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Bible Dictionaries

Fausset's Bible Dictionary

Canaan


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From Ham came four main races; Cush (Ethiopia), Mizraim (Egypt), Phut (Nubia), and Canaan (originally before Abraham extending from Hamath in the N. to Gaza in the S.), comprising six chief tribes, the Hittites, Hivites, Amorites, Jebusites, Perizzites, and Girgashites; to which the Canaanites (in the narrow sense) being added make up the mystic number seven. Ten are specified in Genesis 15:19-21, including some on E. of Jordan and S. of Palestine. The four Hamitic races occupied a continuous tract comprising the Nile valley, Palestine, S. Arabia, Babylonia, and Kissia. The Phoenicians were Semitic (from Shem), but the Canaanites preceded them in Palestine and Lower Syria. Sidon, Area, Arvad, and Zemara or Simra (Genesis 15:19-21) originally were Canaanite; afterward they fell under the Phoenicians, who were immigrants into Syria from the shores of the Persian gulf, peaceable traffickers, skillful in navigation and the arts, and unwar-like except by sea.

With these the Israelites were on friendly terms; but with the Canaanites fierce and war-like, having chariots of iron, Israel was commanded never to be at peace, but utterly to root them out; not however the Arvadite. Arkite, Sinite, Zemarite, and Hamathite. The Semitic names Melchizedek, Hamer, Sisera, Salem, Ephrath are doubtless not the original Canaanite names, but their Hebraized forms. Ham, disliking his father's piety, exposed Noah's nakedness (when overtaken in the fault of intoxication) to his brethren. Contrast Shem and Japhet's conduct (compare 1 Corinthians 13:6 and 1 Peter 4:8). Noah's prophetic curse was therefore to reach him in the person of Canaan his son (the sorest point to a parent), on whom the curse is thrice pronounced. His sin was to be his punishment; Canaan should be as undutiful to him as he had been to his father Noah.

In Ham's sin lies the stain of the whole Hamitic race, sexual profligacy, of which Sodom and Gomorrah furnish an awful example. Canaan probably shared in and prompted his father's guilt toward Noah; for Noah's "younger son" probably means his "grandson" (Genesis 9:24), and the curse being pronounced upon Canaan, not Ham, implies Canaan's leading guilt, being the first to expose to Ham Noah's shame. Canaan's name also suggested his doom, from kaanah , "to stoop." Ham named his son from the abject obedience which he required, though he did not render it himself (Hengstenberg). So Canaan was to be "servant of servants," i.e. the most abject slave; such his race became to Israel (1 Kings 9:20-21). Canaan more than any other of Ham's race came in contact with and obstructed Shem and Japhet in respect to the blessings foretold to them.

The Hamitic descent of Canaan was formerly questioned, but is now proved by the monuments. The ancients represent the Canaanites as having moved from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Mythology connects the Phoenicians' ancestors Agenor and Phoenix with Belus and Babylon, also with Egyptus, Danaus (the Ethiop), and Libya. The Canaanites acquired the Semitic tongue through Semitic and Hamitic races intermingling. Their civilization and worship was Hamite. The Shemites were pastoral nomads, like Seth's race; the Hamites, like Cain's race were city builders, mercantile, and progressive in a civilization of a corrupt kind. Contrast Israel and the Ishmaelite Arabs with the Hamitic Egypt, Babylon, Sidon, etc. The Canaanites were Scythic or Hamite. Inscriptions represent the Khatta or Hittites as the dominant Scythic race, which gave way slowly before the Aramaean Jews and the Phoenician immigrants.

Some think Canaan means "lowland", from Hebrew kana , "to depress." In Ezekiel 17:4; Isaiah 23:8; Hosea 12:7, Canaan is taken in the secondary sense," merchant," because the Hebrew bears that sense; but that was not the original sense. The iniquity of the Amorites was great in Abraham's time, but was "not yet full" (Genesis 15:16). In spite of the awful warning given by the doom of Sodom and Gomorrah, Canaanite profligacy at last became a reproach to humanity; and the righteous Ruler of the world required that the land originally set apart for Shem, and where Jehovah was to be blessed as the God of Shem (Genesis 9:26), should be wrested from "the families of the Canaanites spread abroad," and encroaching beyond their divinely assigned limits (Genesis 10:18). The Hamite races, originally the most brilliant and enlightened (Egypt, Babylon, Canaan), had the greatest tendency to degenerate, because the most disinclined to true religion, the great preserver of men.

