In my last post I raised the question why the author of Gen 11:10-26 placed Peleg at the center of the genealogy. In order to begin answering this question it’s important to realize that Gen 11:18 is not the first time Peleg is mentioned. He is first introduced in Genesis 10. In that chapter the descendants of Noah’s sons Japheth, Ham and Shem are listed. Though the line of Japheth is mentioned first, most of the chapter is devoted to the lines of Ham and Shem. The sections about the descendants of these two sons both begin with a list of names. Starting in v. 6 four sons of Ham are mentioned, then five sons of Cush as well as two sons of Ragma for a total of eleven names. Then another son of Cush is listed (v. 8). His name is Nimrod and he is the twelfth individual that is mentioned. Interestingly, more information is provided about this man – a full four verses are devoted to him. No other individual in the entire chapters gets more attention than Nimrod. He is described as a powerful hunter who possessed a kingdom and built great cities like Nineveh (vv. 9-12). Clearly, Nimrod was a very powerful and important person who had made a name for himself. Everybody knew who Nimrod was.
The section on the descendants of Shem also begins with a list of names. Five sons of Shem are mentioned, then four sons of Aram (vv. 22-23). This is followed by three more individuals: Arpachshad fathers Shelah and Shelah fathers Eber. According to v. 25 Eber has two sons: Peleg and Joktan. This is the same Peleg that is mentioned in Gen 11:18. Interestingly, he is the – you guessed it – twelfth individual in the section about Shem’s descendants. And once again the usual pattern is interrupted for a brief aside: in his days the earth/land was divided (v. 25). Thus it seems that the author has intentionally arranged the two sections in such a way as to highlight Nimrod and Peleg and invite the reader to compare the two men. Apart from the fact that no offspring is mentioned in connection with either individual (in Peleg’s case this is highlighted even more by the fact that his brother Joktan fathers thirteen sons), they don’t seem to have much in common. In fact, next to Nimrod Peleg is a nobody. There is no mention that he accomplished anything great. No mention that he was powerful or important. No mention about anything that he did. Instead he is connected to the division of the earth/land and stands in the shadow of his very fruitful brother.
Yet that is not the full story. Though Nimrod is powerful and important he is also connected to the men of name before the flood (Gen 6:4, the only previous occurrence of the term “mighty one”) as well as to the tower builders at Babel in Gen 11 who defy God and seek to make a name for themselves (through the terms “Babel,” “land of Shinar,” and “build”). In light of this it seems likely that the author wants to present Nimrod as an example of an individual who seeks to achieve greatness without God (note also that the name Nimrod means “rebel”). Yet such greatness does not last. As already mentioned, there is no indication in the text that Nimrod had a son. Even if he did, his family is never mentioned again, just like the tower builders and the great men before the flood. Peleg, on the other hand, appears again in Genesis 11 at the very center of the genealogy in vv. 10-26. In this way the author highlights the fact that Peleg did father a son (in contrast to Nimrod) and in so doing became part of the chosen line (in contrast to Joktan) from which Abram emerged whose name God would make great (Gen 12:2) and whose offspring is the subject of the rest of Scripture. Thus Peleg, who was originally associated with division, became a channel/canal (the meaning of his name) of God’s blessing and the forefather of him through whom God sought to overcome the division and reunite humanity. Not bad for a “nobody”.