Exposition of Genesis 1–11: Genesis 11:10–17

Genesis 11:10–17
This is the account of Shem. Shem was 100 years old when he became the father of Arphaxad, two years after the flood.  11 And after becoming the father of Arphaxad, Shem lived 500 years and had other sons and daughters.
12 When Arphaxad had lived 35 years, he became the father of Shelah.  13 And after he became the father of Shelah, Arphaxad lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.
14 When Shelah had lived 30 years, he became the father of Eber.  15 And after he became the father of Eber, Shelah lived 403 years and had other sons and daughters.
16 When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg.  17 And after he became the father of Peleg, Eber lived 430 years and had other sons and daughters.
(NET Bible)

Shem’s family extends God’s chosen line

God is faithful, but that does not mean that things always go smoothly. Consider the life of Shem, who survived the flood, protected the honor of his father Noah, and helped found a renewed human race.

What does it mean to have a covenant with God? How does God’s blessing relate to the suffering that comes because of living in a sinful world?

Genesis 11:10 contains one of the linguistic markers that divides sections of Genesis into separate accounts. The big thing to consider is the fact that only Shem, of Noah’s three sons, received separate attention in the form of a detailed genealogy. In effect, Shem’s short genealogy is given in chapter 10 with regard to the development of nations; in chapter 11 Shem’s lineage is traced to Abram, who is later renamed Abraham.

You will recall our previous statements that Genesis is a theological history with specific interests. Shem gets all this attention for the simple reason that his line leads through Abraham and through David to Jesus, the Messiah.

Commenting on Genesis 11:10, Gordon Wenham says, “The birth of Arpachshad, the first after the flood, shows that Shem fulfilled the new mandate to mankind to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (8:17; 9:1, 7).”[1]

Genesis 11:16  When Eber had lived 34 years, he became the father of Peleg.

We have previously said the name Eber is related to the name Hebrew, though nothing is made of that fact in Gen. 11:16. Peleg’s name has three consonants that form the root of a verb meaning “divide, separate.” That would scarcely matter except that Genesis 10:25 has the cryptic remark: “One was named Peleg because in his days the earth was divided” (emphasis added).

Many commentators think this division is a reference to the dispersion at Babel, thus placing that event in Peleg’s lifetime, but that is not certain. If heaven has a FAQ, it will probably contain the answer in the top fifty questions asked.   :-)

A retrospective look at Genesis will show that an extended genealogy ends at Genesis 5:32 with the naming of Noah’s three sons. Before it resumes with Seth’s line in Genesis 11, we have the cataclysm of the flood and the dramatic intervention by God at the tower of Babel. We may say that the resumption of the genealogy in Genesis 11 is reassuring. Kenneth Mathews says, “While the threats of the flood and Babel are alarming, the return to the predictable pattern of genealogical descent after each (9:29; 11:10–26) shows that God’s purposes for humanity are back on track.”[2]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Word Incorporated, 1987) 250.

[2] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1–11:26, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1996) 489.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!