The races of Japhet tend to expand and improve, those of Shem to remain stationary. Procopius, Belisarius' secretary, confirms the Scripture account, of the expulsion of the Canaanites, for he mentions a monument in Tigitina (Tangiers) with the inscription, "We are exiles from before the face of Joshua the robber." Rabbi Samuel ben Nachman says: "Joshua. sent three letters to the Canaanites, before the Israelites invaded it, proposing three things: Let those who choose to fly, fly; let those who choose peace, enter into treaty; let those who choose war, take up arms. In consequence, the Girgashites, fearing the power of God, fled away into Africa; the Gibeonites entered into league, and continued inhabitants of Israel; the 31 kings made war and fell." So the Talmud states, says Selden, the Africans claimed part of Israel's land from Alexander the Great, as part of their paternal possession.

It is an undesigned coincidence that the Girgashites are never named (except in Joshua 24:11, the recapitulation) as having fought against Israel in the detailed account of the wars. They are enumerated in Joshua 24:11 in the general list, probably as having been originally arrayed against Israel (and some may have in the beginning joined those who actually "fought"), but they withdrew early from the conflict; hence elsewhere always the expression is "the Lord cast out the Girgashite," "He will drive out the Girgashite" (Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 3:10; compare Genesis 15:21; Nehemiah 9:8). The warnings given to Israel against defiling themselves with the abominations of the previous occupiers of Canaan show that the Israelites were not ruthless invaders, but the divinely appointed instruments to purge the land of transgressors hopelessly depraved.

Leviticus 18:24; "Defile not yourselves in any of these things, for in all these the nations are defiled that I cast out before you, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants." The Canaanites had the respite of centuries, the awful example of the cities of the plain, and the godly example of Abraham, Melchizedek, and others; but all failed to lead them to repentance. The Israelites, in approaching the cities of the seven doomed nations, were to offer peace on condition of their emigrating forever from their own country, or else renouncing idolatry, embracing the Noachian patriarchal religion, resigning their land and nationality, and becoming slaves. But "there was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel save the Hivites, the inhabitants of Gibeon; all other they took in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts that they might come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly and that they might have no favor, but that He might destroy them" (Joshua 11:18-20).

All admit that the execution of the law's sentence on a condemned criminal is a duty, not a crime. That God may permit the innocent to suffer with the guilty is credible, because He does constantly in fact and daily experience permit it. The guilty parent often entails on the innocent offspring shame, disease, and suffering. A future life and the completion of the whole moral scheme at the righteous judgment will clear up all such seeming anomalies. The Israelites with reluctance executed the divine justice. So far was the extermination from being the effect of bloodthirstiness, that as soon as the terror of immediate punishment was withdrawn they neglected God's command by sparing the remnant of the Canaanites. The extermination of idolatry and its attendant pollution was God's object. Thus even a Hebrew city that apostatized to idolatry was to be exterminated (Deuteronomy 13).

The Israelites by being made the instruments of exterminating the idolatrous Canaanites were made to feel Jehovah's power to make man the instrument of punishing idolatry, and so were impressed with a salutary terror, preparing them for being governed without further miraculous interposition. Their constitution, encouraging agriculture, prohibiting horses, and requiring their attendance at the one house of God thrice a year, checked the spirit of conquest which otherwise the subjugation of Canaan might have engendered. Humanity and mercy breathe through the Mosaic law (Exodus 23:4-5; Exodus 23:9; Exodus 23:11; Exodus 22:22-24). (See Graves, Pentateuch.) The Canaanites' first settlement in Palestine was on the Mediterranean, in the region of Tyre and Sidon; thence they spread throughout the land.

A great branch of the Hittites in the valley of the Orontes is mentioned in inscriptions concerning the wars of Egypt with Assyria. (See EGYPT.) In Genesis 12:6 "the Canaanite was then in the land" is no gloss (as if it meant the Canaanite was STILL in the land), nor proof of the Pentateuch's composition after Israel had driven them out, but implies that the aboriginal peoples (compare Genesis 14:5-7) were by this time dispossessed, and the Canaanite settlers ALREADY in the land (compare Genesis 13:7). Canaan is in Scripture made the type of the heavenly land of rest and inheritance (Hebrews 4:1-11). We must win it only under the heavenly Joshua, Jesus the Captain of our salvation, and by faith, the victory that overcomes the world and extirpates sin, self, and Satan (1 John 4:4-5; 1 John 5:4-5).

