The Jew and the Gentile Background of the Jew in the Old Testament
The entire human race descended from these three sons of Noah.
Following the flood of Noah, humankind was divided into three major racial divisions descending from the three sons of Noah—Shem, Ham, and Japheth. The entire human race descended from these three sons of Noah.
The sons of Japheth formed the largest group descending from Noah and include the peoples mentioned in Genesis 10:2-5, especially the peoples in Asia Minor, Greece, Russia, Cyprus, and Southeastern Europe. These people later spread to other parts of the world.
The sons of Ham, mentioned in Genesis 10:6-20, in general inhabited Asia, except for Northern Asia, and lived in Southern Europe and Northern Africa. Like others, they scattered throughout the world in subsequent history. They were the original inhabitants of the land that God later gave to Israel.
The sons of Shem, mentioned in Genesis 10:21-31, in general occupied the Middle East. Important to the Bible is the fact that the descendants of Shem included Abram and Israel and also Jesus Christ. Genesis 10 remains the most ancient document detailing the movement of the nations and the location of various peoples, and even the secular world has to turn to it for information.
As the history of the Old Testament unfolded after the flood, humankind continued to rebel against God, culminating in the judgment of the Tower of Babel Genesis 11:1-9. In Genesis 12 a new divine purpose of God was revealed creating a new division, beginning with Abram. The rest of the book of Genesis, from chapter 11 to chapter 50, deals with Abram and his descendants. God promised that a special blessing would come to the whole earth through Abram’s descendants. The line of this fulfillment went through Isaac, Abram’s son, and then to Jacob, the son of Isaac, who was the father of the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. Though Abram blessed the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac blessed Esau, the line of Isaac and Jacob alone inherited the promise of being a blessing to the whole world and the promises given to Jacob and his sons.
From the time of the emergence of Israel as a special people, God’s plans for them in fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant are unfolded throughout the Old Testament. Under the rule of Kings Saul, David, and Solomon, Israel became a great nation, unexcelled for riches and glory. Following the death of Solomon, however, because of his intermarriage with many heathen wives, the kingdom was divided into two—the kingdom of Israel, including the ten tribes, and the kingdom of Judah, including the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Beginning in the book of Esther and continuing with a few references in 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, the two tribes of the kingdom of Judah were called Jews and carried off into captivity. This designation of “Jews” continued through the captivities, and in Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Jeremiah, and Daniel, and later in the New Testament. Though, strictly speaking, the title applied only to the tribe of Judah because it was the dominant tribe from which the kings came, eventually all twelve tribes began to be labeled as Jews. By contrast, all others became known as Gentiles, originally applied to some sons of Japheth (Genesis 10:5), but later to all those who were not descendants of Jacob (Nehemiah 5:8).