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The Canaanites

The Canaanites

To most of us the term “Canaanites” refers to all the inhabitants of Canaan with perhaps the exception of the Philistines.  As we have already seen, there were other small groups such as the Amorites, Hitties, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, etc. also living in the land.  But by far, the Philistines, Canaanites, and Phoenicians to the north were the most advanced groups.  

Modern archaeology has successfully revealed many insights into the lives of these people.  Perhaps our greatest source of information has come from the excavation of the large Canaanite cities of Hazor in the Hule Valley, and Megiddo on the Plain of Esdraelon.   The Canaanites, like their neighbors, the Philistines and Phoenicians, were highly organized merchants and traders.  Using the Phoenician ports of Tyre, Sidon, Beirut, and Byblos, the Canaanite/ Phoenician alliance shipped cedarwood, jars of olive oil, wines, and other goods throughout the eastern Mediterranean region.  Each of their cities was governed by a king and was heavily fortified.  Located in strategic locations, these kings controlled the traffic flow throughout valleys and passes, and collected tolls from caravans passing between the Tigris/Euphrates Valley and Egypt.

During the day they tended their vineyards and olive groves outside their walled cities, and at night they returned to the safety of their city homes.  Life in these cities was highly advanced, and we are impressed, even now, with their innovative construction methods and advanced engineering techniques.   Excavations have revealed the elaborate use of gold and ivory in their homes.

The Canaanite civilization was a culture shock to the primitive nomadic Israelites.   Contrary to Gods instructions, the Israelites made slaves of many of the Canaanites {Josh. 16:10, Judg. 1:28), and left their fortified cities standing (Josh. 11:13).   Therefore, contact with the more culturally advanced Canaanites brought about revolutionary changes, as Israel migrated from a rural environment to the commercialism of the city-state.  The Canaanites quickly advanced from slave status to advisers, and soon the Israelites were being tempted in the ways of the Canaanite pagan religion.  As time dulled the memories and thoughts of their commitment to their husband and creator, the children of Israel began to have joint worship services with the Canaanites.

The religion of the Canaanites centered on the worship of nature, gods, and idols, which they personified out of God’s creation (Rom. 1:21-24).  Chief among the Canaanite gods was Baal, the weather-god who controlled the rains, mist, and dew, and therefore, held the key to productive harvests.  Baal’s wife, Astarte, the goddess of love and war, controlled fertility.  Worship services were held in Canaanite temples and on the hillsides called “high places”.   Like the requirements of the Israelite religious ordinances, the Canaanites also made sacrifices to their gods.  The primary aspect of the Canaanite service was a visit to the temple prostitute to appease the goddess of fertility, Astarte.

Satan goes into great detail to copy those things that are ordained by God, our Creator.  However, he carefully changes those instructions that are primarily related to the redemption of man.  Although, the Canaanite services appeared to be very similar to those of the Israelites, a careful study of the Mosaic Law reveals major and essential differences.  No known evidence of the rules governing their conduct has been found among the Canaanites.  The Canaanite religion required human sacrifices, whereas the Mosaic Law considered it an abomination.  God’s law prohibits the practice of adultery and fornication, but it was primary to the Canaanite worship service.  But most important, the Canaanite worship service was a demonstration of the ways of the depraved nature of mankind – openly in rebellion to the will of their Creator.

An Adulterous Wife

Archaeologist have discovered that the period from 1200 BC to 1000 BC to be one of the most violent and disturbed ages in the history of Canaan (J. A. Thompson – The Bible and Archaeology). The book of Judges provides much insight as to why this period was so violent.  Israel suffered because of her disobedience and unfaithfulness.

“Then the Angel of the Lord came up from Gilgal to Bochim, and said: ‘I led you up from Egypt and brought you to the land of which I swore to your fathers; and I said, ‘I will never break My covenant with you. And you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall tear down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed My voice. Why have you done this? Therefore I also said, ‘I will not drive them out before you; but they shall be thorns in your side, and their gods shall be a snare to you.’’ So it was, when the Angel of the Lord spoke these words to all the children of Israel, that the people lifted up their voices and wept.” (Judg. 2:1-4).

The tears of repentance were soon to stop flowing as a new generation comes on the scene.  They, too, must learn their lesson through chastisement.  “When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel.  Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger. They forsook the Lord and served Baal and the Ashtoreths” (Judg. 2:10-13).

Ashtaroth is another name for Astarte, the goddess of fertility.  As we have already stated, Baal and Astarte were two primary Canaanite nature gods, and their worship resulted in human sacrifice and temple prostitution.  As we witness the spiritual degeneration of Israel, it becomes clearer why the wisdom of God called for the complete destruction of these pagan Gentile nations.  There is a spiritual war going on between the soldiers of God and the soldiers of Satan.  God knew that the temptation would be too much for this young nation who had become His wife at Mount Sinai.  Now, they have forsaken Him in an act of spiritual adultery.  God is determined to bring His chosen people back to Him, and chastisement becomes the road to repentance.

“And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel. So He delivered them into the hands of plunderers who despoiled them; and He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.  Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were greatly distressed.  Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so. And when the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge and delivered them out of the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed them and harassed them.  And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way” (Judg. 2:14-19).

“Then the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He said, “Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not heeded My voice, I also will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died, so that through them I may test Israel, whether they will keep the ways of the Lord, to walk in them as their fathers kept them, or not” (Judg. 2:20-22).

The book of Judges ends with these words.  ” In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judg. 21:25).  Should we be surprised that archaeologists have found that towns in the promised land of milk and honey were destroyed and rebuilt over and over between the years of 1200 BC and 1000 BC?

This roller coaster ride of Israel was not only the history of the new nation, but it has been the history of all mankind.  We go in cycles, as someone has stated: “from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, and from dependence to bondage.”  It has also been put this way: “we go from slavery to revival, from revival to spiritual apostasy, from spiritual apostasy to moral degeneration; from moral degeneration to political anarchy; and from political anarchy back to slavery.”

Rebellious man does not have the natural wisdom to break the cycle for his ways, which are contrary to those of his Creator who retains final authority in the affairs of mankind.

This completes our study of “The Promised Land”. Now return to the “History” section to continue with the next series of study.

All quoted scripture is of the New Kings James version unless noted.