The new heaven and earth, purged of all them that offend, shall be the portion of those who, like Caleb and Joshua, have previously in faith trodden the earth occupied by the ungodly, of whom the Canaanites are the type. The lowland especially was the country of the Canaanites; the plains between the Mediterranean on one side, and the hills of Benjamin, Judah, and Ephraim on the other; the shephelah , or low hills of Philistia, on the S.; the plain of Sharon and seashore between Jaffa and Carmel; that of Esdraelon, or Jezreel, behind the bay of Acta; that of Phoenicia containing Tyre and Sidon (Numbers 13:29). The Jordan valley, Arabah, now the Ghor, reaches from the sea of Chinneroth, or Galilee, to the S. of the Dead Sea, 120 miles, with a breadth from eight to 14; this, the most sunken region in Palestine, also was occupied by the Canaanite; Amalek occupied the S. region between Egypt and Palestine.

So too, Genesis 10:18-20, the border of the Canaanites was the seashore from Sidon on the N. to Gaza on the S., and on the E. the Jordan valley to Sodom, Gomorrah, and Lasha (Callirhoe) by the Dead Sea. The Amorites occupied the mountainous country between (Joshua 11:3; Joshua 13:2-4). The chariots of iron could be used in the Canaanites' plains, but not in the mountains. So we find them in the upper Jordan valley at Bethshean, Esdraelon (Jezreel), Taanach, Ibleam, Megiddo, the Sharon plain, Dor, the Phoenician Accho and Sidon (Joshua 17:16; Judges 1:19; Judges 4:3. Canaan in the larger sense is used for the whole country. The Arabah, reaching from the foot of mount Hermon to the gulf of Akabah, is the most remarkable depression on the earth.

The Jordan, rising in the slopes of Hermon, spreads out in the waters of Merom 126 feet above the level of the ocean; after ten miles' swift descent it enters the sea of Chinneroth, 650 feet below the ocean. From this the gorge holds the average breadth of ten miles, the river at last losing itself in the Dead Sea, the surface of which is 1,312 feet below the sea level, and the depth 1,300 feet below the surface. The ascent of Akrabbim (scorpions, Joshua 15:3) or else mount Halak, a range of low cliffs, crosses the valley eight miles S. of the Dead Sea; thence the valley at a greater height gradually leads to Akabah. The plain or circle of Jordan on which Sodom and Gomorrah stood was probably, according to Grove, at the N. cud of the Dead Sea, but (See GOMORRAH.) Grove states there are no clear traces of volcanic action there, nor in the Holy Land or near it, except in the Leja, or Argob.

God's promise to Abraham was, "Unto thy seed have I given this land from the river of Egypt unto the great river the river Euphrates, the Kenites, the Kenezites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaims, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites" (Genesis 15:18-21). "The river (nahar ) of Egypt" is the Nile, or Sihor, here representing (according to Grove) Egypt in general, as "Euphrates" represents Assyria (compare Isaiah 8:7-8). The Israelite kingdom even in Solomon's time did not literally reach to the Nile. The truth seems to be, his kingdom is but the type of the Israelite kingdom to come (Acts 1:6), when Messiah her Prince shall be manifested (1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chronicles 9:26; compare Ezekiel 48; Psalms 72:8; Numbers 34:5). "The border shall fetch a compass from Azmon unto the river (nachal ) of Egypt."

The nachal , or brook, here is distinct from nahar above. The brook is generally thought to be the wady el Arish, the S.W. bound of the Holy Land. So also Joshua 15:4. But Joshua 13:3 expressly mentions Sihor, "the black turbid river," Nile, as the ultimately appointed border; this extended dominion twice foretold (for the simple language in histories as Genesis and Joshua hardly sanctions Grove's view that the river represents merely Egypt, in general), and so accurately defining the limits, awaits Israel in the last days (Isaiah 2:11; Zechariah 9:9-10). In Exodus 23:31, "I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines (the Mediterranean), and from the desert (Paran and Shur) to the river" (Euphrates), the immediate territory of Israel in the Old Testament is assigned. So Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4.

Solomon accordingly possessed Tiphsah, the old ford of Euphrates on the N., and on the S. Ezion Geber and Elath, the Edomite ports of the Red Sea. In Numbers 34:1-12 the bounds of Canaan W. of Jordan are given from "the entrance of Hamath" between Lebanon and Antilebanon on the N., to Edom on the S. In Deuteronomy 1:7 the natural divisions are given, THE PLAIN, THE HILLS, THE VALE, THE SOUTH, THE SEASIDE; THE WILDERNESS also is mentioned (Joshua 12:8), and the SPRINGS OF PISGAH (Deuteronomy 3:17). Thus there are in all seven physical divisions. THE SOUTH, or THE NEGEB, containing 29 cities (Joshua 15:21-32), extended from mount Halak to a line from N.E. to S.W., a dry and thirsty land (Psalms 126:4), liable to whirlwinds (Isaiah 21:1; Isaiah 30:6).

