earth, foreshadowing his mission that will unfold in the rest of Scripture.

Reading the Table of Nations is like checking off the names on a map of the ancient world. At this point, Moses, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is displaying a snapshot of the nations that existed at that time and explaining where they came from. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, Moses and the other biblical authors will continually mention many of these people groups, and they will play a prominent role in God’s divine plan.

Not only were these nations important to ancient generations, but some still exist today. Thousands of years later, we hear of battles and wars fought and terrorist attacks committed because of strife between people and places that are first mentioned in this text. This list is key to understanding the world in which we live: past, present, and future.

As you read the lists of Noah’s descendants, you will notice that several names may sound familiar due to their repeated mentions in other biblical passages: Magog, Cush, Egypt, Canaan, Babylon (written as “Babel” in this text), Assyria, Nineveh, Gaza, Sodom, Gomorrah, and Sidon, as well as the Philistines, Jebusites, Amorites, and Hivites.

Although all these nations descended from one common ancestor, Noah, who is later described as an “heir of the righteousness that comes by faith” (Hebrews 11:7), they rejected his legacy of faithfulness and abandoned their knowledge of God. Only a few chapters later, Moses records God’s dramatic destruction of two of these cities—Sodom and Gomorrah—as a result of their great, unrepentant wickedness. Some of the descendants of Noah’s son Ham, the clans of the Canaanites, were cursed due to Ham’s sin against Noah (Genesis 9:20-27) and committed such abominable acts of moral and spiritual depravity that God sent the Israelites to conquer them (Leviticus 18:25). When the Israelites failed to completely obey this order, the remaining people groups created constant trouble for them during the time of the Judges. God used other wicked nations, especially Assyria and Babylon, to punish Israel’s sin by invading the kingdoms of Israel and Judea and carrying the Israelites into captivity, as foreseen by the Old Testament prophets.

One of the most significant things God says about these other nations is found in his instruction for his people not to become like them (Deuteronomy 18:9-14). He repeatedly warns that these nations are wicked and essentially tells Israel, “don’t do what they do, and don’t worship their gods.”

These nations persisted in wickedness despite their origins in the family of Noah, who directly witnessed the severity of God’s judgment upon the sins of the wicked as he annihilated the former inhabitants of the earth through the flood. God’s holiness cannot tolerate sin, and he would also deal with the wickedness and unbelief of the nations mentioned in Genesis 10.

One of the reasons that the nation of Israel remained enslaved so long in Egypt is that God was planning to give them the promised land when the wickedness of the Canaanites had reached its fullness.

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronony 9:5 ESV, emphasis added)

[A]nd I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. (Exodus 3:8 ESV)

The Israelites were told not to be like these nations who were driven out because of God’s judgment. Yet we know that Israel would eventually fall under the same sins and the same judgment as the other nations. The fate of Israel and the nations would be destruction were it not for God’s gracious plan to provide redemption through a Savior that would come from the nation of Israel. Thus, as God promised Abraham, Israel would be a blessing to the nations.

The LORD said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:1-3 CSB, emphasis added)

In Genesis, not only do we see the beginnings of the story of Israel, but we see the story of all the nations of the earth as they rebel against God, reject his blessings, and hope for the redemption that God would provide through Jesus Christ. Genesis 10 isn’t just a list of nations; it is the beginning of the story of God’s work among the nations that will culminate with Christ’s rule over the redeemed earth.


Lord, you are wise beyond our understanding. Help us to see your plan for the nations of the earth. May your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven!
In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Andrew Paul Ward

Andrew Paul Ward is an ABWE missionary to Togo, West Africa, sent from Grace Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Andrew is the husband of Mary, father to Emmanuel, Cyrus, and Alethia. He holds a B.S. from Bob Jones University, an M.Div. from Temple Baptist Seminary, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Support Andrew’s ministry.