From Ur to Haran, but No Further…
“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.”
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, though it should be noted that in Genesis 10:22 we have a fuller list of Shem’s sons. 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.
“When Arpakshad lived thirty-five years he begat Shalach. Arpakshad, after he begat Shelach, lived four hundred and three years and he begat sons and daughters.”
When reading these genealogies, I often get asked why some of these Old Testament saints waited so long to have children. Thirty-five perhaps is not terribly old, but read this way, Shem was 100 before he had Arpakshad. Yet, to read the text in this way misses the thrust of what is being communicated. It is not that Arpakshad waited until he was thirty-five to have children, it is that Arpakshad was thirty-five when his wife gave birth to Shelach. Shelach stands out from his other brothers and sisters because Shelach is in the line of Abraham who is in the line of David who is in the line of Jesus. This genealogy is not seeking to be exhaustive, simply to trace the covenantal line from Noah to Abraham.
In these two verses, you will note that I spelled Shelach’s name differently. This is not a typo, but a reflection of the Hebrew vowel markers changing shifting from one use to the next. Remember, that Hebrew is a consonantal language, and in most cases, vowel pointing is not written, just simply pronounced. Thus, the change from an “a” to an “e” should not throw us off very much as we understand his name. Shelach means “to stretch out” or “to send.” Again, we do not know much about the context of his naming or character, but his purpose is that of being a pointer to the covenant mediator to come. Beyond that, all other things are secondary.
Once again, scripture reminds us repeatedly that human life is passing like the flowers of the field in the scope of eternity. What is more important is not so much all of the accomplishments we think are important, but whether we have faithfully pointed others to Jesus, using all of our gifts to do that task. May we commit ourselves to being pointers to one greater than we are and not to ourselves.
“It came to pass that Shelach had lived for thirty years, and he begat Eber. And after he began Eber, Shelach lived another four-hundred and three years and he begat sons and daughters.”
And here the pattern continues. At times this may seem to get redundant, but the presence of these genealogies reminds us of God’s patience through the generations and the long gaps of time in between his covenantal activities. Our tendency is to be impatient and we want everything yesterday. God’s design is that he may never intend to bring earth-shattering events in our generation, but it may be through our children, our grandchildren, or through our great-great-great grandchildren whom we will never live long enough to meet in this life. There are basically ten generations that are traced here from Noah’s son Shem to Abraham. In which generation are we? We may be called simply to live in faith and obscurity, setting an example in our children or grandchildren to follow, for it may be in their generation that God is going to fulfill our prayers and move. We may pray for revival, but God is the one who brings such revival and he does so in His timing.
The name Eber comes from the Hebrew word meaning, “to pass by” or “to cross over.” Typically this is seen to reflect the nomadic lifestyle given to the descendants of Noah (they were to multiply and fill the earth — Genesis 9:1). It could also reflect the deliverance that God had given to his people through the flood as they passed over the waters of judgment if only still in the loins of Shem. It is also rather prophetic, because the people of God would pass through the Red Sea and the Jordan River by God’s divine working. There is some debate as to the origin of the word Hebrew, but some trace the word back to this son of Shem’s name. Hebrew traditionally is understood to be taken from the term “the ones who come from across the river.” Prophetic indeed.
The bottom line is that God is still continuing to work. Shelach and Eber may not be mighty judges or covenant mediators, but they prove faithful to God and hand down what they know from one generation to the next — something that we are all called to do as believers. We must be engaged in this privilege — teaching our children and grandchildren about the mighty works of God. The sad thing is that in our culture today, many parents are not doing that, but rather are taking the attitude that children should make up their own mind on such matters. Yet, for a plant to grow strong and healthy, it must be biased by good soil, plenty of water, and good sunshine; for a child to grow strong and healthy, he or she must be biased toward the truth — we are called to do that biasing by the way we live and by the way we teach our children. And while history may simply record us as a name in the line of another, our faithfulness will bear fruit in the generations that follow in faithfulness to God’s call and design.
