Genesis 10-Relationship As Identity & Family Systems Theory

Genesis 10:1-32

These are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth; sons were born to them after the flood.

2 The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. 3 The sons of Gomer: Ash′kenaz, Riphath, and Togar′mah. 4 The sons of Javan: Eli′shah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Do′danim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread. These are the sons of Japheth[a] in their lands, each with his own language, by their families, in their nations.

6 The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan. 7 The sons of Cush: Seba, Hav′ilah, Sabtah, Ra′amah, and Sab′teca. The sons of Ra′amah: Sheba and Dedan. 8 Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to be a mighty man. 9 He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.” 10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. 11 From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nin′eveh, Reho′both-Ir, Calah, and 12 Resen between Nin′eveh and Calah; that is the great city. 13 Egypt became the father of Ludim, An′amim, Leha′bim, Naph-tu′him, 14 Pathru′sim, Caslu′him (whence came the Philistines), and Caph′torim.

15 Canaan became the father of Sidon his first-born, and Heth, 16 and the Jeb′usites, the Amorites, the Gir′gashites, 17 the Hivites, the Arkites, the Sinites, 18 the Ar′vadites, the Zem′arites, and the Ha′mathites. Afterward the families of the Canaanites spread abroad. 19 And the territory of the Canaanites extended from Sidon, in the direction of Gerar, as far as Gaza, and in the direction of Sodom, Gomor′rah, Admah, and Zeboi′im, as far as Lasha. 20 These are the sons of Ham, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

21 To Shem also, the father of all the children of Eber, the elder brother of Japheth, children were born. 22 The sons of Shem: Elam, Asshur, Arpach′shad, Lud, and Aram. 23 The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether, and Mash. 24 Arpach′shad became the father of Shelah; and Shelah became the father of Eber. 25 To Eber were born two sons: the name of the one was Peleg,[b] for in his days the earth was divided, and his brother’s name was Joktan. 26 Joktan became the father of Almo′dad, Sheleph, Hazarma′veth, Jerah, 27 Hador′am, Uzal, Diklah, 28 Obal, Abim′a-el, Sheba, 29 Ophir, Hav′ilah, and Jobab; all these were the sons of Joktan. 30 The territory in which they lived extended from Mesha in the direction of Sephar to the hill country of the east. 31 These are the sons of Shem, by their families, their languages, their lands, and their nations.

32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, in their nations; and from these the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood.

What’s Important About Generations?

Just as I am tempted to skip over chapters of the Bible that have only to do with generations, I was tempted to skip over writing on this chapter. That being said, I will use this chapter of Genesis to speak on an important part of our human condition, and that is how our identity and behavior is largely shaped by our relationships, especially that of family. For those who want to dig deeper into this dynamic of behavior and family I recommend checking out Family Systems Theory. 

There’s a part of Genesis 10 which I think some of us are tempted to call as Ancient Israelite propaganda. In Genesis 9, we read how Ham was one of Noah’s three sons who perhaps was not as prudent or discerning. Ham announces the sight he sees of his father drunk and naked, sharing this shameful sight to his brothers and then taking no part in covering his father up. Ham promotes scandal in the family, whereas the other brothers are very prudent about covering their father up and making sure not to see him.

What we read in Chapter 10 is how Ham’s descendants are named after Israel’s greatest enemies: Egypt & Canaan. This part of the family tree is depicted as mighty and strong hunters, whereas the other two brothers’ lineage aren’t really given any remarkable details. Not to depict Ham’s descendants in caricature, but the two groups that come from Ham come across as adversarial throughout the Old Testament, as the chief enemies of Israel and devoted to their pagan beliefs.

Perhaps this chapter and the example of Ham’s family isn’t the perfect example to bring up identity and family systems, but the listing of this genealogy does stress a particular importance for all humankind to “know their roots”. For us reading the genealogy today it might seem as boring, but what I’d like for this chapter to evoke in us is a curiosity of where each of us come from, and who we are based on those origins.

Ghost In the Shell?

When we think of the most tangible piece of our identity, we cannot escape our own flesh and blood. Most people know us based on our appearance, what they see, hear, perhaps even feel and smell. It would be unwise of us to assume a worldview that we are mere “ghosts within a shell,” a gnostic assumption that our bodies are mere vessel that have no impact on our identity or behavior at all. Ask any physician, and they will tell you that respiratory diseases and blood pressure can have a big impact upon mood and temperance, and this is just one example of something we have no control of that we essentially inherit. Setting aside the “unseen” elements of our selves such as our organs and hormones, even the seen elements of our bodies play a role in who we are. Our nose and facial structure affects how we sound, and how others will perceive us based on appearance and tone–again this is just one example.

Whether you love your body or hate it, you are it. It’s what people smile at, frown at, embrace, recognize, speak to, the list goes on. Love it or hate it, it’s what makes up you, contributes to more than what we give it credit to. We are psychosomatic beings–the body and the soul entwined rather than one thing filling into another like water and a bucket.

This is important to establish because our bodies come from communion: they come from two people joining together. While luck or fate may have had a hand in what genes would be expressed, the building blocks worked with were your mother and father. You are the unique intermingling of their DNA, unrepeatable in that your genes borrow from each–to say nothing of mutation in all of this–though still harkening from those two people.

