The Hebrew word toledot (also seen as toldot) is most often translated “generations.” Toledot is the story or genetic line that came from—generated from—a person or event.
Genesis lists nine specific toledot:
– Creation – Genesis 2:4
– Adam – Genesis 5:1
– Noah and his sons – Genesis 6:9; 10:1, 32
– Shem – Genesis 11:10
– Terah – 11:27
– Ishmael – Genesis 25:12-13; 1 Chronicles 1:29
– Isaac – Genesis 25:19
– Esau – Genesis 36:1, 9
– Jacob – Genesis 37:2
Toledot can have slightly different meanings depending on the context. In Genesis 2:4, it’s used somewhat metaphorically as “heaven and earth” don’t literally procreate. Instead, the word refers to the events that came about with the advent of heaven and earth—namely, all of human history.
In the other instances in Genesis, toledot identifies both the progeny of these men and the stories that ensued in their time—we might say the “era” in which they lived. The toledot or generations don’t necessarily end when the next begin; they’re more layered, each encompassing those that come after.
In other places, the word is used more narrowly to mean a family line both from the direction of the patriarch down (Exodus 6:16; Numbers 1; 3:1; Ruth 4:18) and from a contemporary figure back (1 Chronicles 7:2, 4, 9; 8:28; 9:9, 34; 26:31).
Moses wrote the book of Genesis while the Israelites were wandering in the desert. The stories gave the Israelites a place in history—an identity—which was important for a people coming out of four hundred years of slavery in a foreign country. Knowing the toledot they came from gave the Israelites context for what God was asking of them when they entered the Promised Land and linked later Israelites to the great men and the mighty deeds of long before. Most of all, the toledot showed them how God had worked in the past and how He was sure to work in the present.