The Descendants of Canaan
10:15 – 18 Ramban explains that the enumerated sons all became heads of the Canaanite nations whose lands were promised to Abraham. Verse 18 informs us that they dispersed, and it was then that some of their original names changed to the familiar ones listed in 15:19-21. The land of Canaan was originally destined for Israel (Deuteronomy 32:18), but at the time of the Dispersion God entrusted it to Canaan, a servant nation, until He was ready to present it to Israel, just as one may leave his legacy in trust with a servant until his son matures enough to acquire the treasure as well as the servant.
Phut’s descendants are not mentioned because they are unnecessary for our narrative (Rashi); also, because his descendants jointly formed a nation under his name, they did not become separate nations (Malbim).
The Territory of Canaan
10:19 The Torah now proceeds to describe the Canaanite’s territory from Zidon to Sodom. All of the territory is not defined; this will be done later when the land is divided (Joshua 13:21). The primary purpose of stating the borders is because Israel would later inherit the land. The verse teaches us that it was God’s will that the Canaanite families dwell in the land until their time was up. God wanted Israel to occupy a developed, prosperous land, with houses, vineyards, and farms as He promised (Deuteronomy 6:11) that they would enter the land, find houses full of all good things which you did not fill, hewn cisterns which you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves which you did not plant (Radak).
The Line of Shem – 26 Nations
10:21 The genealogy of Shem which had been delayed until this point is now given so the Torah can proceed to recount the history of Abraham and his descendants for they formed the primary nation of mankind.
‘”And to Shem, also to him were born..'” – Scripture emphasizes here that ‘also to him‘ were children born and that moreover he was the ancestry of the ‘children of Eber’ from whom the Patriarchs descended. (Radak).
Although Shem had many descendants, Eber’s children were the most favored of his offspring because they were righteous like him. (Abarbanel)
Sforno comments that those who believed in God were called Ivrim, after Eber their teacher. Shem, because he was also their teacher, is called the ‘father of Eber’s children’, meaning his ‘students’, because students are called the children of their teacher.
“the brother of Japheth, the elder.” – Rashi explains that the verse does not designate him as ‘the brother of Ham’, because Shem and Japheth honored their father, while Ham put him to shame (9:22).
10:24 Eber was one of the righteous men of that time (Midrash). Along with his grandfather Shem, he established a yeshivah. (A yeshivah is a Jewish academy which focuses on the study of the Torah and Talmud.)
Rambam counts Eber among ‘the few solitary individuals – Enosh, Methuselah, Noah, and Shem – who recognized God as the Creator even when all others were serving idols.
10:25 “And to Eber were born two sons:..” – He begot other children besides these as it specifically says (11:17) “he begot sons and daughters”. Only these two are mentioned here because their names indicate important historical events (Radak). (Only Joktan’s line is traced in the next verse. Eber’s genealogy through Peleg, culminating in Abraham, is traced in 11:16.)
“..for in his days the earth was divided;” – Rashi cites Seder Olam that the Dispersion took place at the end of Peleg’s life, therefore as the Midrash notes Eber must have been a prophet to give his son a name which signified division (Peleg = Niphlega = Division).
Rashi, on the parallel verse in 1 Chronicles 1:19 explains that he was called Peleg ‘because in his days the life-span of man was cut in half. Originally man lived an average of 900 years; from the days of Arphachshad is was split to about 400 years, while from Peleg it was divided further to about 200 years.’
It is this very explanation that is given by Sforno to our verse, who adds that this reduced longevity was a direct result of the punishment of the Dispersion: their vitality was lowered by the abrupt and sudden change of climates.
B’chor Shor cites both explanations – that the ‘division’ refers to the Dispersion and also to the life-span – and concludes that the name probably alluded to both.
10:26 “Joktan..” – He was so called because he was humble and belittled himself. Eber was a prophet and the giving of a name meaning ‘small’ must have had a significance.
Radak attaches the explanation to Joktan which Rashi in Chronicles and Sforno explains regarding Peleg. He comments that Joktan, from the word diminished, signifies that from his time man’s longevity would be diminished. He explains that Eber knew that Joktan’s years would be fewer from birth, because he was born physically smaller than those who preceded him. (This explanation is found in Midrash Zuta.)
10:30 “And their dwelling place..” – This is where they dwelt before the Dispersion (Rashi to 11:2), this being the territory of the Shemites, while the others lived in the immediate vicinity. They did not settle in the respective countries enumerated in this chapter until after the Dispersion. Accordingly verses 5, 19, and 20 are to be interpreted as referring to where they ultimately dwelt after the Dispersion.
10:32 “These are the families of Noah’s descendants,..” – The reckoning of the seventy nations is complete. There are 70 descendants listed in this chapter: 14 Japhethites, 30 Hamites; and 26 Shemites. The territories they inherited carried their names.
But they did not spread forth until after the Dispersion! The phrase “after the flood” reverts to the beginning of the verse. Explain the verse, therefore, this way: These are the families of Noah’s descendants that were born after the Flood who later spread forth over the earth – after the Dispersion. (Radak). Even those who did not become separate nations nevertheless dispersed to many places until the entire world was settled.