Literally, our flesh and blood is from them, a fragment of each of their portraits, perhaps even a fragment of their parents’ portrait. Our identity is built up of these genetic building blocks, which makes identity inescapable to heritage, to relationship.

Spiritual Genetics

Given what we have established as our identity relates to relationship/heritage, it is a logical step to say that even our personality is made up of these formative figures. One can make arguments how our genetics have some sway (even if it is small) on our behavior and personality. Perhaps if addiction or depression exists somewhere in the pedigree that it is somewhere on the genetic radar and therefore at least a pre-disposition. 

But we are not merely speaking about hard genetic personality traits that are passed on, but rather dynamics, roles, habits, norms, taboos, and the whole spectrum of human behavior that we witness and are groomed by. Our most immediate family has the greatest impact in this regard, this being our parents and siblings, and perhaps even extended family based on whether they live in the same residence or vicinity a us. There is so much nuero-plasticity and molding that takes place in youth, so we cannot write off the psychic imprint our parents and siblings have on us in these formative years.

For example, we might learn coping strategies from our family. Perhaps you are the type who flees or retreats from combat–physically or cognitively/emotionally. This strategy of retreat is not necessarily instinct or random. But perhaps one or two parents were overbearing when they saw us do something wrong and gave little room for us to disagree or express our emotions. Perhaps we witnessed in our mother and father a “stone-walling” behavior of one person shutting out the other when conflict arose, rather than talking about feelings.

This is just one example in the spectrum of coping strategies, which is just one subject in the wide discussion of personality. 

Because our parents are the culmination of our physical identity, they assume perhaps the most foundational role of our spiritual identity as well. Symbolically they represent to us structure and nurture, safety and autonomy, and when they fail or misrepresent in these it informs our worldview of such topics. They are at the top of the hierarchy of our personality development.

This is perhaps a hard message to hear, especially if we might harbor some resentment to them or perhaps if we like to think of ourselves as a maverick and our own person. If it still seems implausible that your parents hold such weight on your personality, I invite you to take some more inventory of your ticks, tendencies, peeves, and proclivities.

Rebellion or Evolution

That being said, there is hope for all of us. Some of us might find the notion that our parents hold the most weight of our personality and identity as constricting, hopeless, doomed for us to repeat the sins of our fathers. 

And yet we saw in previous genealogies how good individuals broke out of perhaps bad cycles, broke the norm of worldly, corrupt, and sinful lives. Enoch broke the pattern, Noah broke the pattern, we can break the pattern.

But how?

We tend to think of the rebellious period of teenage life to be a nuance of our current culture or a wholly negative thing. I believe this period of development is built into us, an invitation to cast off let’s say “negative spiritual genes” so as to grow in our identity, our personhood, our individual selves. I would say most of my rebellion against my parents was superficial, a rejection of their music for my own, their politics for my own, etc. 

That being said, in college, the “rebellion period” lessened in intensity without fully dissipating. College granted me awareness–through my classes and through my classmates–of my own personal ticks, nueroticisms, and inherited behavior, as well as insight into the dynamics and personality of my parents as it related to our family system. I began to identify unhelpful behaviors and patterns, and in so doing recognized how some of my rebellious tendencies related to a feeling of discontent in regards with negative behaviors I had inherited–namely through observation and developed coping skills within hard dynamics. 

To put it simply, we can use our time of rebellion as an introspective checklist of what we inherit from our parents, to decipher what is a part of us that we can place some attention on and grow out of. This is not to say that we develop resentment for our parents or lose a sense of gratitude for what good they gave us. However, I think it important for every teenager and adult to take inventory of what we inherit spiritually from our parents that needs to be identified and left to the wayside.

This transformation that happens, however, is not done so easily alone. It takes good friends, wholesome characters, who are willing to help us smooth out those rough edges and to imbue us with something new, good, and holy. We cannot think to create something out of this void of what we lose when we distance ourselves from bad habits or ticks from our parents, for this void will naturally seek something or someone else to fill it, and any attempt to conceive of our own identity in this void will lack any anchor or grounding.

We cannot hope to carve out our own personality; to do so is like attempting to comb one’s hair, apply make-up, or pop a zit without a mirror. We need mirrors in our lives to show us who we are (objectively) and what we need to work on. But as we choose these mirrors we are also choosing models, and we ought to reconcile with whoever we stand face-to-face with will affect our identity, will shape and mold our faces, our persona, our identity.

Today, consider the following:

  • What are five noticeable traits each of my parents have (and even my siblings have)?
  • What are some traits, after some consideration, that my parents and I share in common that are not so noticeable?
  • What do people tell me I need to work on? Do I ever ask others to give me feedback? How do I receive feedback?
  • How do I identify myself in five words? Would those five words be the same thing a friend, a co-worker, a family member would use?
  • What do I need to grow out of that I inherited from home?
  • Who are the positive influences that sculpt me, that I “spiritually” borrow from, consciously or unconsciously emulate? Why do I choose them (consciously or unconsciously)?

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