“It came to pass that Eber had lived thirty-four years and he begat Paleg. After Eber begat Peleg, he lived four-hundred and thirty years and he begat sons and daughters.”
Like Shelach, we find Peleg presented with two sets of vowel, which again should not cause us to stumble greatly as we are reminded that the vowel pointing is present for pronunciation, not for definition. Of the Sons of Shem, this is the first case where more than one son is mentioned (see Genesis 10:25) and in that context we are also given the meaning of his name: “division.” We are told that it was in this generation that the earth was divided up — in context, most likely speaking about the various clans going in their separate directions. God had commanded the children of Noah to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth with their kind (Genesis 9:1), yet the children of Noah settled in Shinar and set forth to build a city in their own honor (Genesis 11:1-4). God confused their languages and thus divided the people, forcing them apart and to migrate to every corner of the earth, leaving behind their plans for vain-glory and being made to be obedient even if that was not their intent. While we do not know for sure exactly which “division” that Eber had in mind when he named his son, it is not unreasonable to consider Babel as the event behind the division. Peleg’s brother’s name was Yoqtan, which means “watchful,” and traditionally is seen as the forefather of those who live in the Arabic nation of Yemen.
How often disobedience brings division. Our culture is one which celebrates the individual and tends only to think of the ramifications that one’s actions may have on oneself. Yet, what of the ramifications of one’s actions on the community around us? God would have us understand that one’s actions either bless or bring trial upon the community around us — hence the seriousness of the punishments prescribed for Old Testament Israel were incremental based on the seriousness of the crime within the covenantal community. Division was brought in Peleg’s day. If as a result of Babel, then we know exactly the kind of disobedience that caused the division. If as a result of something else, then all we know is that the actions of the day were ones that brought division — something that brought grief and separation on the face of the earth — no longer could the people dwell together but they had to separate and divide.
As Christians, we are called to be a people of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). Yet how often we act as Pelegs — people of division. Numerous protestant denominations are a testimony to this fact. And, though there are certainly times when denominations separate themselves from the body of Christ by their unfaithfulness, how many small, faithful denominations are there whose only point of separation was on whether one sang psalms, hymns, or praise choruses? Loved ones, we are quick to divide and slow to reconcile…it ought to be the other way around.
“And it came to pass that Peleg was thirty years old and he begat Reu. And after he begat Reu, Peleg lived two-hundred and nine years. And he begat sons and daughters.”
Here we find the first real indications that the effect of the Fall upon our lifespan is progressive, for Peleg’s lifespan is significantly shorter than that of his fathers’ before him. Shem lived to be 600, Apakshad to 438, Shelach to 433, Eber to 464, and now Peleg dies at 239 — a comparatively young man compared to those who have gone before him. And, as we continue to see the lives of these Old Testament saints go forward, we find that their life expectancy continues to drop until they are within our range. Isaiah speaks in terms of the new creation to come that those who only live to 100 would be counted as cursed (Isaiah 65:20) — how accursed a race we are then!
This change in longevity is worth noting because Peleg is the first of these patriarchs to die before his father. In fact, he died before his father, before his grandfather, before his great grandfather, and before his great-great grandfather. In fact, Peleg dies ten years before Noah, his great-great-great grandfather, dies. What a devastating reminder that while the world has been remade new through the flood, people still are under the weight of the fall and thus death still reigned in their bodies. To put things in even clearer perspective, Shem outlives almost all of his named descendants for nine generations — only Abraham and Eber outlive their great ancestor — and Eber (Peleg’s father) outlives Abraham by four years!
Reu’s name means, “companion” or “friend.” How profound a name that is given the context of death that the descendants of Shem now need to face. How often, in the wake of death, what we need most is friendship — those who will comfort and not condemn. Loved ones, we live in a dark and fallen world, we need those Godly friends and companions that he gives us to accompany us on our way. May there be many “Reu”s in your life.
