Struggles of Israel Meditations: 7. People Groups
Ex 3:8 I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.
Review: To understand the struggles of Israel it is necessary to understand the peoples who opposed them. These are names that appear frequently but which we probably usually pass over without much thought.
The Canaanites: The occupants of the Land (perhaps the wider area as far as Mesopotamia) originally described as part of ten people groups: “the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.” (Gen 15:19-21) but later seven groups: “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.” (Ex 3:8)
The Individual People Groups:
- Canaanites – originally from the cursed grandson of Noah, possibly from Phoenicia, the area in the north later known as around Tyre and Sidon, often used to generally describe the occupants of Canaan
- Hittites – immigrants from old Hitttite empire of the north
- Amorites – a desert people from the west of Mesopotamia, who now occupied the hill country either side of the Jordan including Jerusalem & Hebron and Ai
- Perizzites – a scattered hill people
- Hivites – possibly Horites from the south
- Jebusites – inhabitants of Jebus or Jerusalem also known as Amorities (Josh 10:5)]
In the Conquest Context: We see these various names occurring:
“When all the Amorite kings west of the Jordan and all the Canaanite kings who lived along the Mediterranean coast heard how the Lord had dried up the Jordan River so the people of Israel could cross, they lost heart and were paralyzed with fear because of them.” (Josh 5:1)
“Now all the kings west of the Jordan River heard about what had happened. These were the kings of the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, who lived in the hill country, in the western foothills, and along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea as far north as the Lebanon mountains. 2 These kings combined their armies to fight as one against Joshua and the Israelites.” (Josh 9:1)
“So King Adoni-zedek of Jerusalem sent messengers to several other kings: Hoham of Hebron, Piram of Jarmuth, Japhia of Lachish, and Debir of Eglon.” (Josh 10:3) “Joshua travelled all night from Gilgal and took the Amorite armies by surprise.” (Josh 10:9)
Characteristics: What becomes obvious from some of these verses is that very often a so-called ‘king’ ruled over a single town and its immediate vicinity and were thus not particularly powerful. However, it was the practice of idolatrous religion that caused God to move and clear the Land. The most common idol names found in scripture tend to be:
- Asherah—early Semitic Mother goddess, also called Athirat,the mother of 70 gods
- Ba’al—meaning “Lord,” god of rain, thunder, and fertility
- Chemosh—the national god of Moab
- Dagon—god of crop fertility,
- Moloch—title for the god who is “king,” probably identical with Milcom and known mainly as the deity to whom child sacrifices were offered
This latter point is highlighted by Moses and later verified by Jeremiah as still continuing when Israel fell into apostasy and reverted to following Canaanite practices:
“…they do for their gods every detestable thing that Jehovah hates, even burning their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deut 12:31)
“They built the high places of Baal in order to burn their sons in the fire as whole burnt offerings to Baal, something that I had not commanded or spoken of and that had never even come into my heart.” (Jer 19:5)
Ongoing Nature: What is remarkable about the conquest of Canaan is that despite all the negative noises made about annihilation by the critics, the reality is that all these people groups actually survived and we find them occurring as late as Solomon and even still around and mentioned by Ezra after the Exile, for example, “There were still people left from the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites (these peoples were not Israelites). 21 Solomon conscripted the descendants of all these peoples remaining in the land—whom the Israelites could not exterminate—to serve as slave labour, as it is to this day.” (1 Kings 9:20-
Philistines? What is almost strange is that the name of the Philistines, who often crop up in Israel’s history, don’t seem to appear here. The first mention of them is, “Egypt was the father of the … Kasluhites (from whom the Philistines came),” (Gen 10:13,14) Abraham later made a treaty with them and lived in their land (Gen 21:22-34) Isaac also later stayed in their land (see Gen 26) and made a treaty with them. They are not mentioned again until after the conquest, as one of the areas not yet taken (see Josh 13:2,3 & Jud 3:3), then some who were struck down (Jud 3:31), then who both caused Israel to fall and then were used to discipline them (Judg 10:6,7 & 13:1) and then appear in contention with Samson (Jud 13:5, 14:3,4, ch.15 & 16). In 1 Sam their name occurs over 80 times, indicating that they had really become a thorn in Israel’s side. To see this in more detail we will go to the next study.
And So: We have highlighted the people groups in Canaan who resisted Israel’s advance, so much so that even centuries later their descendants are still there being a nuisance. The lesson is clearly there: unless you are obedient to the Lord and fully do what He says, you are in danger of letting enemies of the kingdom remain there in the background where they may fester silently for a while but will eventually rear up again and cause our downfall.
I find this one of the most painful lessons I have learnt over the years. It is especially true of leaders who are fearful to take action and speak against unrighteousness, fearful of what they think the consequences might be. It has been true of me in the past and I have watched it being true of other leaders in the past and right up to the present. When this happens, we fail to realize two things: first, the grace (wisdom and authority) and support of the Lord will be there as we determine to do His will with grace and humility and, second, failure to deal with the issue only means we are tolerating unrighteousness and it will eventually blow up under us with even greater impact. Israel provide a lesson we must heed.