Any of you had a totally life changing moment recently? Something which took place that completely changed how you live and how you view all of life? Maybe it was a conversation you had with someone. Maybe it was a decision you finally made. Or maybe it was something you saw or read that was so astounding that you’ve never forgotten the moment you came across it. I had such a moment recently. It was in the middle of Publix as I walking toward the check-out line. There I was with Piper, our little girl, we were just popping in real quick to get a few essentials, you know those things you just have to have around the house in daily life? I only put two things in my basket, just two. But as we were walking to go pay I remember looking down at my basket at these two things, stopping, and thinking to myself, ‘Oh wow, would you look at that? An era has definitely ended, and a new era has begun.’ You know what the two items in my basket were? The first item won’t surprise you, it was a brand new tub of Chocolate Trinity ice cream, and the other item was a bottle of Tums. It was a game changer moment for me. I turn 40 this summer so maybe it’s just been on my mind more recently but as I looked at these two items it was as if I could see my youthful self fading away from sight and middle age staring at me right in the face.

Well, today we come to Genesis 11:10-32. A monumental passage in the flow and structure of Genesis, because in it we see, what I just referred to, one era coming to an end and a new era beginning. So, I’ve framed our passage into two headings today to display that structure. So see first…

The End of An Era (v10-26)

“These are the generations of Shem. When Shem was 100 years old, he fathered Arpachshad two years after the flood. And Shem lived after he fathered Arpachshad 500 years and had other sons and daughters. When Arpachshad had lived 35 years, he fathered Shelah. And Arpachshad lived after he fathered Shelah 403 years and had other sons and daughters. When Shelah had lived 30 years, he fathered Eber. And Shelah lived after he fathered Eber 403 years and had other sons and daughters. When Eber had lived 34 years, he fathered Peleg. And Eber lived after he fathered Peleg 430 years and had other sons and daughters. When Peleg had lived 30 years, he fathered Reu. And Peleg lived after he fathered Reu 209 years and had other sons and daughters. When Reu had lived 32 years, he fathered Serug. And Reu lived after he fathered Serug 207 years and had other sons and daughters. When Serug had lived 30 years, he fathered Nahor. And Serug lived after he fathered Nahor 200 years and had other sons and daughters. When Nahor had lived 29 years, he fathered Terah. And Nahor lived after he fathered Terah 119 years and had other sons and daughters. When Terah had lived 70 years, he fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran.”

Right away see the phrase in v10, “These are the generations of…”  This occurs both here and in v27. We’ve mentioned this more than a few times in our trek through Genesis, that this ‘generations’ phrase in Hebrew is the word toledot, which indicates the beginning of a new section. Genesis has ten toledots throughout its 50 chapters, and that this one happens here in v10 shows us we’ve come to the end of Genesis 1-11, a kind of foundational section to all the Bible, what is labeled by most as primeval history. When we began working through Genesis, I mentioned that I’m fine with this label, as long as we don’t see it as a kind of collection of fables, but as it is, the real history of the real people God made. And to wind up this first section of the Bible we have, yet another, genealogy. I think this makes four total genealogies we’ve worked through so far in these first eleven chapters.

This genealogy of Shem here is meant to be the counterpart to the genealogy of Seth back in chapter 5.[1] Remember the context of Genesis 4-5? In chapter 4 we saw the story of Cain and Abel, and a genealogy of wicked men, where prideful Lamech makes his boast. Then in Genesis 5 we see another genealogy, but this time one that stems from Adam through his son Seth. The point in these contrasting lists in chapters 4-5 is that after the fall we can clearly see both seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman extending over the whole earth. We get a similar picture in the flood account. After describing the wickedness of the generations alive during the flood, we then see the flood occur in Genesis 6-9, which is then followed by a genealogy of sorts in chapter 10. And no surprise, the pattern continues in chapter 11. It begins in v1-9 with the wicked Babelites led by Nimrod and is followed by what we’re seeing now, the genealogy of Shem. Again, what we have is a clear picture of both the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman continuing to extend over the whole earth. This is more evidence that all of humanity is being described to us in reference to the promise God made in Genesis 3:15, that the seed of the woman and seed of the serpent will continue to be in conflict, and only the coming snake crusher will be victorious over Satan, sin, and death, bringing redemption to God’s people.

