Have you ever come across one of the genealogies in the Bible and mentally thrown up your hands, as if to say “how could this possibly be helpful?”
This week in my daily Bible reading I read through the genealogy from Noah to Abraham in Genesis 11. It sparked up SOOO many ideas. I actually had to make a spreadsheet so I could see everything! You can download the spreadsheet here. It will help you understand all the information I am about to unleash on you!
Buckle your seat belt, because I have some zingers to share with you.
Genesis 9:28 tells us that Noah lived 350 years after the flood. It’s hard to imagine someone living that long – never mind that the flood came when he was 600 years old. So his total life span was almost 1,000 years! He wasn’t the oldest person who ever lived, but he was certainly one of the top-performers.
But what happened in those 350 years post flood?
Ten generations later, Abraham was born. The genealogy gives us the information needed to build a family tree that includes dates. It says how long after the flood the first child was born, then how old each father was when his first child was born, and how long the father lived after he became a daddy.
The only one where we have to do some alternate math is Terah, Abraham’s father. He was 70 when his first child was born, but that probably wasn’t Abraham. But we can use the information in Genesis to see that if Terah lived to 205 and Abraham was 75 when he died (Genesis 12:4), then Terah was 130 years old when Abraham was born (most likely making Abraham the 3rd born – and 60 years younger than his oldest brother).
Abraham was born 352 years after the flood (check out the spreadsheet to see the math gives that answer).
Abraham and Noah did not live at the same time. They missed overlapping by just two years! The subject line is really a trick question. 🙂 But it was really close!
Noah’s son Shem was alive for the better part of Abraham’s life (150 of Abraham’s 175 years). Shem also experienced the flood first-hand. He saw the wickedness of the people that God wanted to destroy. He helped his father Noah build the ark. He was in the ark with the animals. This means that somewhere in the region was someone who could tell stories of the wickedness of society and the righteous anger of God, backed up by His amazing power.
We don’t know if this happened, but it’s possible that as a boy or young man, Abraham might have actually met Shem and heard the story of the flood from an eye-witness.
But it’s not all that rosy.
In Genesis 10, we get a genealogy without ages. It’s just a summary. And in verse 25 we read about Peleg being born to Eber with the notation “for in his (Peleg’s) days, the earth was divided”. His name, Peleg, actually means “division”. So he literally bears the name of what happened on the earth.
The beginning of Genesis 11 explains the division – the Tower of Babel. In response to humanity’s hubris (“Come let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens and let us make a name for ourselves”), God divided the peoples by language. Their glorious endeavor came to nothing and people were dispersed all over the earth.
If we assume that Peleg got his name from the “dividing” at Babel, that means that it happened around 101 years after the flood. Noah and Shem, his great great grandfather, were still alive. Both of these men had seen God’s reaction to wickedness on the earth. They knew what God’s opinion about wicked people was like.
Either they didn’t speak out and curb the humanistic trend, or they were ignored by their relatives. The Bible records that all the people were united in glorifying themselves (sound familiar?). God said if He didn’t intervene, there would be no stopping them from doing anything they wanted.
So despite at least two aged, honored, living, eyewitnesses to God’s righteousness and power, the people in the region rebelled against God and sought to exalt themselves over Him.
The next time you hear about the Tower of Babel, remember that as a result of God’s intervention, Noah (who found grace in the eyes of the Lord – Genesis 6:8) got a new language too.
But wait, there’s more!
Later on in the Old Testament, we start to hear God’s people called “Hebrews”. Abraham himself is called a Hebrew (Genesis 14:13) and Potiphar’s wife in Egypt calls Joseph a Hebrew (Genesis 39:14).
Where did that name come from?
If you look at the genealogy again, you’ll see the 4th generation after Noah is a fellow named Eber. Phonetically, it should be easy to see the similarity between “Eber” and “Hebrew” (with a very breathy “H”). Hebrew means “the people of Eber”.
But why Eber? Out of a list of 10 generations, why did his name stick with them? Why not the “Nahorites”?
Once again the genealogy in Genesis 11 gives us a really strong clue!
Since we can figure out how long each of the people lived, we see that Eber lived 430 years after Peleg was born. And since Peleg was born 101 years after the flood, that means Eber lived until 531 years after the flood.
Looking at my spreadsheet, it’s easy to see that of the first 10 generations following Noah, Eber was the last one to die. In fact he outlived Abraham as well!
So when it came to naming a people, Eber was the closest “great one.” All of Abraham’s forefathers back to him had already died. By the time Abraham arrived to sojourn in the land of Canaan (427 years after the flood), Eber (his great great great great grandfather) was his closest living ancestor. And its possible that he was also well known in the region.
Either way, while sojourning in Canaan and in Egypt, Abraham’s family was known as the “people of Eber” – Hebrews. They were far out of their family territory (Canaan was a son of Ham, and his descendants all lived in this region). So the label was one that identified where they came from, but also clearly labeled them as outsiders in the land.
All of this came (mostly) from reading a 22 verse genealogy in Genesis 11.
Yes, it led me to a few additional resources, but this all came about because I started to think about the information contained in this one small list of verses.
Curiosity is a powerful tool when it comes to reading your Bible. Don’t ever suppress it. Lean into it and see where it can take you. I hope you see how I used the biblical text and a little bit of math to generate a lot of additional understanding.
I encourage you to take an hour to look up the verses, look at my math and figure out these dates for yourself. It will change the way you read your Bible.