Shem was the son of Noah’s greatest blessings. His children and their descendants were chosen by God in a special way. He had five sons whose families grew to become great nations. Their names were Elam, Asshur, Arphaxad, Lud, and Aram. From them more sons were born. The Bible lists twenty-six nations that came through his line. Each would have their own language and their own territory, their own cities, and their own cultures. For example, the sons of Elam settled in what would now be Southern Iran. Aram’s clan was probably somewhere near where Syria is now.
Shem’ son Eber had a son named Peleg. The Bible points this out especially because it was through Peleg’s line that God would one day bring a man into the world named Abram. God would rename him Abraham, and he would be the father of God’s chosen, priestly nation. An Israelite would read this and know with pride that these were the men of his ancestry, the noble ones with a sacred blessing from Noah, the father of all humanity, and the favored ones of God.
Altogether, the Bible lists seventy different nations that are the fruit of the marriage of Noah and his wife. If we looked at the nations that rise from Japheth, Shem, and Ham, it would seem that the most powerful and successful came from the line of Ham. Nimrod was the great builder of the early cities. His empires were the most powerful and wealthy in the world. During Nimrod’s lifetime, it probably seemed the ways of evil and cruel men would have total victory.
It is interesting for us to look back now, thousands of years later, at what God has done. The empires of Assyria and Babylon rose and fell. Their bright, cruel lights went out over 2,500 years ago, and they have never been heard from since. Nobody alive today can be sure if their ancestors are from Babylon or if they came from the line of Ham. That has been lost and forgotten.
But there is an ancient nation that still stands. Israel and its people are alive and well in the land that God promised them. They can still trace their ancestry back to Abram and even further back to Shem, the blessed son of Noah. The Lord of all Creation taught the people of the world how to seek Him and find Him through them, the Jewish people. And through the Jewish people, God would send the Savior of the world in Jesus Christ. All of us who believe in Jesus are a part of God’s blessing on Shem. While few remember the name of Nimrod or think about long dead nations called Assyria and Babylon, the name of Jesus Christ is proclaimed all over the world every day by those who are totally devoted to Him. And that has been the case for over two thousand years. When we see the evil nations and tyrants of the world today, we must remember that while the forces of evil may seem strong and powerful, God is constantly at work, preparing the way and raising up His own people to transform the world. In the end, He wins. And the amazing thing is we get to join Him and be a part of His great and mighty victories.
Seventy nations are listed in the Table of Nations. That number is important. In the Bible, the number ten is a symbol that something is whole and complete. The number seven is a special, sacred number that is a sign of divine completion. So when seven and ten are multiplied to make the number seventy, it is a signal to the reader of the Bible that this was something perfected, complete, and divinely whole. It bears the special marks of God’s sovereign plan. Whether the people of the world followed the Lord like the descendants of Shem or whether they rebelled like the descendants of Ham, they were all still moving forward into history according to God’s will. The Lord has a plan, and He is completely able to accomplish it in His exact time and way. The descendants of Noah scattered out, filling the map of the earth, just as the Lord had said. Each nation was given its time and place by God. He is Lord of all.
It isn’t understood why they moved so far away from each other. Was it because of their faithful obedience to the Lord, or was there something else at work? And where did they all learn to speak different languages?