In light of this there are many similarities to see between the genealogy of Shem here and the genealogy of Seth in chapter 5. Back in chapter 5 we find 10 generations listed out between Adam and Noah, and here in chapter 11 we also find 10 generations between Noah’s son Shem and Abram. We also see that both genealogies follow the same formula. Each name begins with the age they were when they had their firstborn son son, then it mentions how much longer they lived after having other sons and daughters. And as the genealogy of Seth in chapter 5 ends listing out the three sons born to Noah, so too the genealogy of Shem in chapter 11 ends listing out the three sons born to Terah.

But while there are these similarities there are also dissimilarities to notice between chapter 5 and chapter 11. First, the repeated refrain of ‘and he died’ that followed each person in the chapter 5 list (except Enoch) is totally absent here in chapter 11. We can’t know for certain why this is. I think that instead of a repeated statement of death looming over all man like it does in chapter 5, the reality of promise looms over mankind in chapter 11. Why do I think this? Because this is the time Abram comes into view, and through him God will make a great and precious promise.[2] The other difference between the two genealogies is the obviously decreasing life span of man after the flood. By the end of chapter 11 man’s life decreases to resemble what Genesis 6:3 said it would be, around 120.

Now for the people included. All of them are important in v10-26, certainly, but I’ll only draw attention to a few of them. Right away in v11 Arpachshad is worth note. It mentions he was born two years “…after the flood…” This is important because it not only gives us a time frame to work with but this is the last mention of the flood in Genesis. Which, again, is another hint that we are now leaving the primeval era and entering into the era of the Patriarchs.[3]

The midway point in the genealogy is prominent with Eber. If you back up and see all the names and families from Adam to Abram, Eber is the 14th descendant from Adam, which makes Abram the 21st descendant from Adam. And that both 14 and 21 are divisible by 7 suggests a perfection to God’s providential plan.[4] Which of course is something of an echo because Enoch (the only one who didn’t die in chapter 5) is the 7th name among that list. We have heard of Eber and his son Peleg before in chapter 10, and learned it was in Peleg’s day that the great dispersion at Babel occurred. Reu in v18 deserves a mention, if for no other reason than that this is the only time he’s mentioned in the entire OT. And yet, he and many others found here are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3.

Which brings us to v24-26. We find that Nahor fathered Terah who had three sons of his own: Abram, Nahor (named after his grandfather), and Haran. And of course, one of these sons, Abram who will become Abraham, will come to be the subject of the rest of Genesis and much of the rest of the Bible. Moses will speak of Abraham, the OT prophets will too, Jesus will speak of Abraham, and so will the apostle Paul. All in all, the genealogy of Shem in v10-26 brings us from the primeval period into the patriarchal period. From one world of the distant past, into the contemporary world of Abraham and his sons (which would have seemed contemporary for Israel the first audience of this book).[5] Think of all we’ve learned in these first 11 chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1 reveals the God before the beginning and the good world He made. Genesis 2-3 reveal both the glory and the ghastly nature of man. That the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve were made in God’s image and fell from their original position is “…both honor enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor in earth.”[6] Genesis 4-5 reveal the continuing descendants of both the woman and the serpent, as well as their conflict with each other. Which leads to Genesis 6-10 and the account of the flood and the nations expanding afterwards. Nations and peoples who would refuse to spread out in chapter 11 due to their arrogant technological savvy at Babel, but who ultimately would disperse because of God’s confusion their languages and scattering them. Yet man is not without hope, because as we’ll see, God intends to bless all these nations through the man Abraham and his Descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ.[7]

The Beginning of An Era (v27-32)

“Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah fathered Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran fathered Lot. Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his kindred, in Ur of the Chaldeans. And Abram and Nahor took wives. The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child. Terah took Abram his son and Lot the son of Haran, his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife, and they went forth together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan, but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were 205 years, and Terah died in Haran.”

