The Flood of Noah and the Dispersion of the Nations

25 Apr

The biblical accounts of the flood and the settling of the different regions of Southwest Asia provide a viewpoint of the beginning of civilization that complements what we find from secular history. Though the biblical narrative has at its core a spiritual and moral purpose, when it delves into facts and into history, one is hard-pressed to find contradictions with history gleaned from other sources. Indeed, as the science of archaeology progresses, more evidence is being unearthed that shows the accuracy of the accounts of history provided in the Bible. In this essay we will look at the Biblical account of history from the flood to the settling of the various regions.

This diagram gives a timeline of the beginning of the world from the creation all the way to the time of Abraham and assumes a world that is approximately 6000 years old. It is especially interesting to note that Abraham’s life overlapped that of Noah by approximately 58 years. This is of course due to the fact that people lived much longer prior to the flood. One can find much more information about this at  

Genesis chapter 5 provides the genealogies from which approximate dates may be gleaned. Genesis 5 appears to be a collection of genealogies, not making much sense and having very little apparent application. However, there are a few points to be gleaned from the study of Genesis 5.

  1. The transmission of history is understood better when looking at the genealogies. Look at the timeline above. When one considers that Lamech could have spoken to Adam, and that Abraham could have known Noah personally, it is very uplifting because it can bolster our faith in the account that we have recorded.
  2. The genealogy of Jesus Christ is tied to this very genealogy in Luke’s account (Lk. 3:23-38).
  3. The lifespan of man was greater before the Flood than after the flood. There are a couple of speculations one may engage in to explain this. One is that the lifespan was needed to fill the earth. Another is that the lifespan was helpful in accurately transmitting God’s revelation from one generation to next generations.

In Gen. 6:1-4, upon the intermarriage of the sons of God and the daughters of men, God pronounces that man would be blotted out in 120 years (Gen. 6:4). In Gen. 6:5-8 the decision is final with the exception of one man and his family: Noah (Gen. 6:8). Noah found grace, but not by accident—he obeyed God—as we see in subsequent verses.

      God gave Noah very specific instructions on how to build the ark that would save him and his family. He told him to build an ark with specific dimensions, materials, and designs in Gen. 6:14-18. He also told Noah to bring two of every sort of animal into the ark in Gen. 6:19-22.  This picture provides an approximate visual for how the ark might have looked.

The flood came in Genesis 7. The water came down 40 days (Gen. 7:17). The waters prevailed after that for 150 days (Gen. 7:24).

Did God just stick Noah in the ark and forget about him? By no means! God remembered Noah and began to cause the waters to subside (Gen. 8:1-5). Noah sent forth a raven after 190 days of flooding (40 days after the flood began to abate) (Gen. 8:7). The raven never returned to give Noah any indication of where the water stood. Next, Noah sent the dove (Gen. 8:8-9). She came back empty-handed, so he then sent her a second time, and this time she brought back an olive leaf (Gen. 8:11), which showed Noah that the water was subsiding. The third time he sent her, she did not return (Gen. 8:12). Finally, Noah and his family left the ark with the command to fill the earth once more (Gen. 8:13-19).     

We have very little information about Noah’s life after the flood. We know he became a farmer (Gen. 9:20-21). In 350 years of life after the flood, he might have done a lot. We just do not know.  What we do know is that the worldwide flood in the days of Noah is one of the most dramatic events in the Bible.

Genesis chapters 10 and 11 give us an overview of how the world after the flood became the world that we see today. Many of the people living in the various places today are the descendants of the nations found in Genesis 10-11. This is fascinating because it explains the nature of some of the interactions between these people as they met both in the Bible and in secular history. Indeed, some of the modern conflicts may even be seen as having seeds in this dispersion of peoples.

Notice a few highlights from Chapter 10:

–         Japheth’s descendants scattered the furthest from the Middle East. It appears that they are the source of all Caucasian peoples

–         Many of the peoples and places we see in other places in scripture come from Ham and Shem. From Ham comes Cush (southern Africa), Mizraim (Egypt), Babel (from which comes Babylon). Furthermore, Nimrod comes from Ham (10:8-10) who actually built Nineveh. From Ham’s descendant Mizraim came Casluhim, from whom the Philistines came (10:13). Notice that Canaan (son of Ham) fathered Sidon. Sound like a famous city?

–         Shem was the father of a man name Eber. What word comes from Eber? The word “Hebrew” comes from this word. Furthermore, from Shem comes Elam (Elamites), Asshur (Assyrians—often, the “s” is pronounced as “sh” in the Semetic languages), Aram (Arameans, a.k.a., the Syrians).

Genesis 11 steps back and gives a little more data around how the nations ended up scattered throughout the earth. Linguists generally agree that all languages come from a common source, and indeed, all languages have common attributes that point to this fact. Notice that the people migrated to a common area—the plain of Shinar.

The people began to build (11:3). Was there anything wrong with building? Not in the least bit. Man used the ingenuity given by God to produce something useful. However, notice that in Genesis 11:4 the people’s true motives became clear.  They desired to a) make a name for themselves, and b) prevent being dispersed throughout the whole earth. Did God ever require man to disperse throughout all the earth? Indeed He did! He told Noah and his sons after they left the ark to multiply upon the earth (Gen. 8:17). He never intended for man to stay in one place and to build an empire for himself. In order to prevent the plans of mankind, God confounded their language (Gen. 11:6-9) and all the people were dispersed upon the earth.

The end of chapter 11 finishes all the information we have about the world prior to the flood. We begin to see God putting in place the elements that lead to His redemption of all mankind by the end of chapter 11.

            In conclusion, Genesis chapters 5-11 provide an account of early history that is at a minimum interesting and to some provide the ultimate explanation for the world in which we currently live. Even if one has doubts about the transmission and translation of the biblical text, one must admit that it has historical merit that must be taken into account.

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Posted by on April 25, 2011 in Genesis


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