Prelude to Abraham… Shem

“These are the descendants of Shem: when Shem was a son of one-hundred years, he begat Arpakshad — two years after the deluge. And Shem lived, after he begat Arpakshad, five hundred years and he begat sons and daughters.”

(Genesis 11:10-11)

 

Essentially, this list of genealogies picks up where the genealogies in Genesis 5 leave off. Here we find the descendants of Noah that lead us to Abraham. And, much like we find in Genesis 5, we are not seeing an exhaustive list, but simply the covenantal line that leads from Adam to Noah (Genesis 5) and now from Noah to Abraham. God is a God who elects to bestow his grace and blessings upon a specific people, not vague generalities, and out of one lump of clay (in this case, the children of Shem), he has every right to make some vessels for honored use and others for dishonored use (Romans 9:21). We know nothing of most of these people apart from the fact that God called them to be part of the line of Abraham — the man with whom God would establish his covenant. But that is why we call God’s election: “Grace.” It is not what I have done, but what God has done, praise be to God.

Traditionally, Arpakshad’s name has been understood to mean, “healer,” though the etymology of this is a bit stretched. The Hebrew word apr (rapha) is seen as the root, being the verb, “to heal.” The word dv (shad) in Hebrew refers to one’s chest or perhaps to one’s mother’s breast. The Aleph at the beginning could be a use of the first person singular verbal prefix in the imperfect tense, but we are really beginning to stretch the speculative realm of things further than I am comfortable doing. The key is that while we know very little of this particular man, we know that he was born two years after the flood and that he is in the line of Abraham and for that we can celebrate our inheritance with him.

Shem lived a total of 600 years, had other sons and daughters, and then passed away. He had a full life, but we know nothing of what that life entailed apart from his connection to his father and to his son. How often it is that the things that we consider important are not really that important in the economy of God. May we find our satisfaction not in all the things we have done but in the fact that in Christ our names have been preserved in the Lamb’s Book of Life — something far more important than those works that might be attributed to us during our lifetime.

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