Right away in v27 we see something that occurred before in v10. See it? “…these are the generations of…” happens again here. Which, just as before, is our cue to notice that yet another new ‘toledot’ or section in Genesis has begun. While the former instance of this phrase in v10 marked the end of the primeval era, this instance of the ‘generations’ phrase marks the beginning of the patriarchal era. And in entering into this new era we now meet many of the main characters we’ll spend much time with in the chapters to come. We meet Lot, Terah’s grandson and Abram’s nephew, who seems to be taken into this family after the death of his father Haran. We meet Sarai, Abram’s wife, who will become Sarah later on, and we learn of her barrenness, which we’ll visit time and time again in chapters to come in both great pain and great joy as God works in and through her despite this. And of course, we meet Abram, the patriarch himself, who will become Abraham because he will be the father of a multitude.

Their names tell us much about what kind of people they were and what kind of world they lived in.[8] The name Terah was a Canaanite religious word meaning ‘moon.’ The name Sarai, in Sumerian, is the name of the wife of the moon-god. Milcah, also in Sumerian, was the name of the daughter of the moon-god. And the cities Ur and Haran were thriving hubs for moon worship at this time. To remove all doubt we could even look ahead to Joshua 24:2, which says the following, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods.” Why does this matter? Abraham would become great, indeed, but his beginning was pagan. He was a pagan thriving in a pagan land. There is much to see in all of this, but for now just be reminded. These are the kind of people God is pleased to redeem, make His own, and use for His fame. Despite what many of our family histories have been, God can begin a new work, craft a new family, with us.

Lastly, see v31. For a reason unknown to us Terah moves the family. They leave Ur of the Chaldeans with the intention of dwelling in Canaan, but they stop and settle in the land of Haran. The stage is now set for the rest of Genesis to play out.


Throughout our time in the passage today, we’ve talked about this being the end of an era and this being the beginning of a new era. 

Think of the repeated pattern we’ve seen in these first 11 chapters.[9] Think of Adam, he was commanded to eat from any of the trees in the garden but one, and in willfully choosing to eat from that one forbidden tree he sought to define what was good for himself instead of abiding by what God had said was good for him. For this, death came into the world and God judged them by banishing them from His presence. Yet, God would promise a coming One to save and deliver them from sin.

Think of Cain, he knew right from wrong, truly, and he still got so angry after his offering to God was rejected that he killed his brother. For this, Cain was cast off to the East and became a wanderer. Yet, God put a mark on him to protect him that would allow him to live out his years.

Think of Noah’s generation. They grew so wicked that every thought and intention of their hearts were continually and only evil all the time. For this, God would destroy the earth through the flood. Yet, God saved Noah and his family and was going to start over with them.

And think of Babel. They knew they were to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth, yet they refused. And in their defiant rebellion they were united in their efforts to make a name for themselves by building a great city with a tower in it that reached into the heavens. For this, God confused their language and dispersed them over the whole world, creating all the nations we have today. Yet, God would very soon call Abram, and would through Him bless all the nations on earth through His Descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ.

What is the repeated pattern to see here? God commands, man in sin refuses to obey which brings the judgment of God, and yet, despite our sin God continues to give more grace.

If these opening chapters of Genesis have taught us anything, it’s that people do not naturally gravitate upward toward obedience to God, rather, our natural bent is to rebel and move downward away from God. And if God didn’t intervene to stop our rebellion, He only knows where we’d be.[10] In and through Abraham, God will intervene in such a way that the world will never be the same again.

[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, WBC (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1987), 248.

[2] Kenneth A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26, NAC (Nashville, Tennessee: B&H, 1996), 490.

[3] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 249–250.

[4] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2004), 176.

[5] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 253.

[6] C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia – Prince Caspian.

[7] Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 254.

[8] Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1990), 363.

[9] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Academic, 2001), 191.

[10] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis 1-11 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1982), 432.

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