The second section of the Old Testament is the historical narratives. This section would include the books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra and Nehemiah. There were two major groups which occupied the land of Palestine in the early days of Israel's conquest. They were the Amorites and Canaanites. Although these were two distinct nations they were closely related and can be handled under the singular title of Canaanites.
The term 'Canaanite' was sometimes used as a general term to describe the inhabitants of the land. But it was also used in a more restricted sense to refer to the peoples who dwelt in the plain of Esdraelon, between the Sea of Galilee and the Mediterranean. The Amorites were also used as a general term, but could refer to the people who dwelt in east side of the Jordan river. There were other more insignificant peoples called the Perizzites, Jebusites, Hivites, Hittites, and Girgashites.
See Nations surrounding Israel
The Canaanites were a very advanced peoples in terms of their material culture. Archaeological discoveries in a cave near Mt. Carmel has given good insight into their way of life. They were hunters, fishermen and farmers. They settles in small villages or towns which were well planned and built. Their homes were built with plaster floors, painted walls and drainage systems. Their craftsmen were skilled in copper, lead and gold. Pottery was beautifully designed and among the finest in the world.
They were situated on the main trade routes with Egypt, Northern Mesopotamia and Cyprus by the sea. The technical knowledge of the Canaanites was more advanced then the Israelites who had spent 40 years as nomads wandering the Sinai wilderness. The Canaanites had a profound influence upon Israel as they settled the land. Some of this influence was beneficial in the area of agriculture, working metals and dwellings, but it was the area of their religion which became a serious problem for Israel.
The Canaanites were polytheistic in their religion that is they worshipped many gods. Rather than hero worship the Canaanites were involved in nature worship. All of their gods focused on the elements of nature which surrounded them. All of the nations had two major gods which were Baal and Ashtoreth to whom they owed their prosperity or suffering. Then each nation had their own lesser gods.
It means in Semitic languages 'Lord or Master.' The male sun-god, who was responsible for the growth in nature. Storms and thunder was attributed to him. The Phoenicians laid claim to him as their principle god. 1 Kings 16:31 Some identify Baal with Bel of Babylon and Zeus of the Greeks. Many names during this period had some form of Baal in them but this does not necessarily mean that they were all idolatrous. In fact Jehovah himself is called Baal in several passages. Hosea 2:16; Jeremiah 31:32; 1 Chronicles 12:5
It became utterly abhorrent and so the Hebrew word Bosheth - 'shame' was substituted for Baal . So you have the name Ishbosheth, Jerubbesheth = Gideon. The Prophets called Baal, 'The Shame' in Jeremiah 11:13; Hosea 9:10 The famous show-down was between Elijah and the prophets of Baal . 1 Kings 18. To repudiate the worship of Baal was a sign of true repentance and one of the conditions of covenant renewal with the living God. Hosea 2:17-18
The head of their gods was actually El who was the head of 70 gods, but Baal seemed to have predominate their worship.
The word means 'goddess'. She was closely associated in Canaanite worship with Baal. Usually a pole or tree was erected in memory of Asherahnear the Baal altar. She was the wife of El and the most important goddess of fertility and war. 1 Samuel 31:10 Temple prostitution was common in the worship of Ashtoreth. Many nude idols have been found in Palestine from this period. Samuel suppressed it during his day 1 Samuel 7:3,4 while Solomon due to one of his wives introduced it. 1 Kings 11:5 The worship involved immorality and even at times child sacrifice Jeremiah 19:5. Their temples were decorated with rich hanging of women and built on high places, sometimes even on roofs of houses. Jeremiah 32:29. It was an elaborate religion with both priests and prophets. It was this forbidden practice which finally led Israel into seventy years of captivity in Babylon.
- Anath -Also called Anathoth, the goddess of agricultural rituals.
- Resheb - God of pestilence and death
- Mot - God of drought and death. He was the opponent of Baal .
- Shahru - Dawn Star
- Shalmu - Evening Star
- Yarhu - moon god.
The brutality and immorality in the stories of these gods is unsurpassed in the knowledge of Near Eastern Religion. Archaeological discoveries reveals that they regularly practised child sacrifice, religious prostitution, and snake worship. Jeremiah 7:31 This was one of the dangers which God wanted to protect the Israelites from by commanding that all Canaanites were to be destroyed or driven out of the land. Numbers 33:51-56; Deuteronomy 7:1-5.
However this judgment which was to fall upon the Canaanites was not without mercy and warning. While the Patriarchs lived in Canaan they had built many alters to the true and living God which would have showed the Canaanites the worship of the true God of heaven and earth. Also when God promised Abraham the land of Canaan for his inheritance He kept him away for four generations giving the Canaanites time to repent. Genesis 15:16 But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.
However Israel also sinned in this command and allowed many of the Canaanites to live among them and pollute God's people with their detestable practices resulting in a loss of God's blessing. Judges 2:11-15.
Canaan was a land of city-states. There was no central government, but many cities, each with their own king. Military, economic and religious matters were under the kings control. So in order to conquer the land it meant that Israel must defeat each city individually. Many of these cities were well protected from attack built high on a hill or mound of dirt. Usually the determining factor was their supply of water and food. If the city had lots of both then it could be years before the city was conquered. 2 Kings 17:5 It was an impossible task which drove God's people to Himself to learn that their sufficiency was not in their skill, size or might but in their God.