“And it came to pass that Reu lived thirty-two years and he begat Serug. Reu lived two-hundred and seven years after he begat Serug. And he begat sons and daughters.”
And the pattern continues. Sometimes we can get a little weighed down by lists of genealogies like this, but do remember always that these are real people in time and space that are striving to live faithfully before the Lord and to teach their sons and daughters the ways of God. More importantly, they are the line from whom God would raise up Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, and eventually Jesus. It is important to be able to trace these roots — a reminder to all of the sovereign hand of God upon his elect through the ages.
The name Serug is typically understood to be an adaptation of Sarugi, an Akkadian place name marking a region about 35 miles from Haran (though spelled, “Charan”). Perhaps this is where he lived and settled or perhaps his name is somewhat prophetic of the travels that his grandson, Terah would make when he left Ur and settled in Haran. This we do not know. Perhaps his name is simply a reminder that they were not a people to be settled in Ur, but meant for a place distant from there in the direction of Sarugi and Haran.
It is interesting to me how our nature can often be so radically distinct from God’s call. Abraham was to be a wanderer — a traveler — in a land promised to him and to his children, but not his own. I wonder how many of us would accept a call like that in our lives today. How often we choose comfort and security over the call that God places upon us. Yet God’s call and God’s way is always better than our own. Loved ones, do not despair, God is sovereign over all things — big and small! — and he has your life in his hand. When he calls you to step out in faith, do not hesitate to do so. Be messengers of his grace in all you do and trust the bigger plan to God’s hand.
“And it came to pass that Serug was thirty years old and he begat Nachor. And Serug lived two-hundred years after he begat Nachor and he begat sons and daughters.”
Some names in the Bible are more flattering than others. This one is not one of the more flattering ones… Nachor literally means, “snorter,” and is typically understood to refer to the kind of snort that an aquatic whale would make when they surface and snort, or blow out, the carbon dioxide stored in their bodies from long dives. Being called a “whale” is unflattering enough, but even more so when you realize that the ancient Hebrew culture was never overly fond of the water in the first place. One can speculate that perhaps this name came from the way the baby snorted or played, but that is entering into speculation. The reality is that we do not know for sure.
Yet, as unflattering as we might find the name to be, Nachor’s grandson — the son of Terah — would be named after him. That simple fact should remind us of the importance of honoring those who have gone before us and one way to do so is for our children to carry their names. There is a tribute that is made to that end and Terah saw that as a way to honor the one who had raised him up in the world. So often we are prone to live only thinking of ourselves; this is a reminder to us that we stand on the shoulders of the giants that have gone before us.
“And it came to pass that Nachor was twenty-nine years old he begat Tarach. And after Nachor begat Terach, he lived one-hundred and nineteen years and begat sons and daughters. And it came to pass that Terach had lived seventy years. He begat Abram, Nachor, and Haran.”
And the bridge has now been crossed — the covenantal transition between Noah and his sons and Abram — a period spanning 352 years beginning with the flood and taking us to the birth of Abraham. And all of that three hundred and fifty two years summarized within 17 verses of scripture. There may perhaps be a temptation to be discouraged, wondering if our own lives will prove to be such a small footnote of history — or even to make the text of the history books, for many do not. Yet, we are to always remember that it is not our lives that are of significance; it is Jesus who is of significance. And that means that if we labor all our lives in humble obscurity yet in a way that honors our Lord and Savior, that ought to be enough — and enough it is.
We have seen the subtle vowel changes between the first and second readings of several of the names in this genealogy already, so Terach’s name should not cause us to stumble. There is a great deal of discussion as to what the origin of Terach’s name actually is. Some have suggested that it goes back to a town on the edge of the River Balikh which is north-east of Haran, Turāhu. Others have connected his name with the Akkadian word turāhum, which means “mountain goat” — typically understood as referring to an ibex. The answer we just may never know in this life.
