One would ordinarily think that when he reads, “Noah was 500 years old when he begat Shem, Ham and Japheth,” that the order in which the sons are listed is birth order: Shem was the eldest, the first of Noah’s “begetting.” In fact, whenever Shem is found in any crossword puzzle I do, the clue is invariably, “Noah’s eldest.” Not so fast—I can prove he was not.
Gen 5:32--And Noah was five hundred years old, and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah had his first son at the age of 500.
Gen 7:6--And Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters was upon the earth. That means his eldest son would have been 100 at the time of the flood.
Gen 11:10--Shem was one hundred years old and begat Arpachshad two years after the flood. That means that Shem was only 98 at the time of the flood and could not have been the eldest.
Then we have the case of Terah’s three sons, “Abram, Nahor, and Haran.” Was Abram the eldest?
Gen 11:26--Terah lived seventy years and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran.
Acts 7:4--Then [Abram] came out of the land of the Chaldeans and dwelt in Haran, and from there, when his father was dead, God removed him to this land, wherein you now dwell.
Gen 11:32--And the days of Terah were 205, and Terah died in Haran. That means his oldest son would have been (205 minus 70 equals) 135 years old when he died.
Gen 12:4--So Abram went as Jehovah had spoken unto him…And Abram was 75 years old when he departed out of Haran. So since he left Haran after his father’s death, he was only 75 when the eldest son would have been 135. Abram was certainly not the eldest son. In fact, he could well have been the youngest.
In the New Testament order is important as well. We have “Barnabas and Saul” in Acts 12:25 and 13:2 and 7, until suddenly in 13:13 we have “Paul and his company,” and “Paul and Barnabas” from 13:43 on. I think all those are enough to show us that in the Bible, people are listed according to their importance, and their amount of involvement in the activity in question. Shem and Abraham, the ancestors of the Christ were certainly more important than their brothers, and Paul gradually took over as the leader of the missionary journeys.
So why might that be important? For one thing look at Acts 18:26, where we have a man named Apollos who was taught better by “Priscilla and Aquila.” If the principle about order means anything, it means Priscilla did much more than just sit there and nod in agreement, and that of necessity means that it is possible for a woman to teach a man, at least in private, without violating the principle not to teach “over” a man, 1 Tim 2:12.
“Order” meant a lot of things in the New Testament church. They were commanded to do things “decently and in order,” 1 Cor 14:40. Yet in the same context we find that they were shouting out hearty amens, 14:16. That tells me we should be careful about imposing our own culture’s sense of order upon an order which God plainly approved. If one reads the chapter carefully, we are once again talking about doing things in sequence—don’t let two talk at once, take turns; don’t let someone speak in tongues unless there is someone who can interpret afterward.
Paul left Titus in Crete to “put things in order.” Among other things that meant to appoint elders, Titus 1:5. Think about this: He had told Timothy that a new Christian was not suitable material for an elder, and he did not appoint anyone immediately upon that man’s baptism. Yet, here is another sense in which “order” is important: these men obviously set their lives in good order because in a relatively short amount of time, they had matured enough to take the leadership position. Maybe the reason there are churches without qualified men today is that those men do not have their lives in a godly sort of order. Everything—career, recreation, physical fitness, education--everything seems more important than time spent on spiritual growth, and that is the wrong order.
Funny how many tidbits you can pick up by simply studying one word or concept in the scriptures, isn’t it? Perhaps the most important tidbit today is this: God expects us to put our lives in His order, to run our families in His order, to put the church, the body of His son, in His order; always His order, not ours. Anyone who is “out of order” will be found in contempt of that righteous Judge.
For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving, Col 2:5-7.