The WILDERNESS (midbar ) of Judah, N.W. of the Dead Sea, had but six cities (Joshua 15:61-62). The Hills (har ), from the WILDERNESS to the S. of Lebanon, were once the home of the Hittites, Jebusites, and Amorites (Numbers 13:29); the cities are enumerated in Joshua 15:48-60. The hill country abounds in traces of terraces which once kept up the soil on the side of the gray limestone, for tillage and vines. Also marks of forests, which must have caused there to be then much more of fertilizing rain than now. The fertility improves continually as one goes northward, and the valleys and uplands of Galilee are beautiful, and the slopes of Carmel park-like.

THE VALLEY, or LOW HILLS (shephelah ), is the fertile region between the HIGHER HILLS and the coast, from Carmel to Gaza; including Philistia on the S. and the beautiful plain of Sharon from Joppa to Carmel on the N. Part of the shephelah was called Goshen, from its resembling in fertility the old Goshen at the mouth of the Nile (Joshua 10:41; Joshua 11:16); it perhaps contained Beersheba. THE SEA COAST is that N. of Carmel between Lebanon and the sea. The portion N. of Accho Israel never gained, but S. of Accho David gained by the conquest of the Philistines (Judges 1:31). THE PLAIN or CHAMPAIGN (the Arabah, Joshua 18:18, i.e. "the sterile place ") originally (Deuteronomy 2:8, where "the plain" is the ARABAH; compare Deuteronomy 1:1) comprehended the whole valley from Lebanon to the gulf of Akabah. The Arabs call its N. part the Jordan valley, the Ghor, and the part S. of the Holy Land wady el Arabah.

The SPRINGS OF (ASHDOTH) PISGAH may represent the peculiarly fertile circle round the head of the Dead Sea, on both sides of the Jordan (compare Joshua 10:40; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 12:8; Deuteronomy 3:17; Deuteronomy 4:9). The land, as receiving its blessings so evidently by the gift of God, not as Egypt by the labor of man, and as being so continually by its narrowness within view of the desert, was well calculated to raise Israel's heart in gratitude to her divine Benefactor. It lay midway between the oldest world kingdoms, on one side Egypt and Ethiopia, on the other Babylon, Assyria, and India; then it had close by the Phoenicians, the great traffickers by sea, and the Ishmaelites the chief inland traders. So that though separated as a people dwelling alone, (Numbers 23:9) on the N. by mountains, by the desert on one hand, and by an almost harborless sea on the other, from too close contact with idolatrous neighbors, it yet could act, with a powerful influence, through many openings, on the whole world, if only it was faithful to its high calling.

"Instead of casting the seed of godliness on the swamps, God took in a little ground to be His seed plot. When His gracious purpose was answered, He broke down the wall of separation, and the field is now the world (Matthew 13:38)." The long valley between the ranges of Lebanon, the valley of El Bukaa, leading to "the entering in of (i.e. to Palestine by) Hamath," opened out Palestine on the N. Roman roads, and the harbor made at Caesarea, at the exact time when it was required, made avenues for the gospel to go forth from Judaea into all lands. Tristram remarks, What has been observed of the physical geography of Palestine holds equally true of its fauna and flora. No spot on earth could have been selected which could have better supplied the writers of the book, intended to instruct the men of every climate, with illustrations familiar cue or other of them to dwellers in every region.

Ganneau derives the modern fellaheen from the Canaanites, arguing from their language, manners, customs, and superstitious, and the analogy which there is between Joshua's invasion and that of Caliph Omar. This view explains those prophecies which speak of those ancient nations existing in the last days and being then destroyed by God (Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 48; 49; Daniel 11:41). The Israelite invaders as shepherds could not at once have become agriculturists, but would compel the subject Canaanites to until for them the land. The "places" (maqowm ) which God commanded Israel to destroy, where the Canaanites "served their gods upon the high mountains, and hills, and under every green tree" (Deuteronomy 12:2), exactly answer to the fellaheen 's Arabic makam (the same word as in Deuteronomy) in Palestine, or Mussulman kubbehs with little white topped cupolas dotted over the hills. Their fetishism also for certain isolated trees marks the site of the Canaanite worship which God forbade; an oath on their local sanctuary is far more binding to them than on the name of God.

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Bibliography Information
Fausset, Andrew R. Entry for 'Canaan'. Fausset's Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/fbd/c/canaan.html. 1949.

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