We have already seen the meaning of the name Nachor; Haran is typically understood to refer to a mountainous countryside as the root of the name, rAh (har), means “mountain” or “rough hill.” Abram’s name means, “Great Father.” And that is exactly what he is.
There are some who would be slightly tripped up by the way verse 26 leaves things off. Was Abraham the oldest of the three brothers (hence is mentioned first) and if so, was Abraham born when Terah was 70? Traditionally, it has been understood that Abraham left Haran at the age of 75 (Genesis 12:4) and at the death of his father, Terah. Yet, that means that Terah was 130 years old when he Abraham was born, thus making him a younger son of Terah, not the oldest.
The answer to this question lies in the fact of who Abram is — he is the son of the covenant, the one through whom God will be continuing his covenantal promise. Just as the language of Genesis 5:32 leaves us with the birth of Noah’s three sons, yet only through Shem would the line continue, we find the same pattern being preserved here, hence he is listed first (just as Shem is listed first in Noah’s lineage — and note that Shem was 97 years old when the flood hit, making his father, Noah, 503 when he was born — so again, he was not the oldest of the three.
What will follow in this chapter is the beginning of the call that Abraham would receive — in portion given through his father Terah. Perhaps, though, as we continue to introduce the life of Abraham, it would be valuable to lay out the timetable of births and deaths that bridges us from the flood of Noah to the life of Abraham.
- The Flood of Noah’s Day takes place (the floodwaters themselves lasting a full year)
- 2 AF (After the Flood): Arpakshad born
- 37 AF: Shelach born
- 67 AF: Eber born
- 101 AF: Peleg born
- 131 AF: Reu born
- 163 AF: Serug born
- 193 AF: Nachor born
- 222 AF: Terach born
- 292 AF: Terach begins having sons
- 340 AF: Peleg dies (the first of the covenantal line to die post-flood)
- 341 AF: Nachor dies
- 350 AF: Noah dies
- 352 AF: Abraham born
- 370 AF: Reu dies
- 393 AF: Serug dies
- 427 AF: Terach dies and Abram migrates to Canaan
- 440 AF: Arpakshad dies
- 452 AF: Isaac is born
- 470 AF: Shelach dies
- 502 AF: Shem dies
- 527 AF: Abraham dies
- 531 AF: Eber dies
Sobering, isn’t it?
“These are the descendants of Terach. Terach begat Abram, Nachor, and Haran and Haran begat Lot. Haran died before the face of Terach, his father. It was in the land of his descendants, in Ur of the Kasdiym.”
As we have mentioned, the scriptures are transitioning us from the life of Noah to the life of Abraham. Terach had three sons, but it would only be Abraham that is the line through which God will work, calling Abraham’s descendants to himself. These verses and the verses that follow really mark the setting apart of Abraham from his brothers — the first of his brothers, Haran, died at an unrecorded age in the land of his children. No children are mentioned by name as they are not connected to the covenantal line, but the text indicates their presence.
In Hebrew, the name of their homeland is MyIÚdVcAÚk (Kasdiym), and typically that is recognized to be the land of the Chaldeans, the predecessors of the later Babylonians. This is likely a connection back to Babel and the tower that those who dwelled in that area were seeking to build. We are introduced to Haran’s son, Lot, whose name refers to a covering or a wrapping over top of something. Lot will be taken in by Abram and Sarai and thus we know a great deal more about this man and his family (though much of it is not good), but we get ahead of ourselves.
For now, God is situating Abram to be separated from his people back in Ur. One step at a time, he is preparing to take this man and his wife on a journey of a lifetime — a journey of covenantal promise. For those who doubt the election of God, this is one of portions of scripture that must not be ignored. Here is a God who is intentionally separating a man and his line from all the rest of his family to be the bearer of the covenant. That, my friends, is election, plain and simple.
