Who are the Hebrews? Are you a Hebrew? Were Adam, Noah, and Shem Hebrews? Does it matter? I think it does. There is much confusion on the correct meaning of names and terms. And if God truly has a Covenant People, wouldn’t it serve us to know and understand these names and terms?
The word “Hebrew”, according to the Strong’s Concordance, comes from the word Ibrly (#5680), which refers to “an Eberite or descendant of Eber.” Eber is mentioned in Genesis 10:21 as a descendant of Shem (who is a descendant of Noah). From Eber sprang Abraham. Abram is referred to, in Genesis 14:13, as a Hebrew. Hence, if you cross reference Genesis 14:13 with Genesis 10:21, we know that Abraham, and all of Eber’s posterity, are Hebrews!
So was Adam a Hebrew? No. Was Noah a Hebrew? No. Were Ham, Japheth, and Shem Hebrews? No. Were the other children of Shem Hebrews? No. Just Eber and his posterity.
These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations; and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.
(Peleg, interestingly, was one of the sons of Eber. Peleg is often associated with “the days when the earth was divided”.)
And so here God is separating after families, tongues, lands, and nations (Genesis 10:31, 32).
So who else does this exclude from Hebrew status?
Japheth and his descendants, who are known to have occupied West Asia, and the Mediterranean and adjacent isles, are not Hebrews. In our day these people are likely Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, Celtic, Greek, French, Scandinavian, etc., etc.
Ham and his descendants, who are known to have occupied Egypt and Canaan, are not Hebrews. They are known as the Canaanites, or the cursed race. They are referred to as many different names in the Scriptures, such as, Hivites, Jebusites, Arvadites, Girgashites, Amorites, Arkites, Sinites, Hittites, Sidonians, Perizzites, and Zemarites.
Shem, and most of his descendants, sans those who sprang from Eber, are not Hebrews. Shem and the bulk of his descendants are the Semites (Shem… Sem-ite), who occupied Assyria.
Now it is interesting to note that Genesis 10:21 which says, in part, that Shem, “also, the father of all the children of Eber” would make such a highlight, considering the passage continues to list Shem’s immediate sons. Eber is Shem’s grandson. The passage doesn’t preface the introduction to Shem’s sons with any other grandsons. This should tell us that there is something noteworthy about Eber and his posterity in particular.
Eber and his posterity are Hebrews. We talked about who it excludes. Who does it include?
It includes Abraham, the Father of the Covenant Race, Isaac, and Jacob.
It includes the whole House of Israel.
It includes King David.
It includes Jesus Christ.
Interestingly, along with Isaac, it also includes Ishmael; as well as Jacob, it includes Esau.
Ishmael and his descendants, Esau and his descendants, are Hebrews.
Now these are just my personal study notes. If a reader understands something that I don’t, please correct me if I am wrong!
What is the significance of being a Hebrew? Because, obviously, Japheth’s descendants are certainly eligible to partake in the spiritual rights, privileges, and blessings of Shem and the House of Israel, which is even noted in Genesis 9:27. “God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.”
Well, I don’t know yet! But I look forward to further study to find out. Please add your comments below with any thoughts.