Yet, we would be remiss if we did not bring out a final principle by way of reminder. When God calls a person to follow, we must follow. He expects obedience from his own. Does that obedience characterize your life? If not, repent and follow the calling of the King of Kings wherever that may lead you.
“And Abram and Nachor took to themselves wives. The name of the wife of Abram was Saray and the name of the wife of Nachor was Milkah — the daughter of Haran who was the father of both Milkah and Yiskah. And it came to pass that Saray was infertile and had no child of her own.”
I suppose that there are no great surprises in the various spellings of familiar names — again, transliteration is not a precise science and there are many agreed upon spellings of these names that do not reflect the literal transliteration from the Hebrew into English. Saray, is better known to us as Sarai, whose name means, “My princess.” Milkah is the daughter of Haran, which makes her the sister of Lot. Milkah (or Milcah) means “Queen.” It is interesting that, based on names, both Abraham and Milkah marry women whose names denote royalty. Milkah has a sister named Yiskah, or Iscah in our English Bibles, whose name probably is derived from the word for “to look” or “to look at.”
And now we have the family line laid out before us as well as another tidbit — Sarai was barren and could bear no child. Perhaps that is the reason for Abram taking in Lot, his nephew, when his brother dies. We do not know the answer to that particular question. What we do know is that God is waiting until Abram’s father dies (and thus Abram becomes the covenant head of his home) and then is going to begin doing mighty things in this man’s life. The wait is for another purpose as well — so that the only explanation for this man’s success could be attributed to God.
How we like to have our successes attributed to our persons. Yet, how much better it is when our successes are attributed to the one from whom the success originated! For any good success that I might have is only because of the grace of God and the hand of God working in my life. It is all about God and his work from beginning to end — I am not my own. How often we fall on our faces because we do not recognize that truth and how often we allow our bloated egos to become so puffed up with pride that we become a blight even to ourselves and need be laid low all over again. Oh how the “mighty” have so often fallen. Loved ones, cling to God, trust his leading, but also ensure that you understand that any good credit belongs to God alone. We are but tools in his hand — may we be always sharp and ready for use.
“And Terach took Abram, his son, and Lot, the son of Haran — the son of his son, and Saray, his daughter-in-law — the wife of Abram, and they went out together from Ur of the Kasdiym traveling toward the land of Canaan. But when they entered into Charan, they dwelt there. And the days of Terach were two-hundred and five years. And Terach died in Charan.”
It strikes me that the call of Abram to leave behind the land of Ur and enter the land of Canaan was initially heard, at least in part, by Abram’s father, yet Terach did not complete what he started out to do. Perhaps the roads ahead were hard and the place in Haran more comfortable. Perhaps his health was waning and there was a need to stop here and allow him to rest out the final years of his life. We are simply not told the human reasons for this rest stop.
Though we will come back to this as we explore the life Abram and Abram’s following of God’s call where his father failed, it should be noted here the significance of God’s sovereign plan. Ultimately, it was for Abram, not Terach, to receive the promise of the land of Canaan and in God’s sovereign design, all of the human events that took place or failed to take place that caused Terach to stop in Haran were ordained by God so that it would be Abram and his household that would enter into the promised land. It is Abram who is the great father, not Terach.
We often talk of the plan of God but we also often fail to see God’s hand in our failures as well as in our successes. That, of course, does not let us off the hook, but God uses us in spite of ourselves, our foibles, and our abject failures. Bottom line is that we are to strive to be faithful to God’s calling upon our lives, but God has ordered all things — even our failures — to bring about his will. On one level that ought to boggle our minds. On another level, it ought to drive us to our knees in worship and thanksgiving. Personally, I have walked some very dark roads of sin over the years of my life; to be reminded that even in those dark valleys, God was directing my steps is a remarkable thing. It was my sin, but God was using even that sin to conform me into the image of his Son. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Thus begins the call of Abraham.